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Elswick Shipyard 

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An illustrated series of articles from 1898 about the history, operations and products of the Elswick Ship Building Yard.  Follow the links embedded in the text for many of the photographs mentioned in the text and for more information on ships and navies.

Elswick Ship Building Yard - Part I

A visit to the world-famed ship-building yards and works of Sir William Armstrong, Whitworth & Co., at Elswick and Walker, on the Tyne, is a perfect revelation of certain of the very greatest achievements of human genius, enterprise and energy.  The stupendous nature of the operations conducted, the colossal forces brought to bear in the utilising and moulding of material, and the character of the work carried on, all appeal powerfully to the imagination and appreciative faculties of observers.  To Englishmen and British citizens especially such establishments have peculiar attractions.  In ships of war we have our bond of security, and therefore, in illustrating Elswick - to use the famous name for the whole establishment - and describing something of its work and productions, we are sure of presenting a subject of absorbing interest to our readers.  In some respect Elswick is greater than Portsmouth or Woolwich, for it combines the operations of both, besides constructing hydraulic machinery, and turning out a vast deal of work in which neither is engaged.  

Lord Armstrong

True it is that much of "Armstrong's" construction is for the account of foreign Governments, but the progress made and the skill and experience acquired are there for the advantage of the country.  Of British vessels, the ill-fated "Victoria", the "Sirius", "Spartan", "Pactolus", and "Rattler" and the "Boomerang", "Karakatta", "Katoomba", "Midura" and "Wallaroo" of the Australian squadron, with several more, have been built at the Elswick yard.  We cannot but feel proud of the extent and character of the work that Elswick has done and is doing for the world, and something will be seen, as we go forward, of the ships that have been built or are building in the yard for the fleets of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Norway, as well as for the Far East and the Republics of South America.  Ships launched at Elswick were engaged in the war between Chili and Peru and the Naval revolt in Brazil.  When the struggle between Japan and China began, it was the Elswick "Naniwa" which sank the "Kowshing" and, with a single exception, the ships of the flying squadron of Admiral Tsuboiat the Yalu had been built in Armstrong's yard.  Many other vessels for the same Power have been constructed at Elswick, and the launch of the battleship "Yashima", of which some account will be given subsequently, is illustrated today.  

Just over half a century ago there might have been seen in Newcastle the brass plate intimating where was the office of Mr William Armstrong, solicitor.  But Mr Armstrong, though a man of the law, had already turned his attention to hydraulic power, and had erected a crane, so operated, on the Quayside at Newcastle, which afterwards led to the opening of the Elswick works, where hydraulic and other machinery was made.  Such machinery, of immense power, for hydraulic gun-mountings, dock gates, cranes, steel forging, and a multitude of other purposes, is now both made and used at the works.   Then came the Russian war, with its lessons, leading Mr Armstrong to conduct experiments which brought about the formation of the ordnance works at Elswick for the manufacture of rifled breech-loading coil-built guns.  Of the "Armstrong gun" something shall be said later on.  Its inventor, afterwards Sir William, and now the venerable Lord Armstrong, became so famous a gunmaker, that he was invited to take charge of the department of rifled ordnance at Woolwich, an office he held until 1863.  For many years War Office guns were made at Elswick, and now the Armstrong Company is in the very forefront of all gun builders.  Some of its most remarkable constructions in this line will be illustrated subsequently.  Thus, if we described Elswick historically, we should deal with hydraulic machinery and ordnance first.  Ship-building was added later, and the amalgamation of Elswick  and Walker was a fine stroke of administrative power.  But the earliest vessels were built at Walker - the "Giovanni Bausan" for Italy, and the first "Esmeralda" for Chili.  She is here pictured under the name of "Idzumi", which she received from the Japanese, who bought her in 1895. The "Idzumi" may be described as the prototype of the modern cruiser.  At the time of her building in 1884 she steamed at 18.3 knots and was the swiftest vessel afloat.  But Japan had already bought from the same Power the "Tsukushi", launched at Walker in 1882, under the name of "Arturo Prat".  

