The Story of Warren’s Shipyard

One cold rainy day in October, we spent a cosy session on Hull Marina, inside the 62′ Super Sloop Spider T listening to  stories for Open Bridges: A River Full Of Stories.  Owner and Captain Mal Nicholson welcomed us on board, a perfect place to share stories of the River Hull’s past.

Thanks to Phil Warren for this story of his great grandfather and great uncle of Warren’s Shipyard who designed and built the Spider T, the pride of the Tomlinson fleet, launched in 1926.

“The story begins with William Henry Warren, (1859 –1923)

Spider T

William’s parents were Peter, a ships carpenter of Falmouth and Thurza (Clynick), Thurza came from Tavistock in Devon & their home was in Smethick Hill, Falmouth. There were four children, William, a daughter Mahala, Fred and Peter Randolph.

William started his apprenticeship on November 17th 1874 with the boat builder Henry Trethowan, in Falmouth at the age of fifteen, but in 1876 he was transferred to Frederickson & Facet, boat builders of Barton on Humber. He completed his apprenticeship at Humphrey & Son’s shipbuilders & shipwrights of Hull.

On May 23rd 1881 he was married to a Barton girl, Mary Eliza Bacon and there were four children from this marriage; Fred, Ernest, Ethel & Mabel. They were residing at this time in Barnsley Street, Stone Ferry, Hull, on the eastern side of the River Hull. William decided to go to sea to get further experience, so he signed on as shipwright on the Halifax reg. N.S. sailing ship Sovereign.

After being at sea he worked for Beaching Brothers of Gt. Yarmouth as a shipwright, followed by a further spell at sea on S.S. Othello in fact he had two trips on the Othello, to Bombay, and another trip to Montevideo on the Sovereign as ship carpenter. On May 4th 1890 his wife Mary died aged 30 years and after this Ethel died, aged eight. I believe that Mary is buried in Barton on Humber Cemetery, Barrow Road (my grandma). Ethel may be buried in St. Nicholas Church burial ground Beverley, East Yorks. The family were still living in Barnsley Street, Stone Ferry, Hull at this time. William’s brother Fred was staying in the house with them. Fred was by trade a blacksmith.

William’s sea going experience proved worthwhile because he was appointed by Cochranes Shipbuilders of Beverley as shipbuilding foreman, but in 1897 he left Cochranes to start on his own by renting a small shipyard at Beverley Beck where he built his first ship – the keel DIAMOND.  In 1892 William married a Beverley girl Anne Elizabeth Thompson and moved to live at Grove Hill, Beverley, there were two surviving children from this marriage, Hilda and Vera. About this time William was encouraged by his new wife to become a born again Christian.

On 17th May 1899, the small shipbuilding yard of Doig’s at New Holland, on the banks of the River Humber came on to the market & was to be sold by public auction.  Doig’s Shipbuilders were leaving New Holland in order to concentrate on engineering & ship repairing at their other yard at Grimsby.

William Henry Warren was interested in purchasing the New Holland yard so on the 17th May 1899, at the public auction, William made a successful bid for the shipyard, this included a separate boat yard further down the east bank of the river all equipped for building  small craft such as 30ft life boats etc. It was a well-appointed shed with an  overhead gantry crane and all the necessary equipment to build this type of craft. Boat builders were employed to do the construction of these craft.

William henceforth moved from Beverley Beck to New Holland and the new firm of William Henry Warren Shipbuilder was established.

Two London barges under construction at Beverley were towed to New Holland for fitting out, also two steam drifters left by Doigs uncompleted were taken over by William and completed for their Grimsby owners.

William moved his wife and family to a cottage situated within the shipyard. In 1904 Williams daughter Mabel died aged 16 years, followed by the death of his brother Fred, a blacksmith in 1906.

The next few years saw a variety of vessels being built, including coasters and river craft, sloops & keels. In 1904 the John William, a 65ft sloop was built and in 1907 the Phyllis.  The keel Comrade was built in 1923 but under the name of Wanda. 1926 saw the launch of the sloop Spider T for Mr. J.J. Tomlinson as the yard steadily built up a great reputation for ship design and workmanship. William’s sons Fred and Ernest had joined the firm, Fred as design draughtsman who served his apprenticeship with Cochranes of Beverley and Ernest, who served his apprenticeship as a joiner with his father.

With the outbreak of the first world war, Fred who was in the Territorial Army had to leave and join the Lincolnshire Yeomanry. Later he was transferred to the Royal Engineers, out in Iraq, ferrying supplies up the rivers Tigris and Euphrates with tugs built at Warrens Shipyard. That left William & Ernest to run the show & there was much activity in the building of ships for the Admiralty and the Indian Office. These included steam drifters, water boats, oil boats, boom defence vessels, barges and tugs.

During 1918 six 126 ft. composite barges were built for the Admiralty, these were steel framed vessels skinned on the outside with timber planking, I believe Clapton’s shipbuilders of Barton were involved in the building of these six ships. Six building berths were available for the construction of these vessels, one of these was roofed over, with as many as 40 men employed. 1920 saw the family move to The Mount, Barrow on Humber from the cottage within the works premises.

Sadly in 1923 William Henry Warren died suddenly of a heart attack, aged 64 and the business became a limited liability company and was known as “Warrens, New Holland Shipyard Ltd.” Fred was demobilised from the army after the war ended.  The company was now managed by Fred & Ernest Warren.

William’s daughters Hilda and Vera joined the company, Vera who had been to Leeds University and studied economics, both the girls were in the accounts office.

