Crossrail's archaeological investigations at Limmo Peninsula uncovered the remains of the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company which played an important part in London’s development and Newham’s social history, employing thousands of people to produce ships for navies around the globe.
The site of the Thames Ironworks (1837-1912) is one of London’s greatest industrial archaeology sites. After 75 years of innovative engineering and shipbuilding, it closed in 1912. The yard once employed thousands and produced large civil engineering structures, battleships, and numerous other vessels for the navies of the world.
A number of engineering workshops were recorded in 2011. In 2012 the extraordinary remains of one of the shipyards main shipbuilding slipways was discovered.
The 400ft long piled slipway was built of large sawn softwood timbers probably sourced from Canada or Norway. A chain, part of a launch vessel and even a pair of work boots were found abandoned.
A grid of huge iron tipped wooden piles that supported the structure were found driven into the river terrace gravel when the slipway timbers were lifted out.
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence for forges, a furnace and bases with bolts that would have secured the heavy ironworks machine plant to the floor. Supporting arches from the main engineering building have also been revealed and the team have been able to piece together the yard’s layout by mapping these to documented evidence from the time.
LONDON’S LAST GREAT SHIPBUILDER
The Thames Ironworks occupied the entire Limmo Peninsula between 1847 and 1912. The works played a significant part in Britain’s industrial history and was the first shipyard in the world to produce all iron ships. Some of the most famous warships in the world were built and launched from Limmo Peninsula.
Thames Ironworks built and launched the first armour-plated, iron-hulled warship, HMS Warrior in 1860. When completed in October 1861, HMS Warrior was the largest, fastest, most heavily-armed and most heavily-armoured warship in the world. Now restored, HMS Warrior is docked in Portsmouth.
The success of HMS Warrior resulted in navies all over the world placing orders for vessels. HMS Thunderer (launched 1911) was the largest (22,500 tons) and most powerful warship of its day and the last ever built on the Thames.
The SS Robin, the world’s last remaining steam coaster, was also built at the Thames Ironworks. SS Robin is one of only three Core Collection (Grade 1) vessels of the National Historic Fleet in London – the other two being Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast. Of these three illustrious ships, SS Robin is the only one to have been built in London.
Built in 1890, she recently underwent extensive £1.9m conservation work, part funded by Crossrail, and now sits proudly on her new purpose-built display pontoon in Newham. SS Robin underwent final fit-out works before she opened to the public in 2013.
The company also produced iron work for I.K. Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge over the Tamar between Devon and Cornwall.
Did you know?
The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company also set up a football club for their employees using the emblem of crossed hammers. The club became known as “The Hammers” or ‘The Irons’ and is now West Ham United F.C.