The Stanhope Steamship Company was founded and managed by shipbroker Jack Billmeir in 1934. This opportunistic tramp shipping firm soon became well established by making huge profits running Franco’s blockade into Republican ports during the Spanish Civil War.
By 1939 with the purchase of old tonnage, the number of ship’s under Stanhope’s blue and white ’JAB’ house flag, sporting a blue B on a white band across the black funnel, had grown to eighteen. Then during the ensuing 2nd World War, Stanhope lost twenty of its own ships and another twelve Ministry of War Transport (MoWT) ships manned and managed by the company, these mostly torpedoed, mined or attacked by aircraft, with a heavy overall loss of 233 lives.
Using replacement tonnage for ships lost, conversions and newbuildings able to take advantage of a post-war boom in cargo rates, Billmeir had by 1948 acquired a comparatively modern fleet of 19 cargo ships and tankers with a total deadweight of 192,500 tons.
Some new tonnage was acquired during the 1950s but as freight rates declined towards the end of the decade several ships were sold off and old tonnage was scrapped.
In 1957 Billmeir set up an Award Scheme Trust, for education in boatbuilding and naval architecture, which was later to be amalgamated into the Shipwrights‘ Company Educational Trust. Jack Billmeir was awarded the CBE, and in 1962 became Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights.
In 1963, when Jack Billmeir died, the company had only three ships left. The following year the Stanhope Steamship Co. was sold to George Nott Industries of Coventry and the title of this remaining shell company was passed on to Townsend Thorensen Ferries.
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