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John Punshon Denton                     1839-1863
Denton, Gray & Co.                         1863-1874

John Punshon Denton 1839 – 1863

J. P. Denton began in business as a ship repairer. In 1839 he took over a shipyard at Middleton, and started to build wooden sailing ships. His first was the Petrel. He kept the ship-repairing business, however. Since most cargo was sent around the country by ship at that time, there were always wooden vessels in need of repair.  By the 1860s, ships were beginning to be built out of iron. Denton formed a partnership with one of his customers, local businessman William Gray, in 1863. They extended Denton’s yard at Middleton to include part of the former Richardson Brothers’ yard. Their first ship Dalhousie  (later renamed theSepia) was launched on 23rd January 1864.

In 1865 Denton, Gray & Co joined with shipbuilders Richardson, Duck and Company of Stockton, and marine engine builders T. Richardson and Sons. The new partnership was called Richardson, Denton, Duck and Company. A slump in the market meant that this new firm only lasted until September 1866, building just four ships, the Malacca, Levant, Galicia and Lady Alice Hill. After this all the firms went back to their original ownership and names.

The success of Denton, Gray and Co.

In 1867 Denton, Gray & Co launched the Lizzie English, which is thought to have been the first well-deck steamer. In the same year, they expanded into a disused shipyard which had belonged to Blumers. As orders increased the firm needed still more workspace and, in June 1868, they leased the vacant Pile, Spence yard. By summer of 1869, all the workforce had been transferred to the new yard, while the Middleton yards, including Blumers, were taken over by Withy, Alexander and Co. The move meant that Denton, Gray and Co. now had two dry-docks. This allowed them to increase their business in repairing and over-hauling ships as well as shipbuilding.

The end of the partnership

When William Gray and J.P. Denton first went into business together they had each put up an equal share of the money needed. They had agreed to divide the profits, with Denton taking 55% and Gray 45%. This was because Denton intended to take care of most of the running of the business, leaving Gray free to do other things. When Denton became ill in 1869 Gray had to take over more of the work, so they agreed to share the profits equally. Some legal problems were beginning to develop in the partnership, however.

Both of Denton’s sons worked for the firm, and he wanted them to become partners. Gray did not agree. He was willing to take on Denton’s older son, Richard, but he wanted his own eldest son, Matthew, as the other partner, as soon as he was old enough. There had been no legal documents drawn up when Gray and Denton went into partnership, since they had trusted that “a man’s word is his bond”. The two men could not reach an agreement and the matter was put in the hands of the courts. No decision had been made by the time of Denton’s death in 1871.

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