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Site of the launch ways of the SS Great Eastern

A Scheduled Monument in Island Gardens, Tower Hamlets

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.4878 / 51°29'15"N

Longitude: -0.0215 / 0°1'17"W

OS Eastings: 537464.333346

OS Northings: 178390.812757

OS Grid: TQ374783

Mapcode National: GBR K5.Z51

Mapcode Global: VHGR1.LV0V

Entry Name: Site of the launch ways of the SS Great Eastern

Scheduled Date: 31 July 2015

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1423608

County: Tower Hamlets

Electoral Ward/Division: Island Gardens

Built-Up Area: Tower Hamlets

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Christ Church Isle of Dogs

Church of England Diocese: London

Summary

The site of launch ways, constructed in 1857 for the sideways launch of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's SS Great Eastern, into the River Thames.

All above-ground buildings (including basements) and structures (including Masthouse Terrace Pier), walls, railings, street furniture, retaining infrastructure and paved, tarmacked, or otherwise finished, surfaces, are excluded from the scheduling except where they form part of the launch ways.

Source: Historic England

Details

The scheduled area has been identified as the location of the launch ways of the SS Great Eastern, based on remains of the lower ends of the launch ways visible on the foreshore at low tide, together with exposed timbers of the south launch way - preserved and monumentalised, to the south-east of Napier Avenue - and the known dimensions of the structures. On the foreshore remains of the concrete beds cast around the launch way piles, and some of the pile heads, are evident.

The exposed part of the south launch way comprises an area of approximately 850 square metres, in which there are regular rows of exposed pile heads. Laid across these are horizontal timbers, running parallel to the river; most appear original but some are known to have been replaced. The incline of the launch way can be seen in the height of the piles stepping down towards the river. In one small area all three crossing layers of the horizontal timber lattice work which formed the deck of the launch way can be seen.

The area around this exposed section of launch way has been landscaped to accommodate the lower ground level of the monument, with the highest timbers being approximately 1.2m below the surrounding ground level. The documented dimensions of the launch ways would mean that the southern launch way extended further towards Napier Avenue to the north-west, and beneath Burrells Wharf to the south-east, than is evident in the visible fabric. However, as the land slopes up gently towards the north-west, the lack of visible fabric suggests that not only has the timber lattice work been removed from this part of the launch way, but that the heads of the piles have been cut back. The level of loss across other sections of both launch ways is unknown, but it is expected that, even if reduced in height, the piling will survive extensively beneath ground level. The area between the launch ways is included in the scheduling to allow for a margin of error in the position of the launch ways; because of the archaeological potential of this area in relation to the building of the ship; and to aid in the proper protection of the monument.

EXCLUSIONS
All above-ground buildings (including basements) and structures (including Masthouse Terrace Pier), walls, railings, street furniture, retaining infrastructure and paved, tarmacked, or otherwise finished, surfaces, are excluded from the scheduling except where they form part of the launch ways.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The site of the launch ways of the SS Great Eastern, constructed in 1857 for the sideways launch of the ship into the River Thames at Millwall, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: constructed for the launch of the SS Great Eastern, Brunel's most audacious (and last) ship-building project, the launch ways are a tangible connection to this remarkable undertaking and were a key aspect of the launch, which in itself presented Brunel with a major technical challenge;
* Archaeological potential: the likelihood of the launch ways, and fabric associated with their and the ship's construction being preserved as buried remains, is high;
* Rarity: representing one of the few remains of the commercial ship-building industry on the Thames, before its terminal decline in the second half of the C19;
* Documentation: the size and construction of the launch ways themselves is well documented, and the public spectacle of the ship's construction has resulted in a wealth of written and photographic records, bolstering our understanding of its cultural significance;
* Group value: in forming part of an enclave of other designated buildings and structures originally belonging to the Millwall Iron Works; a site central to iron ship-building on the Thames, and synonymous with the names of great mid-C19 iron ship-builders, including John Scott Russell, builder of the SS Great Eastern.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Brindle, S, Cruickshank, D, Brunel: The Man Who Built the World, (2005)
Rolt, L T C, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, (1957), 304-386
Hobhouse, H, 'Drunken Dock and the Land of Promise' in Hobhouse, H, The Survey of London: volumes 43 and 44: Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (1994), 466-480
Hickman, K, 'Brunel's "Great Eastern" Steamship the Launch Fiasco - An Investigation' in Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology Journal, (2005), 37-43
Other
Masthouse Terrace, Isle of Dogs, An Archaeological and Geoarchaeological Evaluation by the Museum of London Archaeology Service, November 1995

Source: Historic England

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