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Steamship rescued from scrapyard by Crossrail cash

PUBLISHED: 13:01 17 May 2008 | UPDATED: 13:18 05 October 2010

SS Robin in its heyday carrying coals (to Newcastle?)

SS Robin in its heyday carrying coals (to Newcastle?)

THE world’s oldest complete steamship has been saved from the scrapyard... by an underground railway that isn’t even built yet. The preserved SS Robin berthed at West India Quay on the Isle of Dogs in East London, can now carry out a much-needed rescue plan, thanks to a loan from Crossrail

By Mike Brooke

THE world’s oldest complete steamship has been saved from the scrapyard — by an underground railway that isn’t even built yet.

The preserved SS Robin berthed at West India Quay on the Isle of Dogs in East London, can now carry out a much-needed rescue plan, thanks to a loan from Crossrail.

The sudden cash windfall is made possible by compensation from the construction for the new Isle of Dogs station about to swallow up much of West India Quay, negotiated during the hybrid Bill House of Lords Select Committee process in Parliament.

It appeared likely that the Robin, converted into a floating education learning centre for London schoolkids, would have to be scrapped after a bid for Lottery funding was turned down earlier this year.

Now the compensation from Crossrail, the super tube’ soon to link Heathrow Airport with Docklands, the East End, City & West End and Essex and Kent, will underwrite essential repairs as compensation for the construction work.

But further fundraising will be needed to repay the loan, the owners warned.

“We were running out of time,” said the SS Robin Trust’s project director David Kampfner.

“But now we have a huge job to do. We have to repair the ship and carry on fundraising to repay the loan.”

The vessel is a miraculous survivor and unique symbol of Britain’s Victorian merchant fleet, an irreplaceable example of Britain’s maritime and commercial heritage.

It is to be towed to a shipyard and put in dry dock for essential repairs to the ageing hull, built 118 years ago.

The same craft skills will be used as far as is practicable as those employed in 1890, ensuring the restoration remains a time capsule’ of Victorian technology.

The SS Robin is likely to remain in dry dock for six months, before being towed back to East London to continue the Trust’s learning programme with schools.

HISTORICAL NOTE

In 1890, steamships such as the Robin were the latest in naval technology. It carried cargo such as grain, coal, iron ore and china clay between sea ports in Britain and the Continent.

It was used by a Spanish trading company from 1900 to 1974 as a coastal steamer around the northern Spanish coast.

The Maritime Trust saved the ship from the breakers yard in 1974 and the Robin returned to Britain.

It moved to West India Dock in 1991, but steadily fell into disrepair until given a new lease of life in 2002, when it came under the ownership of the SS Robin Trust, a registered charity founded by two professional photographers, David and Nishani Kampfner.

Robin has operated for six years as a photography gallery running education projects with children from local schools.

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More details and how to donate to the campaign are online at:

click SS Robin


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