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William Doxford & Sons Ltd, shipbuilders and marine engineers

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Date: 1833-1989
History: The business was founded by Wm. Doxford senior in 1840, but he and his partner Crown were declared bankrupt the following year. The partnership was re-established in 1845 and continued until 1851 when Doxford returned to working partly as a shipwright and partly as a timber merchant. In 1858 William Doxford opened a shipyard at Pallion. With the introduction of iron ships in 1864 the business expanded rapidly. In 1869 he relocated to an nearby site where a five berth shipyard was established. An engineering works was set up in 1878 under the direction of Robert Pyle Doxford. Doxfords began designs on experimental engines in 1910, and after work was suspended during the 1914-1918 war, the first full scale opposed piston marine oil engine was produced in 1919. It was installed in the motor ship "Yngaren" and proved a great success. The Doxford engine proved to be a considerable success and as such it stands alone amongst British-designed marine diesel engines. Following the death of William Doxford senior in 1882 the company was run by his four sons under the chairmanship of William Theodore Doxford. In 1891 the firm became a limited liability company under the name William Doxford & Sons Ltd. In the same year the firm invented the "turret ship". William Theodore was knighted in 1900. He was chairman of the Wear Shipbuilders Association from 1908 to 1912, and also served on Sunderland Council and as a River Wear Commissioner. He was also MP for Sunderland 1895-1906. He died in 1916 and the chairmanship of the company was taken over by Robert Pyle Doxford. In the early Twentieth Century the shipyard expanded considerably. A new East Yard was added with three new berths, while the five berths in the old West Yard were replaced with three longer ones to enable larger ships to be constructed. As a result the the firm won the blue riband as the leading British tonnage builder in both 1905 and 1907. In 1946 the firm took over the engine works of John Dickinson & Sons Ltd at Palmer's Hill, Sunderland. In 1956 the shipbuilding and enginering sides of the business were separated as two new subsidiary companies - William Doxford & Sons (Shipbuilders) Ltd and William Doxford & Sons (Engineers) Ltd. In 1961 the company merged with Sunderland Shipbuilding, Dry Docks & Engineering Co. Ltd to become Doxford & Sunderland Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd. For a few years all the various shipbuilding and engineering firms within the group continued to operate separately. However, in 1966 the business of the various subsidiaries were fully merged and in 1970 the group's name was shortened to Doxford & Sunderland Ltd. Following the takeover by Court Line in 1973 the name was changed yet again to Sunderland Shipbuilders Ltd. A year later Court Line collapsed and as a result in 1975 the shipyards were taken into public ownership. The nationalisation of the industry was formalised in 1977 with the formation of British Shipbuilders Ltd. During these years significant changes also took place at the Pallion shipyard. In 1973 the old East yard was demolished and by 1976 had been replaced with a modern covered shipbuilding hall. In 1980 the engineering works, operating as Doxford Engines Ltd, completed its final engine and subsequentl operated only as a spare-part supplier. The company remained in public ownership until 1986 when, following a merger with Austin & Pickersgill, it was renamed for the last time and under the name of North East Shipbuilders Ltd the yard finally closed in 1988. In cataloguing this collection William Doxford & Sons Ltd has been treated as the predecessor of Sunderland Shipbuilders Ltd. This reflects the fact that there is considerable administrative continuity between the two. They both also shared the same company number. Although Sunderland Shipbuilders Ltd was responsible for numerous other shipyards and engineering works, their records have been catalogued separately under the names of the predecessor companies.
  • Sunderland, Durham
Functions, occupations and activities: Engineering: Mechanical > Shipbuilding and marine engineering
Name authority reference: GB/NNAF/C96371 (Former ISAAR ref: GB/NNAF/B6254 )
  Description Held by Reference Further information
1833-1989: records incl minutes, corresp, share records, ledgers, particulars, contracts, wages books, photographs, code books, microfiche copies of engine plans
Tyne and Wear Archives
NRA 23712

See Annual Return 2012, LA Ritchie, The Shipbuilding Industry (1992)
1858-1951: ship plans and photographs
Discovery Museum
See LA Ritchie, The Shipbuilding Industry, 1992
1937-76: minutes
Tyne and Wear Archives
See Annual return 2000
1872-1877: album of newspapers cuttings
Tyne and Wear Archives
1874-1914: newsbooks and registers
Sunderland Antiquarian Society

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Related record creators
  Record creator Description of relationship Dates Category of relationship
In 1961 William Doxford & Sons Ltd merged with the Sunderland Shipbuilding, Dry Dock & Engineering Co Ltd to form the Doxford and Sunderland Shipbuilding and Engineering Group, later named Sunderland Shipbuilders Ltd