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Narrative by Alistair Macnab; Edited by Fred Henderson

  • 1 A 20th Century Perspective of a British Ocean Shipping Company
  • 2 Backing the Multipurpose Ship Concept
  • 3 Standard Ship Design
  • 4 The finalisation of the 12,000 dwt programme
  • 5 Bibliography
  • 6 Photographs
A 20th Century Perspective of a British Ocean Shipping Company[edit]
275px-RML3-12.jpg Andrew Weir - Lord Inverforth

Andrew Weir was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland on 24th April 1865 and after an education in the town's High School he joined a local bank. In 1885 he moved to Glasgow where he briefly joined a shipowner's office before establishing his own firm - Andrew Weir & Company, to purchase the 24 year old sailing ship Willowbank. Weir's company was remarkably successful during the latter years of the 19th Century; prior to the events covered in these Articles.

In 1896 Andrew Weir moved to London and began converting his fleet from sail to steam. During the First World War he was asked to produce a report on the commercial organization of the supply branches of the army. Weir recommended the appointment of a Surveyor-General of Supply, with a seat on the Army Council, to take on the task of supplying the army with all its stores and equipment other than munitions. His recommendations were accepted and he was given the job.

In January 1919, after the war had ended he was appointed Minister of Munitions to close down the supply operation and dispose of unwanted materiel. He remained in office until March 1921. For his services Weir was raised to the peerage, as Baron Inverforth, of Southgate in the County of Middlesex, and received the American Distinguished Service Medal.

Inverforth continued to go to his shipping company offices four days a week, into his ninety-first year. He died at his home in Hampstead on 17 September 1955. During his long period in office he created an unusual, major British shipping company; its routes covering the World, but its ships rarely touched British ports, except to return for special surveys or major overhauls.

For practical and technical reasons, the Articles covering the company's 20 Century history are presented in the following parts: -

  • Part 1 - The transition from sail to steam, then to motorships
  • Part 2 - The Inter-War Years
  • Part 3 - Bank Line at War & Post-War Rebuilding
  • Part 4 - Backing the Multipurpose Ship Concept
  • Part 5 - The Varying Fates of the Liner Services
  • Part 6 - Bank Line and British Shipbuilding
  • Part 7 - The end of Bank Line's Multipurpose Ship Liner Services
  • Part 8 - The Sailing Ship Fleet in the 19th Century
  • Part 9 - Early 20th. Century Developments: Basrah, Hong Kong, and Rabaul
  • Part 10 - United States and Mexico: Western Hemisphere Developments
  • Part 11 - Participation in the Petroleum Industry
  • Part 12 - Passenger Ships
  • Part 13 - Bank Line London
  • Part 14 - The Bank Line and the British Merchant Navy

Backing the Multipurpose Ship Concept[edit]

