Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Low Walker

When I started work at Low Walker, a Newcastle on Tyne engineering company which was located right next to the river, I recognised the remains of the launch ways of a former shipyard which were protruding out into the river, but were only visible at low water.

From my former years as a shipyard worker, I knew that there must have been many a ship launched down those ways amidst all the noise, the clamour and excitement that accompanied such a wonderful event. But now, sadly, they stood silent and forlorn, a remnant of a great industrial past.

However, my curiosity was aroused and I decided to do some research and find out more about the old shipyard. The research revealed a fascinating success story. Old maps of the river Tyne showed that there were many shipyards located in the Walker area, but this particular one had been Charles Mitchell’s Low Walker shipyard.

The shipyard was founded by Charles Mitchell. He was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on 20th May, 1820 and served his apprenticeship with Simpson & Company, iron founders of Aberdeen, before moving to Newcastle on Tyne in September, 1842 to work for John H S Coutts, a shipyard owner, also originally from Aberdeen. Charles worked for Coutts until 1844 before moving to work in London and then travelled extensively in France, Germany and Italy. He then returned to Newcastle in 1852 to set up his own Low Walker shipbuilding yard next to the Coutts yard.

His first vessel, Havilah, was a coaster for the Australian trade and was launched on the 18th February, 1853. She was 336 grt, 256 nrt, 149.0 x 21.3 x 13.0 ft. The engine was 2 cyl, 60 hp supplied by Hawks, Crawshay & Sons, Gateshead. He got more orders and his seventh ship was ordered by German owners and named Hesperus, but on completion in December, 1854 was bought by the British Admiralty and sent with a cargo of iron rails from Walker to Balaclava for the Crimean War railway.

More vessels, including paddle steamers were built for use on Indian rivers, the Nile in Egypt and on Russian rivers in connection with the Russian Black Sea grain trade.

Charles married Ann Swan, third child of William and Ann Swan of West Farm, Walker on 9th May, 1854 and gained two practical brothers-in-law in Charles S Swan (whose widow went into partnership with George B Hunter in 1880 to create the famous Tyneside Swan Hunter shipyard) and Henry F Swan.

Many ships were completed under the Mitchell name up to 1882, with three of them being launched in a unique triple launch at the yard in 1856. Yard no’s 15, 17 and 18 were launched simultaneously – an event that was never repeated on the Tyne and which must have been quite a spectacular and exciting event.

The yard built over 90 vessels of various types for Russia and Charles Mitchell, together with his business partner Henry F Swan, set up a shipbuilding yard for the Tsarist government at St Petersburg. Several warships were built there under the company’s direction. In recognition of his services, Tsar Alexander II made Charles a Cavalier of the Order of St Stanislaus, a rare honour for a British shipbuilder.

In 1858, two ‘kits’ for screw steamers were supplied for erection on the Volga under the supervision of Charles S Swan. Russian owners were important to the shipyard with orders from 1868 continuing to flow to the Low Walker yard for many different types of vessels.

The first undersea telegraph cables were being laid at this time and the Hooper Telegraph Company ordered a ship, in 1873, to lay 5,000 miles of cable off the South American coast. Mitchell was asked to build her at Low Walker in a very short time and the ship named Hooper was ready in 100 days.

The first British gunboat built at the yard was Staunch of 1867, and was fitted with a 9” Armstrong muzzle-loading gun, and then some 27 similar gunboats were built by the yard up to 1881. A Japanese cruiser was built in 1880, and two cruisers and several gunboats were completed for China in 1881, and the Chilean cruiser Esmeralda left the river in 1884, having been designed by George Rendel, Managing Director of Armstrong’s Elswick ordnance works at Newcastle. She was the result of a merger between William Armstrong and Charles Mitchell in the new company Armstrong, Mitchell & Co Ltd in 1882. William Armstrong had established a company at Elswick in 1847 and had become one of the worlds leading armament manufacturers. Plans for a new shipyard to build warships only, next to the Elswick works, were laid in 1883.

The Low Walker yard was now to concentrate on merchant shipbuilding, especially of tankers from 1885. A first for the Low Walker shipyard was the Gluckauf for the Deutsch-America Petroleum Company which was launched on 16th June, 1886. She was completed in July of that year as the world’s first purpose-built ocean-going tanker, having been designed by Henry F Swan to carry 3,500 tons of oil from America or the Black Sea to Europe.

The Deutsch-America Petroleum Company placed orders for many sister tankers at Low Walker and the yard went on to complete 100 tankers up to the outbreak of war in 1914. Some twenty tankers were for the German register. Sixty tankers came under the British flag. Tankers were also completed by the yard for the Belgian, Italian, Dutch, French, Russian, American and Japanese registers.

One of the most interesting projects was a ship built at the Low Walker shipyard in 1898/99 for the Russians. It was the train ferry Baikal.

