Shipbuilding at Woodhaven

Woodhaven Pier has over the years been the site for many activities, all ideally suited to the sheltered spot:

  • Wormit Boating Club – a thriving water sports club
  • workshop areas for a joiner and a car mechanic
  • the base for the local Scout troop
  • the base of Squadron 333 of the Royal Norwegian Air Force operating Catalina flying boats
  • the shore base for the Mars training ship (the pier is still called the Mars Pier by locals)
  • a harbour for coastal trading vessels
  • a shipbuilding yard
  • workshop areas for a builder and contractor
  • a terminal for the ferry to Dundee, and the main road south to Cupar and beyond.

Of all of these, it is the shipbuilding that is least well known.

Joseph Garland leased a piece of ground here in 1847. The site is now the Wormit Boating Club dinghy park. The Fifeshire Journal described the site as being ‘exceedingly well chosen and offers many advantages over shipbuilding yards in Dundee, from the greater depth of water on the south side of the river, and the comparatively trifling rents at which the ground can be secured’. The report went on to predict the building of new housing for the incoming workforce.1 

Garland had been in partnership with James Horsburgh in the firm of Garland & Horsburgh, shipbuilders, Dundee (trading initially as the Dundee New Shipbuilding Co.) from 1831 to 1837. Altogether they built 18 ships. When that company was wound up, Garland went to Newburgh where he operated a very successful shipbuilding company from 1837 to 1846, constructing another 18 ship

Then he moved here.

He built 6 ships here from 1847 to 1853; apart from the Hope they were coasting & North Sea vessels.3 The first 3 were either commissioned from him or were sold immediately upon completion. The latter 3 he operated himself for a time before selling them on.

The ships were wooden sailing vessels and were constructed when steam engines were rapidly gaining favour and iron hulls were beginning to be used. They were constructed in a depression in the ground, the hull being supported on legs. At the launch, the depression was flooded and the ship floated out. But changes in technology meant that this method of construction was by now outdated and larger premises with bigger slipways were required.

Woodhaven Pier
Woodhaven Pier (50 years after the shipbuilding)

The following information4 about the ships built here was researched 30 years ago and required a trip to London. Since then, much more has become available on the internet. I leave it to you to explore further.

Catherine Spence

‘Clarita’ – a 79-ton schooner – similar to ‘Catherine Spence’
  • Registered Sep 1848, 74 tons, 2-masted schooner, length 60.8′, beam 17.2′, hold depth 9.2′
  • First owner, from 1848, was David Spence, wood merchant of Tayport. He sold her in 1852 to Alexander Russell of Myrecairnie.
  • From May – September 1850 she is known to have been coasting. She was crewed by her Master, Captain David Rollo, and 3 men.
  • She was reported missing in 1854 bound from Tayport to London with potatoes.


  • Registered Jun 1849, 103 tons, 2-masted schooner, length 69.7′, beam 18.1′, hold depth 10.1′
  • First owner in 1849 was James Cooper of Arbroath. She was sold in 1853 to David Stewart of Dundee. Sold again in 1857 to David Low, coal merchant of Ferryden. She operated from Montrose and was later sold to William Alexander who had been her Master for several years. At this change of ownership, William Alexander had 60 shares and John Balfour Alexander, described only as shipowner, had 4 shares.
  • She was a coasting vessel and was finally wrecked at Rosehearty in September 1868, her Master being William Alexander.


Francis Mollison
‘Francis Mollison’ – a 90′ long brig – a little larger than ‘Hope’
  • Registered Mar 1850, 203 tons, 2-masted snow, length 83.9′, beam 20.9′, hold depth 14.3′
  • First owners: William Mudie Paton & Robert Fleming, merchants, Dundee (32 shares each).
  • Her first voyage was Dundee – Riga – Montrose, with David Smith, Master, 7 men and 2 apprentices.
  • Sold in 1853 to John Wood, shipowner, and Edward Cole, linen merchant, both of Bristol; and registered in Bristol. She made many voyages to West Africa & the Canaries. By 1871 she was coasting.
  • Sold to foreigners in 1872.


  • Registered Apr 1850, 45 tons, 1-masted smack, length 55.9′, beam 15.1′, hold depth 7′
  • Garland owned this small ship himself for 6 years, during which time she coasted round the UK with a crew of 3.
  • Sold to John Aitken of Stirling, then sold to the Shetland North Sea Fishery Company. They sold her to Francis & Duncan McNeil, mariners of Glasgow, with Francis McNeil as her Master. She was eventually broken up in 1890.
  • She was recorded as having left Woodhaven on 10 July 1851, discharged ballast at Newcastle, loaded full of coals and was back again at Woodhaven in 68 hours.5

St Fort

  • Registered Feb 1851, 95 tons, 2-masted schooner, length 39.4′, beam 17.7′, hold depth 10.3′
  • This ship was also first owned by Garland for a year. Her Master was William Jack, born in Flisk, and there were 4 other crew.
  • She sailed from Dundee on 8th February 1851 and is known to have called at Liverpool, Belfast, Bordeaux, Dublin & Pettycur by 14th June.
  • Sold to William (10 shares), John (27) & James (27) Wishart, merchants of Leith. They operated her with Peter Johnstone as Master, from Leith to Holland, Spain and the Baltic.
  • She was wrecked on the Swedish coast in December 1858.


