British Shipbuilders

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British Shipbuilders Corporation
Industry Shipbuilding
Marine engineering
Naval architecture
Fate Assets liquidated
Founded 1 September 1977
Defunct 1989 (De facto)
2013 (De jure)
Headquarters Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Number of employees
87,000 (1977)
62,000 (1982)
5,000 (1987)

British Shipbuilders Corporation (BS) was a public corporation that owned and managed the shipbuilding industry in Great Britain from 1977 through the 1980s. The British Shipbuilders Corporation headquarters was at Benton House in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.


The corporation was founded as a result of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977, which nationalised 27 major shipbuilding and marine engineering companies in Great Britain. A further 6 ship repair companies and a further shipyard were also acquired by the corporation, with British Shipbuilders initially comprising 32 shipyards, 6 marine engine works and 6 general engineering plants. Collectively, British Shipbuilders accounted for 97% of the UK's merchant shipbuilding capacity, 100% of its warship-building capacity, 100% of slow speed diesel engine manufacturing and approximately 50% of ship-repair capacity. Harland & Wolff, the only shipbuilder based in Northern Ireland was deemed to be a special political case and remained out of the control of the British Shipbuilders' management, despite it also being in state ownership from 1977.

The same act nationalised the three large UK aerospace companies and grouped them in an analogous corporation, British Aerospace.

Leadership and organisation

The first Chairman of British Shipbuilders, serving from 1978 to 1981, was Admiral Sir Anthony Griffin. He was succeeded by Sir Robert Atkinson, who in turn was succeeded by Graham Day in 1983, Phillip Hares in 1986, with the final Chairman, John Lister, taking office in 1987.[1]

The company was initially organised into four operating divisions: Merchant, Naval, Ship-repair, Marine Engineering and General Engineering. This was restructured into five trading divisions in 1980: Merchant Shipbuilding, Warship-building, Engineering, Ship-repair and Offshore.


By the end of 1982, British Shipbuilders had closed half of its shipyards in an effort to reduce over-capacity. The terms of the British Shipbuilders Act 1983 then required the company to begin a process of privatising its remaining assets. The various divisions that had remained under integrated nationalised ownership were divested throughout the 1980s as the company wound up operations. The profitable warship-builders were sold off initially, with the merchant shipyards sold off or closed on a piecemeal basis, culminating in the sale of Govan Shipbuilders to Kvaerner in 1988 and Ferguson Shipbuilders to the privatised marine engine builder, Clark Kincaid, in January 1989. British Shipbuilders finally ceased active shipbuilding operations in 1989, with the closure of its last shipyards; North East Shipbuilders Ltd.'s Pallion and Southwick Shipyards at Sunderland. The remaining assets of North East Shipbuilders Ltd. were then privatised as A&P Appledore International, which became a major ship-repair firm.


The British Shipbuilders Corporation continued to exist as a 'shell corporation' in statute, in order to be accountable for any liabilities incurred during its operational history,[2] until it was abolished in 2013[3] as part of the Government's 2010 public bodies reforms. From March 2013 any remaining liabilities of British Shipbuilders passed to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Assets subsumed by British Shipbuilders

The assets of the following companies vested in British Shipbuilders on 1 September 1977.[4]

Shipbuilders and ship repairers

Marine diesel engine manufacturers

Note: Harland and Wolff, Belfast was state-owned but did not form part of British Shipbuilders.


  • Scott Lithgow (Offshore Division) - 1981 - individual operating companies dissolved, sold to Trafalgar House in 1984, closed 1993.
  • Brooke Marine (Merchant Division) - management buyout in 1985.[5][6] Ceased trading in 1992.
  • Vosper Thornycroft (Warship Division) - 1985 - management buyout, known as VT Group until 2008, now BAE Systems Surface Ships.
  • Yarrow Shipbuilders (Warship Division) - 1985 - sold to GEC-Marconi as Marconi Marine (YSL) then to BAE Systems as part of BAE Systems Marine, now BAE Systems Surface Ships.
  • VSEL (Warship Division) - 1986 - employee buyout, with Cammell Laird as a subsidiary. Acquired by GEC-Marconi in 1995 as part of Marconi Marine, then to BAE Systems as part of BAE Systems Marine, now BAE Systems Submarine Solutions.
  • Cammell Laird (Warship Division) - 1986 - as a subsidiary of VSEL, finished shipbuilding in 1993, now ship-repair firm.
  • Ailsa Shipbuilders (Merchant Division) - 1986 - Ailsa split from merged BS subsidiary Ferguson-Ailsa and sold to Perth Corporation as Ailsa Perth Shipbuilders. Ceased shipbuilding in 1988.
  • Hall Russell (Warship Division) - 1986 - management buyout, later acquired by A&P Appledore International in 1989, closed 1992.
  • Swan Hunter (Warship Division) - 1987 - management buyout, entered receivership 1994, bought by Jaap Kroese. Ceased shipbuilding, 2006.
  • Govan Shipbuilders (Merchant Division) - 1988 - sold to Kværner as Kvaerner Govan, to GEC-Marconi 1999 as part of Marconi Marine then to BAE Systems as part of BAE Systems Marine, now BAE Systems Surface Ships.
  • Ferguson Shipbuilders (Merchant Division) - 1986 - Ferguson split from merged BS subsidiary Ferguson-Ailsa and merged with Appledore Shipbuilders to form new BS subsidiary Appledore-Ferguson. Ferguson Shipbuilders sold to Clark Kincaid (HLD Group) in 1989.
  • Appledore Shipbuilders (Merchant Division) - 1986 - merged with Ferguson Shipbuilders to form new BS subsidiary Appledore-Ferguson. Sold to privatised North East Shipbuilders Ltd. to form A&P Appledore International in 1989.
  • Clark Kincaid (Engineering Division) - 1989 - management buyout (HLD Group), later acquired by Kvaerner in 1990. Kvaerner Kincaid sold to Scandiaverken in 1999 and ceased manufacturing in 2000.

The evolution of British Shipbuilders


  1. Obituary: Admiral Sir Anthony Griffin The Independent, 22 October 1996
  2. Cable announces further quango closures
  3. DTI - Managing Government Assets and Liabilities
  4. SI 1977/540, art.2
  5. Builders: Brooke Marine Ltd., National Historic Ships. Retrieved 2011-04-25.
  6. Brooke Marine Ltd, Hansard, 2006-11-02,. Retrieved 2011-04-25.