The ship was intended for service on Lake Baikal in the middle of Siberia. The Baikal was assembled on the slipway, but was then dismantled. The 6,900 pieces were afterwards shipped to St Petersburg and then transported thousands of miles to the shores of the lake where the vessel was reconstructed and launched in 1899. A team of engineers from the Tyne led the work of rebuilding the vessel.

German and British owners continued to order many dry cargo liners. The Louisiana built in 1896 was the first North American trader for Danish ferry company DFDS. The suction dredger Archer was completed in 1900; the Isle of Man Steam Packet ferry Viking in 1905 was turbine-propelled. Three floating cranes were built; two for the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board, and one in 1906 for Rangoon Docks.

The cable ship Restorer, built in 1903 for Cable & Wireless Ltd, further demonstrated the yard’s willingness and ability to tackle all types of ships. Even though the new Elswick yard was supposed to build all the warships, for over the 14 years to 1899, Low Walker built 11 small warships.

In 1897, during a period of British naval and armaments expansion Armstrong, Mitchell & Co Ltd purchased and amalgamated with the Manchester based armaments firm of Sir Joseph Whitworth & Company to become Sir W G Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd. Charles Mitchell had died in August, 1895 while still active and going daily to work at the yard, but there were now no Mitchell’s on the Board.

Warship-building at the Elswick yard had increased. A new yard was set-up near Low Walker Yard which eventually became the famous Vickers-Armstrong’s Naval Yard. The Low Walker yard continued to build tankers and other merchant ships during the war, particularly for the new British Tanker Co Ltd and a number of Standard Type ships were also ordered by the Shipping Controller.

The Low Walker Yard completed some interesting ships in the 1920s including three more heavy-lift ships for Norway. A dozen tankers were completed with seven of them for Eagle Oil including three of 18,000 dwt, the largest ships ever built by the yard. In 1925, the newsprint carriers Humber Arm and Corner Brook were completed for the newsprint trade from Newfoundland to New York.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - December 2017 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic
h3 class="g-title">Latest Issue - Look Inside! Game Changer

Most Popular

  • A Voyage of Discovery with NorthLink Ferries +

  • Nostalgic for Oil Fuel Depots +

  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

  • Maersk Expansion +

  • St Helena Finishes Career +

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Search for Wreck of Shackleton’s Endurance +

    SA Agulhas II A search could be mounted early next year for one of the most famous ships in British Antarctica exploration, the Read More
  • Delayed Polar Research Ship Set for Delivery +

    Kronprins Haakon Norway's new polar research vessel Kronprins Haakon is due to be operational this month, according to Norway’s Institute of Marine Read More
  • Second Heavy Lift Cargo for Power Station Project +

    Eastern Vanquish The second heavy cargo of equipment for the refitting of the Centrica power station at King’s Lynn arrived at the Read More
  • “Third Party Assistance” in Land Attack on Saudi Tanker +

    Abqaiq The Saudi Arabia flag tanker Abqaiq, 302,977dwt, was hit by a shore-launched anti-ship rocket fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia in Read More
  • Record Flies as Second Jack-Up Barge Arrives +

    Albatross What is believed to be the largest ship to visit the harbour in the history of Blyth, in Northumberland, arrived Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Appeal Over Developing New Master Plan +

    Enterprise To operate in California, ports must have a master plan approved by the California Coastal Commission that guides their development Read More
  • Shipyard Prepares Carrier for Laying Up +

    Enterprise In April, the Newport News Shipbuilding division of Huntington Ingalls Industries completed the inactivation of the former US Navy aircraft Read More
  • New Training Ship for US Merchant Marine +

    NSNV One Under the 2,232 page omnibus spending measure signed into law by President Donald Trump, the US Maritime Administration is to Read More
  • Giant Cranes Pass Through Puget Sound +

    Zhen Hua 28 A large heavy lift ship carrying four of the largest container cranes for the US West Coast sailed through Puget Read More
  • First Part of Ships’ LNG Conversion Completed +

    North Star The first of four conversion periods that will see the two Orca class rollon, roll-off vessels of Tote Maritime Alaska Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Kotug Takes Over Joint Venture Australian Tugs Firm +

    KT Maritime Tug Kotug Australia has acquired the Teekay Shipping Australia half of their joint towage venture KT Maritime Services. Read More
  • Class Approval for LNG Ore Carrier +

    Hyundai LNG Carrier The South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has received approval in principle from the Londonbased classification society Lloyd’s Register Read More
  • No Mistaking New Line’s Ships +

    ONE Livery The one ship that can’t be missed is the first for a new container line formed by three Japanese owners. Read More
  • Fatal Collision Blamed on Sudden Turn +