  • Registered Aug 1853, 18 tons, 1-masted sloop, length 36.4′, beam 11.3′, hold depth 7′
  • Garland owned this last small vessel for 2 years as a coaster. She was then sold to Lerwick and passed through several hands and several Masters.
  • She disappears from the shipping lists between 1901 and 1904.

After Garland retired from work here, he continued as a shipowner and operator, and eventually became a Director of the D P & L Shipping Company.6

Two things I did not know at the time but which have emerged in a trawl of old newspapers:

In April 1849 there was an accident at the shipyard and Alexander Rae, a carpenter from Dundee, and another man fell when the stage they were working on gave way. Rae broke his leg in 2 places.7

Another boatbuilder, Peter Watson, started business on the site in January 1855. He built much smaller boats, up to 20′ in length, suitable as ships’ boats or for shooting or fishing. He moved away in June 1856.8


  1. Fifeshire Journal, 8 Jul 1847
  2. Shipping Notes, J P Ingram, Dundee Central Library
  3. Shipping Notes, J P Ingram, Dundee Central Library
  4. Ships’ Muster Rolls, Dundee; Board of Trade: Ships’ Registries: Transcripts & Transactions; Merchant Navy List (various years); Lloyds Register of Shipping (various years); Shipping Notes, J P Ingram, Dundee Central Library
  5. Dundee Advertiser, 18 Jul 1851, p3
  6. D P & L Directors Minute Book, Dundee City Archives, GD/DPL
  7. Dundee Advertiser, 27 Apr 1849 p2
  8. Dundee Advertiser, 5 Jan 1855, p2; 7 Aug 1855, p1; 10 Jun 1856, p2

Photos: These are as close as I can get to the size of the vessels and the location at the time. They are intended to give a flavour of the topic. Woodhaven Pier – postcard; Clarita from State Library Victoria; Francis Mollison from Newport History Group

A Tunnel Under Tayfield

The Intricacies of Railway Mania

Map showing path of Rendel’s floating bridge

Following on from the previous blog Big Plans about the Edinburgh and Northern (the E & N) Railway’s plans for a line from Cupar via Leuchars to Tayport and then possibly on to Newport, other companies were desperate to run the line through Fife to Dundee.

In September 1845 the Glasgow & Dundee Junction Railway (the G & D J) proposed to go from Glasgow via Stirling and Kinross, Strathmiglo, Auchtermuchty and Cupar to Newport. In its journey through Fife it would meet the E & N, presumably at Cupar, ‘from whence it will proceed directly to Newport … where there is a short and commodious ferry.’ ‘No tunnelling will be necessary. The gradients and curves are unexceptionable, and the work throughout will be light.’ The prospectus said that the whole line ‘is supported by a majority of landowners through whose properties it is intended to pass’ 1 . The wording in the prospectus is unclear – did it mean that the railway would stop at Cupar and use the E & N rails to carry the traffic; or did it mean it would connect with the E & N and then itself go directly to Newport (but without tunnels)?

Also in September 1845 the Glasgow & Dundee Direct Railway (the G & D D) put out their prospectus 2 . Despite their name, they took as their starting point Dundee harbour and from the outset intended to use Mr Rendel’s floating bridge across the river to Craighead* (shown as a purple dashed line). The floating bridge idea had been approved by Parliament in 1843 3 and originally was intended to (1) provide a replacement or additional ferry terminal at Craighead and (2) operate it as a chain ferry (or floating bridge) by converting one of the existing steamers 4 . But the G & D D prospectus went further – ‘railway carriages and wagons were to pass without change from … Glasgow to Dundee and Arbroath’ – in other words the wagons were to roll on to the floating bridge and roll off at the other side – just like that!

Once on Fife ground, the G & D D line was to take ‘the most direct line’ from Craighead (Newport) to Kinross and then on to Stirling. It was also intended to form a short branch to Cupar.

But ambition doesn’t guarantee success. The G & D D’s grandiose plans lasted only a week before the company was amalgamated with the G & D J 5.

While all this is going on, surveyors and engineers must have been on the ground. Two months later, in November 1845, the plans are issued for public consultation prior to presentation to Parliament 6 . And what a dog’s breakfast they are.

