Despite the presence of the Cutty Sark in dry dock at Greenwich it comes as a surprise to discover that big sailing ships were built here in the 1870s – and built by a company more usually associated with heavy engineering and the steam engine. Compared with many of the areas around it Greenwich was never an important shipbuilding area and the name of Henry Maudslay has never been associated with sailing ships and yet they built two fast ‘tea clippers’ on a site, which is now close to the Millennium Dome.

London shipbuilding had been an extremely important industry but by the 1870s was beginning its long decline. Before the 1840s there had been no important shipyard in Greenwich – although areas round about, Rotherhithe, Deptford and Blackwall were famous for the ships they produced and, of course, the Royal Dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich were justly famous. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that shipbuilding companies seem to have located in Greenwich to the east of Deptford Creek. Of these the best known are Rennie, although we know of no sizeable craft which were built at that yard, and Joyce who built some vessels in the early 1850s at Kent Wharf on Deptford Creek. I have written already for Bygone Kent about some of the shipbuilders who came to the Greenwich Peninsula in the 1870s – another of them was Maudslay Son and Field.

Henry Maudslay is famous as an engineer whose origins in Woolwich are commemorated by a stained glass window in the Public Hall in Market Street. He left Woolwich for Westminster and a career as one of the most famous engineers this country has produced. His company was to return to Greenwich in the 1860s when his sons and grandsons had inherited the works.

Maudslay’s engineering works had been based in Lambeth from 1810 and had provided engines for the some earliest steam powered vessels as well as many other engineering projects. After Henry Maudslay’s death in 1831 they built a number of actual vessels but Philip Banbury says ‘Maudslay
Sons and Field were not really ship-builders until 1865 so these ships and others built later must have been considered as general engineering and the sections were probably factory built’.

Maudslay Sons and Field had been formed as a partnership some time before 1820 and included one of Maudslay’s sons and Joshua Field and this arrangement changed over time as various partners died. In 1860 the partners had consisted of two of Henry Maudslay’s sons, three of his grandsons, Joshua Field with two of sons, and Daniel Fitzpatrick. This structure of partnership was to change radically over the next few years and after that a decision seems to have been taken to open a shipbuilding works at Greenwich. What happened was that three eldest members of the partnership died –Joseph Maudslay, Thomas Henry Maudslay, and Joshua Field died. The vacant places were not immediately taken up but it seems clear that a younger generation was taking an interest in the company. As we will see some of this younger generation had a keen interest in sailing ships.

By the 1860s, a variety of industries had been taking up sites on the west bank of the Greenwich Peninsula for some twenty years. These sites were owned by the Blackheath based charity, Morden College, who had taken a decision to develop the area for industry in the late-1830s. One of these had been an American boat builder who had leased part of the riverfront known as Horseshoe Breach in a blaze of publicity. Horseshoe Breach was the old name for an area now known as Bay Wharf – where a break in the sea wall has caused an inlet with sloping banks ideal for shipbuilding and repair. The American had been Nathan Thompson, and his company, The National Company for Boat Building by Machinery, intended to build thousands of small boats a year using a highly mechanised method. Within a year he was bankrupt and their lease assigned to Maudslay Son and Field.

No correspondence appears to have survived in the Morden College archive, which might indicate the circumstances in which Maudslay’s decided to take up this lease. The indications are, however, that it must have been a last minute decision – since the site had become suddenly vacant following Thompson’s bankruptcy. The assignment of the lease is dated September 1864 and it seems likely that they were already on site by then. The lease was for what was in fact the field behind the river wall and known as ‘Further Pitts’. Signatories to the lease were Henry, Charles and Thomas Henry Maudslay, Joshua and Telford Field and Daniel Fitzpatrick. Once on site they fitted up a ‘spacious yard with workshops of great size’. The keel of their first ship was laid the next May.

A year later the first ship was launched from the year on a ‘great day for East Greenwich’ . She was a ‘fine screw steamer’ for the General Iron Screw Colliery Company and launched by Miss Maudslay whose ‘skill as regarding the handling of the indispensable bottle of Marsala betokened some former practice’. The launch was however a sad one, since Daniel Fitzpatrick had died the previous day while in the midst of preparations for the event. His death had come too late to cancel event – or even to circulate guests with the news. As it was the flags, customary at a launch, were flown at half-mast and at the following ‘sumptuous luncheon’ only one toast was allowed ‘Success to the new ship’. Among the guests were some ‘Turkish gentlemen’ – and more will be heard of them in due course.

