The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Ernest Cox (1890-1959)

Ernest Cox
Jon Moore writes:

Born in Wolverhampton, the youngest of 11 children, Ernest Frank Guelph Cox was educated at Dudley Road Free School until the age of 16. After that he became self-taught by reading as much as possible in the library.

Ernest Cox put the first street lights into Motherwell, as their young electrical engineer, where he fell in love with the Mayor’s daughter. In 1907 he not only married Jenny Millar but also took over the family steelworks, Overton Forge.

They had one daughter, my mother, who enjoyed the magnificent name of Euphemia Caldwell Miller Cox. She in turn married her father's accountant, Jack Moore.

To raise money for his proposed ventures, Grandpa (Ernest Cox) approached the wealthy side of his wife’s family. Tommy Danks was never keen on work but agreed to supply the money, so long as he did not have to get involved.

Cox & Danks were recovering the scrap metal from the cruise liners at Sheerness and selling the non-ferrous metal to a Danish company, Petersen & Allbeck.

It was Petersen’s suggestion that Cox & Danks should look at the scrap available from the German Fleet then lying at the bottom of Scapa Flow after it was scuttled at the end of World War I. It is well documented that Grandpa then bought from the British Admiralty most of that fleet unseen and underwater. Useful though this money was, Grandpa bought Tommy Danks out as soon as he was able.

I am immensely proud of my grandfather, as he achieved what no man has managed before or since. His stage was Scapa Flow, where he set up a base at Lyness Pier, whilst he rented the adjacent Haybrake farmhouse. Amusingly, it has been noted that Grandpa still has the longest railway season ticket – from London to Thurso.

With no previous experience, over a period of eight years, sometimes in terrible weather, his Company, Cox & Danks, raised 32 warships of the German High Seas Fleet, ranging from small frigates up to 28,000 tonnes of the Hindenburg.

This was carried out around the time of the Great Depression in 1929 and he had to use ingenuity to get coal for the steam-powered machinery that he mainly used. He even dug into the Seydlitz for its cargo of high grade coal!

My grandfather was a genius, a stubborn so-and-so. He was generous and very proud of family and his personal appearance. He did things on impulse and always lived by his own motto: “There is no such thing as can’t, there is only shan’t and won’t”. Although he lost his temper frequently, he had the ability to forgive quickly and get on with the matter in hand.

© Jon Moore