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Port Cities: The working Thames - Thames Ironworks
PortCities London

Thames Ironworks

Building steamships

The steamship yards

Plate cutting at Thames Ironworks
View full size imagePlate cutting at the Thames Ironworks. © NMM

Shipbuilding was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. A ship's hull, furnaces, engines, boilers and funnels would be made at the shipyard.

This meant that a shipbuilding yard had to be a large, organized, industrial area with workshops, foundries and offices where vessels were designed. The image shown here is of the plate-cutting workshop at the Thames Ironworks.

From plan to construction

Plating plan of HMS Sans Pareil
View full size imagePlating plan of the battleship HMS Sans Pareil. She was launched at the Thames Ironworks in May 1887. © NMM
Metal plates were joined together to make up the hull of a ship. The hull formed the body of a ship, including shell plating, framing, decks and bulkheads.

This plating plan of HMS Sans Pareil (1890) demonstrates just how many metal plates would be needed to construct a large ship.

Rivetting on structure work.
View full size imageRivetting on structural works at the Thames Ironworks. © NMM

This picture shows a worker using a rivet gun during the construction of the hull of a merchant ship. A rivet was a short, round, heated metal connection used to fasten two or more sheets of metal together by clinching.


Propellers and shafts

Propellor shaft of HMS Black Prince.
View full size imagePropeller shaft of HMS Black Prince. © NMM

As well as the hull, items such as a ship's propellers would be manufactured within the shipyard. Shown here is the propeller shaft for the armoured cruiser HMS Black Prince.

The propeller shaft was the rotating rod by means of which the engine turned the propeller of a steamship.

HMS Sans Pareil

HMS Sans Pareil Ready for Launching, Thames Ironworks, Blackwall.
View full size imageHMS Sans Pareil ready for launching at the Thames Ironworks, Blackwall. © NMM

Although the Thames Ironworks played an important role in the British shipbuilding boom, the firm tended to place too much emphasis on Admiralty contracts. One of the biggest Royal Navy ships constructed at the works was the first-class battleship, HMS Sans Pareil.

The hull of the Sans Pareil (10,470 tons) was launched on 9 May 1887. She was then taken into the fitting-out basin where heavy items like turbines, condensers, boilers, armour plate and guns were fitted.

Profile of HMS Sans Pareil as fitted.
View full size imageProfile plan of HMS Sans Pareil. © NMM
The Sans Pareil was not finished until July 1890. Once completed, the ship ran trials to ensure that she could achieve the performance agreed in the contract.

Specifications of the Sans Pareil

HMS Sans Pareil.
View full size imageThe 1st Class Battleship HMS Sans Pareil. © NMM
The Sans Pareil was 104 m (340 ft) long and had a maximum speed of 17.2 knots. She was armed with two 111-ton 16.25-inch guns; one 29-ton gun; 12 6-inch B.L. (breech-loading) guns and 12 6-pounder Q. F. (quick firing) guns.

The 16.25-inch gun of Sans Pareil was the largest calibre gun mounted in a British warship with the exception of the 18-inch guns mounted in HMS Furious during World War I (1914-18).

HMS Sans Pareil was sold to ship-breakers in 1907. Her sister ship, HMS Victoria, was lost in collision off the Syrian coast in 1893.

The Duncan and Cornwallis

The launch of HMS Duncan at Thames Ironworks.
View full size imageHMS Duncan ready for launching at the Thames Ironworks. © NMM
Among the other ships built at the Thames ironworks for the Royal Navy were the 1st Class Battleships HMS Duncan and HMS Cornwallis.

The 13,745 ton HMS Duncan and HMS Cornwallis were launched in March and July 1901.



Lifeboat Nancy Lucy (1906).
View full size imageLifeboat Nancy Lucy (1906) at Thames Ironworks. © NMM
The ironworks also constructed more than 200 lifeboats for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) between 1896 and 1911.

Lifeboats built by Thames Ironworks.
View full size imageLifeboats built by the Thames Ironworks. © NMM
This 1899 company advertisement from the Thames Ironworks Gazette illustrates several of the lifeboats that were built in its yards.