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c.1910 - Shipwrights.... Rowhedge? or Wivenhoe?

Engine built at Rowhedge Ironworks 1926

Some names..... Harry Collins, George Woods, Reg Knights and, perhaps, Peter Barker.

River pilot Peter Hills, Robert Buckingham, Stephen Cranfield on minesweeper

Director & Chairman of Rowhedge Ironworks

The Mayor of Colchester? T. Morris, Hylda Oxton, Donald Oxton (Managing Director), Mrs. Buckingham, Robert Buckingham (Director), and Bernard Mason. Thanks to Timothy Oxton for help with names.

"Bim" Jones, Jean Martin, Jack Butcher, Peter Simons, unknown

Louis Gredley, Shipwright; Jim Theobald, Shipwright; Harry Hillyard, Yachtsman; Stephen Cranfield, Shipwright. Background - George Fookes, Ship's Smith

Stephen Cranfield, Alf Crickmar (Shipwright), Dorothy Cranfield, Rosa Crickmar

Vessels built at Rowhedge Ironworks.... in no particular order


Originally known as Princess Royal the Royal Princess is still plying her trade on the river Thames..... a career of more than eighty years. 

ESSEX COUNTY STANDARD - 2 February 1935 - “THE SHIPYARD - BRIGHTER OUTLOOK - The Rowhedge Ironworks Co. Ltd have been very busy for some time past. Some weeks ago we published an account of an order placed with the firm for a vessel to be named Princess Royal. That ship is now building and is rapidly taking shape and the date of her launch is anxiously awaited. She will be the first Diesel engine craft of her type to be commissioned on the River Thames (she is being built for London owners). She will be 114 ft. in length and will have a Board of Trade Certificate to carry 380 passengers. Every effort is being made to have her finished and in readiness for the University Boat Race, where she has as important commission.”


            23 March 1935

THE TIMES - Friday 17 May 1935 - “RIVER EXCURSIONS - NEW MOTOR-SHIP FOR THE THAMES - The Royal Princess, a new motor passenger ship built for the Thames, which made her maiden trip on the river on Boat Race day [Saturday 6 April], began her daily service yesterday between Greenwich and Richmond, calling at Westminster and Kew. She will continue in this service until October.

A Diesel-propelled ship, it is said, marks a departure from the steam tradition in the Upper Thames passenger service. The owner, Captain A. Crouch, who has operated passenger boats on the Thames for about 20 years, believes that the internal combustion form of propulsion offers the greatest prospect of commercial success in river transport. His view is that the greater space available for passengers in a Diesel ship, apart from the freedom from smoke and grit, has an economic advantage over a steamship. The ship is licensed to carry 350 people.

The vessel, which was built in Essex by the Rowhedge Iron Works Company, Limited, is fitted with a five-cylinder Crossley engine of 125 h.p., is 114ft. in overall length, 109ft. between perpendiculars, and has a beam of 17ft. 9in. and a depth of 6ft. 6in. The hull is designed for navigation up river at low water, and the draught when loaded is only 3ft.” - "Royal Princess was built in 1935 by Rowhedge Ironworks (near Colchester) for Alfred Crouch, with whom she served until 1965. She was the first up-river Thames excursion ship of over 100 gross tons. Her engine was supplied by Crossley of Manchester, driving a single screw. Initially Royal Princess had two dummy funnels, which gave her an imposing appearance, although the engine exhausts on the waterline. Her original service consisted of three daily cruises from Westminster to Richmond. In 1984 she passed to Tidal Cruisers, who became Thames Cruises by 1999, who remain her owners in 2006."


Half-hull model of  Royal Princess


Firecrests 1 and 8 at Rowhedge

Firecrest Fifteen - A half-decked centreboard sloop, designed by Robert Stone, pictured here at the British Industries Fair in 1952. At least 60 were built at the Lower Yard and many were exported. The Firecrest was named after a ten-ton racing cutter of the same name and built at the same yard, which was sailed round the world single-handedly by French tennis star Alain Gerbault in the 1920s.

