On Tuesday last, Rotherhithe was a scene of unusual gaiety, owing to the launch of a new steamer, the Ariel, built by Mr Thompson for the Woolwich Steam Packet Company.The main dimensions of this fine vessel are - length, 120 feet; breadth, 14 feet 6 inches; tonnage, 120; she is built with a round stern, and of diagonal planking, three thicknesses, all mahogany; she has two engines of 20 horse power each, and has been built expressly for a passage vessel between Woolwich and Hungerford; and will carry, with her coals, boilers &c, 600 persons, at a draft of 3 feet 6 inches.
The publication of such details in the ILN indicates that people in 1800s London still understood ships and took an interest in the details of newly launched ships. In 1847 Thompson apparently leased additional space at the Barnard Yard because the Banshee, commissioned by the Admiralty, was launched from there rather than the Horseferry yard. The Banshee is described by Murray in his 1852 Treatise. She was a paddle steamer designed by Oliver Lang (junior) with engines by Penn, was a particularly fast steamer and Rankin says that she was once timed at 16.3 knots. She was entirely wood-built. She cost £39,000 and was one of the last mail packets to be ordered by the Admiralty. Murray says that she provides an excellent of example of "what may be accomplished by Government builders when they are not trammelled by considerations of armament or displacement". She was employed on the Holyhead to Dublin service, a run which usually took well over four hours but she was regularly the fastest vessel on the route, completing the Holyhead to Kingston run of 55 nautical miles in three and a half hours (fastest time). The packet service was taken over by the City of Dublin Steam Packet in 1850 after which Murray says that the Banshee was sent to Malta, a trip which required the removal of half her boiler power in order to store sufficient coal for the trip, effectively reducing her speed to 12 knots. She was scrapped in 1864. Sadly I have been unable to find an illustration of her so far. In the 1850s Thompson built two Dapper class gunboats for the Crimean war, the Hind and the Jackdaw. The Jackdaw was the last Royal Navy commission to be built on Rotherhithe.
Bradley 1: 43: first three cost £1800; later three £1900 each. A lot of trouble was experienced with the fisrt No. 109 Rocklia, but Nos 110 Avon and 111 Test were less troublesome. Nos. 112 Trent, 113 Stour and 114 Frome were slightly larger. Bradley include a photograph of Frome (Fig. 13). They were withdrawn 1868-70.
By the mid 1800s the same family who had bought King’s Mills from the Royal Navy and converted it from a victualling yard were still running the King’s Mills but it was a very different enterprise. Steam power had replaced water power for the process of milling and the mill pond was now used as a timber pond.
Also in the mid 1800s the premises of Charles Hay and Sons, a company established in 1789, was still in the hands of the Hays and the business repaired barges. Charles Hay was the son of Francis Theodore Hay whose tomb can still be seen in St Mary's churchyard.
The Nelson Dock had been split into two after 1818 but became a single shipyard again in 1850 when Thomas Bilbe (designer) and William Perry (shipmaster) took it over. The 1952 sailing ship Dame de Serk, a French navy training ship, which is located immediately adjacent to the car park of the Holiday Inn sits on a patent slip installed by Bilbe (photograph to the left). A cradle was moved up and down the slip by hydraulic rams. It had its own engine room which is currently housed in the Mills and Knight (Nelson Dock) building on Rotherhithe Street, which was then part of the shipyard. Bilbe and Perry built composite ships designed with wooden planking over iron frameworks. Hulls were sheathed in copper or Muntz metal. The ships performed well and reached high speeds. Examples are the Red Riding Hood, a composite clipper made for the Orient Line, which launched in 1857 and the Argonaut in 1866 (the last ship to be built in Nelson Dock). Rankin says that such ships were top of the market (2005, p.76):
Such vessels being used in opium running, and the intense competition to get the new season's tea back to Britain.
Under the Commercial Dock Company James Walker rebuilt Greenland Dock and its entrance lock between 1851 and 1852. In 1855 a patent self-acting sluice was added, and this has been preserved in its original location. The lock gates are modern.
In the London Illustrated News a story on page 268 on Saturday April 23rd 1853 was entitled "Hales Rocket Factory at Rotherhithe and begins, promisingly, "An event of ten days since invests the barren locality, pictured on the preceding page, with extraordinary interest". Acting on information authorities searched the premises in Rotherhithe of Hale's Rocket Factory on the west bank of the Surrey Grand Canal near the Plough bridge. They discovered "a large stores of arms, ammunition, and materials of war". The stores were thought to have belonged to Mr Kossuth and his adherents. Mr Hale himself is described as a "well known inventor" who was working a perfecting a war rocket "which rotates around its axis like a rifle-ball, and carries no stick". The News concludes that the connection between the two men was due to Kossuth suggesting improvements in the manufacture of the rockets to Hale.
In 1851 the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park. The main exhibition hall was the Crystal Palace, vast glass structure which was dismantled after the Exhibition and was relocated and reassembled in Sydenham (south London). It burned down in 1936.
In 1854 England became involved with the Crimean war, which again increased the demand for ships.
The Metropolitan Board of Works was founded in 1855 to manage London-wide issues and projects centrally. One of their projects was the purchase of 63 acres for a community park, which eventually became Southwark Park.
