Blackwall Yard

Blackwall Yard

Blackwall Yard was a shipyard on the Thames at Blackwall, London, engaged in ship building and later ship repairs for over 350 years. The yard closed in 1987.

(not to be confused with the nearby Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company whose head office address was also in Blackwall.)


East India Company

Blackwall was a shipbuilding area since the Middle Ages. In 1614 the East India Company outgrew its first shipyard at Deptford, and ordered William Burrell to begin work on a new yard for repair, construction and loading of out-going ships. The site selected was at Blackwall, which was further down river and had deeper water, allowing laden ships to moor closer to the dock. This was fully operational by 1617. The yard and its facilities were enlarged repeatedly during the early 17th Century. The yard was surrounded by a convert|12|ft|m|sing=on high wall, but was not used for storage of imported goods.cite web | url= | title='Blackwall Yard: Development, to c.1819'| publisher=English Heritage| work=Survey of London: volumes 43 and 44: Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs (1994), pp. 553-565 | accessdate=2007-10-15]


Following a decline in the East India Company's fortunes, In 1656 the yard was sold to shipwright Henry Johnson (later Sir Henry), who was already leasing the docks and part of the yard. The premises sold included three docks, two launching slips, two cranes and storehouses. Johnson went on to expand the yard, which continued to build and repair ships for the East India company as well as other activities.

The Anglo-Dutch wars of the late 17th Century resulted in too much work for the royal dockyards, and the Navy Board under Samuel Pepys began to commission third rates from Blackwall which was by then the largest private yard on the Thames. A new dock of 1½ acres constructed in the 1660s was the largest wet dock in England until the construction of the Howland Great Wet Dock in Rotherhithe. Construction of merchant ships continued, with Blackwall building 12 ships between 1670 and 1677 in a period when a bounty was offered to shipbuilders by Charles II. Following Johnson's death in 1683 the yard passed to Henry's son Henry junior, who was not a shipwright. After Henry junior's death in 1718 on a posting as Governor of Cape Coast Castle for the Royal African Company, the yard had little work until sold in 1724 and was overtaken in importance by Bronsdens yard at Deptford. With the end of the Dutch wars naval shipbuilding had also retreated to the royal yards. This was reversed by war with Spain in 1739.


The yard recovered under the management and later ownership of the Perry family and by 1742 when surveyed by the Navy again had the greatest capacity on the Thames. In 1784 when painted by Francis Holman it was said to be the biggest private yard in the world. [ [ National Maritime Museum] ] It was at this time that the Perrys began construction of the large Brunswick Dock to the east of the yard, opened in 1790.

The yard was reduced in size in 1803 when the eastern part including the Brunswick Dock was bought by the East India Dock company. The Brunswick Dock became the East India Export Dock (the southern of two docks), which in the 20th Century was filled to become the site of Brunswick Wharf Power Station. In the 1830s the northern part of the remaining site was cut off by the London and Blackwall Railway and sold off.

Wigram and Green

As the Perrys began to withdraw from the business the firm became Perry Sons & Green (George Green having married John Perry II's daughter), Perry Wells & Green (a half share having been sold to Rotherhithe shipbuilder John Wells) and eventually Wigram & Green. In 1821 the firm built its first steamship. During this period the yard built Blackwall Frigates.


In 1843 the remaining site was split into two yards, with Wigram & Sons in the western yard. Wigrams soon began construction of iron ships, but ceased building in 1876. In 1877 Wigram's yard was bought by the Midland Railway and developed as a coal dock, which survived until the 1950s. This was known as Poplar Dock, not to be confused with the North London Railway's Poplar Dock built in 1851 further west [cite web | url= | title='Poplar Dock: Historical development'| publisher=English Heritage| work=Survey of London: volumes 43 and 44: Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs (1994), pp. 336-341 | accessdate=2007-10-15] , and still in use as a marina. During World War II the dock was seriously damaged by bombing and it was later filled in and used as a fuel oil storage yard by Charringtons. Part of the site is now occupied by the northern ventilation shaft of the second Blackwall Tunnel and the rest by housing.