‘Lady ’ was named for the wife of Lord Derby – leader of the Conservative Party in Parliament and a past, and future, Prime Minister. Lady Derby herself also gave her name to a something rather better known – a pink hyacinth. The Derbys currently lived relatively near Greenwich in the grand mansion of Holwood at Keston near Bromley – but there could be reasons for this naming of the ship after the wife of a leading politician and the name in any case would have been chosen by the new ship’s owners – General Iron Screw Collier Company. She was thus to be a coal carrying ship, one of many hundreds. She was built to ‘Henwood’s patent dynamical principles’ – Charles Henwood was a naval architect of the day.

Another ship was launched at East Greenwich in the same period – and the yard continued to have two ships under construction at once. This was a barque for Scrutton and Campbell. In Greenwich, this was seen as the start of a new era of prosperity and there was considerable local rejoicing. ‘Star in the East’ Public House – the remains of which still stand near the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel – was sold advertising increased prospects of trade as Maudslay’s nearby shipyard grew.

When the lease was finally conveyed to Maudslay Son and Field in 1868 the signatories for the company had changed. Two of the company’s engineers were included – John Imray and Henry Warriner. Warriner in particular had an expertise in the sort of ship building contracts to which Maudslays were now moving. He had been involved in some of the earliest screw propeller designs and had had considerable experience with other companies.

The signatory to the new lease on behalf of the Maudslay family was Herbert Charles Maudslay – another of Henry Maudslay’s grandsons. His name was to be associated with the Greenwich factory during its history. He has another claim to fame however from an incident of 1866. Herbert was a keen yachtsman – something which was to be important to Greenwich as time went on. In 1866, he had a yacht called Sphinx. The background of Sphinx does not seem to clear but it is possible, given the dates, that she was built at Greenwich as it seems reasonable that Herbert Maudslay should have built his own yacht in his own yard. In 1866, Sphinx (pronounced Spinx by the yachtsmen) was to race against a yacht called Niobe. The two vessels used something new – a ‘balloon sail’ which was hoisted to the topmast head. As this new sail did not have a name it began to be known as a ‘Spinxer’ – and in due course this was corrupted to ‘spinnaker’. Although this story is appears in many histories of yachting it does seem unlikely and a variant on it is that the sail was known as ‘Spinx’s acre’ and referred to its size. Whatever the truth of the derivation of ’spinnaker’, Herbert Maudslay clearly had an interest in sailing ships.

The next two vessels to be launched at Greenwich were naval tank vessels – ‘Pelter’ in 1867 and ‘Despatch’ in 1869. They were built for use at the Royal William Victualling Yard at Devonport and used for carrying fresh water to the fleet. Each could carry 150 tons of water at a time in tanks ‘constructed wholly independent of the ship’. With the hull divided into seven bulkheads in eight watertight compartments. Pumps were arranged to draw from each tank independently. Both were built under the direction of James Luke, naval surveyor and inspector of naval contract work. ‘Despatch’ was built slightly differently following some suggestions from the naval officers who operated ‘Pelter’. She was launched by ‘Miss Lucas’ and handed over to the naval authorities at Woolwich. The two vessels were to remain in service at Devonport until 1905.

In 1869 the company was to build an experimental boat at Greenwich for one of their neighbours on the Peninsula – Henry Bessemer had by then set up his small steel works on what is now Victoria Deep Water Wharf, next to the Maudslay shipyard, and his inventive mind was moving on to something else. Bessemer suffered greatly from sea sickness and following a journey from Calais in 1868 determined to do something about it. He thought that the best thing to do was to build a ship in which the passenger accommodation was independent of the hull. He therefore designed a vessel with a suspended cabin. He took these designs to Maudslay Son and Field and asked them to build him a ‘small steamer’. It was to cost £3,061 and be delivered to Bessemer in Greenwich. As work proceeded Bessemer began to think about the problems rather more deeply and decided that the work being undertaken by Maudslay was not suitable, work was stopped, and the vessel sold. Bessemer eventually built a model and then went on to found the Bessemer Saloon Ship Company – which was very far from being a success, since the finances were very strange and their only boat collided with the pier at Calais on two occasions.

Maudslay’s have left no records as to the boats built at Greenwich – although there are lists of the engines which were fitted into vessels. It is sometimes a question of trying to guess from the engine lists which, if any, were boats which Maudslay Son & Field actually built themselves. Many of these vessels can be eliminated from contemporary records, but there are many whose builders have not yet been traced. They include a number of vessels built before 1870 and it seems likely that at least some were built in Greenwich by Maudslay themselves. These include a tug, Grappler. William Cory had a tug of this name, their earliest, which worked on the Thames for many years – was this a Greenwich built, Maudslay vessel? In 1869 an engine was provided for another tug, Alert, built for Herbert Maudslay himself – was this also built in Greenwich – and what about a third tug, Tigress? In 1869 ‘Greenwich launch Manufactory’ was provided with an engine – surely, from her name, she must have been Greenwich built. A number of other launches were engined by Maudslay in this period – were they Greenwich built too? There were also a number of steam yachts, which provided with engines – ‘Hebe’ for Captain Phillimore, ‘Star’ for Lord Otho Fitzgerald, and ‘Dot’ for J.Sunley – no evidence has come forward to suggest they were not built at Greeenwich.

