The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company, Limited was a shipyard and iron works straddling the mouth of Bow Creek at its confluence with the River Thames, at Leamouth Wharf(often referred to as Blackwall) on the west side and at Canning Town on the east side. Its main activity was shipbuilding, but it also diversified into civil engineering, marine engines, cranes, electrical engineering and motor cars.
The company notably produced iron work for Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge over the Tamar in the 1850s,and the world's first all-iron warship, HMS Warrior, launched in 1860.
The company originated in 1837 as the Ditchburn and Mare Shipbuilding Company, founded by shipwright Thomas J. Ditchburn and the engineer and naval architect Charles John Mare. Originally located at Deptford, after a fire destroyed their yard the company moved to Orchard Place in 1838, between the East India Dock Basin and Bow Creek. There they took over the premises of the defunct shipbuilders William and Benjamin Wallis.
The firm did well and within a few years occupied three sites covering an area of over 14 acres (5.7 ha).
Ditchburn and Mare were among the first builders of iron ships in the area; their partnership commenced with the construction of small paddle steamers of between 50 and 100 tons, before progressing to cross-Channel vessels and by 1840 were building ships of more than 300 tons. The company's early customers included the Iron Steamboat Company and the Blackwall Railway Company, several paddle steamers being constructed for the latter, including the Meteor and the Prince of Wales, which operated between Gravesend and the company's station on Brunswick Wharf.
In this period the company was also awarded several contracts by the Admiralty, including HMS Recruit (a 12-gun brig) which was one of the first iron warships built. They also constructed the P & O Company's steamers Ariel and Erin, along with the paddle steamer Preussischer Adler for Prussia.
Thomas Ditchburn retired in 1847 and the business was carried on by Charles Mare, under the name of C.J. Mare and Company. He was joined by naval architect James Ash, who later began his own shipyard at Cubitt Town.
From 1847 the company grew considerably and Mare purchased land on the Canning Town side of the River Lea, a ferry service being established between the two sites.
Mare constructed a yard with furnaces and rolling mills that could construct vessels of 4,000 tons; because of the narrowness of the spit at the mouth of the River Lea, the Orchard Place site was limited to the construction of vessels of less than 1,000 tons. In 1853 the company launched the SS Himalaya for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, briefly the world's largest passenger ship before becoming a naval troopship.
In 1855, the company which by now had more than 3000 employees, was threatened with closure following Mare's bankruptcy. It is thought by some that his financial difficulties arose from delays in payment for completed work or, alternatively, that the company had miscalculated the cost of building vessels for the Royal Navy. The business did not lack orders, having in hand six contracts for gunboats and the contract for Westminster Bridge (which was built in 1862).
The company's chief creditors moved to keep the company in operation, and two employees, Joseph Westwood and Robert Baillie were appointed works managers. The main figure in saving the company was Peter Rolt, Mare's father-in-law and Conservative MP for Greenwich. Rolt was also a timber merchant and a descendant of the Pett shipbuilding family. He was supported in the venture by another company director, Lord Alan Spencer-Churchill.
Rolt took control of the company's assets and in 1857 transferred them to a new limited company, named the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd.. It had a capital of £100,000 in 20 shares of £5000 each, five of which were held by Rolt who was the main shareholder and also chairman of the board.
The new company was the largest shipbuilder on the Thames, its premises described by the Mechanics' Magazine in 1861 as "Leviathan Workshops".Large scale Ordnance Survey maps of the 1860s show the yard occupying a large triangular site in a right-angled bend on the east bank of Bow Creek with the railway to Thames Wharf on the third side, and with a smaller site on the west bank. The main yard had a quay 1,050 feet (320m) long. To the south-east the yard occupied the north bank of the Thames east of Bow Creek, with two slips giving direct access to the main river. Today the site is crossed by the A1020 Lower Lea Crossing and the Docklands Light Railway south of Canning Town station.
By 1863 the company had the capacity to build 25,000 tons of warships and 10,000 tons of mail steamers simultaneously. One of its first Admiralty contracts was for HMS Warrior, launched in 1860, at the time the world's largest warship and the first iron-hulled armoured frigate. HMS Minotaur followed in 1863, 400 feet (120 m) long and 10,690 tons displacement.
