Book Review from SW Soundings No.54 (Jun 2002) Philip & Son Ltd., Shipbuilders & Engineers by Derek Blackhurst

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Book Review from SW Soundings No.54 (Jun 2002)

Philip & Son Ltd., Shipbuilders & Engineers by Derek Blackhurst

Derek Blackhurst is well known to members of this Society and for many years took a leading role with the World Ship Society. He was invited by Philip and Son to write the company's history and was given unrestricted access to the company records. Regrettably the records were not in good physical condition with many rat-eaten and mouldy. The result of his labour is a detailed account of the last working shipyard in South Devon. The story of this Dartmouth shipbuilder spans two complete centuries from 1800 when the Sandquay shipyard was opened by Sir John Searle. Following the author's introductory remarks there is a most useful chronology of the history of Philip & Son, which allows the reader both an overview of the story before reading the text and a ready guide to the key dates. The written history is contained within the first third of the book and is followed by almost 100 pages listing in some detail the ships and craft built, each with a short account of their life and fate. Four appendices follow listing 'Miscellaneous vessels owned by the Philip family and the Shipyard', 'Yachts listed in registers as built by Philip and Son Ltd', 'Miscellaneous yard tugs owned by the Philip family and the Shipyard', and 'Light vessels built by Philip and Son'. A striking feature of this book is the rich profusion and variety of the illustrations. A clear style and the use of sub headings guides the reader through a fascinating story of commercial endeavour and technological advance through peace and war. The story of the yard is punctuated by anecdotes of daily life such as when Alex Philip engaged in a brawl with a rival's accountant. Tragedy took its part in the story; the air raid on 18 September 1942 killed twenty of the workforce and injured many more. The yard built a wide variety of vessels both civil and military. The first vessel launched was the schooner Mary & Elizabeth, and the last the single screw steel Brixham trawler Ocean Spirit. Between these launchings 1,495 other vessels from brigantines to Flower class corvettes, tugs, trawlers, light vessels, RAF bomb scows, and the last sailing vessel to be built for the Royal Navy, went down the ways into the River Dart. Each one of these has been thoroughly researched and their details recorded. The illustrations have been carefully chosen and depict the variety of work carried out at the yard. The caption to the dramatic illustration of the Norwegian heavy-lift ship Belnor loading launches for Nigeria wrongly recording the vessel as the Belray being the only obvious error. This book will appeal to a wide range of readers. Those interested in local history will find a useful source of information supplemented by maps and diagrams showing the changes in the yard. For those with an interest in shipbuilders there is in this book the tale of the changing fortunes of a small shipbuilder from the later part of the Napoleonic wars to almost the present day. Researchers will find much detail in the main ship listing and accompanying annexes. Overall it is an absorbing book and one which the hand will stretch out to in that odd moment when you want to sit and browse.

Editors note: Derek Blackhurst has indicated that this book is available to members of our Society at the reduced price of £18. Contact Derek, his details are in the membership booklet. Preston, Ships in Focus Publications, 2001, 160 pp, numerous photographs, figures, plates, appendices, index, ISBN 1 901 703 42 8 £21.00 Reviewed by Bob Wilson