    USS John S McCain The collision between the US Navy destroyer John S McCain and the Greek owned oil/chemical tanker Alnic MC, 50,760dwt, in Read More
  • Nine New Cranes for Four Terminals +

    Zhen Hua 21 The first four of nine giant cranes for the DP World Australia container terminals at Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • Busy Period for Japanese Navy +

    JS Asahi Japanese News It has been a particularly busy period for the Japanese with a number of new vessels being accepted Read More
  • Historic Port Visit to Vietnam +

    USS Carl Vinson US News In a significant move in March, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made an historic port Read More
  • Russian Minesweeper Fleet Expands +

    Alexander Obukhov Russian News By 2027 the Russian Federation Navy is expected to have acquired a total of ten Alexandrit class minesweepers Read More
  • New Patrol ship for Danes +

    HDMS Lauge Koch Danish News On 11 December, in a ceremony held at Naval Station Korsør, the Royal Danish Navy commissioned the third Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • St Helena Finishes Career +

    RMS St Helena At last, after much delay, subsequent to the construction of the new airport on St Helena, the island’s namesake ship Read More
  • Maersk Expansion +

    Ulusoy 14 Maersk is making what seems to be a clever, though now very obvious, step to take for a far seeing Read More
  • "Rogaland" Performs for Dunkirk +

    Rogaland I am not normally drawn to such films as the latest Dunkirk release, but on my recent viewing it proved Read More
  • Weather Casualties +

    Hebridean Isles The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • Superfast Stena +

    Superfast VII Superfast VIII The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • RFA Pearleaf +

    RFA Pearleaf Thanks to Orkney Image Library for this view of the RFA Pearleaf. Read More
  • Nostalgic for Oil Fuel Depots +

    BP Distributor A collection of fine images of coastal tankers delivering fuel to the Southern Scottish town of Kirkcudbright took my eye. Read More
  • The Benefits of Wheel Spokes +

    Will Everard The Anna (see the print edition for details), like all Dutch craft, has a band around the outside of her Read More
  • Double Dutch Ketches +

    Gallant The Dutch 27.7m steel ketch Gallant, was built as a ‘logger’ in 1916 for the North Sea herring fishery. Read More
  • Focus on Freshspring +

    Freshspring Severn Sea The Scandinavian connection this month, continues with the welcome reappearance of the magnificently versatile Severn Sea 147gt of Bideford seen Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Major Marine Fabrication Returns to Southampton +

    SMS Pontoon Good positive news from Southampton where marine engineering services firm SMS is, presently, midway through a contract to build three Read More
  • ITF Inspectors Help Repatriate Ukrainian Seafarers +

    Avonmore Crew In this, the second decade of the 21st century, I am still often astonished, saddened and angered by the treatment Read More
  • "Future of the Fjords" +

    Future of The Fjords Norway is a country which takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and is at the vanguard of changes to reduce Read More
  • Wight Shipyard Co Wins Second Export Order +

    Ultramar In 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Wight Shipyard Co’s famous Columbine Yard in East Cowes (Isle of Wight) Read More
  • Red Funnel Congratulates New Female Captain +

    Alice Duncan Red Funnel, the Isle of Wight’s awardwinning ferry operator, welcomes the promotion of Alice Duncan to the position of captain. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • ‘Ten Pound Poms’ . . . The Emigration Boom to Australia After WWII +

    New Australia With the cessation of hostilities after the end of WW2 in 1945, a number of Immigration Schemes were introduced by Read More
  • Symphony of Light Hong Kong +

    Symphony of Lights Cruise passengers on a vessel that includes Hong Kong within their itinerary, may have witnessed Hong Kong’s ‘A Symphony of Read More
  • "QE2" Comes to Life Again +

    QE2 in Dubai There will be many readers who, for the last decade, have followed the fortunes of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Read More
  • Supersub "Migaloo" +

    Migaloo The future of superyachts and how they may develop over imminent years, keeps superyacht commentators, like me, amused for hours. Read More
  • Superyacht Solution to Housing Shortage +

    Bluebird Diana Yacht Design is doing its bit to help solve the housing shortage. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

National Maritime Museum of Ireland Interior

Taikoo Dockyard & Engineering Co

On 1 January 1867, John Swire & Sons, having been established as merchants in Liverpool since 1816, opened the first Read More
HMS Hood

The "Hood", My Father - The Ship and Battle - The Bell

In writing about HMS Hood and her service career, I am not going to attempt to cover it fully, as Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

RMS Tayleur

Mrs Janet Taylor - Mistress of Science

The following is an extract from the presentation of a joint meeting of the Australian Institute of Navigation and the Read More
Hjaltland

A Voyage of Discovery with NorthLink Ferries

The lifeline connection by sea from the north of mainland Scotland to Orkney and Shetland is the stuff of legend. Read More
  • 1
  • 2