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SS Robin steaming home to the Thames where the Old Lady of the Sea was born

PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 February 2017 | UPDATED: 15:09 11 February 2017

SS Robin in its heyday on the Thames in the 1950s

SS Robin in its heyday on the Thames in the 1950s

SS Robin Trust

The last working steam coaster in the world has once again escaped the scrapyard and is “coming home” to the Thames where it was first built 127 years ago.

2010: SS Robin is craned onto a pontoon at Lowestoft [photo: Andy Darnell/Archant]2010: SS Robin is craned onto a pontoon at Lowestoft [photo: Andy Darnell/Archant]

The surviving ‘SS Robin’ launched in 1890 at east London’s Orchard Yard on the River Lea has been reprieved by Trinity Wharf agreeing to maintain this surviving vessel from the Victorian age.

Trinity Wharf’s owners are making a planning application to Tower Hamlets council for a floating museum to put it on public show with a small fleet of other heritage vessels.

The ‘Robin’ was turned into a floating museum and learning centre at the Millwall Docks when it was retired from the seas 27 years ago on the centenary of its launch.

2010: Restored SS Robin leaves Lowestoft [photo: Mike Page]2010: Restored SS Robin leaves Lowestoft [photo: Mike Page]

But the rusting vessel had to be moved out in 2008 to make way for construction of Crossrail’s new Canary Wharf station, which opens next year.

The trust looking after the ‘Robin’ raised £100,000 to have it restored at Lowestoft, then had it transported back to the Thames in 2010 and berthed in the Royal Docks.

But the SS Robin Trust had to start looking for a new permanent berth last year after failing to get more financial help from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

2010: The Robin arriving at Tilbury from Lowestoft in September []photo: Andy Howes]2010: The Robin arriving at Tilbury from Lowestoft in September []photo: Andy Howes]

“She was in a situation where there was no definite future,” the trust’s Matthew Friday explained.

“We had a year to try and find a new use to avoid the Robin going to the scrap-yard.”

Now Urban Space Management which owns Blackwall’s Trinity Buoy Wharf arts complex has offered to moor the boat at a new berth—just 150 yards from where she was built at Bow Creek in the last decade of the 19th century.

Grand Old Lady of the SeaGrand Old Lady of the Sea

The trust’s new chairman, Eric Reynolds, founder of Urban Space Management, said: “The history of maritime, ship-building and dock trade on the Thames around the mouth of the Lea has largely disappeared.

“But heritage vessels like the ‘Robin’, the tugs ‘Knocker White’ and ‘Varlet’ and the lighterage boat ‘Diana’ will be the basis of an open-air floating museum.”

His planning application for the museum aims to bring “the rich heritage of the East India Dock Basin” to life as a major London attraction.


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