What were probably the two most important ships built at Greenwich do not appear in the engine lists at all – simply because they were sailing ships. Of all the things which happened in this Greenwich yard this is clearly the strangest – why should this company renowned world wide for its marine steam engines, suddenly enter the competitive market of fast sailing ships – an area in which they had no expertise at all?


Everyone – if they know just one thing about Greenwich will know about the Cutty Sark. Cutty Sark sits in her dry dock, tramped over by thousands of visitors. They all know about her speed and her beautiful lines and, if they read the literature will know she was built in 1869 in Dumbarton for shipowner John Willis. What very few of them will ever discover is that within sight of where she is today were built her two sisters – Halloween and Blackadder, built by Maudslay at their Greenwich shipyard.

In the late 1860s there was considerable competition and fast sailing clippers competed to beat record times for journeys across the world. It was important for owners to commission build ships, which could match the best. The design of Cutty Sark is said to have been based on a ship called ‘The Tweed’. She was not sailing ship a but a paddle steamer called ‘Punjaub’ built in Bombay and launched in 1854. In 1862 she was sold to John Willis & Sons, her engines removed and she was converted into a sailing ship, and renamed ‘Tweed’. John Willis was so impressed that he ordered her lines to be copied in his new ship, Cutty Sark – and hoped that she would beat the speeds of the current record holders. At the same time, he commissioned two more ships to be built in London, of iron.

The first of the two ships was Blackadder – described by Basil Lubbock as ‘Built I th’eclipse and rigged with curses dark’. Most of what has been written about Blackadder seems to be full of a great deal of gloom and doom, but she survived for over thirty years and set many very fast times in her early days. Lubbock clearly got his information from a member of her first crew – probably the second mate, whose opinions on the ship and the rest of the crew are quoted freely. He describes ‘the first evil omen’ as the occasion on which this same second mate left his home in Limehouse to join Blackadder. He found that he had left his purse at home and went back. At the door was his mother ‘a sailor’s daughter and a sailor’s wife’ who said ‘You should never have turned back. That ship will never be lucky’. All of which seems to be remarkably superstitious for the rational 1870s.

The contract for Blackadder had been signed in June 1869 was launched on 1st February 1870 by Miss Willis and Mrs. Alexander Scrutton. Another, unnamed, barque was launched at the yard at the same time. Following the launch the Maudslay and Willis party went off to the Trafalgar Tavern for a celebratory dinner while the workforce went to the next door Yacht for something rather less grand. She too had lines copied from ‘The Tweed’ but ‘in appearance above the waterline there was very little resemblance to Cutty Sark. She was built to the highest requirement of Lloyds for an iron ship and had a ‘complete East India outfit for a full rigged ship’. ‘Three captains’ were said to oversee the outfitting of the ship.

Lubbock says that Blackadder was loaded before she was fully fitted out, or before all her crew were appointed – and since there was as yet no mate, her cargo and rigging were supervised by this same, himself came along and found fault with things ‘and letting loose some of the language for which he was celebrated’ he ordered the second mate to do things differently. A row ensued but, because the fault had returned the next day, it appeared that there was actually a real problem in construction, which affected the supports for the masts. Attempts were made to remedy this defect – but done at the last minute it was to cause further problems. The chief rigger was a Captain Campbell and his words to the young mates was a warning ‘You are both young men, be careful’.

A further problem came when Blackadder nearly sunk in her dock in London because of a pipe near the waterline, which was not properly set in place. This episode illustrates much of what is said about Blackadder. She was supposed to be ‘unlucky’ but this seems to be mainly on account of things which ‘nearly’ happened – she was lucky enough for them usually to be put right.

Lubbuck goes on to tell the story of her disastrous first voyage. Again, this appears to be based on a narrative of the second mate. Since it is then said she was ‘unlucky in her captain as everything else’ and he is also described as ‘senseless’ and ‘fool headed’. It does however seems unlikely that command of a new ship built to set record speed would be given to anyone incompetent! Soon Blackadder was into the ‘Roaring Forties’ and ‘the first bit of a blow showed that the trouble aloft was very serious’ and, in addition, the steering gear went wrong’. Various solutions were considered and discarded by the Captain and in the end he decided on a ‘most foolish and risky manoeuvre.. the old man was in a hurry to fall out of the frying pan into the fire’. Luckily, according the version in Lubbock, the young second mate’ paid no attention to his captain but ‘kept his eyes glued on the Blackadder’s maintop … there was a flash of fire aloft’. They were halfway through the voyage –2,000 miles from the Cape and 1,500 from Rio – and with no chance of help in the situation they found themselves in.

