The history of Cammell Laird shipyard

17 Nov 2022

The history of Cammell Laird shipyard

Cammell Laird is a busy important shipyard in Birkenhead Merseyside and SLR have proudly supplied resource there over the last few years. It has been at the forefront of UK shipbuilding and repair for over 120 years. The shipyard is the lifeblood of the Wirral community, so we thought we’d look back at the foundations and history of this important company.

At the start of the company

The Laird company was founded by William Laird who had previously established the Birkenhead ironworks in 1824. A short time later in 1828, his son John Laird joined the company, and they made their first ship. Their experience and knowledge of iron enabled them to apply techniques of boiler-making to shipbuilding and it wasn’t long until the company were at the forefront of iron shipbuilding. In 1860 John Laird’s three sons joined the business and the company was known as John Laird Sons and Co. John Laird passed away in 1874 and his sons continued the legacy as Laird Brothers.

Johnson Cammell and Co. was a Sheffield-based business known for making metal products for Britain’s railways. In 1903, these two established businesses merged and Cammell Laird was born. They did not just make ships; the company also built several vehicles for the London underground. Here are some of the more famous vessels constructed at Cammell Laird ‘s works:

  • Ma Roberts 1658 – the world’s first steel ship
  • CSS Alabama 1862-built for the Confederate States of American
  • HMS Caroline – fastest-built warship RMS Mauritania –Cunard
  • HMS Ark Royal 1937
  • HMS Prince of Wales in 1941

Source: Wikipedia

Cammell Laird is undoubtedly part of the U.K.’s rich heritage and even got a mention in the Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the author visited Birkenhead between 1859 and 1867.

Post-war and closures
As with many businesses, Cammell Laird has undergone lots of changes. In 1977 the company was nationalised along with the whole British shipbuilding industry. 1986 saw its return to the private sector as part of the core shipbuilding and engineering. The shipyards of Barrow in Furness and Cammell Laird were the only shipyards capable of producing nuclear submarines. In 2001, the company experienced financial difficulties and was forced into receivership. In 2007 North-Western Ship Repairs and Shipbuilders required the rights to the Cammell Laird name. It is a brand synonymous with shipbuilding and had a reputation that afforded it benefits in contract bidding. From 2008 onwards the company won a succession of MOD and Royal Naval contracts most notably in 2010 winning the order for the flight decks of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

It’s not just naval and MOD contracts that went through Cammell Laird during this period, the shipyard was responsible for constructing new ferries for businesses such as Western Ferries and Red Funnel.

With the huge investment by the government into a National Maritime shipbuilding strategy, there is no doubt that Cammell Laird will continue to play an integral part in UK shipbuilding and SLR is proud to support them with skilled tradespeople.