Home » Dock Life » Eric Pemberton’s Postcard’s – The Launch of HMS Thunderer 1911

Eric Pemberton’s Postcard’s – The Launch of HMS Thunderer 1911


The Launch of the HMS Thunderer

Once again Eric Pemberton has sent a couple of fascinating postcards, these feature  the launching of the HMS Thunderer from the Thames Ironworks shipyard in 1911.

thunderer - Copy

HMS Thunderer was the last Royal Navy ship to be built on the Thames  and was  the last major ship built by the Thames Ironworks. For this reason the ship has a special place in the history of Thames shipbuilding.

At the time the ship was one of the largest battleships in the Royal Navy being one of the Orion class (super-Dreadnoughts)  weighing 22,000 tons.

The ship fought at the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. At the end of the war, she became a cadet training ship , then the vessel was sold and broken up in 1926.

A Daily Mail report of the launch marvels at the smoothness of the launch and skill of the shipbuilders.


In the whole history of giant ship building no launch has ever been more skilfully planned or more successfully carried out than the launch of the Thunderer at Canning Town yesterday afternoon (says the Daily Mail). It was arranged that at seventeen minutes past three the huge bulk should begin to move. Just as the hand of the clock reached the quarter Mrs Randall Davidson, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury, with one smart cut severed a red, white and blue rope and released the last dogshore. A great block weighing eight hundred weight fell and the vessel was free of all impediment.

Every eye watched her closely, ‘She’s moving!’ the ‘ cry went up. Then she stopped, moved again, stopped again, and at 3.17 exactly began to slide with slow majesty towards the water. It was an amazingly impressive sight. The ship looked so enormous that it had been hard to realise she could move at all. When she did, how could she be controlled? .Would she not break away and play havoc with staging, derrick-poles and every thing? No, when she did move she moved with dignified deliberation, as if she knew exactly what she was doing. One  watched, fascinated. One felt almost as if some great convulsion of nature were taking place. With marvellous precision she glided on, scarcely quickening her pace at all.

 The Thunderer’s Doves.

Forty tons of grease, at £16 a ton, had been put down to ease her progress. All the ingenuity and experience of Mr Clement Mackrow and his assistants in the designing department had been brought to bear on the problem of getting her safely into the water. They had laid their plans well. Without a jerk, without a ‘ quiver, without a hitch, she slipped down the 500 ft. incline and was in the river before we had recovered from the shock of seeing her begin to move.

There was, of course, tremendous cheering. The whole neighbourhood was black with people. Special trains and motor-coaches had brought two thousand guests. East London made it a holiday and crowded every possible point of vantage. It was a mighty shout that, went up. In the excitement hats were waved wildly, handkerchiefs fluttered, caps flung into the air. Small cannon fired a  salute, A band played the National Anthem. And from a big coloured paper lantern hung on the bows a host of doves escaped, a pretty Japanese ‘custom which the Thames Ironworks  did well to copy.

In the river the Thunderer looked even more imposing and more vast than she did in the yard. Her immensely powerful bows were now for the first time properly seen. No  time was lost in attaching tugs and  she was soon towed away. For the next twelve months she will be at Dagenham, further down the river, in process of completion.

Thunderer_previewnewham heritage services

The Launch (Newham Heritage Services)

Mr  Hill’s Wish.

 There, was a short service before  Mrs Davidson cut the cord and broke the customary bottle of champagne, and after the launch there were some speeches in the tea tent. Mr Arnold Hills, chairman of the  Thames Ironworks, welcomed the guests from his invalid chair, and he was cheered loudly by the work people as he went about in the chair in the yard. Everyone admired the pluck and determination of this  keen- eyed, fresh-faced man with the neatly-clipped, grey beard who manages the affairs of a great company although he cannot move hand or foot. . The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of Mr Hills in touching terms when he replied on behalf of the guests, who included Mr McKenna, First Lord of the Admiralty ; Mr Lewis Harcourt, Mr Sydney Buxton, the Lord Mayor, and many of the mayors of London boroughs. Telegrams wishing ‘good luck’ to  the Thunderer were received from Mr Balfour, Lord Landsdowne, and Lord Crewe.

‘Well,’ said Mr. Hills, when it was all was over and he was preparing, to go back to Sunningdale in his special train, ‘it has all gone off admirably, I am thankful to say. and now there’s only one thing I want. That is another battleship to build in Canning Town. If perseverance can get it, Mr Hills will not remain long unfulfilled.

Unfortunately Mr Hills wish was not fulfilled and the launch was the beginning of the end for the world famous shipyard, it had struggled to find finance to finish the Thunderer and in 1912 it finally admitted defeat and went into bankruptcy .

Other Posts you may find interesting

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – The Battle of Stepney

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Victoria Park

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Seamens Missions

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – The London Hospital

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards Poplar and East India Dock Road

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Isle of Dogs 2

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Isle of Dogs

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Limehouse

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