What happened next was an extremely dramatic episode. It is described in a great dwell of detail by Lubbock – and those who want the technicalities of the story are advised to read his account. What comes over to the general reader however is the coolness with which the crew dealt with an extremely difficult and dangerous situation. As the rigging fell from the mast – men ran to ‘stand clear’ and then mast began to heel over more on roll of the ship. The mate called for an axe ‘to nick the mast’ but before this could be done, the mast fell, smashing crates of glass stowed around it and bursting the main deck. The mast then hung at an angle over the port side of the ship but before it could be cut away a roller sent it across the deck and over the starboard side, tearing up more planking of the main deck. At the same time, the mizzen mast began to sway ominously. The entire crew worked to send the damaged main mast clear of the ship and at the same time save the mizzen mast. A man with a vital piece of equipment slipped on the wet deck and the mizzen fell while the ‘rudder began to lift in an ominous manner’. By now the foremast too was ‘sagging forward’ and the sea was pouring through the holes into the deck and into the hold.

The story continues that the captain was ‘so unnerved’ that he ‘disappeared below and was not seen again until late in the day’ while in the short term the situation was saved by the mate and our friend the young second mate while the carpenter and his team secured the hole in the deck. The two mates retired for a smoke to discuss the proceedings’ and waited for daylight. What is impressive is the efficiency with which this dangerous situation was dealt with. By early afternoon the remaining sail had been removed and was on deck. While this was being done, a man called Stevens was almost involved in an accident – the nearest it appears that anyone came to real injury. He only just made it from the ‘topgallant masthead’ to the deck before the ‘mast broke 2 feet above him and by a miracle cleared him’ – and it might be said that the crew of Blackadder were exceptionally lucky to get through such an episode with, apparently, no injuries and only a near accident to report!

It was decided to head for Rio, which was nearer and because the wind direction was, better. Two ‘jury masts’ were erected but by the time that was done, the wind had changed and it was decided to head for the Cape. In due course she encountered the ‘St Mungo’ of Glasgow who tried to approach her ‘with the intention of speaking her’ but Blackadder was so fast, even with her make shift masts, that St. Mungo was unable to catch up wait ‘the lame duck’.

Lubbock continues with the story of how unlucky she was and goers on to describe how, while she was at the Cape under repair, she was involved in three collisions, and, once underway to Shanghai was hit by a French mail streamer in the China Seas. Leaving Shanghai for Penang she was involved in another collision. Eventually she returned to London after 117 days out, and the insurance met were waiting for her.

The court case went on and on and on. The underwriters would not pay the claim because the mast had not been properly secured and Willis then went on to sue Maudslays. The court case was to cause a problem not only to Maudslays, but to her sister ship built at Greenwich, Halloween. Perhaps however, it might be better to take through the story of Blackadder to the end of her sailing life – although Blackadder herself is far from gone.

Blackadder was handed over to Captain Moore and she went to Foochow in 123 days with only one collision. She was then taken over by her ex-mater Sam Blisset and went to Sydney. In the Pacific, she lost her masts again in a typhoon whole carrying coal into Shanghai. In October 1873 on her may to Melbourne she got into a storm near Banguey island where she anchored and struck and uncharted reef. The crew abandoned ship but she came off the reef and went off ‘as if steered by some demon’. With some difficulty the crew retrieved her and she then ‘made a terribly long passage to Boston because ‘owing to the extra strength of her iron plates… she sustained no injury from her pounding’. On her next voyage she ‘nearly’ killed her new master off the North Foreland.

Blackadder is described throughout these episodes as a ‘mankiller’ although there is no account of anyone actually to have been even injured in any of these mishaps and the ship herself survived remarkably. What Blackadder actuality did was to break speed records. In 1872 she set a record between Deal and Shanghai of 95 days and made the same time later from Foochow to London. I really do wonder why Blackadder had such a bad reputation – Lubbock does not mention her record breaking speeds, only the accidents. Blackadder was a ship, which stayed afloat, and fast during some terrible disasters – all of which were dealt with efficiently by her crews – and she was very very fast.