In January, 1883, Sir William (then Mr) White, the present distinguished Director of Naval Construction at the Admiralty, took entire charge of the creation, equipment and work of the new shipyard to be laid down at Elswick.  "When I went to Elswick", he said, "it was a mudbank on the river-side ; when I came away (September 1885) we had the "Victoria" very largely in frame, and we had built and launched several vessels."  The Italian "Piemonte" (2,500) tons) was also the fastest vessel afloat when she was launched  in 1888.  The "Yoshino", which the Japanese found invaluable at the Yalu, was a further improvement, with her displacement of 4,180 tons, her speed of over 23 knots, and her heavy armament of quick-firers.  We shall next illustrate the tremendous machinery at Elswick for forging steel.  

Extract from "The Navy and Army Illustrated Vol. VI" (April 2nd 1898)

Elswick Machine Shop, 1898

Original naval Magazine photograph of April 16th 1898. Image size 8" x 5" price 10.  order 6 82 

No. 11 Shop, South Bay, Making Wire-Wound Guns

Original naval Magazine photograph of May 28th 1898. Image size 8" x 5" price 10.  order 6 218

View of the XI Shop The North bay, 1898

Original naval Magazine photograph of March 1898. Image size 8" x 8" price 15.  order V34 

No.11 Shop, Middle Bay, Gun Making and Mounting

Original naval Magazine photograph of May 28th 1898. Image size 8" x 5" price 10.  order 6 220

Commander in chief of the Channel Squadron with Staff on Board HMS Majestic 1896.

Vice-Admiral Sir H F Stephenson  (second from left) who commanded the Channel squadron in 1896.  On his left is Flag-Captain H.S.H prince Louis of Battenburg.  and to his right is Staff Paymaster Gilles and far right is Flag-Lt Everett.  Vice admiral Stephenson served during the Crimean War with the fleet in the Baltic and Crimea. also serve din the 2nd China war and was with peel's brigade in the Indian Mutiny. he also Captained  a gun-boat on the Canadian lakes during the Fenian disturbances in 1866.  He was the captain of the Discovery in the Arctic expedition of 1875-76 and lastly before commanding the Channel fleet he in the Egyptian Campaign of 1882.  In 1898 he was one of the youngest vice admirals at the age of 55.

Original naval Magazine photograph of March 1898. Image size 8" x 8" price 15.  order V1B

Elswick Ship - Building Yard. Part II

Public attention was never more largely directed to the adequacy and extent of our resources for the production of guns and armour than it is today.  This is well, for it must not be forgotten that unless the Government works were supplemented by private enterprise and capital, it would be impossible to have built up such a splendid Navy as we now possess.  Perhaps nothing is so well calculated to impress the visitor to the smelting and forging works at Elswick with the exceeding magnitude of the forces of Nature applied to the uses of man, as his inspection of the huge furnaces and the enormous forging presses which are employed in the production of steel.  The operations conducted at Elswick are really stupendous, and the plant employed colossal in size and power.

The steel works are all built upon a series of terraces between the Carlisle branch of the North-Eastern Railway and the River Tyne, have a length of 1100 ft, and cover an area of about 50,000 square yards.  The slope from the railway to the river is sharp, but what might at first have seemed a disadvantage has been turned to profit, for the works have been so arranged that the raw material is tipped on the highest level behind the furnaces, into which it is thence "charged" by cranes.  Into the very interesting process of steel manufacture it is impossible to enter here.  The melting plant comprises eight furnaces, which are capable of turning out a weekly average of upwards of 1200 tons of steel of various descriptions, principally, however, that made by the Siemens-Martin process, which is very largely employed in the manufacture of ordnance and the parts of ships and machinery.  All the gas for the various furnaces and stoves is generated by gas producers built conveniently near, and, when the steel has been brought to the desired character, the "charge" in the furnace is "tapped" and the molten steel flows into the huge ladle provided, and is carried by cranes of enormous power to the adjacent moulds.  The cranes, which are numerous and varied in design, to suit the different purposes for which they are intended, are an interesting feature of the steel works.  Especially noticeable are the powerful travellers, made at the works, which are operated by hydraulic force, and rapidly manipulate the red-hot steel in process of casting and forging, turning it in any direction, advancing or withdrawing it at the touch of a lever, ready to the hand of the forgeman, whose position is on the floor near the forging blocks.

