The image above, taken in 1952, shows the then newly built ship HMS Duchess, a Daring-class destroyer that served in the Royal Navy from 1952 to 1964, and in the Royal Australian Navy from 1964 to 1980 at which point the destroyer was sold for scrap.

HMS Duchess was built by the shipbuilding firm of John I Thornycroft and Company, and commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1952. This is just one of many ‘Thornycroft’ photographs in a recently donated collection which had been amassed by L R Horsington, FIEE, who worked at the shipbuilding company John I Thornycroft (became Vosper Thornycroft) from the end of WWII until March 1976.

Mr Horsington was the Electrical Works Manager at its Woolston, Southampton, facility, and then became its Quality Control Manager. Upon his retirement in March 1976 he was presented with two albums of photographs, primarily showing the ships on which he had worked and the Woolston Works – the photograph above can be found in these albums. This collection also includes loose John I Thornycroft official photographs of ships, and some related publications.

HMS Duchess

Initially assigned to the Home Fleet, Duchess spent her early career on exercises and port visits. She was involved in celebrations for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II during 1953, and escorted the royal yacht Britannia in 1954. The destroyer was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet in late 1954, and was involved in exercises, port visits and anti-weapons smuggling patrols off Cyprus. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, Duchess operated as a plane guard and escort to the British carrier force, and was the last ship to leave Port Said after the British-French invasion failed.

The Daring-class destroyer was an evolution of the Battle-class destroyer, larger and with a heavier armament built around three twin turrets. Sixteen ‘Darings’ were provisionally ordered on 20 July 1944, as part of the wartime construction programme. Duchess was the last of the eight to have her order confirmed, on 29 March 1945, and the other eight were cancelled as unnecessary due to the end of World War II.

Duchess was laid down by John I Thornycroft and Company of Woolston at Southampton on 8 July 1948. Construction of the Daring class was a transition away from riveting as a method of hull fabrication: some ships had a mix of riveting and welding, while Duchess’s hull was all-welded. She was launched on 9 April 1951 by the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, and commissioned into the Royal Navy on 23 October 1952.

Civilian Ships

Whilst many of the photographs in the collection are of military vessels built by ‘Thornycroft’ such as HMS Coniston (1953 image), HMS Blackwood (1957 image) and HMS Juno (1967 image), there are also several images of civilian vessels such as the Scillonian (1956 image) shown below.


Scillonian was a passenger ferry built for the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company by John I Thornycroft & Company that was completed in November 1955 and had its maiden voyage in March 1956. She was designed to carry 500 passengers and cargo between Penzance, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly.

There is even an image of a floating bridge in the collection taken in 1962 (see below). This is floating bridge no.11 used to cross the River Itchen between the western and eastern sides of Southampton. Bridge no.11 built by John I Thornycroft in 1962 was the first ferry to be powered by diesel engines (earlier ferries had been steam powered).


John I Thornycroft & Company

John I Thornycroft & Company Limited, usually known as Thornycroft, was a British shipbuilding firm founded by John Isaac Thornycroft in Chiswick, London, in 1866. It moved to Woolston, Southampton, in 1908, merging with Vosper & Company in 1966 to form Vosper Thornycroft. From 2002 to 2010 the company acquired several international and US-based defence and services companies, and changed its name to VT Group. In 2010 the company was absorbed by Babcock International.

The second album in the Horsington collection has many photographs of the John I Thornycroft operations at Woolston including the photograph below titled, ‘early days of the electrical department’, which unfortunately doesn’t have a date.


There are also detailed images of repairs carried out at Woolston including the two photographs below titled, ‘as the stator arrived in Woolston Works’, and ‘a nerve-wracking moment’.



For anyone wishing to consult this collection of Thornycroft photographs, they have been catalogued with reference SC MSS 295, and they can be viewed at the IET Archives, by appointment.