Shipping & Shipbuilding News -  27 May 2008- The Brightest Maritime Daily

Just as she was many years ago. Photo: Ambrose Greenway

Relief as world's oldest complete steamship avoids scrapyard
Loan from Crossrail helps secure rescue of London's ss ROBIN...

The world’s oldest complete steamship, SS Robin can carry out a much-needed rescue plan as a result of a loan from Crossrail.

Without the compensation necessitated by the Crossrail construction proposals and negotiated during the hybrid Bill House of Lords Select Committee process it appeared likely that Robin would have to be scrapped after a bid for Lottery funding was turned down earlier this year.

The compensation from Crossrail will underwrite essential minimum repairs to the ship necessitated by the development of the Isle of Dogs station, due to be constructed in West India Quay, home berth of the unique coaster. However, further fundraising will be needed to repay the loan and continue the repair process.

Project Director David Kampfner says:

“Historic SS Robin was rapidly running out of time, and we're extremely grateful to Crossrail for this eleventh hour lifeline. Now we have a huge job to do – not just repairing the ship but fundraising to repay the loan. The Trust was extremely concerned that we were facing a situation which threatened to jeopardise the future of the ship“

The ship, a miraculous survivor and unique symbol of Britain’s Victorian merchant fleet, is one of only three ‘Grade One’ / Core Collection ships in London.

Despite her historic importance as an irreplaceable example of the UK’s maritime and commercial heritage, her future until recently has been uncertain.

Before construction of the new station begins, SS Robin will be moved to a shipyard and taken out of the water in order that essential refurbishment of the 118 year-old hull can begin. The ship will be repaired using so far as is practicable largely the same craft skills with which she was built in 1890, ensuring that the restored ship remains a time-capsule of Victorian technology.

SS Robin is likely to remain in drydock for six months, and then be towed back to London at the end of 2008 in order to continue the Trust’s learning programme with schools.

One of London’s best kept secrets, SS Robin is only one of three ships in London on the Core Collection of the National Historic Ships Register (the nautical equivalent of a Grade 1 Listed Building) – alongside Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast.

One of a pair of ‘coasters’ built in Bow Creek at the height of the Industrial Revolution in 1890, the ship was originally intended to carry raw materials and the products of British industry around the UK and northern Europe. Three centuries later SS Robin is currently still afloat and moored under the towers of Canary Wharf in West India Quay.

A reminder of Britain’s proud maritime history, Robin is the oldest remaining complete steamship in the world, still boasting its original engine, lifeboats and winches.

In the latest chapter of its long history, Robin was converted into an innovative learning centre dedicated to working with children, providing technology-driven learning in East London. Pupils can attend workshops and learn the national curriculum through film, photography, animation and bluescreen CGI techniques. All details, including how to donate to the campaign, can be found at

In 1890, steamships such as the Robin were the very latest in naval technology. In the days before HGVs, Robin carried cargo such as grain, coal, iron ore and china clay between sea ports in Britain and the continent.

From 1900 to 1974, the ship was bought by a Spanish trading company and used as a coastal steamer around the northern Spanish coast. In 1974, the Maritime Trust saved the ship from the breakers yard and Robin returned to England.

In 1991 she moved to West India Dock but steadily fell into disrepair until given a new lease of life in 2002, when she 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 innovative education projects with disadvantaged children from local schools

Mr Kampfner added:

“We now have a window of opportunity to attend to essential works in order to ensure Robin’s future. We’re a small volunteer-led organisation with the fate and sole responsibility of one of the UK’s most important ships in our hands - it’s a daunting but very exciting situation for the Trust, but also for Londoners as a whole as the intention is to create a new and remarkable visitor landmark once we she returns from refit.

“Until just last month SS Robin was in grave danger - we were facing the possible loss of a 118 year old ship, a fantastic education facility and a hugely successful volunteer conservation programme, both of which contributed to an inspirational new lease of life for this iconic symbol of our Merchant Navy.”

Photo: SS Robin Trust



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