Large Press Working on Red Hot Ingot

To this level the steel descends in the form of ingots, to be forged by the hydraulic presses into hoops and barrels for ordnance, shafting (hollow or solid) for vessels, and a hundred other purposes.  Elswick is famous for its propeller shafting, which has been supplied for British and foreign warships and the largest mail boats upwards of 80ft in length.  Single ingots have been cast weighing as much as 75 tons, and to deal with these it will be readily understood that extraordinary appliances are necessary.  For forging them there are four principal hydraulic presses, the largest of which exerts a pressure of 5,000 tons, and works the largest and hardest pieces to any shape required.  Pressure is supplied by five pairs of Corliss pumping engines, each of 1,000 horse power, and there are many smaller engines for hydraulic cranes and driving machinery.

In addition to the ingot casting department there is a special foundry for castings for gun carriages, marine work, electrical and general machinery and anchors, and here some of the largest stem and stern posts and rudder frames now afloat have been made.  The equipment of the steel department - which alone employs 1,500 hands - also includes the heaviest machine tools for turning and boring forgings, and cutting ingots and forgings into desired lengths.  But the illustrations show the enormous character of the equipment, while one illustrates the old machine shop for pumping engines and hydraulic machinery - the first erected at Elswick.

For several years the great steel works were under the direction of the late Colonel Dyer, who recently died at Manchester after having played his part as the life and soul of the Employers Federation during the engineering dispute.  He had superintended Sir Joseph Whitworth's ordnance works there before going to Elswick, and returned to take charge of the Manchester branch when the great concerns of Armstrong and Whitworth were amalgamated.  It has ever been the good fortune of Sir William Armstrong to find able coadjutors in his work, some of whom we may yet speak.  A portrait of one of the prominent chiefs of Elswick is given today.  For many years the active direction of the Elswick ordnance works centred in Sir Andrew Noble, now the vice chairman of the company, who joined it in 1860.  Sir Andrew Noble has gained a worldwide reputation, in Association with Sir Frederick Abel, by his researches into the composition and properties of explosives, and the development of rifled ordnance owes much to him.

A few words may now be said about the South American ships illustrated here.  The "Quinze de Novembro", once the "Republica", is a cruiser of 1,300 tons, launched at Elswick in 1892, interesting as having played a notable part in the Brazilian revolt.  The Argentine "Nueve de Julio" took the water in the same year, but is larger (3,570 tons), of 22.75 knots speed, and has a powerful quick-firing armament.  The Chilian "Blanco Encalada", of 4,400 tons, and the same speed, launched in 1893, is remarkable for her great armament.  The two last named are noteworthy cruisers, though not quite the finest achievements of Elswick in this line.

Extract taken from "Navy and Army Illustrated", April 16th 1898.

