It is difficult to imagine now, but in the early years of the last century, when the tide was right, water traffic on the Thames was disrupted while a new large torpedo boat or destroyer, without masts, funnels or most of the upper-works was towed downstream from Thornycroft’s yard at Chiswick. Carefully manouvered under the many bridges, often with only inches to spare, they were destined for the firm’s wharf at Greenhithe, for completion and fitting out. This would be followed by speed tests along the “measured mile” to check that the vessel met the order specification, or sometimes – cause for celebration – exceeded it!!
One gets the impression that the directors and workforce at Chiswick were a happy team. John Thornycroft’s brother represented Britain in the Olympic Games . (in the motor boat racing event!) and there was almost a holiday atmosphere among the apprentices and young employees, when travelling to Greenhithe to complete a vessel.
This all changed when the increasing size of destroyers required by the RN, the need for new capital and the removal of the business to Southampton caused the firm to reconstruct as a public company, under the chairmanship of the austere William Beardmore.
High rates, material costs and wages had caused the rival firm of Yarrow to leave the Thames for the Clyde a couple of years earlier. At Chiswick. Thornycroft’s built not only vessels for the British and foreign navies, but civilian craft, for example steam lifeboats and shallow draft lake and river steamers which were exported as “kits” for customers to assemble at destination Tables give details of naval vessels built.
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