Firecrest No.8 "Regulus" owned at the time by Peter Simons


The Editor, Evening Gazette, Colchester

Dear Madam,

The name of William (Bill) Webb in his letter “Another link to Dunkirk” instantly brought to my memory an occasion one brilliant Saturday afternoon in May 1940, and the answer to the secret disappearance of the beautiful new lifeboat the Rowhedge shipwrights had just constructed.

Just after lunchtime on that Saturday when we were all thinking of dozing in the sun my school friend Dick Butcher came with a note from his father Frank, the Director of the Rowhedge Shipyard, to my father Arthur Simons, the Outside Manager of all the shipwrights and other tradesmen except the ironworkers and engineers in the yard, some 200 men.

In it, headed with the words “Treat with utmost secrecy,” was the telephoned order from the Admiralty to ensure our new lifeboat be delivered to the Royal Navy at the Nore (in the Thames estuary) without, repeat, without delay. A runner crew would be arriving within two hours to take her from us with their authority.

Thereupon my father and I took the shipyard keys and on our way invited Ron Crickmore at the top of Albion Street to come with us. Ron was a highly skilled motor mechanic who had carried out the engine installation.

On reaching the lifeboat, which was to all intents completed on the slipway, we fetched George Woods, the yard’s Boatswain Rigger, from his cottage at the head of the slipway and we were joined by Frank Butcher and his son Dick.

We then prepared the slipway cradle and the lifeboat for sea;  Ron checking the high octane fuel tanks and red-painted reserve cans and George the steering gear and readying the mooring ropes on deck.

Together we launched the boat with George at the wheel and Ron firing the engine as she floated off.

The tide was nearly at its high limit and we waited on Cat Island quayside for signs of the runner crew. Our anxiety increased minute by minute and Dick and I were prepared to join Ron and George as the tide turned rather than let her take the ground to wait the next tide in the night.

Just in time we saw the Walton team pull into Wivenhoe Station and then after a few minutes four figures, huge in their yellow oilskins and carrying their lifebelts and packs, trudged across the raised track over the grazing marsh from the Tollgate to the Ferry where Capt. Will Jones and Ernie Wilkinson were waiting for them.

Within a few minutes the Walton lifeboat men walked down the High Street and with the tide ebbing fast got themselves on board, took a few instructions from Ron and George and at full speed headed for Wivenhoe and the North Sea. It was her maiden voyage.

The lifeboat men reached the Nore and returned safely but the boat did not. Many weeks later, after drifting in the North Sea, she was recovered by a destroyer and returned to the yard.

Putting her in the muddy water that afternoon felt like dumping a superb grand piano such was the quality of the workmanship involved in her construction, but when she was returned she was riddled with cannon shell and bullet holes and her beautifully shaped deck shelter, a work of art, utterly smashed.

I was told some of the shipwrights, having put their hearts and souls into building her - and even new apprentices - wept when they saw her; no one on board could have survived in that inferno off the beaches.

She was repaired as good as new and was named the Guide of Dunkirk since her cost, £5,000, was raised by the Girl Guides Association and she went to Cadgwith, just East of the Lizard Point in Cornwall where I saw her in the late 1940s after surveying a pilchard boat for the Ministry of Fisheries Loan and Grant Scheme as their Technical Consultant, to reinstate the inshore fishing industry.

Now John Steer who is playing such a great part in the reconstruction of the RNLB James Stevens No.14 at Walton on the Naze found out for me the Guide, her service days finished, is now being used to carry holiday makers out of Mevagissey Harbour from John Moore’s East Quay boatyard.

Peter Simons, 2004”


Wikipedia - At the Dunkirk evacuation, she made two crossings. Her crew was made up of men from Walton-on-the-Naze and Frinton-on-Sea under British Naval command. On her first trip, she was used to ferry soldiers off the beaches to larger ships waiting offshore. She was badly damaged by machine gun fire and a rope became wrapped around her propeller. She was towed back to England stern first. On her second trip, she was hit by shellfire and extensively damaged.


