An Anatomy of Speculative Failure: Wm Doxford & Sons Ltd, Sunderland, and the Northumberland Shipbuilding Company of Howdon on Tyne, 1919–1945

By Hugh Murphy, published February 2018


This article investigates the impact and consequences of speculative capital-gaining ownership of several UK shipbuilding firms after 1918, with emphasis on the Sperling Combine’s Northumberland Shipbuilding Company of Howdon on Tyne and its acquisition in 1919 of the Wear shipbuilders and marine engine builders, Wm Doxford and Sons Ltd. The Sperling Combine’s modus operandi was to gain control of companies and utilize their assets to expand. Their approach to shipbuilding was predatory but they failed to take account of shipbuilding’s propensity to booms and slumps, and over-capacity due to war. When the demand for ships plummeted in 1920 Sperling’s financial manipulations were left exposed. Doxford had advanced several loans to Northumberland Shipbuilding totalling £4 million but these were never repaid. The Sperling partnership was dissolved and Northumberland Shipbuilding went into voluntary receivership in 1926. Doxford closed for several years, but the Doxford family bought back into the firm via the Shipbuilding Investment Company and it reopened in 1927. Doxford managed to survive through the 1930s by combining shipbuilding and engine building, and pushing up the percentage of in-house manufacture, which allowed larger profits in times of high demand and more leeway to survive in less prosperous periods.

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Filed under: Interwar | Other (location)
Subjects include: Merchant Marines | Shipbuilding & Design

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