©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 01, 2018
Webpage updated: March 01, 2018




Within the basin, on the western side, was a Graving Dock, or Dry Dock, measuring 367 feet by 92 feet.  This was provided with especially large gates so that paddle vessels could gain access.  To the south of the Graving Dock stood the pump house.

Alongside the Dock in 1889 were Messrs Massey and Bickle, engineers, on the south side, and Messrs Watson and Fox, shipbuilders, to the north.  Around 1891, following the registering the business as a Limited Company, the business shed occupied by Messrs Watson and Fox was taken over by Messrs Willoughby Brothers, who commenced building steel ships there.

The first vessel to be so built was the "Conqueror", for Mr G Etheridge, of London.  She was to run as a tug on the River Thames.  Built of steel, but with an iron deck and teak bridge, she was 69 feet long, 14 feet in breadth and 8 feet 6 inches deep.  At 3pm on the afternoon of Thursday July 9th 1891 she made her first trail trip, first out and around the Sound and then, after picking up some more passengers, up the river to Calstock and back.  Those on board included Mr S Willoughby, the managing director; Mr G F Youlton, the chairman of the Company; Mr T Harris, the secretary; Mr A Groser; and Mr W Willoughby. Mr George F Watson, the surveyor and ship builder who previously owned the yard, also travelled with the party and was later retained by the Messrs Willoughby Brothers to superintend the construction of vessels.  Mr Blowey, the optician, of Southside Street, supplied the ship's compass.  All were well pleased with the ship and on Tuesday July 14th 1891 she left for London.  Messrs Willoughby Brothers looked forward to more orders for such vessels, which they could now construct up to a length of about 250 feet in their new facilities.

They built vessels for the Royal Mail Steamship Company; the Suez Canal Company; the Hythe Ferry across Southampton Water; Messrs Beckett, Hill & Company, of Liverpool; floating bridges for the Torpoint Ferry; another one for Saltash Corporation to be used on the Saltash Ferry; and the Tamar steamers "Princess Royal", "Albert" and "Prince", owned by the Saltash Steamboat Company; floating bridges for use at Littlehampton and Felixstowe; and vessels for HM Customs and Excise and the War Department to mention but a few.  It is said that many men who began their career as fitters at Willoughby's went on to become chief engineers on ocean-going vessels.  That Company was dissolved in 1915 and a new one, Messrs Willoughby's (Plymouth) Ltd was set up.

In 1958 they amalgamated with Messrs Bickle Engineering Ltd and closed the Rendle Street foundry to concentrate work at the Graving Dock.  Both companies continued to operate under their own names until Willoughby’s (and consequently, Bickle’s) ceased trading on Saturday November 29th 1969, largely, it is said, because the British Transport Dock Board was unwilling to spend at least £100,000 on repairing the graving dock.  The dock was filled in early in 1970.