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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited by Moderator)
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Houlder Brothers
  • 3 Houlder Brothers and Hawthorn Leslie
  • 4 Hornby Grange Specification
  • 5 The history of Houlder Line during the career of Hornby Grange
  • 6 Bibliography
  • 7 Photographs

During World War 2 a large number of very useful general purpose cargo ships were built to standard designs in shipyards in USA, UK and Canada. There was however, still a need for individually designed ships for certain high priority cargos. Hornby Grange was the last of four war-built, specially designed meat carriers for Houlder Brothers. She was delivered on 12th December 1946 and at that time the largest chilled meat carrier in the world. She ended her days with the Houlder Brothers sister company Royal Mail S P Co as "Douro".


Photo 1: Hornby Grange in London Docks 1968

Houlder Brothers[edit]

Edwin Houlder was the seventh child of William Houlder, who abandoned the family and emigrated shortly after Edwin's birth in 1828. At the age of 16, Edwin joined the London Greek merchants Ionides Sgonta & Co as a shipping clerk. He was clearly very proficient and in 1841, at the age of 21, was encouraged by Ionides Sgonta & Co to set up business on his own, within their Leadenhall Street offices, provided Edwin compiled their accounts in the evenings.

E S Houlder's initial business was that of a shipping, forwarding, passenger and insurance agent. He also supplied the various items, including the bedding that the emigrants were required to provide for themselves. In 1853 E S Houlder moved to his own office and began managing ships on behalf of their owners. In 1856 he brought one of his elder brothers (Alfred Holder) into the business, which was renamed Houlder Brothers & Co and the firm began chartering sailing ships to operate its new service to Australia and New Zealand.

The business prospered and additional members of the family were brought into the partnership. The firm acted as nominee owners and managers for a number of American ships, especially during the Civil War but it was 1879 before it bought its first and only sailing ship. In 1881 the partnership entered the South American trade to the River Plate, still using chartered ships.

In 1890 the partnership took delivery of their first refrigerated meat carrying steamer - Hornby Grange. Thereafter, the fleet was steadily increased, with each ship owned by a separate company, with Houlder Brothers acting as managers. In 1898 the partnership was transformed into Houlder Brothers & Co Ltd and the following year all ten ships in the fleet were transferred from their single ship companies into Houlder Line Limited.

Unfortunately a major dispute broke out in 1901 between the directors involved in the two separate trades - Australia and South America - with each side demanding that the other activity be discontinued. This dispute was not resolved and even extended to a court case between different members of the Houlder family. As a consequence the company's trading position deteriorated drastically and by 1911 it had lost half its capital, having built no new ships since 1902.

Various solutions were proposed but no agreement could be reached within the board. The impasse was finally resolved by a Furness, Withy director, Frederick Lewis (later Lord Essendon) arriving uninvited at a Houlder board meeting with an offer to buy out the dissident directors and any of other shareholders wishing to sell, then or at any time in the future. Furness, Withy proposed to inject new capital, ships and management, but undertook that Houlder Brothers & Co Ltd would remain managers of the ships involved.

The proposal was accepted in July 1911 and Furness, Withy acquired 50% of the capital in Houlder Brothers appointing Walter C Warwick as Managing Director. One of his first decisions was to withdraw Houlder Line from the Federal - Houlder - Shire meat trade to Australia and to concentrate on a South American meat service in conjunction with Royal Mail S P Co and Nelson Line.

With the additional capital and greatly improved management provided by Furness, Withy, the revived Houlder Brothers organisation prospered, survived World War I, re-equipped its fleet and was strong enough to weather the great depression. A significant move was the creation of Furness - Houlder Argentine Lines Ltd in 1914, which had the effect of transferring Furness, Withy's South American interests to Houlder Brothers' management.

In 1930 British shipping and shipbuilding suffered a near catastrophic event. The recklessly expanded Kylsant empire became bankrupt, which resulted in Lord Kylsant being subsequently convicted of fraud and being sent to prison. Merely liquidating Kylsant's Royal Mail Group would have had a devastating effect on the industry. Thankfully the British government established a top rank committee of accountants and bankers to resolve the situation. The giant Royal Mail Group was broken up over the next 10 years and the individual companies were either recapitalised before being floated-off as self-standing companies (e.g. Union Castle, Elder Dempster, Harland & Wolff, etc) or sold to other solvent British companies. As a result of this activity Furness, Withy acquired Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line, Pacific Steam Navigation, Royal Mail Line and Shaw, Savill & Albion. These developments were to have a major influence on the longer term future of Houlder Brothers.

