& Sons Shipbuilders
Following our article on “Lawrence of Arabia” we now
tell the story of W.J.Yarwood & Sons Ltd., Shipbuilders of Northwich,
1896-1966. Readers will recall that “Lawrence” (his
full name was Thomas Edward Lawrence) worked for a brief spell at
Yarwood’s in 1934, apparently to oversee for the Air Ministry,
the fitting out of H.M.S. Auxiliary “Aquarius”, the
most up-to-date vessel of its type.
Intriguing though it was, Lawrence’s visit to Yarwood’s
was nothing more than a cameo, however, in the history of an inland
shipbuilding company whose name spread throughout the world.
The company founder, William James Yarwood was born in 1851 and
after serving an apprenticeship with ironfounders in Northwich,
he was appointed as a blacksmith with the River Weaver Navigation.
In 1896 he became the proprietor of the former John Thompson shipbuilding
business, based on the west bank of the River Weaver, a few hundred
yards from the town centre of Northwich.
Through its salt trade and river connection to Liverpool, Northwich
had long been involved with shipbuilding, but it was W.J. who really
forged the town’s reputation in the trade for craftsmanship
Orders quickly began to come in and by 1900. fifteen vessels had
been built and delivered to the likes of the Manchester Ship Canal
Co., Douglas Corporation (Isle of Man) and Brunner Mond Co. Ltd..
Other contracts followed with the Admiralty, the Air Ministry, the
Mersey Docks & Harbour Board, the Port of London, the Sudanese
Government, the United Africa Company and the Booker Line.
Vessels built at Yarwood’s were eventually sent all over the
world, from Brazil to West Africa, and from India to Gibraltar.
When W.J. died in 1926, to be succeed by his four sons, Yarwood’s
had expanded to such an extent that it could produce almost every
component to build sea-going ships, from steam engines to propellers
and anchors. During the Second World War, the yard built over 100
vessels for the Admiralty and the Air Ministry.
Coastal vessels for Brunner Mond Co. (later I.C.I.) formed an important
part of the Yarwood’s business from 1903 to 1948. These are
still referred to nostalgically as “Brunners”. The first
was built by John Thompson and the later ones mostly took the names
of Mid-Cheshire villages, Anderton, Davenham, Weaverham, Wincham,
Comberbach, Cuddington, Barnton. The “Cuddington” is
preserved at the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum.
In 1947 the yard was sold to Athel Line Ltd, a subsidiary of United
Molasses, and between 1955 and 1965 built 32 steam and diesel-powered
tugs, the first for service on the River Niger. Other vessels went
to Aden, Australia, the West Indies and, of course, to home waters.
The last vessel to be built at Yarwood’s, in 1965, was a 168-ton
diesel tug, the St Elmo. It was designed for towing duties at Valetta,
Malta and because of the narrowness of the River Weaver it had to
be launched sideways . It still operates in the Grand Harbour under
the name Katrin.
When the yard closed Yarwood’s had completed over 1,000 vessels.
• 'The Shipbuilders Apprentice', by Ken Evans. One man's memories
of the famous Northwich shipyard - 80 pages, A5 Paperback. Available
from CC Publishing, £6.00 + £1.00 postage, Martins Lane,
Hargrave, Chester, CH3 7RX. Tel: 01829 741651.
CC Publishing website - click here
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