We left Robb’s feeling quite proud of its achievements, having repaired the SS Brussels against all the odds, and so restoring one of the country’s national symbols of her determination and grit during WWI.
Order number 17 provided a similarly challenging step into pastures new. Well, not so much new, as a continuation of previous practices but on a much, much larger scale.
One of the solutions Henry Robb had to the absence of water at his yard was to pre-fabricate ships, send out the parts and have them reassembled elsewhere. Ikea have nothing on them, flat pack was well and truly up and running, on a far greater scale, over a century ago!
The firm had made close links with Priestman Brothers – who, as you can see below, worked on some very large scale projects!
Priestman Brothers, of Hull wanted a 500 ton twin screw hopper dredger to serve the Bhavnagar State in India. The craft would be some 150 feet long, double the size of anything previously undertaken by the new wee yard in Leith. However, they were clearly convinced by Great Grandfather Henry Robb’s confidence that the ship could be built there and awarded Robb’s the contract. Almost all of the hull was pre-fabricated in the platers’ shop and erected in a dry-dock leased from Leith Dock Commissioners and in due course, the Bhavsinhji was delivered … all 443 GT of her with dimensions of 139.6 x 29.6 x 12.9. Ships 18 and 19 were 81 and 65 ton pontoons for Bombay PT and the India office respectively and were reputedly ordered at the same time as the Bhavsinhji, work was certainly coming in steadily!
The map below shows Bhavnagar which is to the north west, a bit below and to the right of the letter ‘I’ of India. The Bhavsinhji worked this area for at least 26 years, possibly more.
So, back to our story …
Although 1924 was a difficult period for ship builders, it brought Robb’s an opportunity when Hawthorn & Co., of Leith, an established firm of ship-builders, repairers and engineers, decided to cease trading. Henry Robb set about negotiating with them and acquired the Victoria Shipyard.
By the end of that year the keel of a tug had been laid and throughout most of the rest of its history as a shipyard it was never without at least one ship under construction.
In 1926 John Cran and Somerville closed and their building berths were merged with the Victoria Yard, so more contracts for new and repair work could be secured. When the yacht builders Ramage and Ferguson Ltd, whom Henry Robb had served as yard manager just before setting up on his own, ceased their business, Robb’s took over their yard (in 1935). Extensive alterations, extensions of existing departments and the establishment of new ones enabled them to take on new methods of design and construction for the increasingly diverse range of vessels being produced.
This thumbnail links to the full sized postcard picture on www.edinphoto.org.uk ‘s site which shows Leith Docks in 1933, shortly before Robbs’ major expansion. There is an annotated version below the picture on the site with details of all the features in the picture.
Copyright: Ruth Patterson 2010