Gaining a reputation for innovation
The Barrow shipyard obtained a variety of orders during their first decade: passenger liners, dredgers, sailing ships, paddle steamers, and their first orders from the Royal Navy for gunboats. The speed at which the shipyard had become leaders in their field was illustrated when, in 1881, what was then the largest vessel in service in the world, City of Rome at 8,415 tons, was launched.
1886 saw the first submarine launched in Barrow, the first of two built for the Swedish industrialist Thorsten Nordenfelt. Although undertaking highly advanced projects, the Barrow shipyard was struggling financially and approached Nordenfelt with a view to him investing in the shipyard. He agreed, and in 1888 the shipyard was renamed the Naval Construction & Armaments Company. No longer just building ships and their machinery, but also using Nordenfelts’s expertise in gun design and production to diversify into armaments.
The order for HMS Vengeance in 1887 by the Royal Navy saw Barrow become the first shipyard in Britain able to build, engine, arm, and armour a battleship, something that was financially appealing to the Sheffield-based steel-making firm of Vickers Sons and Company. Forming a new company with the help of American-born inventor, Sir Hiram Maxim, the Barrow shipyard was bought later in 1887, and when HMS Vengeance was launched in 1899, Vickers Sons & Maxim Limited were the shipyard owners.
The new company sought to increase the productivity of the shipyard. Overseas orders were increased considerably, aided by the desire by many countries in the 1900s wishing to project their national pride by obtaining the latest in military hardware, something that the Barrow shipyard was willing and able to supply. Orders came in from Peru, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, China, Turkey, and Japan. The most celebrated Japanese battleship, Mikasa: flagship at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 when Japan defeated Russia in a naval engagement, had been launched in Barrow in 1900. Mikasa is dry docked at Yokosuka, near Tokyo, and can be visited today.