Frequently asked questions
about the SS Robin story
Q. Why is SS Robin significant?
A . Because she's the last remaining steamcoaster in the world, and an extremely important example of her once numerous type which evolved during the nineteenth century. She's listed on the Core Collection of the UK National Historic Ships Register, and is as significant historically as sister ships such as Cutty Sark, Belfast and Great Britain. Steamcoasters such as Robin were designed as a result of the development of steam boilers, screw propulsion and the triple expansion engine. These technological improvements hugely affected the British merchant service previously ruled by sail.
Q. When was she built?
A. In 1890 - she still has the original engine that was fitted in that year. So she is now 120 years old, and amazingly was operational for more than 80 of these - a testament to the power of steam.
Q. What was her purpose?
A. As a small coastal steamer she was an important part of the transport system, and a cornerstone of the industrial revolution, taking essential supplies from port to port before the widespread development of rail and road.
Q. Who built her?
A. The construction was by a short-lived small firm, Mackenzie and McAlpine which leased land from the famous Thames Ironworks on the River Lea in Bow Creek, East London. Thames Ironworks were also the shipbuilders responsible for HMS Warrior - their works football team eventually became West Ham United - aka the Hammers.
Q. Where did she steam to in the early years when she was British owned?
A. All around the coast of the British Isles and the English Channel - the Trust has an extensive archive which shows that she visited about 140 ports in that time. Perhaps she came to your area? We would love to have more information about her cargoes.
Q. How has she managed to survive?
A. Possibly because she spent much of her life in Spain, where under the name of Maria, she made a valuable contribution to industry and trade along the northern Spanish coast from Bilbao to Gijon. In the 1970s the Maritime Trust set about trying to build a collection of the British historic fleet. It was becoming eveident that many such small coasters had already been scrapped, and the search was one for an excellent example of these important vessels to conserve for future generations. The Trust discovered that Maria too was about to be broken up and rescued her for this purpose.
Q. What became of her when she was brought back from Spain?
A. She was initially restored and placed in the maritime collection in St. Katherine Docks by the Tower of London, but lack of funding and years of neglect since then have taken their toll. In 1991 she was moved to West India Dock and mothballed, falling into disrepair over the next ten years. In 2002 she was given a new lease of life - her ownership was transferred to the SS Robin Trust.
Q. What is her purpose now?
A. To survive as a rare example of steam transport she needed to be self-supporting. From 2002 the Trust and its volunteer team set about an internal restoration which enable a pilot programme of workshops and exhibitions. Popular visual literacy workshops with local schools and community groups operated within her cargo hold from 2003-2007, when the ship closed for structural repairs. As a result of a funding package secured from Crossrail, the vessel was towed to drydock in Lowestoft, Suffolk in May 2008.
Q. Can we visit?
A. At the moment SS Robin is undergoing an extensive restoration programme and is closed to visitors for safety reasons. However we aim to return to London in 2011 and will be open again once the final fit-out is complete. Keep in touch with us by subscribing to the mailing list - we'll let you know progress as we approach our relaunch date.