In 1899 Blackadder was sold to a Norwegian company. Again, she broke speed records. In November 1905 she left Barry Docks with a cargo of coal and was wrecked at Bahia when entering the port. This might seem to be the end of Blackadder and so I thought I put a version of this article out on the web through he Greenwich Industrial History Society site and forgot about it until I received an email from someone in Bahia. “As a scuba diver I am taking advantage of the local warm water and diving as often as possible. One of the sites we visit, especially if we have new divers, is a wreck know locally as the Black Drr, a Norwegian steam/sail ship. Very recently, a local diver has discovered that the ship is actually the Blackadder. She lies alongside the shore line at the bottom of a rock outcrop. Two of the masts lie pointing out to sea and there is very little of her hull left.” So this record breaking ship, built in Greenwich, provides sport for the leisure diving fraternity – perhaps someone some day will record what remains of her.

`Divers in Brazil are proud of Blackadder and have produced a plan of her wreck, together with photographs which can be found on their web site.

Her sister ship at Greenwich was Halloween, another iron ship built for speed. She could not be delivered to Willis until the lawsuit was settled and so she sat at Greenwich until she finally sailed in 1871 Lubbock as usual can say very little good about her saying that on her maiden voyage she had to turn back because rain water had got into her hold because of the incompetent way she had been docked at Greenwich. . Once on her maiden voyage however she went to Sydney in 69 says –– and she continued with record breaking trips, in particular a journey from Shanghai to London in 91 days – Cutty Sark’s best was 110.
Even Lubbock has to admit she was ‘an exceedingly fast ship all around in anything up to a fresh breeze’. She was however to last only a few years. It is said that in 1873, she met her end off the Devon coast – but, like Blackadder, she is not completely gone. The story is told on the web site of some Devon divers

The date they give for her wrecking is rather different – 17th January 1887. She was one her way to London from Foochow loaded with tea. She had been slowed by bad weather and her crew was exhausted when they saw the Eddystone Light. In huge seas she lost her course and was driven to the shore. At half past seven in the evening she ran into the west end of the Hamstone and crashed at Soar Mill Cove. The crew took to the rigging, then to smashed deck, and sent up flares. No one saw them. In the morning three men tried to swim ashore – but only two of the made it. They reached a farmhouse but the lifeboat did not reach the ship until 10 that morning. All nineteen remaining crew were saved and within three days, the ship had broken up. The cargo of tea washed into Soar Cove where it formed a twelve feet high barrier. The storms covered Halloween with sand and she was forgotten.

In February 1990, Steve Carpenter took his dog for a walk along the beach and to his surprise the previously sandy beach had become all rocks. Storms made diving impossible for some months and it was some time before any of this could be investigated. Eventually a diver went out, anchored looked around, and realised that he was actually above a huge wreck which had appeared in an area they had often dived before. ‘Underneath me was a huge hatch, part of a bow and a massive mast lying out across the sand … you could see the remains of the once proud bowsprit with wood decking all around… and a complete porthole glinting in the sunbeams. Now I knew what heaven was going to be like!’

Most interestingly, the porthole had been made by Stone of Deplored – clearly the subcontractor to Maudslay. Therefore, Halloween too is available to the divers, and another Greenwich built ship is there to be investigated.


There had been a number of ‘Turkish Gentlemen’ at the launch of the Lady Derby at Maudslay’s yard in Greenwich. It seems that they were to place orders. It appears from Maudslay’s engine list that a number of paddle steamers built for the Bosphorus ferry service had been provided engines by Maudslay from 1851. Three more names have been unearthed by a paddle steamer enthusiast group – Azimet, Rahat and Selamet. These are said to have been built in London – presumably Greenwich – by Maudslay although nothing more is currently known about them. The paddle steamer enthusiasts have spotted that one of the three met its end in 1911 and the other two in 1915 and thus speculate that they had a war time use which perhaps led to their destruction.

Two further ferries were described on a Turkish web site – and the information given here is derived from them. The ferry company which provided services across the Bospherus was called the Sirket-I-Hayriye since the 1840s – and had been buying British built ferries for most of that time. In the 1850s they had bought from ship builders on the Isle of Wight but in the 1860s have moved to the London shipbuilders, Wigram, and then to Maudslay and R.H.Green. In the late 1860s they had found the need for a different sort of ferry. Up until then the ferries had been for passengers and freight only but there was also a demand for the carriage of horses, carts, coaches, as well as army transports. Something was needed which could be loaded at each end. Such ferry boats are common today but in the 1860s this was a revolutionary concept which was to be worked out by Sirket in conjunction with Maudslay.

