SS Robin – an update, and an illustrated article

SS Robin

Regular readers may remember some posts a few years back explaining the preservation and re-purposing plans for the 1890-built SS Robin – the steam coaster that is said to be the oldest in the world and as significant as the Cutty Sark. Read about her here,  here and here.

Things have been a bit quiet, but an article about the SS Robin in the excellent Spitalfields Life weblog spotted by my pal Malcolm Woods reminded me about the project.

If you don’t know Spitalfields Life, do poke about among its pages. It’s a wonderful example of what a locally-focused weblog can be, and being based in an area boasting the docks and the Thames, many of its posts have a maritime dimension. It also benefits from being put together by a writer who can also take a photograph…

The news with SS Robin is that while the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), has agreed to provide £100,000 to complete essential deck conservation works to help conserve the SS Robin, it has not agreed to provide funds to complete works that would have allowed the SS Robin to open to the public as a heritage attraction.

However, the SS Robin Trust says it remains committed to finding the best outcome and will therefore apply for HLF funding aimed at to explore broader options for the steam coaster. This will make a purely heritage use less likely, it will enable the Trust to explore more commercial uses.

See SS Robin return to London and the Royal Albert Docks on Wednesday

Steam coaster SS Robin on her pontoon

If you’re anywhere near London on Wednesday, try to slip down to Royal Albert Dock at 11am to see the last complete steam coaster SS Robin return up the Thames to arrive at her new home, close to where she was built 120 years ago.

A National Historic Fleet vessel, SS Robin, is now to be on show mounted on a new floating pontoon, specially built to carry her, and once she is safely moored in the dock she will undergo extensive conservation work to turn her in into a new London visitor attraction and learning centre, and may become a permanent fixture.

As well as at the Royal Albert Docks, the public will also be able to see her from any of the points shown on the map on this flyer.

SS Robin Trust CEO and co-founder Nishani Kampfner argues that the SS Robin is the most important maritime symbol of London’s trading and economic success. Over a lifetime spanning three centuries her story represents risk, enterprise and endurance – what he calls ‘the qualities of our Victorian forefathers’.

SS Robin returns proudly to London

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ss robin arrives at Tilbury

SS Robin arrives at Tilbury

SS Robin leaving Lowestoft SS Robin tied up at Tilbury SS Robin in her prime

SS Robin leaves Lowestoft; tied up at Tilbury; in her glory days

The SS Robin has arrived at her temporary berth at the Port of Tilbury after the trading port stepped in to offer the newly restored ship a home.

After delays due to bad weather, on Friday she left Lowestoft, where she has undergone two years of conservation and conversion works to create a floating museum for London funded by the Crossrail project, and arrived at Tilbury on Saturday 18 September having celebrated her 120th birthday last week.

SS Robin is one of only three Historic Ships Register core collection ships based in London, and is our last remaining steam coaster. For more posts on the SS Robin, click here; also see the project website here.

Project manager David Kampfner said the floating museum would display the entire ship to the world for the first time, and that he and his colleagues were very excited to finally bring the important historic vessel back to the Thames.

Port of Tilbury MD Perry Glading added that it was a a great opportunity for the port to play its part in ensuring the SS Robin can bring the history of merchant shipping alive for future generations. The Port of Tilbury opened in 1886, just four years before the SS Robin was launched.

PS – We’ve also heard that the 1938 pilot vessel MV Bembridge has been taken to Poland to be restored and used as a shipping company office. Sailors will know her as the vessel that until a short while ago was the floating club house of the Essex Yacht Club. There’s more about her at the Ships Nostalgia forum.

PPS – We have also received an appeal for help in restoring the SS Kyle, built on the Tyne, England, in 1913. The appeal came from Libby Earle, daughter of the ship’s last skipper, Captain Guy Earle – for the past 43 years the vessel herself has lain on a mussel bed at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, where she arrived after colliding with an iceberg.

If you’re interested in British coasters, at the time of writing Amazon has three copies of Charles V Waine’s book Steam Coasters and Short Sea Traders.