Newman’s is situated on the privately-owned Swan Island, at the point where the Thames transitions from tidal estuary to freshwater channel. The shipyard is run by Fiona Gunnion, the daughter of Francis ‘Frank’ Newman, who established the business in mid-1950s.
Swan Island was originally a small mudflat known as Milham’s Ait after its owner Harry Milham, a local builder. Harry built the island entirely out of clay excavated during construction of London Underground in the 1890s.
Frank Newman purchased Swan Island in 1962. Originally a cooper, a builder of wooden casks, Frank used those skills to transfer to boatbuilding. He had a great love of boats, but was also a businessman, owning not only Swan Island but also a number of other boatyards and businesses in England and Scotland. From 1969, Frank became a joint owner of Tough’s boatyard alongside Bob Tough. Tough’s and Newman’s yards had a strong connection over many years.
Newman’s Shipyard was originally located on the mainland across from Swan Island. In the 1990s, Frank and Fiona re-developed the island, increasing its height to protect it from flooding at high tides, and renting out the workshops on the mainland to other local businesses. Today the shipyard gets business from a community of forty houseboats moored at the island, some of whom repair their boats at the yard and slipways, as well as maintenance of pleasure boats, and privately owned vessels. Fire Patrol boats also continue to be repaired and maintained there by Babcocks Marine Services.