Blackwall Yard was a
shipyard on the Thames at Blackwall, London, engaged in
ship building and later ship repairs for over 350 years.
yard closed in 1987. The yard should not be confused with the
nearby Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding
Company whose head office address was also in
East India Company
Blackwall was a shipbuilding area since the Middle Ages.
the Honorable East India
Company decided to build its own ships and leased a yard in
Initially, this change of policy proved profitable as the first
ships cost the Company about £10 per ton instead of the £45 per ton
that it had been paying to have ships built for it. However, the
situation changed as the Deptford yard came to be expensive to
In 1614 the East India Company outgrew Deptford and ordered William
Burrell to begin work on a new yard for repair, construction and
loading of out-going ships. The site Burrell selected was at
Blackwall, which was further down river and had deeper water,
allowing laden ships to moor closer to the dock. The new yard was
fully operational by 1617. The yard and its facilities were
enlarged repeatedly during the early 17th Century. The yard was
surrounded by a high wall, but was not used for storage of imported
Later on in the 17th century the East India Company reverted to its original practice of hiring vessels. In many cases the owners who chartered their vessel to the East India Company had them built at Deptford and Blackwall.
In 1656, following a decline in the East India Company's fortunes,
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
began to commission third rates
from Blackwall which was by then the largest private yard on the
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.
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 continued to repair and build ships, particularly for the
East India Company
the 17th and 18th centuries. The yard recovered under the
management and later ownership of the Perry family. When the Navy
again surveyed the yard in 1742, the yard had the greatest capacity
on the Thames.
In 1784 when Francis Holman
it, it was said to be the biggest private yard in the world. It was
at this time that the Perrys began construction of the large
Brunswick Dock to the east of the yard, opened in 1790.
was reduced in size in 1803 when the East India Dock company bought the eastern part including the
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 London and
isolated the northern part of the remaining
site, which was the company then sold off.
Wigram and Green
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 &
In 1821 the firm built its first steamship. During
this period the yard built Blackwall
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
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
built in 1851 further west, 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 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), wide at the entrance, and deep.Greens continued building
wooden ships longer than Wigrams, including 25 naval vessels, 14 of
them 200-ton gunboats, during the Crimean
. 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 wide and nearly
high, and dominated the yard until the late 1980s.
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- Indus, 1,782-ton paddle steamer by Wigrams in
- Yard Nos. 275, 278, 282 were lightships built in
- Yard No. 279 was the tea clipper Sea Witch built
- Yard No. 291 was the famous tea clipper Challenger built in 1852. by by deep.
- Radetzky, launched by Wigrams in 1854 for the
- HMS Superb, 364-tons, launched by Greens in
Crocodile, 4,173 ton troopship launched by Wigrams in
- Tug Gamecock, Tug by R & H Green,
- Tug Stormcock, Tug by R & H Green,
- Tug Woodcock, Tug by R & H Green,
- Tug Sirdar, Twin screw steam tug by R & H
Perrys built two East Indiamen by the
name of Warley, one in 1788 and one in 1796.
- National Maritime Museum
- National Maritme Museum Green Blackwall
- Thames Tugs, Gamecock Steam Towing Co. Ltd
- Thames Tugs, Port of London