File:World Unicorn, built by Swan Hunter 1973.jpg
File:Tanker Ottawa Launch, 1964.jpg

Swan Hunter, formerly known as "Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson", is a shipbuilding design, engineering, and management company,[1] based in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear.

At its apex, the company represented the combined forces of three powerful shipbuilding families: Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson.

Known as one of the best known shipbuilders in the world, the company was responsible for some of the greatest ships of the early 20th century – most famously RMS Mauretania which held the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic, and RMS Carpathia which rescued survivors from RMS Titanic.

In 2006 Swan Hunter ceased vessel construction on Tyneside, but continues to provide design engineering services.


Swan & Hunter was founded by George Burton Hunter, who formed a partnership with the widow of Charles Sheridan Swan (the owner of a Wallsend Shipbuilding business established in 1852 by Dr Charles Mitchell)[2] under the name in 1880.[3]

In 1903, C.S. Swan & Hunter merged with Wigham Richardson (founded by John Wigham Richardson as Neptune Works in 1860), specifically to bid for the prestigious contract to build RMS Mauretania on behalf of Cunard.[4] Their bid was successful, and the new company, Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd, went on to build what was to become, in its day, the most famous oceangoing liner in the world. Also in 1903 the Company took a controlling interest in the Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company, which was an early licensed manufacturer of Parsons steam turbine engines, which enabled Mauretania to achieve her great speed.[5] Mauretania was launched from Wallsend on 20 September 1906 by the Duchess of Roxburghe.[6] The firm expanded rapidly in the early part of the twentieth century, acquiring the Glasgow-based Barclay Curle in 1912.[5]

In 1966 Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson merged with Smiths Dock Company to form Associated Shipbuilders, which later became Swan Hunter Group.[7] Following the publication of the Geddes Report recommending rationalisation in British shipbuilding, the Company went on to acquire Clelands Shipbuilding Company[8] and John Readhead & Sons in 1967.[9] Meanwhile, Swan Hunter inherited both the Naval Yard at High Walker on the River Tyne of Vickers-Armstrongs[8] and the Hebburn Yard of Hawthorn Leslie in 1968.[9] In 1973 further expansion came with the purchase of Palmers Dock at Hebburn from Vickers-Armstrongs.[10]

Then in 1977, Swan Hunter Group was nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders.[7] The flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Ark Royal was built at Swan Hunter during this period, entering service in 1985.[11]

The Company was privatised again in 1987 but decided to close its Neptune Yard in 1988.[12] It was then forced to call in the receivers when the UK government awarded the contract for HMS Ocean to Kvaerner Govan in 1993.[13] The Receiver took steps to break up the business.[14] However the main shipyard in Wallsend was bought out from receivership by Jaap Kroese, a Dutch millionaire.[7] The yard subsequently undertook several ad-hoc ship repair and conversion projects for private-sector customers.[15]

File:Swan hunter cranes 20070319 crop.jpg

In 2000 Swan Hunter was awarded the contract to design and build two (Auxiliary) Landing Ship Dock ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary with two other ships being built by BAE Systems Naval Ships: the cost of the two Swan Hunter ships was to be £210 million including £62 million for lead yard services, with an inservice date of 2004.[16] By July 2006, the costs had risen to £309 million and only one ship had been delivered. As result of this, the second ship RFA Lyme Bay was transferred to BAE Systems Govan in Glasgow for completion.[17]

In 2001 Swan Hunter acquired Kvaerner's Port Clarence offshore yard at Teesside[18] but then in 2006 sold it to Wilton Engineering Group.[19]

In November 2006, after the failure to complete Lyme Bay within budget and resulting exclusion from future Royal Navy shipbuilding projects, Jaap Kroese announced that the business was effectively finished and placed the Wallsend Yard's iconic cranes up for sale. He also said that he was actively looking for a buyer for the land.[20] During this time, The Lyme Bay's earlier sister ship, the Largs Bay, was noted as the last ship to be built and fully completed by Swan Hunter. In April 2007, Swan Hunter's cranes, along with its floating dock and other equipment, were sold to Bharati Shipyards, India's second largest private sector shipbuilder. The entire plant machinery and equipment from Swan Hunter was dismantled and transported to India over six months to be rebuilt at Bharati Shipyards.[21]