- In 1957, the first phase of the really newbuilding programme got under way. Since newbuilding prices had not come down, there were financial advantages to building ships in series as Bank Line very well knew, having done so before with Harland and Wolff with the Inverbank Class of 18 units in 1924 and the 21 shallow-draft tankers of the Invercaibo Class in 1925. - -
- Two shipyards were used exclusively: Harland and Wolff in Belfast and Wm, Doxford in Sunderland (which had a financial connection with Workman Clark!) and the ship-type selected was to be the 12,000 dwt general purpose tween deck cargo ship, suitable for tramp and liner cargoes. - -
- First to be delivered was the "Firbank" from Doxford's followed by the "Cloverbank" from Harland's. Both ships were to carry the class name of their respective sisters that followed. Both shipyard installed the latest versions of their opposed piston - 2 SCSA oil engines, the Belfast-built unit having 6 cylinders and the Sunderland unit having 4 cylinders. These engines and their subsequent improvements and redesigns became the 'standard' Bank Line main engines throughout the building programme. Speed was around 14 knots. - -
- Ships were about 6400 gross tons with a deadweight of 10,500 in the open shelterdeck configuration but as time went on, all became 'tonnage mark' ships with a gross tonnage of about 8500 corresponding to a deadweight of around 12,000 tonnes in anticipation of the changes in the ship measurement regulations. - -
- 1957 was rounded out with the deliveries of "Riverbank" and "Northbank" from Doxford's and "Crestbank" and "Carronbank" from Harland's. - -
- Crestbank_04.jpg -
- Photo 1: Crestbank -
- Unlike the post Great War series newbuildings of the Inverbank and Invercaibo Classes in Glasgow and Belfast, the 1957 building programme was not seen as a survival lifeline to British shipbuilders as it was in 1924 because by 1957, British shipyards were continuing to be very busy as global demand for all types of merchant ships was at an all-time high and high class cargo liners and passenger ships were considered a British shipbuilders' speciality. Nevertheless, Belfast and Sunderland were happy to see Andrew Weir's back in the ship building business and there were still undoubtedly advantages to be gained by ordering new ships in large numbers from only a couple of yards. The original orders for this phase were that Doxford's would deliver eight units and Harland's ten ships. - -
- The layout of both classes was substantially the same: a raised forecastle hull form with three cargo hatches forward and three hatches abaft the accommodation block which was more or less amidships. There the similarities ended for whereas the Doxford design produced a more rounded shape of the deck house the Belfast ships were more traditional with vertical stanchions and a raised poop. Funnels too, were design features: Doxford's were streamlined whilst Harland's could only be described and up and down with a raked top. Both designs, however, were most acceptable to modernists and traditionalists alike and came to be readily recognisable the world-over, the ships always looking their best in the loaded condition, deep in the water. -
- Northbank_04.jpg -
- Photo 2: Northbank leaving Tenerife in 1967 -
- A word about the third Doxford ship, the "Northbank". Readers who have wondered what happened to that "Northbank" name after the Compass Point Class came out in 1947-48 with the arrival of the "Eastbank", "Southbank" and "Westbank" were now satisfied when "Northbank" came out in 1957 some ten years after the other Compass Point ships. This "Northbank", however, was not a sister of the 1947 Class but a near-sister of the "Firbank" Class except that she had a 6-cylinder Doxford engine giving her a knot and a half more in speed, a raised poop and an extra pair of sampson posts right aft. In this hull configuration of raised forecastle and raised poop she was closer to the Belfast ships which had the same hull layout with the additional set of sampson posts serving a small seventh hatch located on the poop and to the original Compass Point ships with similar hull form. - -
- European Officers, Chinese Carpenter and South Asian Catering Staff were accommodated amidships whilst the Asian Crews for deck and engine room were housed aft at tween deck level or in the case of ships with a raised poop, at that level surrounding the trunked No.7 hatchway. Ships had a total compliment of 60 as originally conceived. - -