      29 May 1941


             6 June 1947


      19 June 1947


            16 June 1947

A similar Lifeboat at Rowhedge 1940s




Launched 18 April 1950 by Mrs Warwick Bailey, wife of the Mayor of Colchester, Councillor The Rev Warwick Bailey HCF. 

Dumb ladder steam bucket dredger “Colne Dredger” at Hythe Quay 30/6/1978. Retired 1990.

Built: The Rowhedge Ironworks Co. Ltd., No.719/1950

Inverted vertical cpd (sv) engine by same builders, c7”xc14”x14”. E719 (believed built 1901 & installed s/h). [? does this stand for second-hand?]

Coal fired boiler by Alex Anderson & Sons Ltd., Motherwell. 130lbs/0” w.p. Side “blister” for condensing.

27 buckets of 3.3 cu ft. @ about 25 per minute.

Handwritten notes on reverse of photo.


THE TIMES - Wednesday 10 September 1924 - "NEWS IN BRIEF - The Rowhedge Iron Works Company Limited, of Colchester, has secured important contracts from the Sudan Government, the Thames Conservancy Board, and the Government of the West Coast of Africa. The orders will give full employment to a large body of workmen for the next six months."


ASKADIL - 8 ton auxiliary Bermudan cutter yacht seen here at Rowhedge in 1953


Official Number: 167386, built 1933, registry closed 1944.

National Archives: BT 110/1262/30.

Launch of tug Newberry at Rowhedge


London Belle was built by Rowhedge Ironworks in 1948 for Alfred Crouch. 65 feet long and diesel-powered with twin screws, she was re-engined and converted to a single screw in 1972. In 1980 she passed to George Wheeler Launches, and c.1987 to Campion Launches. In 2003 she was sold to London Party Boats ( and is their sole vessel in 2006. []


CORSAIR - 1958


ALBERT – Admiralty cutter, built 1910 by Rowhedge Ironworks. 35ft. Engine: Compound 4¾” + 9” x 5”. Engine built 1910 by T. & J. Hosking Ltd, at Bermondsey. Awaiting full restoration.

WROXHAM BELLE at Rowhedge 1936

Thames Tugs website - VAGOBuilt 1939 by Rowhedge Ironworks Co Ltd., Rowhedge. YN 569. L40.3'. B13.1'. D4.9'. 17grt. Diesel engine. ON167167.

1939 Delivered to Union Lighterage Co Ltd., London. 1976 Owners Lambert Barge Hire Ltd., London.

War Office Tug AS 157

War Office Tug AS 157, one of the first tugs to leave Rowhedge. For Royal Engineers, Marine Section, Poplar.

Rowhedge Sternwheeler
Probably from the ENGINEER 1950



Details extracted from our book on BP Tankers

O.N. 187507. 489g. 212n. 500d. 159' 9" x 27' 10" x 12' 0¼"
Post 1961: 522g. 246n. 696d. 181’ 0” x 27’ 7” x 11’ 7”
6-cyl. 2 S.C.S.A. (250 x 420mm) oil engine manufactured by British Polar Engines Ltd., Glasgow. 560 bhp.
Coastal oil products tanker.
6.9.1956: Launched by Rowhedge Ironworks Company Ltd., Rowhedge (Yard No. 840), for National Benzole Company Ltd., London.
17.12.1956: Completed.
1959: Sold to Shell-Mex & BP Ltd.
1961: Lengthened.
1972: Sold to Woodward’s Oil Ltd., Goose Bay, Labrador, retaining London registry.
1973: Renamed TANA WOODWARD.
1976: Sold to Coastal Shipping Ltd., St Johns NF. 6.1986: Laid-up with surveys overdue.
1987: Sold for demolition.

