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History Shipyards

J. Samuel White

REF NR: 230

1. The family had a long tradition of shipbuilding in Kent, with James White constructing the cutter Lapwing for the Royal Navy at Broadstairs in 1763-1764, as well as fast vessels for the Revenue services and fishing smacks, and even a number of West Indianmen. At least three generations of the White family business undertook shipbuilding before Thomas White, (1773-1859) the grandfather of John Samuel White, moved from Broadstairs, to Cowes on the northern coast of the Isle of Wight in 1802, where he acquired the shipbuilding site on the east bank of the Medina River where there was already more than a century of shipbuilding tradition. In the closing years of the Napoleonic War he began work on what would become the 'Thetis' Yard across the river on the West bank on the 'salterns' and marsh between the Medina and Arctic roads. It opened officially on 1 October 1815. White subsequently rebuilt the east bank site which in 1825 became the Falcon Yard.

Records indicate that by the 1850s White's docks with its steam sawmills and engine shops, and the mast and block shops, provided work for around 500 craftsmen. J Samuel White expanded still further in 1899. It rapidly became a world leader in the design and construction of small- to medium-sized naval and merchant ships, and also built numerous smaller craft, including more RNLI lifeboats than any other shipbuilder.

With the regular construction of turbines, boilers, steam and diesel engines, the West Cowes site became an engineering works. The general decline of shipbuilding in Britain led to the launch of the last vessel for the Royal Navy in 1963 and the closure of the shipyard. In 1981 the company finally ceased trading.   

1. Sources: Wikipedia

2. Plans have been made for a May 2007 launching of a book focusing on what it was like working for the once great Cowes and East Cowes shipyard and engineering company, J Samuel White, which during war-time employed over 3,000 people.
Called ‘Just Fifty Yards from the Floating Bridge’, the book was compiled by well known Island author Brian Greening. He has generously allowed all profits from the publication to go to Cowes Heritage, a voluntary group which staged a successful ‘White’s of Cowes’ exhibition last year and has financed the book’s printing costs.

Brian had himself worked at White’s, following in the footsteps of three uncles. His term as an apprentice fitter and turner, from 1957 to the early 60s, made him well placed to seek out former employees for the book.

Besides graphic reminiscences, the book contains around 100 photographs, most featuring people at work in various departments or workshops on each side of the river. The experiences recalled range from times before the 2nd World War right up to the mid-1960s when the company ceased building ships. One useful contributor phoned Brian from Melbourne, Australia.

2. Sources: WightOnline

3. Good list of Naval Ships built at J Samuel Whites, author suggests not totally complete

3. Sources: BartiesWorld

4. Good list of Civil Ships built at J Samuel Whites, author suggests not totally complete

4. Sources: BartiesWorld

5. Good list of Lifeboats built at J Samuel Whites, author suggests not totally complete

5. Sources: BartiesWorld 

6. J. SAMUEL WHITE & CO., LTD. (COWES). The oldest shipyard on the Admiralty List, light cruisers, gunboats, flotilla leaders, destroyers, submarines, minelayers, patrol boats, turbine pinnaces, and small naval craft of every kind. Seven building berths. Engine works for reciprocating and turbine engines of highest powers, " White-Forster " water-tube boilers �' White " Diesel engines, and " White " patent oil fuel installations. Hammer-head 80-ton crane. Employees : 4,500.

6. Sources:  Extracted from Jane's Fighting Ships for 1919