The firm of Richard Dunston Ltd was founded by Richard Dunston of Torksey, Lincolnshire in 1858. Until the early twentieth century it built wooden vessels of up to eighty tons carrying capacity for use on local waterways.
In 1917 the firm decided that it would concentrate on the production of iron and steel vessels and in 1925 fitted its first marine diesel engine.
The scope of the yard at Thorne was limited by the fact that the locks on the Stainforth and Keadby canal would not take a vessel wider than twenty-one feet. Consequently the maximum size of vessel which could be built there was 700 bhp tugs and 300 ton coasters and lighters. In 1932, therefore, the firm acquired the shipyard of Henry Scarr Limited of Hessle which enabled it to construct larger vessels.
By the late 1950s, the Thorne yard had nine berths and a dry dock and was building tugs, near-water trawlers, small tankers, coasters and barges of all kinds. The firm had pioneered the building of all-welded steel tugs and partial prefabrication.
Dunston's increasingly concentrated its activities at the Hessle yard and in 1985 closed the yard at Thorne.