The Greenland Dock North Shipyard was leased by Charles Lungley between 1854 and 1869. He built the Dane here for the Union Steam Colliers Co (renamed the Union Steamship Co in 1856). She was a 530 ton ship with an average speed of around 8-9 knots. The Dane was used first in the South Wales coal trade but was soon chartered by the French government as a transport in the Crimean war to carry materials to and from Turkey. After the war she was laid up before carrying mail and a few passengers on a line to Brazil from Liverpool. She then became the first mail steamer to run between Britain and South Africa on a contract to make passage from the UK to the Cape within 42 days. It was worth £33,000 a year. As with the Greenland Dock South Shipyard the North Shipyard was used after this date for repairs rather than ship building. She was next chartered by the British government mission to Zanzibar to suppress the slave trade. She met a sad end, being wrecked off Cape Receife (South Africa) in December 1865, albeit without loss of life.
The Lower Road workhouse built in 1728 was under the control of the Rotherhithe Vestry but between 1839 and 1869 it became the responsibility of the Rotherhithe Board of Guardians and was partly regulated by the Poor Law Board. The role of the workhouse was to provide board and lodgings in return for labour. In Rotherhithe one of the activities carried out was rope making. An infirmary with 52 beds was added in 1866. It had one full time salaried nurse but all other nursing staff were unpaid paupers. Humphrey says that of the 194 workhouse inmates in May 1866 140 were disabled, old or infirm, 19 were children and only 34 were able bodied (1997, p.59). The watercolour by Yates showing the workhouse dates to 1826.
By 1857 the Kings Mills Wharf was occupied by wharfingers Messrs R and F Mangles (who purchased the site in 1803), Messrs H. Powell and Sons who continued the building's 18th century tradition of producing sea biscuits in a factory at the site which included 8 ovens each with its own chimney, and it was also used to store tar and turpentine. The mill no longer used a mill pond (which was converted to a timber pond) and used steam instead. Part of the wharf had been sold in the 1840s for the development of the gas works and the Surrey Basin and its Thames lock.
In 1857 Bull Head Dock was still in use by shipwrights but it was in the company of two manure producers - one processing guano, the other manufacturing chemical manure.
The Kings Mill stairs were renamed the Surrey Dock Stirs from around 1860 onwards.
The rapid increase in ship size engendered by the adoption of iron coincided with an expansion of the Rotherhithe docks, thus preventing the shipyards from expanding inland. By the 1860s, Rotherhithe shipyards were no longer able to compete at the quality end of the market for larger ships, and local costs were so high in comparison to Scotland, the Mersey or Tyne, that the building of small ships was uneconomic.
In 1858 John Beatson died, ending a fine family tradition.
In 1860 the Surrey Entrance Lock and the Surrey Basin opened. The new dock was constructed in the area that we now know as Surrey Water, and was called Surrey Basin, and the new lock connected Surrey Basin to the Thames. Although shut off from the Thames the lock is still there, beneath the 1950s red lift bridge. The engineer responsible was George Parker Bidder (picture shown left) the former partner of Robert Stephenson. His remarkable abilities for mental arithmetic meant that he could work out logarithms in his head. The lock was 250ft long and 50ft wide and 27ft 3ins deep. For some years after the opening of the new entrance the former entrance lock to the Grand Surrey Canal into Stave Dock was still in use and this left an area of land in between the two lock entrances which formed an island which became known as the Island Yard. today it is the site of the pub the Old Salt Quay (formerly Spice Island). The remains of the older lock have survived today as an inlet around which the Thames Path is diverted.
Albion Dock opened in 1860 as an enlargement of a timber pond. Its general orientation is now marked by the Albion Channel, a shallow canal leading from the Surrey Basin (now known as Surrey Water) towards the Surrey Quays shopping centre emerging in Canada Water, the former Canada Dock. Albion Dock had been infilled but the canal was excavated during the dockland regeneration work, with the spoil used to create Stave Hill.
In 1861 William Philip Beech formed a partnership with Henry Castle to take advantage of the retirement of a large number of wooden warships, East Indiamen and other vessels. Castle had attempted to purchase the HMS Rainbow in 1838 from the Admiralty in order to break her up but was unsuccessful in breaking into the business until his partnership with ship broker Beech. In 1841 Castle had moved from his premises at 11 Lucas Street in Rotherhithe to the King and Queen Dry Dock at first in partnership with his brother in law but by 1845 he was the sole tenant and in 1860 had gone into busniess with his sons. Beech was based at Bulls Head Dock. The partnership between the two of them took their joint business away from Rotherhithe to Charlton.
A dry dock was added to Horseferry Dock in 1862 the whole site was turned over to repairs.
In January 1865 the Grand Surrey Dock Company and Commercial Dock Company amalgamated and became the Surrey Commercial Dock Company.
Southwark Park opened on 19th June 1869. It caused some upset in the area when it was not named Rotherhithe Park because its area was entirely located within the parish of Rotherhithe but for political reasons it was named after Southwark's parliamentary constituency.
- Restrictions in depth and width of the Thames upstream of Deptford
- Tides in the Lower Pool possibly hampering the manoevering of larger vesseks
- Lack of space in Rotherhithe yards along the water front due to the inability of yeards to expand backwards into Rotherhithe
- Specialization in wooden ship manufacture when iron was increasingly favoured for construction
- Thames wages were higher than other areas meaning. It was cheaper to build wharves, factories and warehouses
- Early Nineteenth Century strikes in London undermined the faith of the Royal Navy in the reliability of private yards.