©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: November 02, 2017.
Webpage updated: November 02, 2017




Messrs Willoughby (Plymouth) Ltd, iron founders and marine engineers, was located at the Great Western Docks and in Rendle Street, Plymouth, before and for a few years after the Second World War.

Mr William Willoughby founded the business in 1844 at Rendle Street, Stonehouse.  By 1850 he was in partnership with a Mr Joseph Murch and they operated from Adelaide Street, Stonehouse.  In 1857 the partnership appears to have been dissolved as the premises in Adelaide Street were known as William Willoughby Central Foundry.

In 1864 the title is shown as Messrs Willoughby Brothers and they were located at the Central Foundry in Rendle Street, Plymouth.

The brothers were James, born 1828; William, born 1830; Joseph, born 1840; and Samuel, born 1842.  Mr James Willoughby, the senior partner, 'calmly expired' at 3am on Sunday September 10th 1882, almost exactly three years after his father.  He was 53 years of age.

In 1890 Willoughby Brothers became a registered limited liability company, with its office in Rendle Street.  Capital was £30,000 in £10 shares.  At this time they took over the Phoenix Foundry in Phoenix Street, which previously belonged to James Moir junior.  This was closed around 1900 – 1904.

It was around this time that they purchased the extensive building shed of Messrs Watson and Fox at the Great Western (Millbay) Docks.  Until then they had cast the steel parts of boats at the works and move them to Richmond Walk at Devonport for piecing them together.  This was not very convenient.  From 1891 onwards they were able to construct steel ships in the Docks.  It was using this method that 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.  From 1891 onwards the construction work was transferred to the Great Western Docks.

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 at Millbay Docks.  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.

That Company was dissolved in 1915 and a new one, Messrs Willoughby's (Plymouth) Ltd was set up.

Around 1921 they took over Ellacott’s of the East Quay at Millbay Docks.  By 1928 Willoughby’s had vacated their site.

Then in 1958 they amalgamated with Messrs Bickle Engineering Ltd and closed the Rendle Street foundry to concentrate work at the graving dock in Millbay Docks.  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.