The plans, now nominally G & D J plans, are for a line – shown in blue, tunnels in dashed blue -from Craighead, with no mention of connection to the floating bridge, then west along the coast to Newport Pier. From there, 2 alternatives were given:

  1. a line continuing along the shore past Woodhaven and Scroggieside, round a bend to pass Wormit Farm, then through the Wormit Gap in the hills and round the hill at Sandford. The main line would run from there west through open countryside past Kilmany, Luthrie and Letham to Auchtermuchty, then on to Kinross and eventually Stirling and Glasgow. (4.6 miles from Newport Pier to Easter Kinnear Farm). Yes, you read correctly – the main line would run past Kilmany, Luthrie and Letham to Auchtermuchty.
  2. a line heading south past Tayfield and Friarton, then turning southwest to join up with option (1) at Easter Kinnear Farm. (3.5 miles from Newport Pier to Easter Kinnear Farm).

Both options would connect to a branch to Cupar and St Andrews. [Interestingly, there was no proposed link for traffic approaching from the west to get to the Cupar & St Andrews branch. Cupar was to be reached by a minor branch much further west, while St Andrews would have been unreachable from the west. All the attention seems to have been on the Dundee to Kinross line.]

I have a whole page showing the planned line in Newport and Woodhaven on here.

The direct route, option 2, (and railway promoters were always pushing for the ‘direct’ route) is thus over a mile shorter than option 1. However, and there is a big ‘however’, route 2 passes through hilly ground. The usual answer to this is to make cuttings and maybe a tunnel – but these are expensive. Tunnelling is very expensive. Having climbed from Newport pier there would have to be a tunnel under the eastern part of St Fort Hill (between the Old Kirk Road just south of Newport and Friarton), and another under Knockhill (between West Friarton and South Friarton). But the plans show tunnel all the way from Tayfield North Lodge to West Friarton. Would it have to be tunnelled all this way? I doubt it. The ground rises steadily but not excessively as it goes from the lodge, through what is now St Serfs grounds, to Kirk Road. Tunnelling here is not an engineering necessity.

If it was a case of being hidden from sight from the grounds of Tayfield, then there was also the issue of smoke, fumes and noise as a north-bound train exits the tunnel at Newport – and that would quite easily be seen from Tayfield House. South-bound trains would create more noise and smoke but this would mostly be cleared by the wind before entering the tunnel.

What did option 2 have in its favour to justify the additional expense? Why was that route even considered? Was it a legacy of its original G & D D ‘direct line’?

Was its expense simply there to make the Wormit route more attractive?

What about the support of the landowners? Was Mr Berry in favour? He had been unsuccessful in arguing against the floating bridge at Craighead in 1843 7 . Was this another obstacle to the G & D J line to help make it economically unviable?

[Added after original post: Another newspaper extract 12 has come to light commenting about the engineers surveying for a direct line and a tunnel to run from Forgan Smithy under Forgan Hill to Tayfield Den or Maryton [sic]. It gives the advantages of this route as ‘avoiding the interference with the amenity of St Fort & Tayfield, and with the valuable fishings in Wormit Bay’. It goes on to say that the landowners gave the engineers utmost freedom in their survey. If it isn’t the best route, don’t blame the landowners. It finishes with a wish that the tunnel should be liberally lit by gas. – So this is the ‘direct line’ option.]

Whatever the reasons, the G & D J went ahead and sought Parliamentary approval. But all did not go well. While passing through parliamentary scrutiny in April 1846, it had numerous objectors and the drawn plans in particular were criticised and found to be wanting. The bill was therefore thrown out for failing to comply with standing orders 8 .

The G & D J was short-lived. Only 9 months after being proposed, the company was wound up 9 , leaving the E& N line to Tayport as the only railway crossing to Dundee – until the next proposals appeared .

*Craighead is the point of land immediately west of the Fife end of the Tay Road Bridge. Craighead Cottage and, later, Craighead Farm and eventually Craighead housing scheme all take their names from their proximity to this point of land. On 17th century maps it is called ‘Scarness’, but by 1703 Adair’s map of the River Tay names it as ‘Craig head’ 10 , and there is a baptism recorded at Craighead in 1726 11 .


  1. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 26 Sep 1845, p3 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
  2. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 23 Sep 1845, p3
  3. Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  4. Fife Herald, 6 Apr 1843, p3 ; and Fifeshire Journal, 3 Aug 1843, p2
  5. Dundee Courier, 30 Sep 1845, p3
  6. Bound plans and sections of Glasgow and Dundee Junction Railway from Stirling to Newport and Dundee via Kinross… at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP85254.
  7. Fife Herald, 18 May 1843, p5
  8. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 7 Apr 1846, p1
  9. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 5 Jun 1846, p2
  10. Fifae Pars Orientalis, Blaeu, 1654 ; and The Frith of the River Tay …, Adair, 1703 at the National Library of Scotland
  11. Old Parish Records, Forgan parish 431/1, baptism of James Gilcrest 8 May 1726 , ScotlandsPeople
  12. Fifeshire Journal, 30 Oct 1845, p6

Additional reading:

  • The Railways of Fife, William Scott Bruce, 1980
  • Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, vol 15 North of Scotland, John Thomas & David Turnock, 1993