Now with the end of the war and the depression of 1925 shipbuilding was going through a hard time, so in 1919 to get work, William built vessels under a joint ownership and the shipping firm of Messrs. Birch & Warren was established, building the SS Mary Birch, Margaret Birch, Violet Birch, Gwendoline Birch. These ships were based at Fosdyke on the river Welland. But this shipping company ceased to exist after the death of William and was sold back to Mr. Birch. During this time both at Beverley and New Holland before the death of William 191 ships were constructed, lighters, keels, tugs, and coastal vessels, including the largest coaster built at New Holland the Margaret Birch with a 135ft long X 25ft beam.

The yard had its lean times but 1925 was a busy year, whereas 1926 was quiet in comparison.  A cattle barge was built for South American owners during 1928 but disaster again struck the family because Fred was diagnosed as having throat cancer and he died in 1930 aged 49. This was a blow to Ernest. Now he had the full responsibility for the management of the yard.

Between 1931 and 1933 was a depressing time with only two vessels completed in ’31 and three in ’33. During this time repair work was at hand and the slip-way was generally in use for out of water surveys or repairs. 1932 saw the building of the Green One and the Greendale.  In 1933 vessels were built for the River Welland Drainage Board and in 1934 barges were built for the Trent Navigation Company for the Nottingham trade. There was an upturn in fortune in 1935 when the first passenger yacht was built at New Holland the new “National” engined  passenger yacht, the Coronia, measuring 129ft length overall by 26ft beam and had a draught of 6ft. She was certified for 472 passengers. The ship was designed by Mr. Sturrock a naval architect from Hull, Mr. John Clark was the consulting engineer. Also constructed that year was the Joyce B. for J. Barraclough of Grimsby.

About this time the slip-way underwent a major refit and a completely new electric powered hauling winch manufactured by Doig’s of Grimsby was installed. Part of the yard to the east of the property was still owned by the London and North Eastern Railway Company (LNER), Ernest bought this land so now the company had the freehold on all the yard.

Mr Ernest Warrens staff both in the office and the yard: Mr .W H Ward Design draughtsman; B. Fairclough and V. Greenfield, Accountants; James Naylor, Foreman; Jim Greenfield plater; Alf Naylor, Norman Clayton, W. Grant, Shipwrights; Harry Johnson, Joiner; Harry Skelton, Blacksmith; George Welch, Horace Frairy, Percy Proctor, Engineers; Jack Goodrich, Painter; Wm. Petit, Caulker, Henry Turner and Ernest Swindles, Riveters. This is just some of the men employed, but my memory fails me of who they were.

1936 saw the construction of various craft including dredgers, barges, motor barges, and the conversion of one of the first narrow boats to a house boat for Mr Robert Teal of Carlton on Trent. She was named the Elizabeth after Mr. Teals Daughter, The boat was 70ft. long by a 6ft. 10inch beam.

1937 was a good year. There was more confidence about with ship-owners and a total of 12 vessels were completed.

1938 was another good year and included building the motor barge Frank Rayner.

1939 and right through the war years, landing craft and naval armament barges came off the building ways, at times all six building berths were in use.

In 1948 on the 19th of June Mr. Ernest Warren died of a stroke after a long illness. A total of 131 ships were built from William’s death to Ernest’s demise. After the death of Ernest, Mr William Ward was appointed manager, with Peter Warren as his assistant. Mrs Hilda Blakeborough daughter of William joined the firm to represent the senior shareholders and in 1950 a new joiners & shipwrights shop was built by F. Hepworth & Co. of Goxhill in place of the old cottage & shipwrights shop.

Between 1950 and 1960 a total of 17 craft were built and launched from the yard but the main work now came from repairs, on all types of vessels including air sea rescue fast launches for the RAF. This repair work dried up due to shipping deserting the water ways. The yard finally closed in 1962 but was sold and reopened by Mr. David Cook and two ships were built by the new owners, but the main business was was now ship-breaking.

So now you get a situation, crowded roads and deserted rivers, not like it was when I were a lad. As a matter of interest there were nine steel shipbuilding yards in the greater Humber area: Watsons in Gainsborough; Cochranes in Selby; Dunstons in Hessle and Thorne; the Yorkshire Drydock in Hull; Warrens in New Holland; J.S. Doig in Grimsby; Beverley Shipyard; Harkers in Knottingley, with one Shipyard Remaining at Paul on the north bank of the Humber. There were other Yards building wooden ships on the south bank: Winteringham Shipyard; Days of Barrow Haven and Clapson & Sons, Waterside, Barton on Humber.  Clapsons built a large number of mine sweepers during the 1939 to 1945 war, and some very attractive yachts after the war.

Ps. The Coronia is now moored on the river Medway at Cuxton Marina, Port Medway, Station Road, Cuxton, Kent and is used as a yacht club clubhouse & restaurant.

Sloops still in service: John William, Phyllis, Comrade & Spider T.”

Phil Warren  – Open Bridges: A River Full Of Stories, Spider T session October 2018

Click on any of the photos below to see the full picture and scroll along the gallery. Photos courtesy of Spider T owner and Captain Malcolm Nicholson.

Thank you to Historic Motor and Sail’s Mal Nicholson and crew for super hospitality.

Click here to visit the Spider T website  where you can find out all about her history and current activities.

Visit the Spider T page on the Historic Motor and Sail website

Rich & Lou Duffy-Howard

Open Bridges made history when for the first time all 13 of the bridges over the River Hull in the UK’s City of Culture 2017 raised, swung or closed simultaneously splitting the city of Hull in two at 20:17 hours on 22nd September 2017.  Historic vessels sailed down the River to be met by 21st century tugs.

Open Bridges is an independent Hull/East Yorkshire based project.


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