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This individual is featured in the 'Wood' display from the 'What Makes Bristol, and What Bristol Makes' case in the People Gallery, along with relevant exhibits.  

 William Patterson, 1795 - 1869, was a naval architect and shipbuilder. William Patterson Shipbuilders, a major 19th Century shipbuilding company, built the S.S. Great Western, S,S. Great Britain, and the S.S. Demerara


Patterson was born in Arbroath, Scotland in 1795 to a poor family. At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to a shipbuilder in Rotherhithe and was later foreman to William Evans a well known ship builder. In 1822 he gained invaluable experience when he took charge of Evans yard and on his own account completed a steam packet for the Post Office, the Dasher. 

In 1823 he moved to Bristol and became assistant to William Scott at his Wapping Yard. 

In 1824 he married Eliza Manning in St Mary Redcliffe Church and they were to raise 11 children. 

In 1830 Scott became bankrupt and in 1831 Patterson took ownership of the Wapping Yard that remained his until 1857. Patterson gained prominenece in 1834 when he built the schooner Velox (154 tons). The ship was unusually slim for a Bristol ship and is described as a 'clipper model'. The press eulogised 'an improvement in the style of nautical architecture that must be hailed by everyone with satisfaction'.

His circle of friends included Thomas Guppy a marine engineer and businessman, Captain Claxton RN who was Quay Warden of Bristol Docks, and most importantly Isambard Kingdom Brunel. When the directors of the Great Western Railway decided in 1835 to build a steamship to 'extend' their railway to New York, the three Bristol men were appointed to make a tour of British Ports to gather information. 

The Great Western, a wooden ship with steam-driven paddles designed by Brunel was completed in 1838 by Patterson in his Wapping yard. It was 236 feet long, 35 feet wide and weighed 1320 tons, two and a half times the weight of any ship built before it in Bristol. 

The Great Western Steamship Company required a sister ship to provide a frequent shuttle service. The construction committee of Patterson, Guppy, Claxton and Brunel recommended that the new ship, the Great Britain, be built of iron. 

This time construction took place in a dry dock (now known as the Great Western Yard) which the Steamship Company leased and enlarged, as the Great Britain was too large to be built in Patterson's yard. Completed in 1843, she was 289 feet long by 50 feet wide and weighed 3270 tons, easily the biggest ship in the world. She was the first large ship to be built of iron, and the first large ship to be driven by a screw. She had the most powerful engine built up to that time, over 1000 horsepower, and the first balanced rudder. She had a double bottom and watertight compartments. She was the 'mother' of all modern ships. 

Patterson can be credited for the elegant lines of the finished ship, as he made the first drawings of the hull, with concave bows at the waterline. 

William Patterson built many other ships in Bristol after the Great Britain, both in the Wapping yard, and from 1858 until 1865 in the Great Western Yard where he was assisted by his son William Jr. He experimented with mass production and in 1851 he completed 7 pilots of 26 tons in quick succession. Also in 1851 another ship over 3000 tons, the Demerara, was completed. She was to have engines fitted in another port, but while being towed down the Avon she was caught by the falling tide and broke her back. The ship was returned to Bristol and Patterson converted her to the largest sailing ship in the world. Other ventures included some steam warships for the Royal Navy during the Crimean War, some yachts including the Oriana for a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Cyclone for himself, and three steamships for the Austrian Government! 

Writing in 1920 one of Patterson's granddaughters recalls his happy home life and his indulgence of his children and grandchildren. She also recalls that Patterson was invited to become a member of The Institution of Naval Architects when it was founded in 1860. Indeed the Institution's records do record him as a full member, recognising him as a naval architect as well as a shipbuilder. Patterson's wife died in 1865 and he retired to Liverpool where he died in 1869. 

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