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Ditchburn and Mare
Ditchburn and Mare were originally located at Deptford. But after a fire destroyed their Deptford yard, in 1838 the firm moved to Orchard Place, between the East India Dock Basin and Bow Creek.
In Orchard Place they took over the premises of the bankrupt shipbuilders William and Benjamin Wallis. The firm prospered and within several years occupied three riverside sites covering an area of more than 0.1 square kilometres (14 acres).
First builders of iron ships
Steam-powered ships such as these used complex machinery instead of sail. This meant that yards now had to include heavy machine workshops.
The shipbuilder built several paddle steamers for the latter in the 1840s, including the Meteor and the Prince of Wales. The steamers operated between Gravesend in north Kent and the railway's Blackwall Station on Brunswick Wharf.
During this period, the yard was awarded several Admiralty contracts, including HMS Recruit, a 12-gun sailing brig, and contracts for the P&O steamers Ariel and Erin. The Recruit was one of the first iron warships built for the Admiralty.
A new beginning
The period after 1847 witnessed considerable growth and Mare purchased land on the Essex side (Canning Town) of the River Lea.
He built a yard with furnaces and rolling mills that could construct ships weighing 4000 tons. Because the spit at the mouth of the Lea was so narrow, the largest vessels built at Orchard Place weighed less than 1000 tons.
Civil engineering contracts
The firm continued to construct smaller ships at Orchard Place, but the Middlesex side of the premises was an area where carpentry and woodworking were the main trades.
In 1854 nearly 450 joiners worked there. Each of the four separate yards included smithies, where iron fittings for the ships were prepared. There were also workshops for:
There was a rigging shop over 61 m (200 ft) in length and a workshop for the boat builders and block makers. On the northern side of Orchard Place was a large sawmill and planing house powered by a steam engine. The two parts of the company were linked by a chain ferry across Bow Creek, which could transport up to 200 men at a time.
Threat of closure
Various reasons have been put forward for his difficulties. Mare said that they came from the delay in payment for work carried out by his firm. Others maintained that Mare's gambling habits were the root cause of the problems!
The Thames Ironworks is born
The key figure in saving the company was Mare's father-in-law, Peter Rolt. He was a timber merchant and MP for Greenwich. Rolt was also a descendant of the Pett family of shipbuilders.
Rolt took over the firm's assets and transferred them to a new limited company in 1857, called the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd. It had a capital of £100,000 in 20 shares of £5000 each. Rolt was the largest shareholder and chairman of the board and he held five shares.
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