The eastern yard was occupied by R & H Green. Greens demolished earlier buildings in order to extend the dry dock, known as the eastern or lower graving dock. This was progressively lengthened and reduced in width. By 1882 it was 335ft long and convert|62|ft|m|abbr=on wide, with a wooden bottom and brick sides. In 1878 they opened the 'new' or upper graving dock. This was 410ft long (later lengthened to 471 ft), convert|65|ft|m|abbr=on wide at the entrance, and convert|23|ft|m|abbr=on deep.Greens continued building wooden ships longer than Wigrams, including 25 naval vessels, 14 of them 200-ton gunboats, during the Crimean War. Their first iron ship was built in 1866.

R. & H. Green Ltd continued to build ships at Blackwall until 1907. In 1910 the company amalgamated with Silley Weir & Company, as R.& H. Green and Silley Weir Ltd, with further premises at the Royal Albert dry docks. The company grew rapidly until the outbreak of the First World War, concentrating on repairing vessels. Throughout the war the firm constructed and repaired munitions ships, minesweepers, hospital ships and destroyers.

After the war a major programme of building and refurbishment was begun at the yard. A marine engineering shop was built between the two graving docks. This was nearly 350ft long, over convert|100|ft|m|abbr=on wide and nearly convert|60|ft|m|abbr=on high, and dominated the yard until the late 1980s.

In 1977 the company merged with the London Graving Dock Company Ltd (located on the SE of Blackwall Basin in the West India Docks) to form River Thames Shiprepairers Ltd, as a division of the nationalized British Shipbuilders. The Blackwall site became known as Blackwall Engineering and continued in operation until 1987.

The upper graving dock remained in use until closure. In 1989 it was partially filled in and the new Reuters building was constructed, straddling it. The eastern dry dock (one of the earliest remaining on the Thames) was refurbished in 1991–2. [ [] ] cite web | url= | title='Blackwall Yard: Development, c.1819-1991'| publisher=English Heritage| work=Survey of London: volumes 43 and 44: Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs (1994), pp. 565-574 | accessdate=2007-10-15] [ [ National Maritme Museum Green Blackwall Collection] ]


* HMS "Warspite", 62 guns was built 1665-6 by Johnsons, at a cost of £6,090.
* HMS "Belliqueux", 1780 by Perrys, a 64-gun ship of 1,376 tons.
* HMS "Powerful", 1783 by Perrys, a 74-gun ship.
* HMS "Vennable", 1784 by Perrys, a 74-gun ship, of 1,652 tons.
* HMS "Hannibal", also of 1,652 tons, was built by Perrys between June 1782 and April 1786 at a cost of £31,509.
* HMS "Albion", 1802 by Perrys. A third-rate of 1729 tons.
* "Alfred", 1845 by Greens. Indiaman. [ [ Illustrated London News 12 April 1845] ]
* HMS "Terpsichore", launched by Wigrams in 1847.
* "Indus", 1,782-ton paddle steamer by Wigrams in 1847.
* Yard Nos. 275, 278, 282 were lightships built in 1847.
* Yard No. 279 was the tea clipper "Sea Witch" built in 1848.
* Yard No. 291 was the famous tea clipper "Challenger" built in 1852. convert|174|ft|m|abbr=on by convert|32|ft|m|abbr=on by convert|20|ft|m|abbr=on deep.
* "Radetzky", launched by Wigrams in 1854 for the Austrian navy.
* HMS "Superb", 364-tons, launched by Greens in 1866.
* HMS Crocodile, 4,173 ton troopship launched by Wigrams in 1867.
* Tug "Gamecock", Tug by R & H Green, 1880. [ Thames Tugs, Gamecock Steam Towing Co. Ltd] ]
* Tug "Stormcock", Tug by R & H Green, 1881.
* Tug "Woodcock", Tug by R & H Green, 1884.
* Tug "Sirdar", Twin screw steam tug by R & H Green, 1899. [ Thames Tugs, Port of London Authority] ]


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