Small Beginnings ….


A model showing a similar ship to those built by Robbs, this one is Lady Southborough which was similar to the Gallions Reach, a steam hopper barge which was converted to a dreger though the addition of 4 deck cranes after playing her part in Dunkirk and bringing home 123 troops.

Henry Robb Ltd began very small. In fact it didn’t even begin with access to water! The business began in premises rented from James Currie and Co Ltd, ship owners in Leith. The absence of water didn’t seem to bother great grandpa, he simply set about repairing ships and making ships which could be taken apart and delivered to be put together elsewhere or they lifted them over to the water by crane! Dumb barges and pontoons formed the bulk of the early orders, nameless workhorses, but the business was to come in steadily and the workforce to expand little by little. After 6 years of this, it must have been quite a relief to acquire the Victoria Shipyard of Hawthorn and Co with its four building berths. The advantage of these berths was that they were above the tide line, so unlike some competitors there would not be the need to work around the tides. Of course, with the take-over of Hawthorns came the potential to build bigger and more interesting ships.

The first minuted meeting of the board was held in July 1918. In attendance were Henry Robb, Alex Storrar, Archibald McKelvie, John Galloway Galloway and Robert Pairman Miller. J.G. Galloway chaired this and many subsequent meetings, and seems to have guided the company through its early stages. Perhaps he saw the spark in Henry Robb which was to lead to greater things, certainly he had the business acumen to ensure the business was properly managed.

At the first meeting, W Hunter Smart was appointed auditor and Pairman Miller solicitors and it was agreed to open a bank account with the Clydesdale Bank – I always wondered why my own mother favoured them! Leases were approved between the company and Leith, Hull and Hamburg Steam Packet Co and Henry Robb Ltd and with the Commissioners for the Harbour and Docks of Leith.  One can surmise from this that negotiations were proceeding apace to create links and get the business off on a good footing, but oh to have been a fly on the wall and know the ins and outs of these transactions. Henry Robb was authorised by a letter to act as director or managing director of the business of DM Cumming, Blackhill shipyard, Glasgow. Why, I have yet to uncover.

Shares were allocated at the meeting and arrangements for paying them agreed – only 13 shareholders feature in this first issue, some from the same families. Clearly this was to be a family type business from the outset, and that is reflected in what people tell me about the yard and its workers. Those who went with Henry Robb at the start and helped to get the business on its feet were to be rewarded later with positions on the board or as foremen as the yard grew, but more of that in another post.

Copyright Ruth Patterson 2010


About Ruth Macadam

Great Granddaughter of Henry Robb. School teacher.
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One Response to Small Beginnings ….

  1. Pingback: Build the ships – chapter three – The Shipyards Turn to War | Henry Robb's Shipyard

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