1902 Steam Tug KITE

Launched in 1902, the KITE developed 325 indicated horse power and served the Thames and Medway rivers for 41 years.

1931 Diesel Tug KHURDAH

Launched in 1931, the KHURDAH was the first diesel tug to be built for JP Knight. This impressive tug developed 300 brake horse power and served the company for just over half a century.

1948 KENT

Producing 880 bhp KENT was designed for inter-river barge towage as well as ship towage. She remains in operation with the South Eastern Tug Society.


Built for the Kent oil refinery on the Medway, the KENLEY was one of the first dedicated fire fighting tugs of her day.

1964 Kingsnorth

JP Knight’s first sea-going flat deck pontoon barge was built at the famous Vickers yard and had a deadweight of 950 tons.

“A trade fraught with danger and tribulation”

In June 1892, James Percy Knight and Robert Jeffries set themselves up as seeking tug owners, aiming to tow barges and lighters on the River Thames. With a legacy from James’ father, John Peake Knight, they bought three new steam tugs, hired rooms at 27 Great Tower Street, London, rented moorings at Blackwall Pier and named the business ‘The Kaiser Steam Tug Company’. Given that London was easily the largest port in the world at that time, they could hardly have chosen a more crowded or competitive marketplace in which to start out. James had, however, inherited his father’s engineering talent.

John Peake Knight, who was the former general manager of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, was a prolific innovator in locomotive engineering, and most remembered as the inventor of the traffic light. Powered by gas, his “chromatic glory” was positioned at a notorious horse-drawn traffic black spot by the Houses of Parliament on 9th December,1868.

James’ technical aptitude was quickly demonstrated by his introduction, in 1897, of London’s most powerful barge tug, the 325 hp Kestrel. He applied engineering standards derived from the more advanced locomotive industry to the rudimentary steam tugs of the day, prone as they were to boiler explosion. Indeed steam was to remain the motive power of the industry for many decades to come; JP Knight being one of the first to switch to diesel, in 1931.

The Kaiser Steam Tug Co’s operation extended from Hammersmith on the Thames round to Tonbridge on the River Medway, towing barges loaded with cement, coal, even hay. By 1914 the business owned fourteen tugs: but war made its presence felt, not least by way of a change of name to JP Knight. River towage continued, surviving not only the First World War, but also the Great Depression of the late Twenties and the Second World War. Indeed it was not until 1972 that the traditional barge trades dried up on the Thames.

In 1950 JP Knight diversified into ship handling following the construction of an oil refinery on the Medway at the Isle of Grain. From here the company expanded in to Scotland in 1969 onto the Cromarty Firth and in 1976 to the Orkney Islands, co-founding the Orkney Towage Company. The company became a significant pioneer in harbour tug design, especially in automation and propulsion.

In 1964 the company built their first flat deck barge, the 1,000 tonne Kingsnorth, to move steel piles for the construction of a power station jetty on the Medway. The fleet grew through the 70s and 80s to become one of the largest offshore barge contractors in the North Sea, culminating in the Kawara, a 22,000 tonne giant.

For all of the Company’s first hundred years, JP Knight had either tugs but few barges, or barges but no tugs to tow them (though built many ship handling tugs). It took a major change of direction in 1990 to bring the two together in a bauxite barging contract in Guyana, South America. By 2006, when the contract ceased, over 24 million tonnes had been transported by river.

122 years later, JP Knight continues to be guided by its founding father’s pioneering spirit of competition through innovation and integrity, albeit in a trade and a continent far removed from Blackwall Pier.


Although still a single screw tug, the 2,000 bhp KNIGHTON was one of the first tugs to have remote control of her main engine from the bridge.


Unique to the 3,000 bhp KESTON was her triple screw layout affording shallow draft allied to her flat bottomed hull.


At just 90’ length overall and with 2,400 bhp and twin screw, KINLOCH was the forerunner of the shallow draft compact tug.


Introduced by JP Knight in 1981 KINROSS was the first azimuthing stern drive Z-peller tug in Europe. She produced 3,200 bhp with a bollard pull of 48 tonnes astern.

1985 Kestrel

KESTREL, built for the Medway in 1985, began a long line of new Z-pellers to be built for JP Knight.


At 22,000 dead weight tonnes and 400’ by 120’ KAWARA was the largest flat-deck barge ever built in the UK.