Thames Iron Works - Lifeboats

By Robert J. Rogers

Not many would think of Canning Town when ever the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Intuition) is mentioned but in fact over 200 lifeboats were built at the Thames Iron Works.

When talking of Lifeboats, most peoples memories go back to the seaside and the sight of a large orange Lifeboat racing down a slipway, her brave crew off to face the perils of the sea, the danger captured in Phil Coulter famous song “Home from the Sea”, but not many would think of Canning Town and the River Thames!

Canning Town was the home of the TIW (Thames Iron Works), which played an important part in the Development of Lifeboats and built over 200 of them for the RNLI.  They were amongst the shipyards on the River Thames who built Pulling and Sailing Lifeboats of the early 20th Century, other included Edwards & Symes (Millwall), Forrestt (Limehouse) and Wolffe & Son (Shadwell). The last two also built boats for the H.S.B (French Volunteer Lifeboat Service).The Pulling and Sailing boats had Oars to drive the boat from the beach and to carryout rescues, and Sails to speed the boat along.  

Four main types were built by TIW, Norfolk & Suffolk (N&S) (see Drawing), Liverpool (Liv), Watson (Wat) and Self Righter (S/R), amongst them were the following 30 by Order Number and Date Built, Length (in Feet), Number of Oars, Class and Name.

407-1897-37-12-S/R-Micheal Henry

431-1899-40-12-N&S-Covent Garden

435-1899-37-12-S/R-James Stevens No.10 

440-1900-35-10-S/R-Licensed Victualler

455-1900-34-10-S/R-Forester (Reserve Boat)

456-1901-43-10-Wat-John Wesley 

463-1901-43-12-Wat-Albert Edward

471-1901-37-12-S/R-54th West Norfolk Regiment 

482-1902-46-12-N&S-City of Winchester


495-1902-38-10-Wat-John Wesley 

506-1903-35-12-N&S-Nancy Lucy


516-1903-38-10-Liv-Charles Decre James

517-1904-43-10-Wat-Ann Fawcett

520-1903-35-10-S/R-Horatio Brand 

521-1904-38-12-Wat-James & Mary Walker 

526-1903-35-14-Liv-Charles Burton

536-1904-41-16-Liv-J C Madge

541-1905-35-10-Wat-James Finlayson


545-1905-38-14-Liv-Edward Z Dresden

550-1905-43-10-Wat-Ann Miles 

570-1907-43-10-S/R-Hollan the Third 

580-1907-34-10-S/R-Jacob & Rachel Valentine


589-1909-44-12-N&S-Eleanor Brown

607-1910-42-12-N&S-James Leach

629-1912-34-12-N&S-Hugh Taylor

Many East coast Lifeboats Stations at one time had a Thames Iron Works built boat, and these included, Aldeburgh, Casiter, Clacton, Cromer, Harwich and Sheringham. One can still be seen, ON432, James Stevens No.14, which was a Norfolk and Suffolk Class built in 1900, and is being preserved at RNLI Walton and Frinton in Essex.

This was a rare Pulling and Sailing Lifeboat as it later had a Motor fitted to it which gave a speed of about 7 knots.  This was one of three N&S converted by the TIW, the others (which were not orignally built by the TIW) were ON350 "Bradford" a 42 ft S/R built in 1893 and ON407 "Micheal Henry" a 37ft S/R built in 1897.

As well as Local stations, some Lifeboats from the TIW ended up in stations all around the country. 

So next time you are at the seaside, look for the Lifeboat station, you may find a Canning Town built Boat amongst the stations Roll of Honour.   Another connection with the area was at Poplar, where from 1882-1933, the RNLI had its Headquarters at Broomfield Road. Today the RNLI carryout rescues on River Thames using the E-Class `Tiger` inshore Lifeboats, with the nearest Lifeboat Station being `Tower`. It was originally at the Tower of London, but now based further upriver at the Embankment, it may surprise you to know it is one of the busiest station in the country.

Illustration of Suffolk & Norfolk type lifeboat built at the Thames Iron Works by  R.J.Rogers, Governor Member RNLI    

Thames Iron Works - Lifeboats