Papers of Sir Stephen Pigott, 1939-1949, managing director of John Brown & Co Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

  • Personal Records, including a blessing from the Pope to Mr and Mrs Pigott 1896-1923
  • Ship specification books c.1930s
  • Technical plans and drawings c.1907-1908
  • Advertising material, a design for the advert of the New Cunarder , the Queen Mary c.1934
  • Staff records 1907-c.1930s
  • Photographs 1921-1940

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Stephen Pigott born 30th January 1880  in Cornwall, New York, was one of 8 children born to a farming family of Irish extraction. He attended Cornwall High School and despite parental opposition took a degree in Mechanical and Marine Engineering from Columbia University, New York, whence he graduated in 1903  . In addition to this, he took courses in Surveying and Hydraulics and learnt the rudiments of Naval Architecture. He was President of Columbia‰??s Engineering Society and invited Charles G Curtis, inventor of the innovatory Curtis Turbine, to be a guest speaker. Although he declined, Curtis offered Pigott work as his assistant in the development of the turbine for ship propulsion. He began work with Curtis Turbine in June 1903  . In March 1908  he was sent to explain the development of the Curtis Turbine to the British Admiralty in London. He returned two months later after contact with John Brown & Co Ltd , shipbuilders, in Clydebank, who had expressed interest in the new method of propulsion. On his return several months later, with the intention of staying at the ship yard for six months, Pigott was invited by Sir Thomas Bell, the Managing Director, to stay on as Turbine Specialist. Ultimately, he remained for 47 years with the company, until the end of his life.

The first vessel to be fitted with the turbines of the Curtis type and built at Clydebank was HMS Bristol , followed soon by ships personally remembered by Piggot : the Battle Cruisers Tiger and Hood , the Empress of Britain and the Aquitania . (The Battlecruiser Hood and its 1480 officers and men were tragically lost during the Battle of the Atlantic in 1941 leaving just 3 survivors). In 1919, Piggot was forced to choose between returning to Curtis in New York and staying with John Brown in Clydebank choosing the latter on the assurance that he would be Sir Thomas‰??s choice of successor. He was made Engine Works Director responsible for the Brown-Curtis Turbine. He became director of John Brown & Company in 1934  , Director-in Charge in 1935  and finally Managing Director following the retirement of Sir Thomas Bell in 1938  .

The 1930s and 1940s were the most prodigious for him in terms of his career culminating in the launching of the famous ocean liners Queen Mary in 1934  and her sister ship Queen Elizabeth , four years later. Pigott received a knighthood from George VI at Buckingham Palace in early 1939  . The vast ships were to prove invaluable as troop carriers during the imminent Second World War. In competition with the french equivalent, the Normandie , the Queen Mary raced to cross the Atlantic in a shorter time, but was not to receive this accolade until its return journey made her the world‰??s fastest passenger ship. The battlehsips such as the Duke of York and the Vanguard were built under Pigott‰??s leadership at the yard. Pigott also went on to become a Justice of the Peace for the City of Glasgow and received the Gold Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, for outstanding leadership in marine propulsion and construction. From 1937-1948  he was President of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders. The last great ship built under him at John Brown‰??s was the SS Caronia , launched by Princess Elizabeth in 1947. He retired in 1949  . It was perhaps better that Pigott did not have to witness the end of the ship building era. The last of the great liners, the QE2 , was launched in 1967  , and the last ship of all was launched from John Brown‰??s in 1972  . In 1951 he married for a second time the widow Mrs Dorothy McWharrie, their honeymoon cruise marking the veteran shipbuilder‰??s first cruise at the age of 71. He lived with Dorothy at her home in Closeburn Castle, Dumfriesshire until his death four years later in 1955  . He was survived by five children and eleven grandchildren.


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Additional Information

Fonds level description created by Andrew Thomson, Hub Project Archivist, 21 January 2005.

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