The operational constraints within the River Plate / Paraná region called for ships with as large a capacity as possible within a restricted overall length. As a result, the company developed a series of ships with a rather square appearance with great meat capacity. Hornby Grange is a classic example of this genre. The food shortages in UK during and immediately after World War 2 made the construction of chilled meat carriers high priority orders.


Photo 2: Hornby Grange on the Rio Tejo

Houlder Brothers and Hawthorn Leslie[edit]

During the heyday of British shipping and shipbuilding strong links were established between some shipowners and specific shipbuilders. In some cases there was a financial connection (Clan Line owned Greenock Dockyard for example) but in many cases it was simply the result of a close friendly relationship between the management of the two organisations. The link between Houlder Brothers & Co Ltd and R&W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd was remarkably close and was built entirely on mutual respect.

Except for two earlier second-hand acquisitions, the first Hawthorn Leslie built Houlder ship was the large meat-carrier, Beacon Grange of 1938. From that point onwards, apart from one conventional cargo ship, every new ship for Houlder Line for the remainder of its existence was built at Hebburn by Hawthorn Leslie. In addition, during the same period, Hawthorn Leslie built a considerable number of ships for other members of the Houlder Group within Furness, Withy: -

  • Beacon Grange - Houlder Line - 10,160 grt meat carrier - 1938
  • Rippingham Grange - Houlder Line - 10,365 grt meat carrier - 1943
  • Condesa - Furness-Houlder Argentine Lines - 10,367 grt meat carrier - 1944
  • Hornby Grange - Houlder Line - 10,763 grt meat carrier - 1946
  • Duquesa - Furness-Houlder Argentine Lines - 11,007 grt meat carrier - 1949
  • Delphic - Shaw, Savill & Albion - 10,674 grt refrigerated cargo liner - 1949
  • Oswestry Grange - Houlder Line - 9,406 grt cargo ship - 1952
  • Clutha River - British Empire S N Co - 12,323 grt tanker - 1952
  • Denby Grange - Houlder Line - 9,035 grt tanker - 1958
  • Royston Grange - Houlder Line - 10,261 grt meat carrier - 1959
  • Hardwicke Grange - Houlder Line - 10,337 grt meat carrier - 1960
  • Brandon Priory - Warwick Tankers - 23,108 grt tanker - 1960
  • Clymene - Hadley Shipping - 12,251 grt tanker - 1961
  • Ocean Transport - Empire Transport Co - 8,501 grt cargo ship - 1962
  • Clerk-Maxwell - Ocean Gas Transport - 8,298 grt gas tanker - 1966
  • Faraday - Ocean Gas Transport - 19,754 grt gas tanker - 1971

In 1968 all of the major Tyneside shipyards were amalgamated as Swan Hunter & Tyne Shipbuilders Ltd. Faraday was completed by the new organisation on behalf of Hawthorn Leslie. No further orders were placed by Houlder with the Hebburn shipyard.

Hornby Grange Specification[edit]

  • Type: Chilled Meat Carrier
  • Houlder Line Service: 1946-1969
  • Builders: R & W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd
  • Yard: Hebburn-on-Tyne, Co. Durham
  • Yard number: 683
  • Launched: 31 May 1946
  • Delivered: 12 December 1946
  • Gross tonnage: 10,365 tons
  • Net tonnage: 6,524 tons
  • Refrigerated space: 556,000 cu ft
  • Length (between perpendiculars): 447 ft
  • Length (overall): 465 feet 6 inches
  • Breadth: 65 feet 6 inches
  • Depth: 35 feet 4 inches
  • Engines: Two Doxford 2 stroke single-acting diesel engines. Each with 4 cylinders 26 3/8" x 91 5/16"
  • Engine builders: R & W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd
  • Works: St Peters, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Power: 8,900 bhp
  • Propulsion: 2 screws
  • Speed: 14 kts
  • Auxiliary Boilers: 2 double ended.
  • Boiler pressure: 100 lb/
  • Decks: Three decks with fourth deck forward of machinery space
  • Passengers: 12
  • Flag: British
  • Registry: London
  • Code Flags: GFSO

Hawthorn Leslie entered marine diesel engine building in 1920 through a licence agreement for the Dutch Werkspoor design. The three earlier sisters of Hornby Grange were powered by Werkspoor diesels. The main engines for Hornby Grange were the first Hawthorn-Doxford diesel engines to be built at St Peters. A total of 146 Doxford engines were built at St Peters between 1945 and 1962.


