The Green Ayre, or Green Area as it is sometimes known, was a shipyard operated by the Brockbank family. The business was established by George Brockbank, who became a Freeman of Lancaster in 1738-9. He died in 1763 and the business passed to his son and the latter's nephew.
The Brockbank family home was in Cable Street, close to the ship yard.
The site of the yard is near where the present day Greyhound Bridge crosses the river, by Sainsburys.
Ships were built in Lancaster from the first period of the 18th century. William Stout of Lancaster notes in his autobiography that he had seen ships built on the Green Ayre in 1720. Although documents from this time are scarce, ships including the brigantine Swallow, the snows Phoenix, Barlborough, and William and the brigs Unity and Bella and Betty were recorded in Liverpool newspapers of the mid 18th Century. The first five may have been built by George Brockbank, although there were other shipbuilders operating at the time in Lancaster.
The average tonnage of Brockbanks-built ships was 200 tons. Some, were considerably larger, such as the Minerva of 551 tons. All ships built before 1800 were under 400 tons.
Most of the buyers of the vessels were merchants based in Lancaster, trading with the West Indies. They included the firm of Thomas Burrow, Messrs. Edward Salisbury & Co., Edward Suart, Alexander Worswick & Co., Worswick & Allman, Messrs. George Danson & John Walmsley, Danson & Cuvelye, James Morre & Co and Messrs Tyson, Cock & Marr.
Most vessels were built to specifications agreed between the builders and buyers, but a few were built speculatively. The next largest group of people buying Lancaster built ships were the merchants of Liverpool, then firms from Greenock and London.
Vessels were built for the West Indies or African trade, but also for privateering. It is difficult to assess how many were built for each purpose.
One problem faced by the Brockbanks was sailing newly completed vessels under Lancaster Bridge. This medieval bridge limited how far ships could sail into Lancaster. It also meant that Brockbanks vessels had to be launched from the ship yard, sailed under one of the arches of the bridge and then have the masts fitted later down river. The bridge crossing the river at Skerton was completed in 1788 to replace the medieval bridge. In 1802 John Brockbank, having bought the medieval bridge from the Council, took down one of the arches to enable his ships to sail down the river in a finished state.
Business was bad in the early 19th century, probably due to the temporary peace with France. The last ship built by Brockbanks was launched in 1817. By 1822 the business had closed. Since the business was established the various branches of the Brockbank family had enjoyed positions as Port Commissioners, captains, seamen, merchants and craftsmen.
Original documents which relate to the history of the Brockbank family can be found at Lancaster Reference Library. The Day Book and Contracts Book are of particular interest.