Platt’s Eyot is an island on the River Thames at Hampton, in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. The name of the island is derived from Platt of Molesey who used it for growing withers. Boatbuilding began on the island in 1868, when Thomas Tagg, who had been running a business since 1841 on Tagg’s Island, about 1 km downstream, expanded by building a boatyard and house on the eastern end of Platt’s Eyot. A waterworks and electrical works with a charging station were also constructed on the island; the latter was used to power electrically powered pleasure launches and canoes that were built on the island. During the First World War, in 1916 the Admiralty commissioned a new type of fast torpedo-carrying motor launch which Thornycroft constructed secretly in its Platt’s Eyot facility.
Four new boat sheds were constructed on the island, probably in the same year (though the date is disputed by some), to a design by Augustine Alban Hamilton Scott. They were built using the Belfast truss system, developed during the First World War to roof wide structures such as aircraft hangars. Very few boat sheds were constructed using the technique, and these examples were listed and inspected by Historic England. During the Second World War, the boatyard was used to construct motor torpedo boats. On 3 May 2021 a large fire consumed the ex-industrial boat sheds. Prior to the fire, H+R were instructed to assess and record the structures on the island for their construction and condition and to make recommendations for their conservation. H+R’s constructional analysis of the now lost boat sheds remain an important source of constructional data for this key piece of lost heritage.
H+R carried out detailed investigations of the historic boatyards and their associated houses. Remaining roof, floors and lintel timbers were assessed for their construction, condition and remaining lifespan. Additionally, survey packages were carried out on external masonry façade conditions, as well as rainwater drainage goods and cladding. H+R were then able to offer detailed scope of works for each distinct building so that the maximum amount of historic fabric may be conserved during the planned refurbishment phases.
How we solved the problem
Although the May 2021 fire and its consequent destruction of multiple historic boatyard buildings and slipways was deeply saddening, and a genuine national loss, it was fortuitous that only weeks earlier, H+R had carried out in depth surveys of the structures. The information from which now remain key points of reference and source material should these impressive structures ever receive the funding for like-for-like rebuilding. Happily, not all was lost to the fire, and the remaining H+R surveys carried out continue to be invaluable documents to the refurbishment and maintenance teams in safeguarding the properties against future damp and decay issues and preserving the remarkable history of this island.