Papers of Sir James Lithgow, 1883-1952; shipbuilder & industrialist

Scope and Content

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir James Lithgow was born on  27 January 1883  in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland, son of William Todd Lithgow (  1854-1908  ) and Agnes Birkmyre. He was educated at Glasgow Academy, Glasgow, Scotland and at Paris, France, under a private tutor. In  1901  , he passed up the opportunity to go to university to take up an apprenticeship at the family shipyard,  Russell & Co , Port Glasgow. He became a partner in his father's business in  1907  and the following year, on the death of his father, he assumed joint ownership with his brother, Henry Lithgow (  1887-1948  ). In  1911, James Lithgow was appointed vice-president of the Clyde Shipbuilders Association, for the year  1912-1913  .

The 1914-1918 World War interrupted his shipbuilding career, serving with the Army. His company spent the first part of the war on garrison duty on the river Clyde, Scotland and then in France from  1916 until May 1917  . That year he was made Lieutenant Colonel and finished the war a brevet Colonel. His brother remained behind in charge of the shipyard and its vital war work.

In 1917, he was recalled from France to London by the Controller of Merchant Shipping, Sir Eric Campbell Geddes, and given the title Director of Merchant Shipping with the responsibility for ensuring merchant yards met the demands placed on them. In London he met William Douglas Weir, 1st Viscount Weir of Eastwood (  1877-1959  ), who was then director general of aircraft production. This meeting was to have a major impact on Lithgow's future career.

In  1918  , back in Port Glasgow,  Russell & Co was renamed  Lithgows Ltd .  James Lithgow returned to Scotland in  1919  and continued to expand  Lithgows Ltd interests by expanding yards and diversifying the operation. The Shipbuilding Employers Federation appointed James president in  1920  and in  1922  Lord Weir persuaded him to take the vice presidency of the National Confederation of Employers Organisations. This led him to be a delegate to the International Labour Organisation at Geneva, Switzerland, from  1922-1925  and the employers' member on the governing body there between  1922 and 1927  and again from  1933 to 1935  .

In  1924  , he married Gwendolyn Amy Harrison, daughter of a former Clyde shipowner and was awarded the position of honorary colonel of the Clyde Heavy Battalion of the Royal Artillery - a Territorial Army regiment.. In  1925  , he was created 1st baronet of Ormsary, Ardrisaig, Argyll & Bute, Scotland. In the late  1920s  and  1930s  , Sir James was to be a central figure in the shipbuilding rationalisation scheme, National Shipbuilders Security Ltd. Under his guidance the industry succeeded in eliminating about one third of the capacity of the shipyards between  1930 and 1939  . Other major posts held by Sir James were president of the Federation of British Industry  1930-1933  and chairman of the Scottish National Development Council  1931-1939  .

During the 1939-1945 World War, Winston Churchill re-called Sir James to London in 1940 to be Controller of Merchant Shipbuilding & Repairs. He was also a member of the Board of Admiralty  1940-1946  . He briefly held the post of Controller of Tanks and was deputy chairman of the Industrial Capacity Committee of the Production Council. Additionally he was president of the Iron & Steel Federation from  1943-1945  . When the war ended, he returned to Port Glasgow to assist his brother in running the shipyards. In  1946,  he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Glasgow. His brother died in  1948  and  Sir James Lithgow himself suffered a serious thrombosis soon afterwards, from which he was never to fully recover. At the time of his death on  23 February 1952  ,  Sir James Lithgow was owner of the largest privately owned shipyard in the world.


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Conditions Governing Access


Acquisition Information

Received from the family of Sir James Lithgow

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom

Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S) 2818) and London (NRA 30494)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

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

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use & condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History

Sir James Lithgow's papers remained with the family until they were deposited in the University Archives by his son


None expected.

Related Material

GB 0248 UGD 223, GD 320 Records of Lithgows Ltd

See source list on Shipping and Shipbuilding Industry via the Glasgow University Archive Services home page at

Material in other repositories: no material associated by provenance


Reid, J M,James Lithgow, Master of Work , ( London , 1964  )

Slaven, Anthony,'Sir James Lithgow . Slaven, A and Checkland, S (eds.), vol.1Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography 1860-1960 ( Aberdeen , 1968  )

Additional Information

The collection is original

Compiled by Moira MacKay , Assistant Archivist, 16 May, 1997.

Revised by Adele Redhead, Assistant Archivist, February 2003. Amended by Sam Maddra, Assistant Archivist (cataloguing), 13 January 2014.

Geographical Names