John Wigham Richardson & Co, Low Walker
John Wigham Richardson was born on 7 January 1837 - the son of devout Quakers, Edward Richardson and Jane Wigham, and grew up in Newcastle.
Although the family business was in leather tanning, he devoted his life to shipbuilding, learning his skills initially as a draughtsman for Lloyds Register of Shipping in Liverpool and then as an apprentice to Jonathon Robson, a steam-tug builder in Gateshead (from 1853 to 1856).
In 1860, at the age of just 23, he founded the Neptune Works at Walker on Tyne, with a loan of less than £5,000 from his father. This was one of the world's first shipyards to build ships in steel, and the original steam engine on the site also provided electric lighting to the neighbourhood.
The 4 acre site was formerly occupied by shipbuilders John Coutts, Miller & Ravenhill and Vernon. The yard had 3 berths and a workforce of 200 men and he brought in a manager from Sterling, Charles J Denham Christie with good knowledge of ship design and construction. Denham Christie would later become a partner in the firm.
Richardson started engine building in 1879, taking over J Shaw's works which had started in 1872, building engines for themselves and other yards on the Tyne.
More land was acquired and the yard covered 18 acres with a river frontage of 1100ft. The company was incorporated in 1900 and later merged with Swan Hunter's yard to become Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson in 1903.
True to his Quaker beliefs, John Wigham Richardson cared greatly for the workers in his company and was a founder of the Workers’ Benevolent Trust in the region, a forerunner to the trades’ union movement. In 1890 he became President of North East Coast Institution of Engineers & Shipbuilders.
In 1864, he married Marian Henrietta Thöl, the daughter of a prominent Hamburg businessman, Nicolaus Johann Phillip Thöl, founder of J.P. Thöl & Co Merchants of London. They had seven children. He died on 15 April 1908.