O.N. 181777. 410g. 184n. 390d. 145' 0" x 25' 0" x 11' 5"
6-cyl. 2 S.C.S.A. (245 x 420mm) oil engine manufactured by British Polar Engines Ltd., Glasgow.
Coastal oil products tanker.
11.1947: Completed by Rowhedge Ironworks Company Ltd., Rowhedge (Yard No. 675), for National Benzole Company Ltd.
1959: Sold to Shell-Mex & BP Ltd.
1965: Sold to Penfolds Builders Merchants Ltd., converted into a gravel dredger, and renamed PEN ITCHEN.
1966: Sold to Seaborne Aggregate Company Ltd.
1968: Sold to Fleetwood Sand & Fravel Company.
1975: Sold to Kingston Minerals Ltd.
1976: Demolition commenced at Fleetwood by Mayer, Newman & Company Ltd.

O.N. 184473. 446g. 197n. 510d. 160' 0" x 27' 7" x 11' 10"
Post 1961: 522g. 246n. 696d. 181’ 0” x 27’ 7” x 11’ 7”
6-cyl. 2 S.C.S.A. (250 x 420mm) oil engines manufactured by British Polar Engines Ltd., Glasgow. 560 bhp.
Coastal oil products tanker.
21.5.1951: Launched by Charles Hill & Sons Ltd., Bristol (Yard No. 373), for National Benzole Company Ltd.
7.1951: Completed.
1959: Sold to Shell-Mex & BP Ltd.
1961: Lengthened.
1972: Sold to Ball & Plumb Shipping Company Ltd., Gravesend, and renamed SPIRIT CARRIER II.
1975: Sold to E. W. Tankers Ltd., Gravesend.
1976: Sold to J. P. Knight (London) Ltd., and renamed KINGSTHORPE for use as a mooring hulk.
1986: Sold for demolition.

O.N. 184701. 325g. 162n. 322d. 136' 0" x 26' 1" x 7' 6¾"
4-cyl. 2 S.C.S.A. (250 x 420mm) M441 type oil engine manufactured by British Polar Engines Ltd., Glasgow. 310 bhp.
Coastal oil products tanker.
22.5.1952: Launched by Rowhedge Ironworks Company Ltd., Rowhedge (Yard No. 742), for National Benzole Company Ltd., London.
4.9.1952: Completed.
1959: Sold to Shell-Mex & BP Ltd., London.
1975: Transferred to BP Oil Ltd.
1976: Renamed BP ZEST.
1980: Sold to Gamma Navigation Company, Greece, and renamed GAMMA.
1982: Renamed DOXA.
1989: Vera Shipping Company Ltd., appointed as managers.
1994: Owners deleted.
1996: Sold to Thalassopouli Maritime Company, Piraeus, and renamed VASOULA.
Still listed in Lloyd’s Register 2003/04.

O.N. 163694. 377g. 168n. 350d. 142' 0" x 25' 1" x 11' 6"
Two, 5-cyl. 2 S.C.S.A. (280 x 335mm) oil engines manufactured by L. Gardner & Sons Ltd., Manchester.
Coastal oil products tanker.
10.1933: Completed by Rowhedge Ironworks Company Ltd., Rowhedge (Yard No. 5484), for National Benzole Company Ltd.
1959: Sold to Shell-Mex & BP Ltd. thence for demolition.


THE TIMES - Friday 25 August 1933 - "TANKER FOR MOTOR SPIRIT FROM BRITISH COAL - A tanker, built as the result of the growing demand for motor spirit produced from British coal, was launched at Rowhedge, near Colchester, yesterday.
The launching ceremony was performed by Mrs. R. Sherwin, daughter of Mr. Samuel Henshaw, chairman of the National Benzole Company. The tanker is the m.v. Ben Henshaw, and is the largest and fastest of the National Benzole fleet.
The vessel is 350 tons and fitted with two Diesel-electric engines. The electric equipment, machinery, and fittings are all flame and explosion proof. There are two automatic pumps, each capable of pumping 30,000 gallons of spirit an hour, and an electric urn to provide hot drinks in port during discharging and loading where no naked lights are allowed.
The hull of the vessel, as well as her machinery and equipment, are of British materials throughout and her construction has given much work at Rowhedge for about six months."

