Trench Point

Top Skippers’ Choice: The Story of Campbeltown Shipyard Ltd (1969 – 1998)

50th Anniversary Heritage Project from SKDT.

“Top Skippers’ Choice: The Story of Campbeltown Shipyard” is a celebration of the shipyard and the people who worked there. The project aims to bring together stories, memories, images and technical information, through research and first hand. Our idea is to preserve an important part of Kintyre’s industrial heritage and to bring this to life through both local people and the Kintyrean diaspora. This project, which has been funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Scotland,  will tell the story of Campbeltown Shipyard Ltd through the voices of the people who worked there, those bought and crewed the boats built there, and everyone in the local community. This is an South Kintyre Development Trust heritage project, and will be coordinated by artist and filmmaker,  Jan Nimmo, who has already carried out heritage projects in South Kintyre (see “The Road to Drumleman”).  Jan will be supported by the SKDT, and plans to involve as many people as possible in the project. Top Skippers’ Choice will run throughout 2019, 50 years after the yard started building boats.

We will be running a number of drop-in sessions in Campbeltown to collect stories, as well as initiating an online call-out to anyone with stories information or images related to Campbeltown Shipyard. We will create an on-line archive and website, and will publish all the information gathered. We will be working with local primary schools, and local crafters, and will hold an exhibition and “get together” at the end of the year in the Town Hall in Campbeltown. To find out more about getting involved check here or contact Jan by email.

About Campbeltown Shipyard Ltd.

Campbeltown Loch, on Kintyre’s east coast, is a natural deep water fishing harbour, and the town has a long tradition of boat building. The area around Campbeltown’s Old Quay, constructed in 1712, became a centre for building coastal sloops and for boat repairs throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

In 1877 a locally born merchant, Archibald MacEachern, who had made his fortune in Africa, built a new shipyard at Trench Point. The Campbeltown Shipyard Co. went on to build 110 ships, however the yard went into decline after WW1  and finally closed in 1922. In the 20th century, fishing, agriculture, whisky production and coal mining remained the mainstays of the South Kintyre economy, however boat-building did not resume until after the closure of the Argyll Colliery at Machrihanish, in 1967. Coal mining had been a major employer for men in Campbeltown and its surrounding area so the closure of the mine came as a great blow to the community. Argyll Colliery was last of a succession of mines in the Machrihanish and Drumlemble area and had been a mainstay for generations of families. (See our previous heritage project, The Road to Drumleman: Images and Stories from Kintyre’s Mining Past). Many families had to leave the area to find work in other mines across Scotland and some moved to England to towns like Corby in search of employment in heavy industry – and those who remained in Campbeltown were looking for new jobs.

In that same year, Twickenham based Thames Launch Works Ltd, having delivered a fishing boat, “The Gleaner”, to Campbeltown skipper, Cecil Finn, were keen to set up a base in Scotland and went into partnership with Lithgows Ltd to open what was initially called the Thames Campbeltown Shipyard Ltd. The new yard was set up with financial assistance from the HIDB (Highlands and Islands Development Board) and was built on the same site at Trench Point as Archibald MacEachern’s shipyard. In May 1970 the yard was renamed Campbeltown Shipyard. The shipyard office opened in December 1968 and the yard started to operate in May 1969. Amongst the first of its 30 employees were ex-miners from Argyll Colliery, who went to train at the Thames Launch Works on Eel Pie Island, Twickenham. These included John Kerr, Jeff Bridges, John Duncan and John Campbell. At the same time, Thames Launch Works sent Ian Ward up to Campbeltown to work as the first yard foreman. Naval architect, Leslie Howarth, came to work as a designer but soon became manager of the yard, a position he held until 1993.

For almost three decades Campbeltown Shipyard was at the heart of the community, providing jobs and apprenticeships for many men. The workforce eventually swelled to as many as 150 workers. They became known as the “A Team” as the men were skilled, adaptable and efficient. They were also known for their sense of humour.

Former manager, Leslie Howarth puts the success of the shipyard down to teamwork.

“The key to our success was teamwork – right from Sir William Lithgow, through management, right to the youngest apprentice. We took young local men and turned them into highly skilled tradesmen who became an asset to the yard. Our boats were highly popular as they had outstanding sea keeping qualities“.

Between 1969 and 1998 Campbeltown Shipyard produced almost a hundred, innovative, steel hulled fishing boats. The first vessel was the 50 foot Crimson Arrow (CN 30) and the last was the Steadfast IV (FS 433). The vessels were the choice of Scotland’s top skippers, such as brothers Willie and Andrew Campbell of Lossiemouth, Norrie Bremner of Wick, and David Smith of Anstruther. Orders came Scotland, the Faroe Islands, Shetland, Orkney, Ireland and England. One boat, The Halcyon, was taken to Lake Rudolph (now Lake Turkana) in Kenya as a fisheries research vessel. When she was transported to Africa, she was reassembled in situ by a Campbeltown man, John Carmichael.

Arthur Crossan, former Campbeltown Shipyard employee, says:

“I loved my time at the “Yerd”. It was a great place to work. The camaraderie and the pride from the workers was second  to none, as we built the most successful fishing boats in   Europe. I worked in all aspects of the boatbuilding: fabrication of sections, erection, fitting out. They were great  times indeed, especially launch days, when the skippers would fill the canteen with beer and whisky”.

We look forward to hearing more of your stories soon! Get involved!


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