The Brocklebank Shipping Line 1769 - 1983 (cont’d)

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Castor and other vessels in a choppy sea; Thomas Luny, 1802, National Maritime Museum

Neither of the two brothers having married, Thomas Fisher, the son of sister Anne, became the heir apparent when he joined the Company in 1831, the same year the brothers partnership came to an end when John Brocklebank was tragically killed riding his horse. In 1843 Thomas made his forty year-old cousin Ralph (son of his father’s brother John) and nephew Thomas Fisher partners, Thomas changing his name to Brocklebank on the death of his uncle Thomas in 1845.
The Whitehaven shipyard was closed in 1865 and Brocklebank became solely a merchant shipping company, with up to fifty vessels under the flag, now purchasing larger iron and steel sailing ships from Harland & Wolff in Belfast. Several other family members too, from different generations were to become involved in the company over the succeeding years, Ralph becoming Chairman of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board and Thomas becoming the 1st Baronet Brocklebank in 1885. The shipping office was moved to Bixteth Street in 1886, but the firm was slow to convert to steam propulsion, they did not purchase their first steamer until 1889 when they commissioned the Ameer. Thomas Brocklebank (1848-1911), the first baronet’s son, became Chairman in 1895 and in 1898 the Brocklebank line became a limited company. On his death in 1911, his brother Harold (1853-1936) succeeded him as Chairman, followed in 1913 by his nephew Sir Aubrey, who had been Managing Director since 1898. In 1911 Brocklebank ceased to be a family business after a substantial shareholding was sold, and in 1912 the Anchor Line, a subsidiary of Cunard, gained a controlling interest, with Sir Aubrey Brocklebank retaining the Chairmanship until his death in 1929. The firm becoming wholly owned by Cunard in 1940.
Company records show that over the years wrecks and losses seemed to be a regular occurrence, no doubt indicative of the dangers facing mariners in the days of sail and early steamers. In times of conflict, like most other merchant shipping lines the attrition rate reached alarming proportions and the Brocklebank fleet was not untypical in losing sixty percent of its twenty six vessels during the second world war.
Brocklebank residences through three centuries have included Stanfield House Whitehaven, Greenlands (Wasdale) and Ireton Halls in Cumberland (at the junction of Wasdale, Miterdale and Eskdale, now a hotel), Grizedale Hall in Westmorland and Childwall Hall and Springwood House in Liverpool. Harold Brocklebank purchased the Grizedale Estate near Hawkshead in 1903 and had the existing hall demolished to make way for the fourth hall on the site, a forty room Gothic mansion which was completed in 1907. After he died in 1936 the Forestry Commission took over the property, although during the second world war it was used as a prisoner of war camp for German officers, residents there including such high ranking officers as Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. Returned to the Forestry Commission after the war it fell into disrepair and because of the high cost of maintenance it was demolished in 1957.   

Palfreyman September 2017

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