The origins of Swan Hunter can be traced back to 1860 and the Low Walker shipyard of John Wigham Richardson, called the Neptune Yard. The first ship he built was the tiny Isle of Wight ferry, VICTORIA.
Charles Sheriton Swan began to build ships at Wallsend in 1874 but was killed in a tragic accident in 1879. His widow entered into a partnership with a Sunderland shipbuilder, George Burton Hunter. This new company became C.S. Swan and Hunter.
Both the Wallsend and Neptune yards prospered and in 1903 they joined to build the firm’s most famous ship, the Cunard passenger liner, MAURETANIA. The company thus became Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Limited and kept that name until 1968. The company built a wide variety of ships: quality liners, tankers, battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, floating docks, cable layers and exploration vessels. Neptune Yard vessels were given even yard numbers while Wallsend Yard numbers were odd. By 1954, Swan’s covered over 130 acres and had nearly eight miles of rail tracks with sidings.
A merger with other Tyne yards in 1968 was followed by nationalisation in 1977 and a management buy out on privatisation in 1986. The price of this deal was for Swan Hunter to be designated as warship builders only, following a European directive that wished to reduce merchant shipbuilding capacity.
Top quality vessels were built for the next nine years but the company struggled under the restrictions. The loss of an order for a Royal Navy Helicopter Carrier called HMS OCEAN, delivered the yard into the hands of the Receivers in 1994. The yard was put up for auction in 1995.
The Dutch-based THC Group bought the Wallsend Yard to work on conversions of huge oilfield supply and storage vessels, retaining the Swan Hunter Shipbuilders name. Most recently two Royal Navy Logistics ships, LARGS BAY and LYME BAY, were built, but no further Ministry of Defence orders were received.
In November 2006, Swan’s cranes were sold to Indian buyers and dismantling began. As this is written in 2008 the Wallsend Shipyard site is under consideration as a Riverside Development Area.