William Denny, sometimes known as William Denny II, lived from 1815 to June 1854. He was the founder of William Denny and Brothers at Dumbarton, one of the best known of the Clyde shipbuilding companies. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
William Denny was the son of another William Denny, who started the family involvement in shipbuilding on the River Clyde when he built a steamer for service on the River Thames. The younger William was one of thirteen children in the family. By 1841 William was working as manager of Robert Napier's shipyard on the River Clyde at Govan. Meanwhile two of William's brothers, Peter and Alexander, had also established themselves in the industry.
In 1842, William, Peter and Alexander set up their own shipyard under the name Denny Brothers. In 1849 they changed the name of the company to William Denny and Brothers and moved to a new shipyard on the east bank of the River Leven close to where it meets the River Clyde in the shadow of Dumbarton Castle. William Denny II died in June 1854. With him at the helm Denny, as the company was usually known, had built 45 ships over a twelve years period.
After William's death, the company was led by Peter Denny, who greatly expanded the business over the following decade, and built a plant for manufacturing boilers. William Denny III, Peter's eldest son, became a partner in the company in 1868 and grew the company further. It was William III who developed the Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank in Dumbarton, an innovative way of testing new designs for ships and their engines. In 1869 Denny took over the work on the Cutty Sark after the bankruptcy of the original builders, Scott & Linton, and saw it through to completion. Another well known vessel built by the yard is the SS Sir Walter Scott, which has steamed on Loch Katrine since 1900.
In the years after World War II, William Denny and Brothers was responsible for many ferries, including a number of the early roll-on roll-off vessels, and by 1961 it employed 1,800 people. The competitive environment was changing, however, and Denny was increasingly unable to compete for the new generation of large bulk carriers. The company went into liquidation in 1963. During an active life of 121 years it had produced more ships than any other Clyde shipbuilder.