Work on vessels such as Minotaur was performed on the Canning Town side of the Lea, and this is where the Thames Ironworks expanded from less than 10 acres (4.0 ha) in 1856 to 30 acres (12 ha) by 1891. While the old site at Orchard Place was still the company's official address until 1909, its presence there was minimal, by the late 1860s the company having only a 5 acres (2.0 ha) site there.
General shipbuilding on the Thames came under great pressure due to the cost advantages of northern yards with closer supplies of coal and iron, and many yards closed following the 1866 financial crisis. Of the survivors, those like the Thames Ironworks were specialised in warships and liners.
Following the success of HMS Warrior and HMS Minotaur, orders were placed by navies all over the world, and vessels were built for Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Russia, Spain and the Ottoman Empire. The yard also built the Prussian Navy's first iron-hulled warship, the SMS König Wilhelm in 1868 and the cruiser Afonso de Albuquerque for Portugal in 1884. A multitude of mostly small warships were also built for the Romanian Navy, most notably the brig Mircea .Also notable was the tiny minelayer Alexandru cel Bun . The Iron Works also produced for the Romanian Navy a class of three small 45-ton gunboats, a class of three medium 116-ton gunboats and a class of eight 50-ton torpedo boats.
In the 1890s philanthropist Arnold Hills became the managing director. He had originally joined the board of directors in 1880 at the age of 23. Hills was one of the first business directors voluntarily to introduce an eight-hour day for his workers at a time when 10- and 12-hour shifts were more common in industrial work.
In 1895 Hills helped to set up a football club for the Works' employees, Thames Ironworks F.C. and within their first two years they had entered the FA Cup and the London League. As a result of the committee's desire to employ professional players, the Thames Ironworks F.C. was wound up in June 1900 and West Ham United F.C. was formed a month later.
Merged with the engine builder John Penn and Sons in 1899 as the Thames Iron Works, Shipbuilding and Engineering Co.
During its lifetime the yard produced 144 warships and numerous other vessels. In 1911 Hills petitioned Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, regarding the lack of new orders. He was unsuccessful, and the yard was forced to shut in 1912.Within two years the United Kingdom was at war with the German Empire, with the yard's last major ship taking part in the Battle of Jutland. Kotri Bridge in Pakistan Sindh province was also constructed in between 1897 and 1912.
The premises of the Thames Iron Works and Shipbuilding Company, Greenwich, were subsequently acquired in 1915, by the Royal Flying Corps (created in 1912) for the storage of aeroplanes.
Part of the company's Limmo Peninsula site was excavated during the construction of Crossrail in 2012.
Employees at the Thames Ironworks formed a works football team, called Thames Ironworks Football Club. This club was later renamed West Ham United, whose emblem of the crossed hammers represents the large riveting hammers used in the shipbuilding trade. West Ham are also known as "The Hammers" for this reason.
While the media and the general football world commonly refer to the club as The Hammers, the club's own supporters have always referred to their team as 'The Irons', which again comes from the link with Thames Ironworks. The chant 'Come on you Irons' is heard on every match day at West Ham.[ citation needed ]
The shape of the 16th evolution of the club badge, launched after club moved to the Olympic Stadium in 2016, is a representation of the cross-section of the bow of HMS Warrior, the first iron clad battleship, built by the Thames Ironworks in 1860.
An ironclad is a steam-propelled warship protected by iron or steel armor plates, constructed from 1859 to the early 1890s. The ironclad was developed as a result of the vulnerability of wooden warships to explosive or incendiary shells. The first ironclad battleship, Gloire, was launched by the French Navy in November 1859 - narrowly pre-empting the British Royal Navy.
HMS Warrior is a 40-gun steam-powered armoured frigate built for the Royal Navy in 1859–1861. She was the name ship of the Warrior-class ironclads. Warrior and her sister ship HMS Black Prince were the first armour-plated, iron-hulled warships, and were built in response to France's launching in 1859 of the first ocean-going ironclad warship, the wooden-hulled Gloire. Warrior conducted a publicity tour of Great Britain in 1863 and spent her active career with the Channel Squadron. Obsolescent following the 1873 commissioning of the mastless and more capable HMS Devastation, she was placed in reserve in 1875, and was "paid off" – decommissioned – in 1883.