- In 1958, three ships were again delivered from Sunderland and three from Belfast. They were: "Birchbank", "Streambank" and "Teakbank" from Doxford and "Dartbank", "Garrybank" and "Minchbank" from Harland's. It is worth noting that the "Birchbank" and "Streambank" had Macgregor-type steel hatch covers on the weather deck with cargo winches raised on masthouses. This was by way of being an 'experiment' for up until now, weather deck hatch covers had either been hand-carried wooden hatch boards over portable hatch beams or wooden hatch slabs over rolling beams that were handled by hand or the cargo gear, then covered by two or three tarpaulins and secured with steel batten bars and wooden wedges. "Birchbank" and "Streambank" had rolling steel Macgregor hatch covers but these would be alone until 1963 when the "Taybank" came out. - -
- The "Teakbank" could be distinguished by her two cut-out 'window' openings on the main deck fashion plate at the forward end on the main deck alleyway. - This feature was only repeated on the following sisterships: "Wavebank" and "Yewbank" in 1959 which were Doxford's output that year whereas Harland's again produced three vessels: "Ashbank", "Rosebank" and "Pinebank". - -
- Doxford had now completed the first phase of their newbuilding programme and Harland & Wolff, completed theirs with the delivery of the "Elmbank" in 1960. - -
- Beyond 1960, however, the Belfast output had been extended from 10 to 17 ships but at Doxford's,an important variant was to be produced. This was to be an augmentation of the "Copra Boat" (The Compass Point ships of 1947 and the Beaverbank Class of 1953) and would have that type of ship's deeptank arrangement of four deeptanks forward, and two deeptanks aft of the engine room. These ships were the "Willowbank" (1960), "Larchbank", "Lindenbank" and "Weirbank" (all 1961) with a shorter, more built-up midships deckhouse with the lifeboats suspended off the accommodation rather than sitting under davits standing on the boat deck as had been the norm. At this same time in 1961, Belfast delivered "Avonbank" and "Levernbank". -
- Willowbank_04.jpg -
- Photo 3: Willowbank -
- Further Doxford output reverted to a standard tweendecker arrangement for "Testbank" (1961) and "Inverbank" (1962) except that "Testbank" had the distinction of being the first Bank Line ship to do away with topmasts (other than for war-time austerity measures) having been fitted with a tall signal mast located above the bridge on the monkey island. - -
- Harland and Wolff on the other hand elected to recognise modernity with the "Springbank" and "Olivebank" (both 1962) with a slightly conical new funnel shape with curved top. This was followed by a radically new shape of the midships house with the second deck accommodation taken out to the ship's side at the forward end and the topmasts removed on the "Lossiebank" in 1963. This metamorphosis was completed also in 1963 when the midships house was further extended with a fully enclosed second deck on "Roybank" followed by an identical layout on "Weybank" in 1964 to complete the Belfast order. In these two ships, the signal mast was merged with the leading edge of the funnel. -
- Roybank_04.jpg -
- Photo 4: Roybank -
- Over in Sunderland, the "Forresbank" and "Trentbank", two additional "Copra Boats" but with poops were delivered in 1962 and to round out the Doxford deliveries, the "Oakbank", "Rowanbank" and "Laurelbank" (all 1963), standard tweendeckers in all respects similar to the "Testbank" and without poops. The Doxford output of the 12000dwt ships concluded in 1964 when the "Hollybank" and the "Sprucebank" came out. These were radically different from all other 12000 tonners in that they were very streamlined, with a combined signal mast and an elongated funnel similar to the 15000 tonners with which they would be regularly confused. -
- Hollybank_04.jpg -
- Photo 5: Hollybank -
- But to complete the 12000 dwt story, it should be mentioned that in 1962, the "Speybank" was delivered from Swan Hunter's at Wallsend followed by the "Marabank" in 1963. These two ships were Swan Hunter's version of a standard general-purpose tweendecker. They had been built on speculation but with Bank Line in mind as the principal British operator of such ships. They were taken up by Weir's with the builder's hope that they would lead to more orders for the class which, however, were not forthcoming. Nevertheless, these two ships contributed some new ideas to Bank Line. They were the first ships to have air-conditioned accommodation, a long forecastle incorporating No.1 hatch and bipod masts. -
- Marabank_04.jpg -
- Photo 6: Marabank -

