Royal Docks steam coaster ship thrown a lifeline

The SS Robin. Picture: Ambrose Greenway

The SS Robin. Picture: Ambrose Greenway - Credit: Ambrose Greenway

The last complete steam coaster ship in the world may have escaped the scrapyard.

Built in 1890 at the Orchard Yard on the River Lea, the SS Robin sailed the seas for decades before being moved onto a floating pontoon at Royal Victoria Dock in 2011.

Weighing 305 tonnes and with an overall length of 46 metres, the ship is looked after by the SS Robin Trust, which spent £100,000 restoring her.

In February last year, after failing to get extra financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund which helped fund her restoration, the charity began a search for partners to secure the vessel’s future by leasing the hold or buying her outright.

Project officer Matthew Friday, said: “She was in a situation where there was no definite future. We had a year to try and find a new use to avoid the Robin going to the scrap yard.”

Now the trust has announced developer Urban Space Management have offered to take the boat to a new home at Trinity Buoy Wharf, 150 metres from where she was built.

The company, which leased the wharf in 1996 transforming the once derelict site into a centre for the arts, would be responsible for maintaining the SS Robin and opening her up to the public.

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Eric Reynolds, the new Chairman of the SS Robin Trust and founding director of Urban Space Management, said: “The history of maritime, ship building and dock based trade on the Thames around the mouth of the River Lea has largely disappeared from sight.

“However, the SS Robin, the tugs Knocker White and Varlet and lighter Diana will form the basis of an open air museum to help bring to life the rich heritage of the area from East India Dock Basin.”

Urban Space Management now awaits the outcome of a planning application, submitted to Tower Hamlets Council, before work can commence on moving the ship to her new home.

The company hopes to then make the SS Robin’s hull visible to the public by displaying the vessel on shore with access for the less able.