Save Our Ship! East End’s SS Robin needs help

© Ambrose Greenway SS Robin enters St Katharine’s Docks, Wapping, London (1980s?)

IN THE East End more than a century ago a little cargo ship was built at Bow Creek, one of 1,500 made there between 1840 and 1956.

But the 366-tonne SS Robin, a “dirty British coaster”, as John Mansefield called the type, is not just still with us, it is one of only three London vessels in the National Historic Ships core collection. Aye, aye, me

At work: SS Robin loading herring at Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, Scotland, in 1895
SS Robin loading herring at Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, Scotland, in 1895, above, and top, near St Katharine’s Docks in Wapping (© Ambrose Greenway)

hearties, it’s up there with the Cutty Sark, which you can see at Greenwich, and HMS Belfast (near London Bridge).

At least it should be: what is thought to be the world’s oldest complete steamship rests on a pontoon in Royal Victoria Dock in need of more money to finish its restoration.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has given £100,000, but it is not enough and the SS Robin Trust has had to give up plans to open her to the public next year 2016.

The trust now thinks that solely heritage use is unlikely and is looking into the possibility of more commercial ideas.

The National Historic Ships Register describes Robin as the “sole remaining representative” of the cargo steamers that comprised the British merchant fleet at its peak.

Built by Mackenzie, MacAlpine and Co. in Orchard House Yard at Bow Creek for Robert Thomson, she was launched on 16 September 1890.

SS Robin on pontoon (© Ambrose Greenway?)
Safe passage to Docklands (supplied pic)

She worked around Britain and other parts of western Europe before threatened with being scrapped in 1974. Happily, she was brought back to England and eventually given to the Robin Trust.  The Duke of Edinburgh became interested and is said to have started the campaign to have her restored.

The trust has been working with local schools and colleges to provide educational facilities, work  experience, volunteering roles,  tours and outreach events. It says: “We see our mission as being to work within the community.”

SS Robin rests in dry-dock in Silvertown E16
Waiting: SS Robin rests in Silvertown E16 (supplied pic)

Now crowdfunding is the hope for this little piece of London history, languishing like a fish out of water and sadly only a mile from the East End creek where it emerged. Press this link if you think that should change.

David Altheer 230915

* Backstory: See Leamouth while you can  
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