Shipbuilders flourished during the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars when the Royal Dockyards could not keep pace with orders for new ships. The first shipyard at Gravesend was established by William Cleverly in 1780, then eight years later Thomas Pitcher opened another yard nearby in Northfleet. They built wooden sailing ships for the Royal Navy and the East and West India Companies.
Pitcher’s sons, William and Henry, launched their first wooden steam ship, Cleopatra, in 1839. They went on to build and repair Royal Mail Steam Packets until 1854, then they built 54 gunboats for Admiralty use in the Crimea, employing around 2000 men. This was their last major order and the yard closed in 1860. William Pitcher Built a grand gateway to the shipyard, reputedly with stone from London Bridge. Plans to build docks at Northfleet were abandoned. Tilbury docks , on the opposite bank of the river, were opened in 1886.
“Gravesend Library has a large collection of books and other materials on all aspects of the Thames in its Thames Collection (which is part of the Local History collection). Please ask staff for details.”