Catalogue description Henry B. Hornby Ltd. Boat Builders

This record is held by Wirral Archives

Details of ZHH
Reference: ZHH
Title: Henry B. Hornby Ltd. Boat Builders

The Wirral Archives Collection consists mainly of photographs of the boats built by Henry B. Hornby Ltd, with a small collection of additional material.


The collection is arranged as follows


ZHH 1: Photographs


ZHH 2: Production records


ZHH 3: Company history records

Date: 1929 - 1996
Related material:

See Hignett, H.M, Ancillary Industries of Liverpool SteamshipLines: Current Research in Maritime History: Papers presented at a research day school, Merseyside Maritime Museum (Liverpool Nautical Research Society, 1996)

Held by: Wirral Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Henry B Hornby Ltd, boat builders

Physical description: Two boxes.
Immediate source of acquisition:

The collection was deposited with Wirral Archives on 7 January 1999 by Mr Hignett. (Accession no. 1433)

Administrative / biographical background:



Following an apprenticeship with the boat builder, William Dickinson, at a yard at Cathcart Street, Birkenhead, Henry B. Hornby, in c.1901, took over a small boat builders yard near what was later to become the entrance to Bidston Dock and began touting for orders. His first commission was for the building of three river launches for Elder Dempster & Co., formerly the British and West African Steam Navigation Co. An order for surf boats followed, and it was the building of surf boats which became the mainstay of the business.


The surf boats, being required to carry cargo to and from ships, needed to be exceptionally robust in order to withstand heavy knocks on drawing up against ships offshore and on running ashore through the surf. Henry Hornby visited West Africa to study the work and use of the boats and on his return worked with naval architect W. H. Comben on the design of an innovative flexible frame which would minimise the damage caused by striking the large vessels.


In 1923, Henry's former employer, William Dickinson, retired and his boatbuilding firm, which had first been established in 1863, was merged with Henry B. Hornby Ltd. This acquisition brought some additional work to the firm. The business moved to new premises off Gorsey Lane, Wallasey, when the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board proposed that they would require land on which the original premises were situated for the construction of Bidston Dock.


Henry died suddenly in 1924 and his son, Robert, took over the firm. During the 1920s and early 1930s, Hornby began constructing launches for the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board and built several yachts; including sail, auxiliary motor and pure motor vessels. In 1938 Robert was requested by the Admiralty to join an advisory committee to oversee any war production of small craft for the Royal Navy. On the outbreak of hostilities, Robert and his son Albert (his assistant at this time) were prepared to produce small craft for the Royal Navy and lifeboats for the Merchant Navy, in addition to the customary launches for river and harbour service.


After the War, the firm received several orders for Colonial services worldwide and from firms working for the UK and Colonial Governments in small islands isolated from main shipping lines. However by the 1960s the orders received by Hornby for surfboats had begun to decline rapidly, partly due to the fact that Elder Dempster and Co. began to build their own surfboats in West Africa, but also as new ports began to offer wharves and quays for large vessels the need for surfboats disappeared. In addition, new materials such as plastic and glass-reinforced polyester resin were developed for building small craft and multiple unit production became possible without the need for specialist craftsmen.

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