A Huge Machinery Shop at Elswick

No.16 Shop Making Torpedo Discharge Tubes

6a Shop - Guns Going Through the Browning Process

Elswick Ship - Building Yard. Part III

The importance of handicraft is a subject that has occupied the attention of the society of art and of Sir W B Richmond during the present week.  Nowhere can handicraft and machine work be seen so well wedded together as at the Elswick ship-building yard.  We shall now contemplate the ship as a creation - the greatest outcome, as has been well said, of the human intellect, working in multitudinous channels towards a common end.  We have, appropriately, illustrations of the "Yashima" and of the new "Esmerelda" for an accompaniment, because the battleship is the finest vessel yet built at Elswick, and the cruiser the latest achievement of her class, and because the Naval development of Japan - in which the Armstrong yards are taking the greatest part - is one of the most considerable factors in the international politics of the present day. A still larger battleship, of upwards of 15,000 tons, the armoured cruiser "Asama", of 9,750 tons, being the first cruiser afloat really fit to take her place in the line of battle, with two sisters; the "Takasago", 4,150 tons (actually ready), and a sister, of the "Yoshino" class, with exceptional speed - these are the vessels the Elswick Company is now building and completing for the Japanese Navy.  The establishment at Low Walker - "Mitchell's " it was always called - five miles below Elswick on the Tyne, had been in existence many years when the latter yard was created.  Sir William White, the distinguished Director of Naval Construction, was really its creator, but he resigned his office in September, 1885, and during many years his accomplished successor, Mr Watts, director of the Elswick ship building departments, has been designing and superintending the building of the magnificent cruisers that have given the yard its world-wide fame.  But to describe the successive steps in the construction of a war ship is impossible, and perhaps unnecessary here.  The character and purpose of the vessel, the conditions of structural strength, stability, sea-going qualities, speed, coal endurance, draught, accommodation, armament, and other features involved are embodied in the design.  The ship is laid off to her full size in the mould-loft, and the working drawings and specifications for plates, armour, and structural parts are prepared.  The keel is laid and the ribs are bent, and the structural work of framing and plating, fixing the stem and stern posts, laying the decks, and building the material into the hull, goes on.  Thus is all made ready for the reception of machinery, armour plating and ordnance, and for the final completion of the vessel, the launch taking place in the course of the work at a period of its advancement determined by the circumstances of the case.  The "Yashima", which is illustrated, and of the launch of which we have already published a picture, is a very splendid example of the work done at Armstrong's yard.  her special character is well seen in the picture of her as she passes the swing bridge on the Tyne.  What would the legionaries of Hadrian have thought - who raised at Newcastle, at the Pons Aelii, where the swing bridge is, an altar to Neptune in thankfulness for delivery from the sea - if they could have seen the "Yashima" steam down the Tyne?  Resembling our own "Magnificent" and "Majestic", she had somewhat smaller displacement (12,320 ton) and better speed.  She is heavily protected, and powerfully armed.  Four 12-in guns are coupled in the barbettes.  These are of 45 calibre, and, with a smaller charge of cordite, have a higher velocity than our 40-calibre gun.  Ten 6-in quick firers, and twenty four lighter pieces, besides a bow torpedo tube and four submerged ejectors, complete the armament.  The new "Esmerelda" represents a late development of the cruiser class.  This splendid cruiser carries a more powerful armament than any other afloat, combined with a belt defence of 6-in Harveyed armour, and a speed of over 23 knots.  The armament comprises two 8-in breech loaders, practically quick firers, and sixteen 6-in, eight 12-pounders and two 3-pounders.  In a later article we shall describe and illustrate these powerful pieces.

Extract from "The Navy and Army Illustrated Vol. VI" (April 30nd 1898)

