Thames ironworks, 1907-09
Ship hulls visible under construction in the background. ID no. IN269
Each link of this iron chain is 210mm in length, making it the largest object that we put into the exhibition. It created quite a challenge for our conservators. The corroding iron needs a lot of care and attention, particularly to ensure that the case in which it was going to be displayed was kept at a constant temperature and humidity. In the exhibition you may have seen that in some cases there are small white monitors. These are displaying the temperature and humidity and help our conservators to keep an eye on how the environment in the case is.
I really wanted this object in the exhibition, partly because of its size, but also because of its association with the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company by Leamouth to the east of London. The chain was found by a slipway from where ships built by the Ironworks were launched. Chains like this would have been used to slow down the ships’ progress as they went down the slip and into the water.
It was here at the Ironworks, during just such a launch that one of the worst peacetime tragedies on the river Thames occurred. During the launch of the HMS Albion in 1898, a large wave washed back onto the shore, drowning 38 people. Astonishingly, the disaster was captured on film, and can be watched online.