Today i took a few photographs onboard KNOCKER WHITE moored and preserved at Trinity Buoy Wharf
The Knocker White passed from the Museum of Docklands to new owner Eric Reynolds at Trinity Buoy Wharf last year and whilst the M.O.D kept the exterior of the vessel painted and hull in good condition, the museum never had the funding to restore the vessel to working order or renovate her interior and engine room. The two petter engines are sadly incomplete and have missing parts as a result of having been sent to the breakers yard before the M.O.D stepped in to save her in 1982.
Trinity Buoy Wharf hopes to restore the tug and perhaps even return her to working order so one day she could get underway on the river once again.
Various modifications have taken place over the years from her early steam days to the fitting of her diesel engines in 1960. These include hatch changes, coal bunkers blocked over and so on.
Two of the most noticeable changes are to the wheelhouse and casing itself
Almost 2 months after PLASHY towed the oldest surviving Thames tug BRITANNIA to Erith to face her sad fate, the same tug has today towed her away again after being saved for hopeful restoration.
Jake Oliver of MSO Marine at Brentford has bought the tug with hopes that she can be restored to her former glory again.
Today the Britannia was towed from Erith to Silvertown, she will continue the journey to Brentford tomorrow.
You can watch a video about MSO Marines work by clicking Here
I have been informed today that the oldest surviving Thames tug BRITANNIA ex T.B. HEATHORN (built 1893) is currently taking on water and sinking in Barking creek and has been sold by her owners for scrap and will be towed from Barking Creek at high water on Tuesday 3rd October to E.R.M at Erith by Plashy / General VIII. A very sad end to one of the finest looking tugs to operate on the Thames. A great pity that people buy these historic vessels and simply have no intention of looking after them.
I will document and photograph her journey on Tuesday
HISTORY OF THE BRITANNIA
T.B. Heathorn was a steam tug built by Watsons Shipyard in 1893 and believed to be one of the oldest tugs in Britain. She was built of riveted iron construction for the South Metropolitan Gas Light & Coke Company as a coal fired steam powered lighterage tug, 68ft x 15ft 6in with 60HP. She was used by the Gas Company and its successors to tow coal and coke barges and to attend craft around the premises. In 1956 it was sold to Greenhithe Lighterage Co. who rebuilt and converted her to diesel over a period of 18 months, the new 7 cylinder diesel engine giving her 365HP
She was renamed BRITANNIA by Greenhithe lighterage in 1956 and continued to operate commercially until 1986 with her final operaters being Greenhithe Salvage Services. In 1987 she was sold to Douglas Steven & Partners (for preservation at Butlers Wharf) and found to be in excellent condition considering her age. She was later sold on to Mr. Tears at Rainham (GBR) for fishing trips.
During the late 1990s she was sold as a houseboat in Barking Creek and in 2001 sank on her moorings. She was raised in 2002 and forced to move due to developers building in the area and up until 2010 stayed in her original layout unchanged since 1956. Although the hull needing work, being in such original condition and layout, she would of been an ideal vessel to preserve around this time.
In 2010 she was sold to a new owner who rather criminally removed the wheelhouse and bulwarks and stuck two ugly wooden living areas on the deck and that is how she remained until now
The oil/chemical tanker ARSLAND grounded at Broadness this evening and was towed clear a few hours later by tugs.
According to her AIS track and PLA departures list the ARSLAND departed Jurgens Jetty at Purfleet at 17:28 and at 17:47 come to a halt. At 19:00 tugs SVITZER LONDON , SVITZER MADELEINE and SVITZER BOOTLE pulled her clear and she is currently heading past Tilbury dock with tugs down river at 20:45 this evening
The Denny D2-002 was built in 1963 by Denny Hovercraft Ltd, Dumbarton , she was powered by 800 hp diesel engines,a top speed of 25knots and carried 70 passengers. The vessel operated by Thames Launches under the name HUMMING BIRD on a new £1 a time service from Westminster to Tower although the service was short lived and she was withdrawn and taken back to Dumbarton. One source states that in July 1968 she went to Fleetwood Hovercraft. In the 1970s she went to Jamaica Hovercraft and operated from Kingston to Palisados. Her fate is unknown but one source states she ended up as a houseboat in Florida
You can watch a great (sadly silent) film about her building and trip from Dunbarton to the Thames here https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/6005
Dollys final words in the film “Mother Thames” below speak volumes for her love for the river, a wise woman.
“Perhaps i haven’t given my husband enough credit, he had such faith in me. Today perhaps i haven’t got the courage, youth,strength and power to fight the defeat of my wonderful River Thames….because it is being beaten up at the moment. The present is very very depressing BUT…..I believe in an apple tree, and apples will grow again someday….they may not be as juicy and ripe…but they will grow again. This river will never die and that is my opinion”
ANOTHER GREAT CLIP of Dolly and William can be seen here (14minutes in)
The Woodward Fishers (Dorothea and her husband William and family) had worked on the river for over 50 years and had a property in Narrow Street near Duke Store Stairs for many years, however Dorothea ran the business from Lewisham. Dolly and William formed the company after the war, buying the first barge for 20 pounds and earning five pounds per day hiring it , by 1973 the company had over 100 barges and 9 tugs.
