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British Shipbuilders' Flags

Last modified: 2019-07-11 by rob raeside
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The original Observer's Book of Flags, 1959, has the following;
"Many shipbuilding companies also have their own House Flags. Such a flag is displayed, along with that of the prospective owners, while a vessel is being launched. It may also be flow during her trials, to be replaced, as soon as these are satisfactorily completed, by that of her owners to signify that she has changed hands."
David Prothero, 6 November 2018

Alex Stephens & Co Ltd

[Cammel Laird & Co. houseflag] image by Neale Rosanoski, 1 January 2018

History. ?-1850-1966
The family was involved in shipbuilding from 1750 with Alexander Stephen with his grand nephew starting the firm of the name in 1850.

The shipbuilding business began at Burghead in 1750 by Alexander Stephen. His brother William, a farmer, later moved to Aberdeen and his son William [born 1959] was sent back to Burghead in 1777 to be apprenticed to his uncle Alexander and returned to Aberdeen in 1787 who later moved to Aberdeen. His son William became involved in shipbuilding in 1787 becoming involved in shipbuilding establishing his own business in 1793 and later persuaded his uncle Alexander to join him in Aberdeen with Burghead left under Alexander's son Alexander until at least 1826. William had established at Footdee but 1.1.1828 was declared bankrupt with his Aberdeen business William Stephen & Sons being taken over by his son Alexander who changed the name to Alexander Stephen & Sons. In 1843 he moved to Dundee ( In 1850 he established another yard at Glasgow, his son William running Dundee and the rest of the family moving to Glasgow in 1851 (

Shipbuilders incorporated 1966 into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ltd. and closed after that organization collapsed in 1971.

The blue Maltese cross on white was chosen by Alick and Fred Stephen as their yacht racing burgee during the 1880sand was adopted for the shipyard. The flag was used by Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ltd. (Loughran 1979 P99).

Sources: Loughran 1979 79(b).
Neale Rosanoski, 1 January 2018

Cammell Laird & Co.

[Cammel Laird & Co. houseflag] image by Jorge Candeias, 21 Mar 1999

Dark blue with a white oval centered bordered in a weird shade of purple/brown and charged with the silhouette of a camel facing the hoist in dark gold.
Jorge Candeias, 21 Mar 1999

Other sites:

Former flag

[Cammel Laird & Co. old houseflag] image by Jorge Candeias, 21 Mar 1999

The (a?) historical flag of this company: White with an outline of a camel centered and facing the fly and the initials "CL&Co" below the camel, all in red.
Jorge Candeias, 23 Mar 1999

There was another flag for this shipbuilding company in the Observer Book of Flags [eva59], with following text:

Many shipbuilding companies also have their own House Flags. Such a flag is displayed, along with that of the prospective owners, while a vessel is being launched. It may also be flown during her trials, to be replaced, as soon as these are satisfactorily completed, by that of the owners to signify that she has changed hands. ... that of Cammell Laird and Co. is an amusing example of punning heraldry.
Jarig Bakker, 01 Mar 1999

Govan Shipbuilders

[Harland and Wolff houseflag] image from

Govan Shipbuilders Ltd (GSL) was a British shipbuilding company based on the River Clyde at Glasgow in Scotland. It operated the former Fairfield Shipyard and took its name from the Govan area in which it was located.
Source: Wikipedia

Harland and Wolff

[Harland and Wolff houseflag] image by Martin Grieve

The house flag of Harland and Wolff, the Belfast company who constructed RMS Titanic, is shown in The Observer's Book of flags, (1966 edition). There in full colour the house flag of the company is quartered per saltire red (hoist and fly) and yellow (top and bottom). Emblazoned in the centre is a blue lozenge, fimbriated yellow, with black outline to separate the two yellow portions. In the centre of the blue lozenge appear the lettering HW in an interlocking format all in white. So far so good - but I decided to try and get some more info, and consulted The book of flags (1965 edition) and then the problems started to surface! On page 42 we have:

"Many shipbuilding companies also have their own House flags, John Brown & Co. Ltd. use their initials with a red saltire on a white field. Vickers-Armstrong combine theirs with a light blue cross on a white field. **Those of Harland and Wolff appear in blue on a small red-bordered diamond at the centre of a flag of 'envelope' design, blue and white.**"
Last night on TV there was a documentary entitled "Return to the Titanic" - and not giving any thought to flags, decided to tune-in. You can imagine my surprise when Dr Robert Ballard and his entourage were seen waving the Harland and Wolff flag - and this was different yet again to *both* described above. The design they had was: exactly as Observers book, but instead of yellow quarters top and bottom - white was used. I am convinced therefore that this version has the most credibility, and show it here.

This is of course, not quite "closure" and I would encourage anyone to confirm my version here - or for that matter, to report other variations in publications at your disposal. It could just be that the house flag has undergone changes over the years?
Martin Grieve, 11 June 2004

Photograph of example of a table flag from National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (London): 
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 27 April 2019

[Harland and Wolff houseflag]image by Rob Raeside, 24 June 2019

At the Johnson Geocentre in St. Johnís, Newfoundland, is an extensive exhibit on the Titanic, which was built at that shipyard. In the display is a broad pennant showing the HW monogram on navy blue. This is possibly an earlier flag for H&W.
Rob Raeside, 24 June 2019

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John Brown & Co.

[John Brown & Company, Ltd. houseflag] image by Martin Grieve, 8 March 2008

 John Brown Shipbuilders flag is a white flag with a red saltire. The initials J B & Co. occupying one of the 4 white triangles and in red.
Martin Grieve, 6 March 2008

Two brothers, James and George Thomson, established a marine engine-building business at the Clyde Bank Foundry. Both of these brothers had worked under the pioneering engineer and entrepreneur, Robert Napier. The shipyard had its origins in the Finnieston area of Glasgow in 1847. Finnieston is on the south bank of the River Clyde, and there is a time-honoured saying that if a ship is not "Clyde-built", then it is not worth sailing on.

In 1871, 32 acres of farmland were acquired for a new yard at Barns of Clyde diagonally opposite the mouth of the River Cart. The shipyard was transferred from Govan bringing with it the name Clyde Bank later to be taken for the town that would grow around the yard. In 1899 the works were taken over by John Brown & Co, the Sheffield forgemasters and armour plate makers. John Brown & Co. Ltd. were amalgamated into the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971 and are now defunct.

An impressive inventory they leave behind:
RMS Lusitania
RMS Aquitania
HMS Hood
HMS Tiger
HMS Repulse
RMS Queen Mary
RMS Queen Elizabeth
RMS Queen Elizabeth II

The image above is based on "The Observer's book of flags" 1966 edition by IO Evans F.R.G.S. page 191.
Additional research quoted:
Martin Grieve, 8 March 2008