O.N. 166438. 228g. 100n. 240d. 118' 0" x 22' 8" x 9' 3½"
7-cyl. 2 S.C.S.A. (180 x 300mm) Polar type oil engine manufactured by British Auxiliaries Ltd., Glasgow.
Powered tank barge.
4.1938: Completed by Rowhedge Ironworks Company Ltd., Rowhedge (Yard No. 561), for National Benzole Company Ltd.
1959: Sold to Shell-Mex & BP Ltd.
1964: Sold to John P. Katsoulakos, Greece, and renamed VARKIZA.
Due to small size and type of this vessel no further details have been recorded.


THE TIMES - Friday 18 March 1938 - "OTHER LAUNCHES - ... The coastal tanker Ben Jonson (sic), built for the National Benzole Company, was launched at Rowhedge, near Colchester, yesterday, by Mrs. Geoffrey R. Dixon."

O.N. 164497. 147g. 48n. 140d. 95' 0" x 19' 1" x 8' 6"
5-cyl. 2 S.C.S.A. (180 x 300mm) Polar type oil engine manufactured by British Auxiliaries Ltd., Glasgow.
Powered tank barge.
7.1935: Completed by Rowhedge Ironworks Company Ltd., Rowhedge (Yard No. 509), for National Benzole Company Ltd.
1959: Sold to Shell-Mex & BP Ltd.
Due to small size and type of this vessel no further details have been recorded.

O.N. 162656. 289g. 161n. 320d. 136' 6" x 25' 0" x 7' 9½"
5-cyl. 2 S.C.S.A. (280 x 335mm) oil engine manufactured by Norris, Henty & Gardner Ltd., Manchester.
Powered tank barge.
11.1931: Completed by Rowhedge Ironworks Company Ltd., Rowhedge, for National Benzole Company Ltd.
1959: Sold to Shell-Mex & BP Ltd.
1959: Sold for demolition.


Esterel was launched in 1941 by the Rowhedge Ironworks as the coastal tanker Empire Garnet and completed as Empire Ned for the Ministry of War Transport. After WW2 she was sold as Esso Suwanee but later converted to dry cargo. She subsequently had no less than nine names, spending only 1966-1968 as the Panamanian Esterel, and finally disappearing from view in the 1990s


C.653 - Admiralty lube-oil tanker.

The 197grt lubricating oil tanker C.653 was built in 1948 by the Rowhedge Ironworks, Essex. She remained with the Admiralty until sold in 1968.


Hythe Ferry website and

Hotspur II was built in 1932 by the Rowhedge Ironworks. She was 56 ft long, 17ft wide and 6ft in depth, carrying 300 passengers, and ran until  from 1936 to 1978, when she was sold to Clyde owners as the Kenilworth where she still operates. Hotspur III was similar to Hotspur II, again a product of the Rowhedge Ironworks. They also built the Hotspur IV in 1946, which was larger at 64 ft long and 350 passengers (now 300). Hotspur II and Hotspur III were re-engined with Gardner diesels, similar to those in Hotspur IV, in 1949. Hotspur III was broken up in 1981. All three ships were re-engined again between 1968 and 1971 with more powerful Kelvin diesels, increasing the speed of Hotspur IV from 8.5 to 9.5 knots. Her dimensions are 65ft x 19ft x 6ft. Net tonnage 23, gross tonnage 54. Licensed to carry 350 passengers. She still operates.


Built 1946 by Rowhedge Ironworks Ltd.,  Rowhedge. YN674. L64'. B16.2'. D5.6'. 50grt. 295bhp 4cyl British Polar M441 diesel engine. 7.5bhp Ruston Hornsby auxiliary diesel driving compressor and salvage pump. Bunkers 1500gals. ON181555.

1946 Delivered to John Hawkins Ltd., London. 1970 Sold to M Tugs Ltd., London. 1970 Owners Darling Bros Ltd., London, renamed Arthur Darling. 1977 Believed sold to Kuwait owners.

Vessels listed on the National Historic Ships UK website
Rowhedge Ironworks - Items recently for sale online
Half-hull models made at Rowhedge Ironworks by Peter Simons
Nos. S.542-7
Shipyard Corner 1989

BUTTERCUP - Transatlantic Voyage

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Colne Dredger at Brightlingsea

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