She also raised 66 thousand pounds to buy land and build a clubhouse for the Poplar, Blackwell and District Rowing Club, an East End club of which her husband was a member.
She is inordinately proud of the spanking new clubhouse – round which she was carried shoulder high at the opening. And of her “‘boys” at the club, aged between eight and 80. And of the club’s star sculler, Ken Dwan, who represented Great Britain at the Munich Olympics.
Mrs Fisher is a regular churchgoer, every Sunday, with her dog, attending a chapel within the Tower of London. She has a ferocious sense of humour.
following interview was for the Woman’s Weekly magazine in 1973.
A voice, harsh and vibrant, crackled through the radio receiver: “Calling Duke shore, position please …”
“Barge Dog Fisher, loaded with molasses, moor up the Wash and stow ready for ten o’clock in the morning.”
Was it a man talking, newcomers to the Thames dockside invariably thought so. lt was, in fact. Mrs Dorothea Woodward Fisher, otherwise known as the Grand Old Lady of the Thames, or Lady Dorothea of the River, the only woman barge-owner actively in the business and its personality queen as well.
“People think I’ve got a gruff voice.” she said. “Well, so I have and I wouldn’t be without it. If I’d had a sweet girlish voice I wouldn’t have got anywhere.
“I’ve been called all kinds of things and done all sorts of business on the phone, when if they’d known I was a woman, they wouldn’t have talked to me.”
(One tug skipper always refers to her as “old cock.” He sends her the occasional box of cigars as well.)
For 55 years. Mrs Fisher with, until ten years ago, her husband Billy ran a lighterage business on the Thames. When the port of London was in its heyday as the largest and busiest in the world, she had upwards of 170 barges on the river, and a fleet of tugs as well.
She and her husband started their business 55 years ago. with 20 pounds in capital and a barge worth 100 pounds .
“The river then was wonderful. You’d see a powerful tug turning six well-laden barges. That was something to look at. We took loaded barges from Tilbury all the way to Reading. . .
“You’d see sailing barges, working, tacking backwards and forwards in the sea reaches, using the wind and the tides. Now the only sailing barge you ever see is a pleasure craft, weighed down with American tourists, taking a quick look at Greenwich and the Tower of London. Why don’t they take them down, right down. I’d like to know, and show them the real Thames, at Tilbury”
Sadly, though, she has watched – and struggled against – the great river’s decline to a point where pleasure boats make up most of its nautical traffic, and where, of more than 70 lighterage companies, only a handful remain.
Resplendent in her usual man-styled suit (today, it’s pinstripe), bow tie, gold rimmed monocle, and elegant, high-heeled crocodile shoes, smoking the inevitable cigarette and swigging back a large brandy, Mrs. Fisher is truly an indomitable figure.
Her husband (“He was the practical one, I had the business brain”) was a lighterman from the East End of London.
Yet now, with barges more heavily laden, all the lighterman has to do is make fast a tow-rope. The tug to which his barge is attached does the rest.
Mrs Fisher is appalled and saddened by this. “I still like going out on the river, but each time now it breaks my heart a little bit. I come away with a lump in my throat.”
Still she acknowledges that progress must go on. ” I don’t blame containerisation. It is an efficient way of moving goods. But those huge lorries! They’ve really plumped for the beast and not the beauty, using those.”
Characteristically, Mrs Fisher blames herself for the decline of her business. “I feel like a failure. We’ve always been a relatively small firm. Maybe I didn’t mix enough. Maybe I could have done better if I’d gone out into the City and drunk more beer with certain people.”
She was closing, she said, because she could not stand the financial strain. For some time she had paid out three thousand pounds a week in salaries, while the business brought in just half that.
Reluctantly, on her 79th birthday in 1973 (and by now long a widow), Dolly wound up her lighterage business. She should have done so four years previously, according to her businessman son Ken. But she didn’t have the heart. She paid off the lightermen who ran her barges – “Grand chaps all. though they do ask for too much money these days.” She took the remaining 88 barges out of commission. She kept, though, her last nine tugs and she surrendered none of her extensive property interests, which included three wharves on the Thames.
Mrs Fisher is appalled and saddened by this. “I still like going out on the river, but each time now it breaks my heart a little bit. I come away with a lump in my throat. It breaks my heart to see the river now”
As well as her three London wharves. Mrs Fisher owns a wharf and a refreshment bar on the Isle of Wight. Her own house, which incorporates her office, is a mammoth Victorian mansion, south of the river and completely hemmed in by dreary housing developments. It is topped by a king-size radio mast and populated by a random assortment of animals and friends. The house was sold in 1975 to Janet Street Porter for £25,000
A new bunkering vessel has joined the Thames Marine Services fleet. Armador II arrived this morning after leaving Holland yesterday at 7am and will join fleet mates CONQUESTOR and HEIKO at Hermitage.
The vessel was built as BP 47 for BP Bunker in Hamburg in 1972, in 2009 she passed to Armador Marine Services in Antwerp,Belguim. The vessel is powered by a 450hp Volvo Penta engine with dimensions of 38.70m x 6.85 x 2.17
I look forward to seeing the new arrival out and working on the tideway shortly