Elswick Ship - Building Yard. Part IV

The very eager competition among would be buyers to induce the Chilian Government to part with its splendid armoured cruiser "Almirante O'Higgins" lends interest to the picture of the launch of that ship.  The House of Commons laughed a few weeks ago when Mr Goschen mentioned the name of O'Higgins, but he was a very gallant admiral nevertheless, hailing of course from the Emerald Isle, greatly valued in Chilian Naval annals, and who has already given to an old barque, built in the Thames in 1866, and now fitted for the Chilian torpedo service.  The new ship will rank high among those splendid vessels designed by Mr Watts, and launched at the Elswick yard.  It is not easy to distinguish between a cruiser like this and a battleship.  Our own new vessels of the "Cressy" class fall into this category, and the "Asama", launched not long ago at Elswick, and the "Tokiwa" and another Japanese sister now building there, are also examples.  The "O'Higgins" is a peculiar instance of the difficulty, for she appears to have the offensive and defensive qualities of a battleship.  She displaces 8,500 tons, and carries four 8in breech loaders, and the following quick firing armament : Ten 6in, four 4.7in, eight 40 calibre 12 pounders, two of 23 calibres, and ten 6 pounders, besides four machine guns, and she has an 18in torpedo tube in the stem, and one submerged on each broadside.  All the larger guns are either in casemates or gun houses, covered with six or seven inches of Harveyed armour, and there is a long belt of the same.  Very notable points of this ship are her high speed of 22 knots, and the power of her end-on fire, the guns being so placed that she can concentrate right ahead two 6in, two 4.7in, six 12 pounder and two 6 pounder guns, and right astern one 8in, four 6in, two 4.7in, six 12 pounder and two 6 pounder guns.  This ship will be the most important in the Chilian Navy, and is to be completed within eighteen months of the date of the order for building.

Some other pictures illustrate further the methods and processes of ship building.  No 7 shop, for example, which is 300ft long, with a centre bay and two side bays, has two travelling cranes, each capable of lifting fifty tons, and others smaller.  Here, in the foreground, may be observed circular gun houses for the Norwegian battleship "Tordenskjold" (sister of "Harald Haarfagre", completed not long ago); to plate shields for gun houses; behind, again, twin mountings for the Brazilian ship "24 de Maio" - the same which, under the name of "Aquidaban", was torpedoed and sunk in shallow water during the Brazilian revolt - and between these and the armoured circular shield, some of the 8in mountings and their protective armour intended for the "O'Higgins".  In the right foreground, under the platform, may be seen cages for the ammunition hoists of our own battleships "Mars" and "Jupiter", and powder cases for Japanese battleships.  The shop is mainly devoted to the manufacture and erection of turn tables and mountings of heavy guns.  

The works of building and fitting war ships is carried on at Elswick in every detail, and nothing is wanting to the completeness of the works.  No 29 Shop is one of the most important in the whole establishment.  Here are portions of gun houses - curved plates ready for machinery - parts of gun cradles, recoil cylinders, roller paths and roller rings, on which gun turn tables revolve, and many other appliances connected with guns, all shown in various stages of manufacture.  For the facility of moving such heavy weights, great cranes driven by power, and capable of lifting twenty tons, are provided.  Another part of the same shop is devoted to the fitting of dynamos and electric light projectors.  The Argentine cruiser "Buenos Aires", which is illustrated, is quite one of the most interesting vessels ever built at Elswick.  She displaces 4,780 tons, and carries two 8in guns, which are virtually quick firers, and six 4.7in, sixteen 3 pounder and six 1 pounder guns properly so described.  She was launched in 1895, and obtained the unprecedented speed of 23.2 knots on her trial trip with natural draught.

Extract from "The Navy and Army Illustrated Vol. VI" (May 14th 1898)


The 12 in. Wirewound Gun

The 6 in. Quick Firer without shield

To see Photographs of this Gun in Action, click here

The Elswick 6 in. Quick Firer

To see Photographs of this Gun in Action, click here

An 8 in. Quick Firer

To see Photographs of this Gun in Action, click here

A 4.7 in. Quick Firer 

To see Photographs of this Gun in Action, click here

A Six Pounder Gun made at Elswick

To see Photographs of this Gun in Action, click here

A Twelve Pounder Gun made at Elswick

To see Photographs of this Gun in Action, click here

Elswick 21-Inch Side Loading Submerged Torpedo Tube, c.1914.


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Everything we obtain for this site is shown on the site, we do not have any more photos, crew lists or further information on any of the ships.


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