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Video: Restoration of world’s oldest steam coaster in Royal Victoria Dock

10:57 04 September 2014

The SS Robin, which is being restored to its former glory to open as East London

The SS Robin, which is being restored to its former glory to open as East London'’s newest landmark next year.

Archant

After 125 years, the world’s oldest surviving steam coaster is set to become become Newham’s newest tourist attraction.

A detail of the SS Robin, which is being restored to its former glory to open as East London’'s newest landmark next year.A detail of the SS Robin, which is being restored to its former glory to open as East London’'s newest landmark next year.

The SS Robin, which currently resides in the Royal Victoria Dock, is undergoing restoration work in preparation for its reopening next year.

“She was built at the Thames Ironworks and towed to Dundee to have her engine fitted, as all the best engines at the time were built in Scotland,” explained project director Dave Green.

“The triple expansion engine, which recycles steam three times, was considered so efficient that back-up sails were deemed unnecessary.”

Designed to hold as much cargo as possible, the SS Robin only had between 10 and 12 crew members at any one time. From December 1890, she spent ten years transporting goods up and down the coast.

A detail of the SS Robin, which is being restored to its former glory to open as East London'’s newest landmark next year.A detail of the SS Robin, which is being restored to its former glory to open as East London'’s newest landmark next year.

In May 1900 she was sold to Spanish owners and renamed Maria.

Despite exchanging owners three times, she carried on as a cargo ship until 1967 and has retained a number of her original features, including her lifeboat and wheel.

“Like a lot of these old ships, she survived through luck,” said Dave.

“If she’d stayed in Britain, she probably would have been taken for scrap in the 1920s, like the rest of the 1,500 steam coasters that were built.”

Project manager Dave Green aboard SS Robin which is being restored to its former glory before opening as East London’'s newest landmark next yearProject manager Dave Green aboard SS Robin which is being restored to its former glory before opening as East London’'s newest landmark next year

That was to be her fate in 1974 until she was rescued by the Maritime Trust, which preserves significant ships from Britain’s history.

Her original name reinstated, she returned to Britain and eventually came under the ownership of the SS Robin Trust.

Made of steel and iron, the SS Robin’s time in the water has finally come to 
an end.

She now resides on a specially built pontoon dock, known as the SS Robin II.

“We had to make the decision whether to put her on a pontoon or replace 70 per cent of her underside,” said Dave.

“You can see the steel rivets, which were put in by hand, and we don’t know how much water they would let in.

“We decided it would be easier to register the pontoon as a boat rather than a building for licensing reasons, and it’s also easier if we need to transport her around.”

The SS Robin is to be moved next year to the western end of the dock, near the Emirates cable car.

The Trust is applying to the National Lottery Fund for money to complete the work, with a target opening date of next summer if it manages to secure it.

“We will hear at the start of December whether we’ve got the money. If we have we will start the work early next year,” Dave said.

“We hope to open in the summer. It’s ambitious, but it’ll give us a target.”

Plans for the boat include a performance space, smaller studios and an education area for schools, as well as tours of the SS Robin.

Some of the restoration work has already been completed by volunteers, and Dave hopes that engineering students from Newham College will be able to help with restoring the engine.

“We’re always looking for volunteers,” he said. “Part of what we’re doing is helping people to learn new skills, whether in boat restoration or as a tour guide.”

For more information, visit ssrobin.org follow @thessrobin on Twitter or like The SS Robin Trust on Facebook

Read more:

Royal Docks education pack will reveal area’s rich history to children

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