D & W Henderson, Shipbuilders and Marine Engineers, Meadowside, Glasgow

Looking today at the River Kelvin at its confluence with the Clyde, the onlooker may be unaware of the distinguished shipbuilding history of this area. One of the instrumental founders of the Royal Air Force in 1918, was Lieutenant General David Henderson, who served as General Officer Commanding the Royal Flying Corps in France, during the first year of the Great War, and who served briefly as Vice President of the Air Council early in 1918.

He came from a ship-owning family. His father, David Henderson, was part-owner of the D & W Henderson shipyard at Meadowside on the Upper Clyde.

In late 1836, Tod & MacGregor began shipbuilding at Mavisbank Quay. There they built a succession of paddle and screw steamers. A growing demand for larger vessels, in tandem with a demand by the Clyde Trust to acquire their shipyard for Harbour extension, forced the partnership to move to a new site at Meadowside on the west side of the Kelvin, in 1845.

In 1856, the Meadowside Yard, within the Burgh of Partick on the north bank of the Clyde, expanded when Tod & McGregor acquired the then small coaster-building yard of Thomas B. Seath, who moved his business further up the Clyde to a site at Rutherglen, where his business grew.

In January 1858 Tod & MacGregor opened a new large dry-dock adjacent to their shipbuilding yard. This was the first dry dock built on the Upper Reaches of the River Clyde. This became known as the Kelvin Dry Dock, which opened on 28 January 1858. Another notable feature of the shipyard was two large sheds built to enclose the ship building berths.

By 1862, another later to be famous small shipyard, A & J Inglis was established at Pointhouse, on the east side of the Kelvin.

In late 1872, the Meadowside Shipyard, together with a nearby engine works was acquired by Messrs Handyside & Henderson, who had founded the Anchor Line of steamers in 1859. The shipyard now became known as D. & W. Henderson & Company Limited.

David and William Henderson were the shipbuilding and engineering side of the family. Thomas and John Henderson were the shipping line partners who built up the Anchor Line.

With the deaths of the four Henderson brothers (between 1892 and 1895) the expansion of the Anchor Line came to a temporary halt. In 1899, the ship-owning partnership was dissolved and its financial interest in the Meadowside Shipyard came to an end, although Anchor Line ships continued to be ordered from the shipyard. Subsequently, the shipbuilding yard was incorporated as a limited liability company in 1900 as D. & W. Henderson & Coy. Ltd.

 In addition to building ships for the Anchor Line at the Meadowside Shipyard, other important customers they also undertook work for were Lamport & Holt, Allan Line, Nippon Yusen Kaisha, T & J Harrison, Leyland Line, King Line, Christian Salvesen of Leith, and Alfred Holt’s China Mutual Steam Navigation Company.

The Firm also built some famous racing yachts, designed by George L. Watson, Rainbow for C. L. Orr-Ewing, Britannia for the Prince of Wales, and unsuccessful America Cup challengers James Bell’s Thistle, and for Lord Dunraven, Valkyrie II and Valkyrie III. In the years up to the Great War the firm mainly concentrated on building cargo liners and tramp ships. Their 1914-built cargo tramp, Kalimba became the type ship for the War Standard ‘A’ tramp ships built between 1917-1920.

War Standard ‘A’ Type Tramp Ship the ‘Trecarrell’, built in Meadowside and originally launched as the ‘War Lilac’ in July 1919.

By the end of the war, Harland and Wolff of Belfast had gained a controlling interest in the firm, and post-1918, the firm continued to build tramp ships and cargo liners. From 1918 to 1935, Henderson’s built 39 ships of 193,279 gross tons at an average tonnage of 4,956 gross tons. In 1935, after limping along during the worst years of the interwar depression, the Meadowside yard’s building berths were sold to the shipbuilders’ rationalisation vehicle, National Shipbuilders Security (NSS) who placed restrictive covenants on any return to shipbuilding at the site. Henderson’s went into Receivership, and the last vessel to come out of the Meadowside Yard was T. & J. Harrison’s Charente Steamship Company’s 6,210 g.t. SS. Inventor, launched on 3 July 1935.

Meadowside Shipyard in 1930.

Harland & Wolf, who also owned A & J Inglis, and a major shipyard and engineering works across the river Clyde at Govan, wished to retain the Meadowside Dry Dock and fitting-out quay, for use by their Govan Yard. Subsequently, a ship repair facility subsidiary (D & W Henderson Ltd) was formed in 1936. Apart from the construction of Landing Craft during the war, the yard continued in business as ship repairers, dry dock owners and marine engineers until it closed in 1962, as did A & J. Inglis, due to Harland and Wolff rationalising its ship repair and shipbuilding interests on the Clyde, but continuing to operate ship repair at Southampton and Liverpool. The Kelvin Dry Dock was later filled in, and the land where the yard stood became an industrial estate.

Two Inglis-built vessels survive, Paddle Steamer Waverley, which still sails around the British Isles, and Paddle Steamer Maid of the Loch at Balloch, Loch Lomond.