Construction

(The material on this page has been provided by Mr. Fred Aldsworth)

In a recent newsletter our chairman, Peter Harrold, reported the appointment of the Frazer-Nash Consultancy to prepare, on our behalf, a Conservation Management Plan for the Mary Gordon, which will support our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for grant-aid to restore the vessel to her former glory.
Work is progressing well and we are currently reviewing drafts of a series of documents produced by members of the project team. Amongst them is a report which reviews the history of the Mary Gordon and places her in the context of other vessels in the same or similar classes. This has been prepared by Fred Aldsworth, an archaeologist and heritage consultant based in Chichester, and he has supplied the following summary of some of his findings, which you may find of interest.

There have always been a few doubts about the origins of the Mary Gordon, particularly when, where, and by whom she was built, but evidence which has been tracked down in the minutes of the Sub Corporation Property (Roundhay Park) Committee of Leeds City Council has allowed all these questions to be answered.

Following a visit to Southport, presumably to see the two electric boats operating on an artificial lake in the town, it was resolved by Leeds City Council to dispense with the services of a steamer, possibly the Maid of Athens, on Waterloo Lake at Roundhay Park, Leeds, and replace her with an electric launch. It was reported on the 18th May 1900 that an order for the new vessel had been placed with Messrs W S Sargeant & Company at a cost of £600. On the 2nd August 1900 it was agreed that the new electric launch would be called the Mary Gordon in honour of the Lady Mayoress of Leeds.

The Mary Gordon afloat at Roundhay Park, Leeds
There appears to have been some delay in completing the vessel but evidence in the minutes indicate that she must have been delivered to Leeds in the winter of 1900-1901, probably between late December and February.

Dates of 1898 and 1899 for the construction and delivery have previously been given for the vessel, but these can now be corrected.

A Portrait of Mr. Sargeant
The certain attribution to William Sargeant is exciting news as he was, arguably, the most significant of all electric boatbuilders, having worked with the innovative engineer Moritz Immisch in 1888 to construct the first-ever floating charging station for electric boats and being responsible for the design and construction in the same year of the 30-foot Malden and, arguably the finest electric launch ever built, the 65-foot Viscountess Bury, which survived until recently. He went on, in 1905, to build the largest electric launch in the world: the 93-foot Victory.

The Eel Pie Island works and charging station
William Sargeant worked from a number of yards on the Thames, but with the help of his great, grand nephew, Tim Sargeant, and Edward Hawthorne, the honorary vice-president of the Electric Boat Association and author of Electric Boats on the Thames 1889-1914, we have been able to demonstrate that the Mary Gordon is most likely to have been built at his works at Strand-on-the-Green, Chiswick, which he is known to have occupied from 1888 until 1891 and from 1898 until 1905. In the intervening period, from 1892 until 1897, he had set up a much larger boatbuilding works on Eel Pie Island, Twickenham.

The site of the works at Strand-on-the-Green can be identified from street directories and maps of the area, and it appears in several old photographs. It was located between the Kew Railway Bridge, built in 1864-65, and The Bulls Head public house, which had been licensed before 1722. The old buildings have been demolished and replaced by a residential buildings and a dinghy park.

So we now know precisely that the Mary Gordon was built in 1900 by William Sargeant at his Strand-on-the-Green works, Chiswick.

As far as we can determine, the Mary Gordon is the only one of William Sargeant’s electric river launches left, but he did build the Viscountess Bury which was last seen at Ely in 1994 and is believed to have been broken up. If anybody has any further information on this vessel we are keen to know about it.

The Mary Gordon is a classic electric saloon launch, built with a clipper bow, a counter stern, and originally fitted with a bowsprit and two masts. She is one of only three electric launches included in the National Register of Historic Vessels,the others being Lady Lena, built in 1890 and now restored as an electric saloon launch, and Thames Esperanza, built in 1898 and now converted to steam.

Assuming that the Viscountess Bury has now been lost, the Mary Gordon appears to be one of only eight surviving traditional electric launches in the UK, ranging in date from 1890 through to 1903, by which time the internal combustion engine was beginning to take over as the preferred form of power.

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