The Maiden Voyage of a British Survey Vessel that Would Achieve International Fame

February 1, 1956

The survey vessel MV Havengore made her maiden voyage in London, England, on the River Thames. This vessel owes her name to Havengore Island, a low-lying marshy island off the coast of southeastern England. The origin of the name “Havengore” can be traced to a combination of the Old English words “haefen” (meaning “an anchorage”) and “gor” (meaning “muddy”). 

For her maiden voyage, Havengore left Tower Pier (near both the Tower of London and Tower Bridge) at 8:15 a.m. on February 1, 1956. Those on board for the vessel for this journey included representatives from the Port of London Authority (PLA) as well as four journalists. Havengore’s first trip out on the water proved satisfactory, and she was soon placed into service with the PLA to record changes to the bed of the River Thames and Thames Estuary. 

To help carry out those functions as effectively as possible, Havengore became the first survey vessel in England equipped with a computer. This computer, relying on perforated paper tape, was used to record survey data. By the time she performed her last work of that kind in 1995, Havengore had become the PLA’s longest-serving vessel. 

Havengore, however, achieved her greatest claim to fame as a ceremonial vessel. In 1965 — nearly a decade after her debut — Havengore became a key participant in the state funeral for Winston Churchill. The vessel transported the body of the renowned British statesman from Tower Pier, where his coffin and his chief mourners were brought on board following a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, to a stop along the River Thames at which a train awaited the party to take Churchill to his final resting place in the English village of Bladon. 

Churchill’s funeral was watched across the globe by a record-setting TV audience of more than 350 million people — one in 10 of the world’s population at that time –and the sight of Havengore bearing his coffin became a powerful image that is still associated with that historic event. “And so Havengore sails into history,” proclaimed BBC commentator Richard Dimbleby in narrating the vessel’s trip that day.

Photo Credit: Christopher Ryland (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at

For more information on MV Havengore, please check out

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