Sirket-I-Hayriye was managed by Huseyin Haki Efendi, from Crete. He made a rough sketch of the sort of craft, which he needed to resolve his problems of the carriage of vehicles across the Bospherus. He discussed these plans with Iskender Efendi, who had previously worked for the Turkish Government as an inspector, and Mehmed Usta, the chief naval architect at the Haskoy Shipyard, used by Sirket-I-Hayriye for repair work. Usta developed the sketch into detailed designs and took them to Maudslay in Greenwich.

Maudslay built two ferries to the Mehmed Usta’s plans. The first of them cost £8,000 weighed 275 tons, with a single cylinder 400 hp engine to drive it at seven knots. It was finished in 1872 and then had to be transported to Turkey. This was not easy since it had to travel under its own steam from London via the Atlantic, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean and they were, of course, built for river transport. Conditions were difficult and dangerous and on several occasions the ship was in danger of being lost. In due course she arrived in Istanbul in good order and was named ‘Suhulet’ which means ‘to be easy’ and this name was said to be given as a consolation for the difficulties of the journey. She was numbered 26 in the ferry fleet.

Suhulet had been designed to carry vehicles and when she was put into service the Bosphorus boatmen protested because they would lose trade. They intended to stop her first voyage from Uskudar to Kabatas but this protest was effectively stopped by the actions of Huseyin Haki Effendi who arranged that the first passengers should be an artillery battery. For this, and for her first voyage, he received a commemorative medal from Sultan Abdulaziz.

The Turkish authorities were so pleased with Suhulet that they returned to Maudslays for a second double ended ferry. This was identical except for a more powerful engine. She was to be called Sahilbent which means ‘linking two shores’ and was named by the Turkish poet, Nakik Kemal. The two ferries continued to work across the Bospherus from Uskudar to Kabitas. They proved useful in 1911 when in a war between Turkey and Italy Suhulet carried four gun batteries to Canakkale taking four hours to cross the Dardanneles. Previously the journey would take four days.

The years went by. In 1845 Sirket-I-Hayriye was taken into state control and became part of the Turkish Maritime Lines. Suhulet had already been fitted with a diesel engine in 1930 and had lost her tall funnel. In 1952 she was given yet another new engine and some more modifications were made. Six years later after 86 years of work, she was withdrawn from service and broken up for scrap in 1961. Sahilbent, however continued.

Sahilbent was first overhauled in 1927 and was taken out of ferry service in 1959 after 87 years of work. She was still seaworthy and so was sold. In 1967 she was renamed the ‘Kaptan Sukru’. At her sale it was finally noticed that this was a very old vessel still at work and a magazine article appeared naming her as the ‘oldest ship still in service in the world’ – sadly I have been unable to trace this article. Sahilbent was not finished yet, she was fitted with a new engine and still appeared in the shipping registers in 1996.

It has not proved possible yet to discover the current whereabouts of Sahilbent. In 1998 a news agency in Anatolia released a story which was later repeated on the Turkish Pilots service web site. This told how a small cargo ship had caught fire offshore in Pazar county Rize Province, and had then ran aground on the Ardasen Coast. She had left Rize Port with a load of heavy logs to take to a mine at Hopa. The seven member crew were taken off and the ship left to burn. So – is this Sahilbent – and where is she now? Neither the Turkish pilot service nor the Anatolian News Agency answer our emails. Is she a burnt out hulk somewhere on Ardesen coast, has she been broken up – or has she been refitted and refloated and, somewhere in Turkey, is there a boat at work which was built 130 years ago in Greenwich?


Maudslay Son and Field had taken over the lease for the site at Bay Wharf in 1868 but had been on site since 1864 and had been building up the site since then. Contemporary pictures show that they had taken over the buildings use by their predecessors, the National Company for Boat Building by Machinery, but they also began to make changes themselves. As early as January 1865 they began to built new slips on site but within the next few years a row developed between themselves and the Greenwich local authority which was to end in the High court.

In 1999 the London Borough of Greenwich was in the High Court to defend the public right of way along the riverside of Greenwich Peninsula. The same question – and almost the same stretch of riverside – had taken them to court before. The right of way along the river has taken up a great deal of the Greenwich Local Authority’s time over the past 150 years – and no doubt will do so for a long time yet to come. In the mid-nineteenth century new factories opened along the riverfront wanted close the riverside path in order to build slips, load cargo and other industrial activities – while today their successors want to close the riverside for private housing schemes.

In the 1860s Greenwich Vestry were becoming increasingly concerned about the path. In September 1827 the Surveyor reported that Messrs. Bessemer, steel manufacturers, had stopped up the footway on the north side of their premises and that Messrs. Maudslay had erected a doorway on the public footpath. At the same time a petition was presented to the Board from ‘certain inhabitants of East Greenwich’ complaining about the obstructions on the riverbank. Mr. Soames, the soap manufacturer whose works was also adjacent to the East Greenwich riverside, said that ‘no one required to go along the footpath’ leading to cries of ‘Oh! Oh!’ from members of the public present at the meeting. Soames went on to say that if the footpath remained open the factories would also have to be closed down, and that it would cost too much to build a new road. This was echoed by other speakers – what would be the use if all the waterside premises in London had a footpath running in front of them!’ It was however felt that the right of way was important and a sub committee was set up under the Greenwich Board of Works. This was eventually to lead to court action.

In October 1868 the Greenwich Vestry discussed the application of Lewis and Stockwell, shipbuilders, to build a dry dock on the Greenwich Peninsula at Blackwall Point. This would mean diversion of the footpath. Although the vestry was keen to promote new employment and manufacturers in the area the view was expressed that it was not a good idea to ‘give up these old rights in a hurry’ and the vestry set off on a tour of inspection, which, sadly, is not reported. By then the vestry was awaiting the judgement on their case against Maudslay and Bessemer.

The case, taken against Maudslay Son nd Field by the Greenwich vestry came to Court of Queens Bench in Maidstone on 21st May 1867. The right of way in question was that which stretched from Ballast Quay to Lombard Wall in Charlton. It is perhaps remarkable that it is only in December 2001 – 134 years after this court case – that the path is open to be walked throughout this whole length. It was agreed that it could not be shown when the river wall had been built but that it was there at the time of the Norman Conquest, that it had been under the care of the Commissioners of Sewers between the 37th year of Henry VIII’s reign and 1855 – and so as long as the memory of man could be expected to go back it had been a public footpath. The case of Mr. Bracegirdle in 1843 was cited – as previously reported in Bygone Kent Bracegirdle’s fences had been broken down the parish officers. The opposition said that the path went along the sea wall and that this was an artificial construction and could therefore not become a public right of way. Lord Chief Justice Cockburn said that this was not so – the public had used the path, for all they knew, since Roman times and declared in favour of the right of way.

The Greenwich vestry had won their point – but as more recent event shave shown vigilance is needed if the path is to remain open for the public use. Despite the gloomy predictions of Mr. Soames, Maudslay Son and Field did not go out of business because they were forced to open the path – in fact, they seem to have flourished for some years to come.

For the period after 1871 it become much more difficult to find out what ships exactly were built at Maudslays Greenwich yard. We are back in the realms of guesswork. Certainly the days of innovative shipbuilding seem to have left – and we are left with only a few names.

There was certainly another tank vessel for use at Devenport. This one called Elizabeth and remained in use until 1921.

There was a steamer of 1,375 tons – the SS legislator for the Liverpool based Harrison Line.
It is also possible that they built yachts. There is some suggestion that Telford Field had his own yacht, Marama built at Greenwich and, engines were provided for a number of yachts after 1870 it is also possible that the yachts themselves were built by the company. There was at least one attempt to build a Torpedo boat in 1879 (TB13). She is recorded as having a brass hull and was ‘a very bad seaboat with good engines’ and was broken up in 1896. It may be that this comment in fact sums up the Maudslay’s yard at Greenwich – the company made magnificent engines, but the ships never quite reached the same standard.

What exactly was undertaken at the yard in the 1870s and 1880s is far from clear. No ships built there have as yet been identified. It has been said that the yard became a boiler works – but exactly when was this transition was made? It is not until 1896 that any records of the yard begin to appear. In May 1896, the company wrote to Morden College, the ground landlords, saying that they wanted to extend the lease which would expire in 1898. They also told Morden College that they wanted to move Lambeth Works to East Greenwich and – once again – to extinguish the right of way on the riverside path. Negotiations were with Herbert Maudslay but he appears less than keen, since he cancelled a meeting with Morden College trustees on the grounds that he had to go to Cowes. This ‘urgent business’ might explain a lot about the way in which the family, and the company, was going. Herbert Maudslay’s main interest was in fact yachting. Thirty years previously he had been the owner of Sphinx, said to be the originator of the spinnaker sail, and in 1893 he had been a founder of the Sea View Sailing Club – a sort of sailing co-operative venture where members were encouraged to make donations into a central fund in order to purchase club boats. By 1895, it was the Sea View Yacht Club and a village had begun to grow up around it and to take its name. Herbert was Hon. Secretary of the Club for eight years, and by 1908, there were eight other Maudslay family members in the club. Herbert remained as Commodore of the Club until his death in 1926.