Leamouth is a locality in the Blackwall area of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The area takes its name from the former Leamouth Wharf and lies on the west side of the confluence of the Bow Creek stretch of the Lea, at its confluence with the River Thames.
Orchard House Yard was an English shipbuilding yard located at Leamouth, on the River Lea at Bow Creek. Forming part of the Orchard House estate, a number of shipbuilders occupied the site over time:
HMS Minotaur was the lead ship of the Minotaur-class armoured frigates built for the Royal Navy during the 1860s. They were the longest single-screw warships ever built. Minotaur took nearly four years between her launching and commissioning because she was used for evaluations of her armament and different sailing rigs.
Aaron Manby was a landmark vessel in the science of shipbuilding as the first iron steamship to go to sea. She was built by Aaron Manby (1776–1850) at the Horseley Ironworks. She made the voyage to Paris in June 1822 under Captain Charles Napier, with Aaron's son Charles on board as engineer. Aaron Manby was then used by the Compagnie des bateaux a vapeur en fer to operate its service between Paris and Le Havre.
Samuda Brothers was an engineering and ship building firm at Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs in London, founded by Jacob and Joseph d'Aguilar Samuda. The site is now occupied by Samuda Estate.
HMS Magdala was a Cerberus-class breastwork monitor of the Royal Navy, built specifically to serve as a coastal defence ship for the harbour of Bombay in the late 1860s. She was ordered by the India Office for the Bombay Marine. The original specifications were thought to be too expensive and a cheaper design was ordered. While limited to harbour defence duties, the breastwork monitors were described by Admiral George Alexander Ballard as being like "full-armoured knights riding on donkeys, easy to avoid but bad to close with." Aside from gunnery practice Magdala remained in Bombay Harbour for her entire career. The ship was sold for scrap in 1903.
The Audacious-class ironclad battleships were designed by Sir Edward Reed at the request of the Board of Admiralty to serve as second-class battleships on distant foreign stations.
Blackwall may refer to:
Blackwall Yard is a small body of water that used to be a shipyard on the River Thames in Blackwall, engaged in ship building and later ship repairs for over 350 years. The yard closed in 1987.
HMS Himalaya was built for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company as SS Himalaya, a 3,438 gross register ton iron steam screw passenger ship. She was purchased by the Royal Navy in 1854 for use as a troopship until 1894 and was then moored in the Hamoaze, Devonport to serve as a Navy coal hulk until 1920, when sold off. She was sunk during a German air attack on Portland Harbour in 1940.
HMS Recruit was a 12-gun iron-hulled sailing brig of the Royal Navy, constructed by the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company and launched in 1846.
HMS Beagle was a wooden-hulled Arrow-class gunvessel second-class screw gunvessel launched in 1854 and sold in 1863. She was the third vessel of the Royal Navy to use the name.
The Millwall Iron Works, London, England, was a 19th-century industrial complex and series of companies, which developed from 1824. Formed from a series of small shipbuilding companies to address the need to build larger and larger ships, the holding company collapsed after the Panic of 1866 which greatly reduced shipbuilding in London. Subsequently, a recovery was made by a series of smaller companies, but by the later 19th century the location was too small for the building of ships on the scale then required. Most of its buildings, being near the apex of the peninsula in the Isle of Dogs, survived the Blitz and have been made into apartment blocks in a residential estate, Burrells Wharf.
William Patterson Shipbuilders was a major shipbuilder in Bristol, England during the 19th century and an innovator in ship construction, producing both the SS Great Western and SS Great Britain, fine lined yachts and a small number of warships.
The Limmo Peninsula is an area of Canning Town in the London Borough of Newham in London's East End. It lies on the east bank of Bow Creek at the mouth of the River Lea near Leamouth.
Charles John Mare was a British Conservative politician, and shipbuilder.
Charkieh was an iron screw steamer launched in 1865. Built at Leamouth near London, she was purchased by the Khedivate of Egypt as a mail steamer. She was in a collision in the River Thames in 1872 and was eventually wrecked off Greece in 1900.