Swan's performed the conceptual design of Pioneering Spirit, provisionally named Pieter Schelte, the world's largest platform installation/decommissioning and pipelay vessel. The basic design of the lifting systems was completed by the end of 2008, and detail design of the hulls by May 2010.[22]

In 2008 the company said it was concentrating on ship design with just under 200 people employed.[1][23]

In 2016, Jaap Kroese died but the company said it would continue with its business of ship design. At the time, the company had 40 employees and contractors. [24]


The Company owned three main yards:

All three were on the north side of River Tyne. The company also owned the Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company, the yard that built the engines for the Mauretania, from 1903 until the 1980s. At various times Swan Hunter also owned Palmers Hebburn Yard, Hawthorn Leslie Hebburn Yard and Readheads at South Shields which were all on the south side of the River Tyne.

Ships built by Swan HunterEdit

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Naval vessels Commercial vessels Cable ships
  • Alert
  • All America
  • Ariel
  • Bullfinch
  • Bullfrog
  • Bullhead
  • Cambria
  • Colonia
  • Dominia
  • Edward Wilshaw
  • Emile Baudot
  • Guardian
  • Iris
  • John W. Mackay
  • Lord Kelvin
  • Marie Louise Mackay
  • Monarch
  • Pacific Guardian (1984)
  • Patrol
  • Recorder
  • Sir Eric Sharp (Launched 1988 – renamed CS IT Intrepid )
  • St. Margarets
  • Stanley Angwin
  • Telconia

Bulk Carrier

  • Hoegh Duke (1984)
  • Robkap IV (1977)

Research Vessels


  • Shell Supplier (1946)
  • Velutina (1950)
  • Velletia (1952)
  • Helix (1953)
  • Helcion (1954)
  • Heldia (1955)
  • Helisoma (1956)
  • Volvula (1956)
  • Llanishen (1957)
  • Zaphon (1957)
  • Varicella (1959)
  • Solen (1961)
  • Ottawa (1964)
  • Sir Winston Churchill (1964)
  • Clementine Churchill (1965)
  • Narica (1967)
  • Nacella (1968)
  • Esso Northumbria (1969)
  • Esso Hibernia (1970)
  • Texaco Great Britain (1971)
  • London Lion (1972)
  • World Unicorn (1973)
  • Windsor Lion (1974)
  • Tyne Pride (1975)
  • Everett F. Wells (1976)
  • BP Achiever (1983)

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 "History". Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  2. "History". Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  3. "History". Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  4. "History of the Atlantic Cable & Submarine Telegraphy - Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Ltd.". Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "History". Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  6. Maxtone-Graham, John (1972), Page 25, The Only Way to Cross. New York: Collier Books, ISBN 978-0-7607-0637-4
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Fears for Tyneside tradition as Swan Hunter ship is towed to Govan for completion Guardian, 15 July 2006
  8. 8.0 8.1 Tyne & Wear Archives
  9. 9.0 9.1 "History". Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  10. "History". Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  11. "Remembering Swan Hunter". BBC. 30 January 2008. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  12. Royal Navy Ship may bring work for 100's Evening Chronicle, 30 August 2008
  13. Duce, Richard (1993-05-12). "Barrow ship order dismays Tyneside". The Times (Times Newspapers).
  14. Russell Hotten (14 October 1994). "Receiver breaks up Swan Hunter". The Independent. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  15. Peter Popham (22 June 1996). "Making waves again". The Independent. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  16. Swan Hunter wins ALSL order Jane's Defence Weekly, 22 December 2000
  17. Lyme Bay gets going at Govan Maritime Journal, 1 April 2007
  18. Jobs hope as Swan Hunter prepares to buy shipyard Northern Echo, 12 May 2001
  19. Ten years ago Port Clarence was an empty shell - now it's a hive of activity Evening Gazette, 27 May 2008
  20. "Demise of Swan Hunter?". BBC. 18 January 2007. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  21. Bharati buys out UK shipyard major Swan Business Standard, 10 April 2007
  22. "Development schedule". Allseas. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  23. People blame the MoD for Swan Hunter's decline, not me Evening Chronicle, 14 February 2008
  24. Barbara Hodgson (1 January 2016). "Swan Hunter owner Jaap Kroese has died in his native Holland, aged 76". nechronicle. Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  25. Lloyds (1931–32). "Lloyd's Register" (PDF). Lloyd's Register (through PlimsollShipData). Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  26. "Mapleheath". Maritime History of the Great Lakes. Retrieved 1 August 2010. 

External linksEdit

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