It begins to look as if Maudslay had in fact lost all interest in the Greenwich yard for twenty five years – but it is likely that the imminent expiry of the lease was not the only thing which drive then to consider the yard and its future. Throughout the 1890s the Blackwall Tunnel was being built almost underneath Maudslay’s Greenwich works. The Prince of Wales was to open it and, clearly, Maudslay wanted the works to look nice for the Prince. They submitted a drawing to Morden College of a proposed new gatehouse to their works. It is only this drawing which gives us any clues as to what the works was doing at the time.

It has been said that the Greenwich shipyard became a boiler works – but there have been no details. The plans submitted to Morden College show a gate and building. On the gate is to be written ‘Maudslay Sons and Field Ltd. Belleville Boiler Works’. This name is of great interest and implies a number of business connections of Maudslays, which have not been explored – further research would be most interesting. Belleville Boilers had been produced by the French Belleville Boiler Company and had been developed in the 1880s. The fact this boiler was so recent implies that whatever Maudslay’s business arrangement with Belleville was it had existed for no more than a few years. This design of boiler had been taken up by the French Navy and 48 had been ordered by the British in 1892 for cruisers Powerful and Terrible – were these boilers made in France, or were they were subcontracted to Maudslay? The Belleville boilers were criticised heavily and by 1904 the navy was replacing them with Babcock and Wilcox equipment. Maudslay had clearly not backed a winner and this is must have been another reason for the demise of the yard.

Meanwhile as far as the Greenwich works was concerned the company concentrated on the Prince of Wales. In 1896, the London County Council altered the line of the frontage of the Blackwall premises – hence the need for the new gatehouse. Agreement on this could not be reached with the LCC and correspondence between them and Maudslay’s solicitors became increasingly angry. The new line of the frontage had suddenly become a problem. The LCC erected a fence on their version of the line and Maudslay’s took it down and handed the pieces to the LCC foreman. Things were beginning to deteriorate rapidly.

In January 1898 there was a fire in Blackwall Lane and some of Maudslay’s structures were damaged and by March the company had been summoned by the London County Council on account of a dangerous structure on their site. Responsibility for this had now devolved to Morden College, as the ground landlord, since Maudslay had ceased to pay them any rent and Morden College’s insurers were now involved.

Plans were apparently underway to move the company, mainly the Lambeth Works to Ipswich but In October 1899 actions by debenture holders meant that receivers were appointed. Although the Greenwich Works was clearly out of action before this date, it was at Greenwich in June 1902 that the bankruptrcy sale was held. Equipment from Lambeth was brought down to Greenwich and the site laid out for the sale.

The sale catalogue makes for poignant reading – and runs to 76 pages. Here is all the machinery and equipment used by one of the leading engineering companies in the world. The first item is of special significance – it is for the original screw cutting and slide rest late and set of stock taps and dies made by Henry Maudslay himself in the early 19th century. It is a piece of machinery which, it might be said, changed the world – at the auction sale it was bought by the Science Museum and has been on display there ever since.

From the sale catalogue and from the advertisements for the sale of the lease we can begin to get an idea of what the works was like – at least in its final years as a boiler works. It stood on nine and half acres with a 350 ft frontage to the Thames with a substantially deep water jetty. There was a wet dock, which could take barges up to 200 tons. There was a gate with a keepers lodge timekeepers office and urinals. There was a three bay erecting shop. A galvanising shop, Store shed boiler house engine house and chimney as well as many other offices and outbuildings. A foundry, a machine shop and stores, offices and designing room. There was a stable, a clerk’s office, a typewriting room, and a strong room. It is to the sale catalogue that we must go for the detail – and not just for the Massey patent steam hammer, and radial drilling machine by Whitworth. The catalogue runs to 76 pages listing all the machinery on site. On the fourth day the auction turned to the offices with their lino, and the stools covered in ‘faulty American cloth’, to the square of blue Axminister carpet and a ‘japanned tin purdonium’. There were books ‘Bourne on the Screw Propeller’; coloured prints of the ‘Great Western Steamship’. In addition, there were 14 photographs of machinery. Maudslays had always taken photographs of everything – where are those photographs now? Second on the auction list, after Henry Maudslay’s own equipment, came ‘Camera with Wray Lens’ – which was what they considered their second most valuable piece of equipment. Wray’s lens works still stands by the Ravensbourne in Ashgrove Road, Bellingham

Morden College assigned the lease to new occupier, Segar Emery, an American mahogany importer and Maudslay’s were largely forgotten in Greenwich, but the family continued with their engineering and business interests. In 1901, the Maudslay Motor Company was set up under W.H.Maudslay and at the same time the Standard Motor Company was opened with the intention of standardising motor parts. This is not a history of the British Motor Industry but Maudslays clearly went on to play an important part in its development. Perhaps it should also be noted that Delauney- Belleville in France ceased to become boilermakers and too became involved with early Renault cars.

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