Shipbuilding history

Pieter van der Merve presented a fascinating illustrated talk on the history of local shipbuilding to a crowded Bake House at the Age Exchange – part of a winter season for the Greenwich Industrial Society. He reminded us of the historic, extensive shipbuilding yards located up and down the Thames. By chance (or design) he spoke extensively on the Royal Dockyard at Deptford which is receiving much press comment as it is due for massive residential  development. A group of enthusiasts wish to utilise the 17th century double dry dock, which still remains more or less intact, located alongside the Master Shipwrights House which is receiving exciting restoration works – the Flemish Façade can be found in numerous maritime paintings – and also can be viewed from the tripper craft going up to town – more info anon!!


This month’s arrival of  ‘City of Adelaide’ for a naming ceremony just off the Royal Steps at Greenwich has, no doubt, given more credence for restoration in Australia and perhaps on our shores too, of this handsome vessel. A local group wish to build a replica of ‘The Lennox’ in this section of the old Royal Dockyard which could indeed generate new life in this historic corner of Deptford and jobs for the boys as well. The Ahoy centre has set up a sailing school close by to the Paynes & Borthwick residential scheme that has livened up this section of the riverfront adjacent to the extensive dock wall where Paynes ship engine works built the first steam driven vessels that became world beaters.

It was here abouts that Trinity House was founded and also where the East India Company set up shop.  General Steam Navigation had a depot here – running pleasure craft down to the coast – another bright spark was Sebastian de Ferranti who built the first Central Power Station just here – which provided bright lights for the West End.

John Penn’s Boiler Shop at Paynes Wharf will have both residential and work amenities.  Further up the Creek the Ravensbourne is flowing with creative ideas. Do take a look into the Trinity School of Dance and also the Cockpit studios. Similar enterprises are flourishing alongside the Creek such as APT Gallery and Art Hub.  A trip on the Lewisham line of the DLR will will surprise as new vigour is being introduced again – as this cross river life line has upgraded cross river journeys, once run by licensed watermen who could also drop you onto a visiting ship!!

Joyce Lowman who works and lives on Anchor Hope Lane has further brilliant ideas to revitalise another old power station near by on the peninsula – providing moorings and work facilities suitable for heritage vessels and, of course, Tall Ships!!  (which are bound for the Arsenal Pier down at Woolwich next summer)


The complication of laying special mooring on the Greenwich foreshore kept me well amused as the PLA Hookness laid down special mooring for the giant pontoon which carried ‘City of Adelaide’ – and of course after the party was over. One doesn’t realise how time consuming it is for all concerned (it also kept me away from the drawing board)

While in the Old Royal Naval College look out for the 72 historic lanterns around the grounds. Beautifully restored and re-gilded in gold leaf they are a delight indeed.

restored lanterns001

The craftsmen either worked in situ or in the tiny gatehouse leading onto the old Mews and the Brewery beyond – meanwhile the constant restoration work on the ironwork as well as the stone façades around Wren’s great buildings continues.

restored lanterns002

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

2 responses to “Shipbuilding history”

  1. wendy gadd says :

    Dear Peter Met you at the Bafuncs Docklands weekend in May. I love getting your posts and would really appreciate notices of events before they take place if suitable for visiting/viewing. This is because I am from a long line of seafarers. Grandpa, Capt Arthur E. Gadd was a Trinity house pilot out of Southampton (White Star and Cunard) as was my uncle, Cdr Kenneth A. Gadd ( qe2) and dad, RNVR was a regular at the old Royal Naval College; he never missed a Trafalgar Day dinner; and my parents were treated to a golden wedding party by the Wednesday club in the Painted Hall.

    And I live the other side of London at Brentford Dock where the Grand Union and River Brent flow into the Thames. Our buildings are named after the Romans who were encamped there before my arrival.

    Do you know of the medieval Royal Foundation of St Katharine’s right by the marina at Limehouse ? – a truly peaceful complex of buildings for retreats? Please keep your interesting blogs coming! With best wishes Wendy

    Sent from my iPhone


    • RiverWatch returns says :

      Dear Wendy
      Yes mam – the Royal Foundation of St Katharine’s is now close to the North entrance of the Rotherhithe Tunnel close to the exit of the Limehouse Link – it is thriving and is a venue for small conferences as well!! Perhaps the alternative venue for \bafuncs? Enjoying the printed report of your last meet!!
      So glad you are liking the blog – the next one is about the Lorda Mayor’s Flotilla on Novemeber 9th.
      PS Charterhouse is also available.

      (Dictated by Peter)

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