Hawthorn Shipbuilders




Paul Gockel e-mailed me from Canada and asked about Hawthorn's shipyard in Leith.

Paul wrote:

Hawthorn's Shipyard

"I have poured over volumes for so many years trying to find anything I could on Hawthorn's shipyard. I wrote a book on the steam yacht Venetia (Hawthorn's, 1903), but could find nothing about Hawthorns. Too many confuse it with Hawthorne-Leslie."

I have this theory: Hawthorns opened a second shop next to Ramage and Ferguson's, but no one can tell me when."


"I have a copy of the Waters of Leith (c.1880) engraving which I have studied for years. I was always curious how a steam yacht with a funnel 38 feet above the waterline could negotiate under the bridges of Leith. Any ideas?

Sheriff Brae

"I have a poor but interesting photograph of Hawthorn's Sheriff Brae site from the back, the side which is never seen. The photo was taken about the time the site had turned into a dump for old whiskey barrels. Their building were still intact.  Finally, what is on the Sheriff Brae site now? Some have told me a 5-storey flat; others have mentioned a theatre."

Paul Gockel, Canada:  February 16, 2007




John Stevenson

Trinity, Edinburgh

Thank you to John D Stevenson, Edinburgh, for providing answers.

Here is a brief extract from John's reply:

Hawthorn's Shipyard

"R&W. Hawthorn & Co were an old established locomotive building firm of   of Newcastle upon Tyne. 

Leith Engineering Works, Sheriff Brae, Leith were bought by R&W Hawthorn & Co from James B. Maxton & Co, to set up a works  to build railway locomotives in Scotland. 


By 1860 they were building marine engines and boilers under the name of Hawthorns & Co.

A number of small ships were built at their Granton yard . They were the first company on  the east of Scotland to lengthen vessels ( 1860/70's) at the slipway at Granton.


Hawthorn Leslie & Co Ltd was established in 1886, acquiring the businesses of Hawthorn & Co  and Andrew Leslie & Co.


In 1912, Hawthorns & Co acquired the shipyard of Thomas Morton & Co which lay adjacent to Ramage & Ferguson's yard.


The whole site ( including Hawthorns, Ramage & Ferguson and Cran & Somerville)  was, in 1924, acquired by Henry Robb Ltd., and named 'Victoria Shipyards'.  I served my engineering apprenticeship there  1948-53.


Ramage & Ferguson went into liquidation.


Henry Robb's yard closed in 1984.  It is now 'Ocean Terminal', a shopping mall and home to 'Royal Yacht  BRITANNIA'


"There were three bridges to pass.  In the 1880s  all were "swing bridges" so there was no height problem!

Two of these bridges were rebuild in the 1950s, one in stone and one in metal and stone.  The third, Victoria Swing Bridge, is still in its original position, but it no longer moves.

Sheriff Brae

"The Sheriff Brae site is now completely covered by housing although some of the old mooring posts used by Hawthorns can still be seen on the riverside walls.

For many years, from 1952 to 1980,  Hawthorn's Engine Shop was a ballroom and home, every Tuesday evening, to professional wrestling  !

When the lights went up the 3 cranes could be seen  still in place overhead !"

John D Stevenson, Trinity, Edinburgh:  February 17 2007



Frank Ferri

Newhaven, Edinburgh

Thank you to Frank Ferri, Newhaven, who wrote


"Paul Gockel (above) asks how a ship with at funnel 38ft above water line could negotiate under Leith bridges.

Victoria bridge at the dock gates swung outwards.

-   The bridge at Commercial Street was the same.

-  The bridge at Bridge Street rose upwards in two parts, before becoming static around the 1960s

Frank Ferri, Newhaven, Edinburgh:  September 11, 2009


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