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William Laird (1780–1841) was a Scottish shipbuilder and developer who was responsible for what later became the Cammell, Laird and Co shipyard, and for starting the substantial development of its adjoining town, Birkenhead, on the Wirral in England.
1780 Born in Greenock, son of a ropemaker
1805 June 14th. Birth of son John Laird
1808 Birth of son Macgregor Laird
1810 He moved to Liverpool to develop the family's rope manufacturing business.
1816 Birth of son William Laird
By 1822 he had developed wider engineering interests, and had set up a steamship company to run between Liverpool and Glasgow.
1824 with business partners William Hamilton and John Forsyth, he bought land on the south bank of Wallasey Pool, an inlet of the River Mersey opposite Liverpool, adjoining the small but developing village of Birkenhead. Initially he intended to build a canal across the Wirral peninsula, but that plan soon foundered. Instead, Laird set up the Birkenhead Iron Works with another partner, Daniel Horton.
1828 Partnership was dissolved, and Laird and his son John, a solicitor's clerk, set up a new business, William Laird and Son. This was initially a boiler-works, but in 1828 it received its first order for an iron ship, to be used on the lakes of Ireland. The business rapidly expanded, as the demand for large iron steamships developed.
c.1830 William Laird first proposed a scheme for developing docks at Birkenhead..
1839 His company built an armed flotilla for the East India Company.
As landowner, Laird commissioned Edinburgh architect James Gillespie Graham to design an elegant new town close to the shipyard. This became the centre of Birkenhead, focused on Hamilton Square and, after Laird's death in 1841, Birkenhead Park.
1841 October 27th. Died
Laird's elder son John became MP for Birkenhead in 1861. His younger son, Macgregor Laird, was a pioneer of trade on the River Niger in Africa.