Papers of Sir John Brown, 1901-2000, naval architect, Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Personal papers, relating to John Brown's family, Hutchesons' Grammer School and the University of Glasgow, 1908-1998;
  • Papers relating to John Brown's professional career, 1919-1997;
  • Papers relating to John Brown's retirement, 1954-1998;
  • Papers relating to honours that John Brown received both during his career and retirement, 1959-2000;
  • Publications by John Brown, or about him and his work, 1999-2001;
  • Various audio-visual materials, 1905-2000.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Brown was born on the south side of Glasgow on 6 May 1901  to parents Ida and John, a lathmaker. The family, which also included his sisters Ida, Dorothy and Maisie, soon moved to 25 Bogton Park. He first attended Craigie Street School and went on to Hutchesons' Grammar School, where his grandfather was art master. His mother, aunts, sisters and both his wives were also pupils at Hutchesons'. John Brown left school with qualifications in Science and Modern Languages and commenced an apprenticeship with John Brown & Co Ltd (no relation), shipbuilders of Clydebank in 1919  .

In 1922 he became a member of IESIS (The Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland). During his apprenticeship he studied on a sandwich course at the University of Glasgow , receiving the Kirk Memorial Class Prize (see calendar) and graduating BSc with special distinction in Naval Architecture and Drawing in 1923  . He and classmates Robert Wood and J A Campbell Brown were known as the 'Three Musketeers.' Robert Wood later became Cunard's Naval Architect and he and John Brown maintained a close working relationship as well as a continuing personal friendship.

From 1927-1929 Brown was seconded to Bilbao for design and estimating work for the Sociedad Española de Construccion Naval (Spanish Association of Shipbuilders). Before leaving, he became engaged to Elizabeth McAllister Wright. He returned to Clydebank in 1929  as Assistant Naval Architect, and he and Elizabeth married in 1930. During WWII he served in the Home Guard. In 1948 he became their chief Naval Architect, and in 1953 was appointed Technical Director when the Clydebank operation became a separate entity.

He served John Brown & Co (Clydebank) Ltd as Managing Director from 01 October 1959-31 December 1963  and as Deputy Chairman from January 1964-March 1967  . During his time at Clydebank John Brown was involved in the building of some 400 ships; most notably, he was chief architect of the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, the QEII and the royal yacht Britannia.

John Brown was a Member of Council of IESIS from 1949 onwards, and their president 1959-1961  . He was a Member of Council of RINA from 1949 onwards, and their Vice-President from 1962 until at least the late 1980s. He also served on the Shipbuilding Conference Executive Board, various industry committees, the Research Council of the BSRA and the General and Technical Committees of Lloyd's Register. He was a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and a Life Member of both the Glasgow University Graduates Association and the Glasgow University Engineers' Society. He served at various times as a director for the Firth of Clyde Dry Dock Co Ltd, Brown Bros & Co Ltd of Edinburgh and Mitchell Bearings Ltd.

Upon his retirement in 1967 he and his second wife sailed to New York on the Queen Mary. John Brown remained extremely active in the shipbuilding sector in his retirement years, becoming involved with numerous heritage projects including the Glenlee sailing ship project, the redevelopment of Glasgow's dockside, the fates of the Queen Mary and the royal yacht Britannia, and collaborating on books Famous Ships of the Clyde and Ian Johnston's Ships for a Nation – the history of John Brown & Co, Clydebank. He was an elder of the Church of Scotland. In June 1965 he received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Glasgow, and from November 1966 to October 1978 was the first Co-opted lay member of Glasgow University Court.

He married (1) Elizabeth M Wright (d 1953) on 18 April 1930 and (2) Isobel, née Turner, widow of George Green Gibbon (d 1988) on 07 April 1956. He was awarded a knighthood in January 2000. John Brown died at his home in Glasgow on 27 December 2000 at the age of 99.

Sources: Papers of Sir John Brown, ref. UGC 092 (Glasgow University Archive Services, esp CV) · LLD oration, Glasgow University, 1965 · Depositor's lecture notes from a talk in Long Beach, CA, 2002 · Obituary of Sir John Brown, Glasgow Herald, 30 December 2000.


Arranged chronologically within record series.

Conditions Governing Access

Access restrictions at depositor's discretion, according to deposit agreement.

Acquisition Information

Deposit : Christine Schmitt-Mackinnon : 2001: ACCN 2134.

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 0248 procedures

Custodial History

In possession of creator's relatives until deposit with GUAS


None expected

Related Material

No related material

Location of Originals

This material is original


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives,ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999 and National Council on Archives,Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names


Compiled by Anna Sanders, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing), 2004.

Geographical Names