Ship on the stocks at Cairds Yard © McLean Museum

Frank Middlemiss

'This famous Greenock company was established as an engineering business initially by John Caird, who obtained an order in 1828 to re-engine the Clyde paddle tug Industry. His relative James Tennant Caird joined the business in 1831 and after further experience with Randolph, Elder & Co in Glasgow, James returned to the family business in 1838. In 1839 side-lever engines were built for the Achilles owned by P&O, and in the following year an order was won for four ships for the Royal Mail Steam Packet with the hulls being sub-contracted. Shipbuilding began under the Caird name in the Cartsdyke mid-yard in 1840, with large paddlers built for P&O (Euxine & Malta) and Cunard (Etna) and Royal Mail Line (Atrato) as well as many small Clyde paddlers. James Caird expanded into the two-berth Westburn East yard when he took over in 1863, followed by the two berth Westburn West yard in 1871, vacating the Cartsdyke Mid yard in 1867. The two Westburn yards were separated by a narrow dock basin and a dry-dock, and the main customer from 1870 was P&O with 85 ships being constructed with the yard having a monopoly on new buildings for the famous liner company. Other important customers were the North German Lloyd Company with several ships built and for Hamburg-Amerika Line, and Inman Line. The yard did not build many sailing ships, however the iron Caperace was a splendid example, and they also turned out some first class steam yachts in the 1880s. James Caird brought his 4 sons Patrick, William, Arthur and Robert into the business and on his death in 1888 they turned the company into one of limited liability. The Greenock yard built all the leading P&O liners around the turn of the century for their long-haul routes. The yard carried out a number of repair and conversion contracts at the start of the Great War, as well as building fast patrol boats and other small vessels for the Admiralty. The yard obtained an order from P&O in late 1913 for the passenger liner Naldera and work was well advanced by the outbreak of war to launch stage but was suspended shortly afterwards. The uncompleted hull lay idle for over three years but was launched on 29th Dec 1917, with the Admiralty deciding to finish her as a cargo ship. Plans were then changed shortly before completion to that of an armed merchant cruiser, however with the end of the war these were cancelled and she completed her trials in March 1920 as a passenger liner. Ten war standard ships were also built. Robert Caird, who managed the engineering dept died in Dec 1915 and at the end of 1916 the company was taken over by Harland & Wolff Ltd for £432,493, with Arthur & Patrick Caird remaining as directors of the company, which traded under the Caird name until 1922.
Cairds Trunk Engine
The Arthur St engine works was sold to John G Kincaid & Co Ltd , Greenock in 1919. Approval was given by Greenock Harbour Trust in 1919 for Harland & Wolff to lease the West Harbour for a scheme of extension and development of the combined yard, and considerable ground in the vicinity of the yard was acquired including the Old West Kirk. The West Harbour was filled up and used for yard extension, and construction started of six longer berths, with the old ones being scrapped. Four of the new berths were designed to accommodate ships up to 650 ft in length with the remaining two for ships up to 750 ft. The workforce in 1919 stood at 2,000 and this was planned to increase, however the slump in orders after 1921 meant that only part of the plan was put into being with the remainder discontinued. The building berths that were completed were served by overhead tower cranes as in the Govan yard of Harland & Wolff as were the cofferdams and concrete slipways. Some £350,000 was spent by the company on the yard in 1919 on these, with a further £114,000 on new shops and equipment and the contractor was Sir William Arrol & Co. The yard was now able to build large liners for P&O. However no ships were launched in 1926 with only four in 1927. The yard ceased shipbuilding in 1928 and was sold to National Shipbuilders Security Ltd in 1935, with the Caird company being liquidated in 1937. The platers shed was the last remaining evidence of the company.
RM Smith

The year 1916 is regarded by many as the opening of an era in the industrial history of Greenock. The conviction had steadily been gaining ground that as a seat of manufactures the town had well-nigh reached its zenith. While, too, the trade at the port, under close and vigorous management, had been showing indications of revival, there were few who had hopes of a return to the volume or importance of former days. The simple announcement of a shipbuilding deal wrought a wondrous change in the situation and in the sense and outlook of the community. So radical and penetrating were to be the effects of Caird & Co.’s incorporation in the great firm of Harland & Wolff that visions arose of the old town, infused by new blood, taking a fresh lease of vital energy and under the impetus attaining heights of industrial prosperity. The principal object of the amalgamation was a great extension of the existing shipyard. This involved the inclusion of the West Harbour and the acquisition and demolition of a considerable amount of property, tenements of dwelling houses, some of them old and uninhabitable, warehouses, workshops, factories, Westburn Refinery, part of the Corporation electricity works, and the Old West Kirk and graveyard. It would naturally take years to carry the scheme to completion, but it would then mean employment for about 10,000 more workmen, for whose accommodation and that of dispossessed tenants a new town would spring up in the Kip Valley and its neighbourhood.