Standard Ship Design[edit]

Subsequent to but no doubt influenced by this Bank Line building activity was the SD14 standard ship design that came out from other British shipbuilders in a bid to attract ship operators to replace their standard WWII Liberty ships now approaching the end of their useful lives. The SD14 programme started in 1966 lead by A&P (Austin & Pickersgill) Shipbuilders and their sub-licensee, Bartram & Sons. In turn, these companies were to merge with Doxford's in 1986 to become Sunderland Shipbuilders. Altogether, some 211 SD14s were built in Sunderland and under license in Brazil, Greece, Argentina and Scotland. It could be said that Bank Line's 12000 dwt ships had lead the way and encouraged the continuing supply of this handy size of multipurpose cargo ship for the charter and liner markets.


Photo 7: Nicola - the first SD14 to be completed. She was delivered by Austin & Pickersgill's Southwick yard on 14 February 1968; one day ahead of Mimis N Papalios, the lead-ship of the SD14 series built by Bartram's.

Nevertheless, it was important to observe and absorb what the shippers were actually demanding of their ocean carriers. Dry bulkers were beginning to encroach on the tramp market even as liner and liner charters needed tweendecks with adequate cargo handling gear. Ship building specializing had now arrived in the United Kingdom with the shipyards on the Tyne, Tees and Weir (the North East of England) specializing on the geared multipurpose cargo carrier. Between 1963 and 1973, Britain's ranking in world shipowning had fallen from second to third place and was to decine in a major way thereafter. Even so, Weir's contribution to British shipping in 1968 was 478,000 gross tons for a British ranking at No.10 with only the major groupings ahead and Vestey, Ellerman, Ben and Bibby following behind.

The finalisation of the 12,000 dwt programme[edit]

Henceforth, Bank Line newbuildings would continue with a series of 15000+ deadweight ships as a compromise from Belfast and Sunderland, but at this juncture it is valuable to summarize the production of 12000 dwt ships:


  • "Firbank" and "Riverbank" (open shelterdeckers subsequently closed) Doxford
  • "Northbank" (full scantling with poop and 6-cyl engine) Doxford
  • "Cloverbank", "Crestbank" and "Carronbank" (open shelterdeckers subsequently closed), Harland.


  • "Birchbank" and "Streambank" (first steel weather deck hatch covers), Doxford,
  • "Teakbank", Doxford,
  • "Dartbank", "Garrybank" and "Minchbank, Harland;


  • "Wavebank", "Yewbank", Doxford,
  • "Ashbank", "Rosebank" and "Pinebank", Harland;


  • "Willowbank" (Copra Boat), Doxford
  • "Elmbank", Harland;


  • "Larchbank", "Lindenbank" and "Weirbank" (Copra Boats), Doxford
  • "Testbank" (Topmasts eliminated), Doxford,
  • "Avonbank" and "Levernbank", Harland


  • "Inverbank", Doxford
  • "Forresbank" and "Trentbank" (Copra Boats, raised poop), Doxford
  • "Olivebank" and "Springbank" (Conical funnel), Harland
  • "Speybank", Swan Hunter.


  • "Oakbank", "Rowanbank" and "Laurelbank", Doxford,
  • "Lossiebank" (Topmasts eliminated) Harland,
  • "Roybank" (enclosed second deck accommodation block) Harland,
  • "Marabank", Swan Hunter


  • "Hollybank" and "Sprucebank" (Elongated funnel), Doxford
  • "Weybank", Harland

During this phase from 1957 to 1964, Doxford delivered 21 ships, Harland & Wolff delivered 17 units and Swan Hunter's delivered two vessels for a total of 40 ships.

Remaining from earlier deliveries still sailing in the fleet were:

  • "Eastbank" (1947) and "Westbank" (1948)

["Southbank" had been wrecked in 1964 on Washington Island in the Pacific Ocean.]

  • "Beaverbank", "Nessbank", Fleetbank" (1953)
  • "Cedarbank", "Foylebank" and "Laganbank" (1955)

Total fleet in 1964: 48 tweendeckers, all of 12000 dwt, 14 knots or better, except for the pre-1955 open shelterdeck "Copra" ships. All ships had a minimum of six hatches and 14 derricks and a heavy lift derrick of 50 tons.


Photo 8: Doxford shipyard in 1964 at the time of Bank Line's transition to larger vessels. One of the last of the 12,000 dwt ships; Hollybank (centre) is almost ready to launch; while an early 15,000 dwt vessel Tweedbank (right) is fitting out


A complete Bibliography for all of these Articles is given at the end of Part 7


The photographs used to illustrate this article are from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain, or the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. The individual photographs used in Part 4 have been provided as follows: -

Frontispiece - Wikimedia Commons

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  5. Ships Nostalgia - Brent Chambers
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  7. Ships Nostalgia - duncan montgomery
  8. Ships Nostalgia - zelo 1954

Article written and compiled by Alistair Macnab
Formatting and presentation only, by Fred Henderson
© RVW Productions LLC, 2010

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