Duke of Edinburgh visits the world's oldest complete steamship

News Release: June 2013 

His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh visited the world’s oldest complete steamship on 5th June 2013, forty years after he started the campaign to save her for the nation. Prince Philip unveiled a plaque to inaugurate SS Robin’s new permanent home in Royal Victoria Dock, Newham, just a mile from her original birthplace on the River Lea where she was built at the famous Thames Ironworks Shipyard - home of West Ham United - in 1890.

The visit marks the start of the final phase of an extensive 5 year, £3m restoration of East London’s most famous ship, which has been supported by thousands of volunteers, friends and contractors since the charity originally bought the ship from Cutty Sark for £1 in 2001. This final phase of restoration work – known as ‘Open Doors’ has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and the London Borough of Newham and is intended to be completed in 2014, when SS Robin will open to the public.

SS Robin is one of only three ‘Core Collection’ ships of the National Historic Fleet in London, alongside her better known sister ships Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast. David Kampfner, CEO & Co-Founder of SS Robin Trust, commented:  “She’s a true London icon, symbolising the spirit of engineering, innovation, technology and true grit which made - and continues to make - the East End great.”  

“HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was instrumental in saving SS Robin in the early 1970s when she was close to the end of her working life. If it had not been for HRH’s original campaign to preserve her from the scrapyard, she would have been lost for ever. Thanks to Prince Philip’s efforts over many decades to save and support this illustrious vessel, we’re pleased to say that SS Robin will soon be open for all to enjoy, and we’re delighted that as the Trust’s Honorary Member HRH made an official visit to see her at her new home in London’s Royal Docks.” 

Newham’s elected Mayor Sir Robin Wales sees SS Robin as a fitting symbol for the transformation of East London. “The permanent mooring of this iconic ship is adding another exciting dimension to the transformation of Newham. London is moving east and there is huge potential here for investment, growth and greater prosperity. The Royals are where London’s future essential economic growth can truly thrive. They used to be the largest enclosed docks in the world, the engine room of Victorian Britain. Thanks to their redevelopment, they are once again becoming London’s gateway, the forefront of the capital’s regeneration. How fitting therefore that SS Robin - one of the most powerful symbols of our most enterprising ancestors - should be permanently moored in one of London’s most dynamic new quarters.”

Sir Robin added: “East London is the future of this great capital and this magnificent and irreplaceable ship is a symbol of the Docks’ powerful resurgence. For centuries London’s East End has been one of the poorest areas in Europe. The Docks represent a crucial part of the borough’s physical and social regeneration.”

During World War I, SS Robin carried iron slabs for the French government from the foundry at Santiago to Bayonne and Burdeos, escorted by two destroyers to protect her from German U-boats. During the Spanish Civil War the ship was laid up at San Esteban de Pravia from 1935 to 1939. Thousands of such vessels would have made up the Thames riverscape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries…today SS Robin is the only one of her type remaining in the world, and the Royal Docks is proud to offer her a fitting home.