By 1880 over half the world's steamships flew the British flag. Between 1892 and 1894 British yards produced more than four-fifths of the world's commercial tonnage. Many of these ships were built at the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company Ltd at Blackwall.

Its origins lay back in 1837 in the form of Ditchburn and Mare founded by shipwright Thomas Ditchburn and naval architect Charles Mare in Deptford but moving north of the river in 1838 and expanding rapidly, building small iron paddle steamers, among the first to do so in the area. By 1840 they were building vessels of over 300 tons. They were beginning to gain Admiralty work in this period including HMS Recruit and also built 2 steamships for P&O, Ariel and Erin.

Ditchburn retired in 1847 and the business renamed as C.J, Mare and Company. Due to growth the company bought land at the mouth of the River Lea and the established location of TI was born. This enabled ships of of over 4000 tons. However despite ample work the business was threatened with bankruptcy in 1855 the reasons for which were somewhat murky.

The company was saved by Peter Rolt, Mare’s father-in-law transferring the assets into a new company Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in 1857. It was the biggest shipbuilder on the Thames with slips directly onto the Thames enabling it to build ships by 1863 of well over 10000 tons.

The Thames Ironworks was the most important shipbuilding business on the Thames and one of the biggest private shipbuilders in the country.

Thames Ironworks built several of the biggest and most famous vessels of the time including HMS Warrior the the first iron warship that is now viewable in Portsmouth. It was one of the largest employers in east London with some 6000 workers and it survived until 1912 when it finally succumbed to competition from northern shipyards which rendered the Thames-side shipbuilding industry unprofitable under modern conditions.




Thames Ironworks didn’t just build and repair ships however it also supplied iron and similar products for a whole range of uses including iron for the roof of Fenchurch Street station and much of the iron used by Brunel in his bridges Including the Albert Bridge over the Tamar. Other include Westminster and Hammersmith Bridges. Their ironwork was also used in the building the Alexander Palace and the Blackwall Tunnel. It also built and fitted the cable gear to the Store Nordiske (1), used for cable laying in the Far East. Overall the company was involved in Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Marine Engines too. It had 6 distinct departments by 1899 being shipbuilding, Boat building, Civil Engineering, Cranes, Switches/Drills/Marine/Aero Engines and Motor Vehicles.

Crossrail have been working on the original Ironworks site in Canning Town and have recovered lots of material that could potentially be used for building a visitor centre for the Trust. There is constantly updating information about this on the Crossrail site.

See more at:

Crossrail- Thames Ironworks history

Crossrail- Thames Ironworks military history


HMS Trident 1845 (D&M)

HMS Recruit 1846 (Iron Brig)

PS Vladimir (Russian War Steamship)

Argo 1853 (First steamship to circumnavigate globe)

HMS Warrior 1860 (First all iron warship)

Yavari/Yapura 1862 (First modular ships sent to Peru for assembly)

HMS Minotaur 1863 (Broadside ironclad)

Victoria 1863 (Frigate)

Anglia 1866 (Iron paddle tug)

HMS Waterwitch 1866 (experimental Jet propelled ironclad)

SMS König Wilhelm 1869

(Prussian Navy)

HMS Magdala 1870 (Monitor. Bombay guardship, steam only)

Fox 1877 (iron tug)

HMS Linnet  1880

Canada 1880 (Screw Tug)

HMS Benbow 1885

HMS Sans Pareil 1887 (Victoria Class Battleship)

SS Robin 1890 (Coaster)

IJN Fuji 1896 (1st Japanese Battleship)

IJN Shikishima 1898 (Japanese Battleship)

HMS Albion 1898

HMS Cornwallis 1901 (First Class Battleship)

HMS Black Prince 1904 (sunk at Jutland)

JC Madge RNLI 1904 (Sheringham Lifeboat)

Helen Smitten RNLI 1910 (St Abbs Lifeboat- our first lifeboat restoration)

HMS Nautilus 1910 (later HMS Grampus)

HMS Thunderer 1911 (1st TI “Dreadnought’ andl last major warship)