"Leith-Built Ships Vol 2, Leith Shipyards 1918-1939" by R. O. Neish is the second volume - of four - in the author's story of the ships built in the shipyards of Leith. When we reviewed the first in the series back at the end of 2019 we said (as noted on the rear cover of the current volume) that it was "an engrossing book that will have a lasting value..." and "you'd expect this book to be superbly researched and knowledgeably written. It doesn't disappoint. It is also readily accessible to the non-expert..." We're pleased to be able to report that Volume 2 in the series fully lives up to the expectations raised by its predecessor.
Volume 1 took the story of shipbuilding in Leith from its earliest days through to the First World War. Volume 2 picks up the story in 1918 and takes it forward to 1939: so from the end of one world war to the start of another. At the start of the period we find there are three main shipyards in operation in Leith. But times are often hard and the world economy is often far from healthy. As a result we read how shipbuilding in Leith comes increasingly under the control of one dominant company, Henry Robb Ltd., the company the author worked for over many years as a shipbuilder.
A large part of the book is a chronological account of the subject. We start with background on Henry Robb before following the fortunes and misfortunes of the companies of Ramage & Ferguson, Hawthorn & Co, and Cran & Somerville: as Henry Robb steadily acquires his competitors. We then look at innovations in marine diesel and electric power before moving on to the 1930s after the great depression and the advent of yet another war.
The book is well (and accessibly) written throughout and the black and white illustrations are excellent. Following the chronological account is a chapter giving more photographs and a collection of small plans of ships. There is then a particularly engaging chapter about the building of a typical riveted Leith steamship circa 1890-1900; and then a full list of the 300 ships, barges, pontoons, tugs and so on built by Henry Robb Ltd between 1918 and 1939. Finally there is a comprehensive glossary of shipbuilding and nautical terms.