History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Ltd.

1960s Logo

Based at the Neptune Works, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Ltd. built cable ships for many of the world's cable companies.

Swan & Hunter was formed in 1880, and in 1903 merged with Wigham Richardson (founded by John Wigham Richardson as Neptune Works in 1860), to bid for the contract to build the Mauretania for the Cunard company. Their bid was successful, and the new company, Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, went on to build the Mauretania and many other ships.

The company remains in business as a shipbuilding design, engineering, and management company, based in Wallsend, but ceased ship construction on Tyneside in 2006. As of January 2021, there are plans for an energy park at the site.

This advertisement for the company was published in the January 1957 special Transatlantic Telephone issue of the Post Office Electrical Engineers' Journal. It lists and illustrates the fleet of cable ships built at Neptune Works up to that date, 23 ships in all.

Cable ships built by Swan, Hunter (as of January 1957)

Alert (2) (1918) Iris (2) (1940)
All America (1921) John W. Mackay (1922)
Ariel (1939) Lord Kelvin (1916)
Bullfinch (1940) Marie Louise Mackay (1922)
Bullfrog (1944) Monarch (3) (1916)
Bullhead (1945) Monarch (4) (1946)
Cambria (1905) Patrol (1903)
Colonia (1902) Recorder (3) (1954)
Dominia (1926) St. Margarets (1944)
Edward Wilshaw (1949) Stanley Angwin (1952)
Emile Baudot (1917) Telconia (1909)
Guardian (1907)  

Swan, Hunter Builder’s Plate for HMTS Ariel, No 1626, 1939
48cm x 36cm
From the estate of Captain Kitchin
Image courtesy of John Gunstone

HMTS Monarch (4) from a company brochure produced for
the 1960 British Exhibition at the Coliseum, New York

After many mergers and takeovers, nationalisation and de-nationalisation, the Swan, Hunter name continues as engineering consultants to the ship-building industry.

Perhaps the last cableship built by Swan Hunter was the Sir Eric Sharp, launched in 1988. Named after the chairmain of Cable & Wireless, the ship is still in service today, but under the new name of CS IT Intrepid after its purchase in 2004 by IT International Telecom.

The photographs and descriptions below from the launch of the ship were kindly provided by Kathleen Robson. Miss Robson worked at Swan Hunter for many years and was secretary to Ian Pike, the shipbuilding manager in charge of the Sir Eric Sharp during its construction at the Wallsend Shipyard.

The photographs are reproduced by permission of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, which holds the Swan Hunter archives. The Swan Hunter material may be searched in the archives catalogue.

CS Sir Eric Sharp on the Tyne after launching
Image courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums

Management team in charge of the ship, Ian Pike at the right
Image courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums

Kathleen Robson (left) presenting a bouquet to Lady Sharp
on the occasion of the launch in 1988
Image courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums

Cableships Index Page

Last revised: 16 January, 2021

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