When John Isaac Thornycroft was building small fast lanches and torpedo boats at Church Wharf at the end of Chiswick Mall, sailing barges were bringing coal and other commodities to unload at the draw dock nearby, Horse drawn carriages and wagons travelled the rutted country roads, through the fields and market gardens which separated old Chiswick village from the George the Fourth Inn and in 1882 horse drawn trams were started from Hammersmith to Kew Bridge. In those days there was no electricity for light or power.
Shipbuilding took place to the east of Dukes Meadows at Church Wharf Chiswick
Launch of H.M.S. Speedy, 18th May 1893
Against this background Thornycroft shipbuilding started in 1864 when John Thornycroft's father, Thomas Thronycroft, bought some land adjacent to Chesterman's boat building yard at Church Wharf for his son to build boats. In 1866 they took over Chesterman's yard completely.
In the early 1890's a number of 810 ton torpedo gunboats, fitted with locomotive boilers, were built for the British Admiralty by other shipbuilders. Thornycroft had recognised that locomotive boilers were not good enough for the necessary increase in power and pressures, which led to dangerous leaks of steam. The only torpedo gunboat built at Chiswick was H.M.S. Speedy, and for this vessel Thornycroft designed an entirely new type of water tube boiler, which was not only safer but also gave one knot additional speed,.She was launched on the 18th May 1893 by Lady Hamilton, wife of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Sadly she was sunk by a mine in the North Sea in September 1914.
H.M.S. Daring built in 1893
Owing to the introduction of water tube boilers the speed of torpedo boats had been greatly increased, but the heavier torpedo gunboats remained about 20 knots, and could not be described as torpedo boat catchers. This led to the development of faster torpedo boat destroyers. Thornycroft designed a special light weight water tube boiler which was used in two fast ships of only 185 ft, H.M.S.Daring and H.M.S. Decoy. These were the first torpedo boats destroyers, specifically designed to protect our battleships. The Daring was in service until 1912, but her sister ship, Decoy, was lost in a collision in 1904.
Launching ceremonies at Chiswick were great social occasions, and large crowds of spectators used to gather on the Surrey bank. Furthermore many small rowing boats crowded the river and some of their owners tried to seize floating wood before it could be retrieved by the shipwrights.
The success of these pioneer destroyers led the Admiralty to stipulate a speed of 30 knots, and Thornycroft's built H.M.S. Desperate in 1895, followed by H.M.S. Fame, Foam, Mallard, Angler and Ariel in 1896. Four more destroyers were built in 1898 for the British Admiralty, including H.M.S.Albatross, a special ship having an increased length of 227 ft. and a speed of 31.5 knots. This speed was not exceeded until the introduction of steam turbine engines in 1898 by Sir Charles Parsons (1854-1931).
Church Wharf in 1896 H.M.S. Angler fitting out
The increased draught of the river class destroyers accentuated the difficulties caused by building such large ships above the London bridges. All superstructures such as masts,funnels etc, had to be removed and refitted at Greenhithe. Hammersmith Bridge was particularly difficult and had to be negotiated at mid tide - at low tide they were likely to get stuck in the mud and at high tide they could not get through the arches.
It was therefore decided to transfer the Thornycroft Shipbuilding Works to Woolston near Southhampton. This move was completed in June 1904 after which the Chiswick yard was gradually run down.
The Thornycroft sheds were taken over by Gwynne's Works. They made pumps and the Albert car and in World War 1, aero engines. The original sheds were destroyed by fire from incendiary bombs in World War 2. The site Thornycrofts Works is now occupied by dwelling houses built in 1982/3, and by warehouses fronting the river.
Copyright © 2016 Dukes Meadows Park all rights reserved
Photos open in new window
The Thornycroft name has been associated with shipbuilding, marine engineering and other activities for well over a century. However, there are many people living today who can remember when the Thornycroft company, despite its mainstream nautical activities, was once a notable manufacturer of commercial and military vehicles - a time when Thornycroft vehicles could be seen going about their daily duties as a matter of routine. Less well-known is Thornycroft's brief foray into car manufacturing, when, from 1903 to 1912, the firm produced high-quality cars at its Basingstoke factory.
Yachtsman's Cup (Handicap) Cork, July 12. 
Back in the UK 2015 is now being restored
The Thornycroft Company Car Manufacturing
Link Copyright hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk