In pictures: London’s most incredible historical ships


Get out your gangplanks and commandeer these epic London boats

There’s a reason why London grew to become the largest city in Britain, and that reason is: boats.

Today it’s easy to forget that London was built for boating. Most of the large shipping industry has been relocated further down the Thames. But historically, the Port of London has been a crucial part of London’s economy ever since the Roman city was founded in the first century.

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, while the industrial revolution and international imperialism was in full swing, London boasted the largest port in the world.

Now, London can boast only the UK’s second largest port, after, ahem, Felixstowe.

Second place we may be, but we still have some pretty epic boats. Let’s have a look at London’s marvellous boats.

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark at sea

The Cutty Sark in full sail. The photograph was taken by Captain Woodget, who lashed two boats together to balance his camera

Named after a scantily-clad witch’s outfit from a Robert Burns poem, the Cutty Sark was one of the last tea clippers built in Britain, and was one of the fastest. In fact, even after the dawn of the steamship, the Cutty Sark was so well-built that in 1889, the log book of the SS Britannia reports that while chugging along at 15 knots, she was overtaken in the night by a sail ship doing 17 knots – which turned out to be the Cutty Sark.

Despite being ravaged by fire in 2007, an extensive restoration project has preserved the Cutty Sark, and the boat can still be visited in Greenwich.


HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

Noah’s Ark?

Moored near Tower Bridge, the mighty guns of the HMS Belfast are an imposing sight. HMS Belfast was built in, yep, Belfast, and launched on St. Patrick’s Day 1938. It is now a floating branch of London’s Imperial War Museum. When she was first built, the HMS Belfast was also a kind of air carrier, with two sea-planes that could be catapulted from the deck into the sky, and she was also capable of a pretty impressive 32 knots.


The Golden Hind

Golden Hind

The Golden Hind, in Southwark

Ok, so it’s not the Golden Hind, but it’s pretty damn good replica of Francis Drake’s world-circumnavigation-vessel. When Drake set out on his trip round the world, the boat began the journey named The Pelican. But Drake renamed her the Golden Hind during the voyage. After Drake’s famous journey, the ship was kept for public exhibition in Deptford, near Greenwich, but unfortunately, rotted away after about a hundred years.

The current Golden Hind replica has a robust history of its own though, with a full circumnavigation of the world under her belt as well as several film credits. She can be seen at St Mary Overie Dock on Cathedral Street, Southwark.


The Nore Lightship

Lightship Nore

If you can’t build a lighthouse, then moor a lightship in the sea instead. That was Robert Hamblin’s idea in 1732, when he came up with the idea to protect ships from the Nore sandbank, which is where the North Sea meets the Thames.

This example of a Nore lightship, the LV (Light Vessel) 86, was built in 1931, and used in the Thames Estuary until 1974.

Today she floats in St. Katherine’s Dock where she serves as an exhibit. Be sure to check out the massive revolving lantern.


Munkebo Maersk

Maersk 2

The Munkebo Maersk docks at the Port of London

Ok, so this one’s not really a London ship, as it is still an ocean-going freight liner, but earlier this year, the Munkebo Maersk hit headlines for becoming the largest ship to ever enter London.

It’s pretty large, weighing in at 200,000 tonnes and stretching to the size of about four football pitches.

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