Photo 3: Hornby Grange being prepared for launch. Note the tanker in the Hebburn dry dock is still in wartime colours and still retains its armament.

The history of Houlder Line during the career of Hornby Grange[edit]

Hornby Grange entered the Houlder Brothers' meat trade service from Argentina at the end of 1946, where she joined her sister Rippingham Grange (1943) and the smaller Dunster Grange (1928). The same management also operated ships of Furness-Houlder Argentine Lines in the trade. These ships were a third sister, Condesa (1944) and two smaller 1918 built ships Princesa and Marquesa.


Photo 4: Condesa - Furness-Houlder Argentine Lines at Bluff

The two 1918 built ships were replaced in 1949 by Duquesa, a slightly larger version of Hornby Grange, with steam turbine propulsion. Houlder Brothers had an excellent fleet of ships all specifically designed for the Argentine trade. Unfortunately the trade became progressively more difficult to operate. The Argentine government an aggressively nationalistic posture, demanding that half of all cargoes must be carried in Argentinean flag ships. A combination of economic mismanagement, political and labour unrest in Argentina began to reduce trade volumes. As a result ships were periodically redeployed on other Furness Group services, especially to New Zealand and Australia and the Dunster Grange was sold in 1951.


Photo 5: Duquesa - Furness-Houlder Argentine Lines at Hobart in 1967.

Nevertheless Houlder Line ordered two new meat carriers Royston Grange (1959) and Hardwicke Grange (1960) to replace Rippingham Grange and Condessa. The two new ships operated the service in conjunction with Hornby Grange and Duquesa.


Photo 6: Royston Grange


Photo 7: Hardwicke Grange

In 1965 Furness, Withy bought all of the outstanding shares in Royal Mail S P Co, which resulted in greater co-operation between the two Argentinean service fleets. Unfortunately in 1968 trading conditions greatly deteriorated as a result of declining Argentinean exports and the disastrous UK seamen's strike.
In an emergency re-organisation of the Furness, Withy Group operations, the already loss-making Royal Mail S P Co passenger service was discontinued and the three Amazon Class ships transferred to Shaw, Savill's New Zealand service. These passenger ships had considerable refrigerated space and to cope with the lost meat capacity, the River Plate services were amalgamated and re-organised. Hornby Grange and Duquesa were transferred to Royal Mail S P Co. Duquesa retained her name but Hornby Grange was renamed Douro. The following year Duquesa was scrapped and Douro was transferred again to another Group company, Prince Line, but remained on the same service without a name change.


Photo 8: Hornby Grange after she was renamed as Douro

The final blow fell in 1972. The outward bound Royston Grange collided, on 11th May, with the Liberian tanker Tien Chee in fog during the transit of the River Plate towards Montevideo. In the resultant fire-ball all 74 people on the Houlder Line ship and 8 of the tanker's crew lost their lives.

Furness, Withy decided to run down the Argentinean service and not replace Royston Grange. After 26 years service, Duoro (ex Hornby Grange) was sold for scrap in 1972. Hardwick Grange carried on within the Group until she was sold in 1977. This brought Houlder Line's activities to an end. Houlder Brothers continued to operate in other sectors including gas tankers and offshore work.


Merchant Fleets Volume 38: Written and published by Duncan Haws: 2000
Power on Land & Sea: J F Clarke: Published by Hawthorn Leslie (Engineers) Ltd: 1979
Tyneside Shipbuilding 1920-1960: Peter Elson: Published by Newcastle City Libraries: 1986


Photo 1: posted by Peter Brewer
Photo 2: posted by Gary Meredith
Photo 3: Hawthorn Leslie photograph
Photo 4: posted by Emmanuel Makarios
Photo 5: posted by Peter Brewer
Photo 6: by Robert Pabst, posted by Shipmate17
Photo 7: posted by Macjack
Photo 8: Tyne Built Ships

Article written and compiled by Fred Henderson
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