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Laird (Mersey)

The Laird Brothers of Birkenhead were Scottish shipbuilder and developer who was responsible for what later became the Cammell Laird shipyard, and for starting the substantial development of its adjoining town, Birkenhead, on the Wirral in England.

The Laird family were from Greenock near Glasgow, and in 1810 they moved from there to Liverpool to develop the family's rope manufacturing business. By 1822 he had developed wider engineering interests, and had set up a steamship company to run between Liverpool and Glasgow. In 1824 William Laird established the Birkenhead Iron Works in 1824 with another partner, Daniel Horton. In 1828, that partnership was dissolved, and Laird and his son John, a solicitor's clerk, set up a new business, William Laird & Son. This was initially a boilerworks, but in 1828 it received its first order for 60-ton lighter and their first innovation, which was the use of bulkheads, was put to use in the small paddle steamer Garryowen in 1834. In addition, the yard made a number of iron gunboats. John Laird's brother Macgregor Laird was also establishing his own yard on the Liverpool bank from 1832. Macgregor Laird was also known as a human rights activist for African peoples, and regularly undertook voyages into the interior of Africa.

As landowner, Laird commissioned Edinburgh architect James Gillespie Graham to design an elegant new town close to the shipyard. This became the centre of Birkenhead, focused on Hamilton Square and, after Laird's death in 1841, Birkenhead Park.

In the 1850s The site of the yard was acquired by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board for Birkenhead Docks. John Laird moved to a new site between Monks Ferry and Tranmere Pool. This was known as the North Yard. The famous explorer Dr. Livingstone also ordered his river steamer Ma Robert from the yard. Macgregor founded the African Steamship Co which, after his death, was sold on to Elder Dempster and Co.

Laird's shipbuilding business moved in 1856 to a new site on the river bank at Tranmere, and in 1903 amalgamated with Charles Cammell & Company to become Cammell Laird. Laird's elder son John became MP for Birkenhead in 1861. His younger son, Macgregor Laird, was a pioneer of trade on the River Niger in Africa.

In 1860 the name changed to John Laird, Sons and Co, with William Laird (1831-1899) and John Laird (1834-1898), the sons of John, as additional partners. In 1861 John Laird, the elder, retired in order to become an MP. His brother Macgregor Laird also died this year. Henry Hyndman Laird was admitted into what then became the firm of Messrs. Laird Brothers, with William Laird (1831-1899) and John Laird (1834 - 1898), of which William Laird was the senior partner. From this point onwards the yard built up a formidable reputation as a merchant shipbuilder. The yard also built the Confederate commence raider Alabama in 1862. This ship was responsible for sinking over 60 Union merchantmen before meeting its end in 1864 when it was hit and sunk.

From 1870-1900 over 270 merchant ships were made by the yard

In the 1890s The yard made a series of armour-clad battleships for the Royal Navy along with torpedo boat destroyers. This led on to orders coming in from Argentinean, Chilean, Portuguese and Russian navies. The armour plating had been manufactured by Charles Cammell and Co and consequently the two companies were merged in 1903 to become Cammell, Laird and Co. This meant that armoured warships could be built by one company, which was more convenient for the Royal Navy. The company was already of limited liability status.

In 1903 Charles Cammell and Co took over the Birkenhead shipbuilding yards and this became Cammell, Laird and Co


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