by Bert B.Shardlow

 There were,in the days of wooden shipbuilding,

several kindred trades to that of Shipwright. The "caulker",who with hemp and pitch, made the seams of carvel-built strips watertight. His assistant was the "oakum boy", who brought the pitch in liquid form from a boiler, supplying a number of caulkers. The "ropemaker", who from the combed hemp made up lengths of yarn by overlaying, and this in turn layed into the required lengths of rope in the ropewalks, which

were often out of doors. The person who combed the hemp was known as the "hatchelman". The "sailmaker" made the sails from sailcloth supplied by contractors. The "colormaker" made up flags and ensigns from dyed cloth. The "rigger" measured the rope for splicing and made it up for standing and running rigging. Standing rigging is that which remains static, while running rigging is adjustable and secures sails, booms, etc. The "blockmaker" made the blocks and tackles for adjusting rigging and sails. The "nail smith" made nails, etc. for the use of shipwrights. The "blacksmith" forged anchors and iron fittings and from about 1810 made chain cable. He also made bolts and nuts. The "plugmaker" made the plugs which were driven into the countenbored holes where bolts were fitted. Caulkers fitted the plugs. The "jovfler" made the furniture and higher grade of woodwork. The "sawyers" used a two handled saw in a pit to cut large peices of wood. The top sawyer followed the shape of the timbers required, while the bottom sawyer was the junior man and supplied the upward thrust. The "painter" was responsible for the decoration and preservation of the hull. The "woodcarver" made figureheads and other ornate carvings. The "mastmaker" made masts and spars. He was usually a shipwright employed on this specialist work. The "scavelman" dug the docks in the early days and sealed the ends of the timber. A scavel was a heart shaped long-handled shovel.

The term Shipwright covered all aspects of the trade, from that of Master Shipwright, the supervisors, to the craftman themselves. The designers were also referred to as shipwrights, as were boat builders. In the royal dockyards, shipwright was the major trade. Whatever rank was

held, the man started his career as an apprentice. The highest rank in the days of wooden ships was Surveyor of the Navy, followed by Master Shipwright, Assistant Master Shipwright, Senior Foreman of the Yard, Foreman of the Yard, Leading Man of Shipwrights, Quarterman of Shipwrights, and Shipwrights 1st, 2nd and 3rd Class.

The duties according to rank were design, selection of timber in the forest for knees ,futtocks ,frames and planks .

Mast timber was imported from the Baltic countries and later from the American colonies, and from 1776 from The duties according to rank were design, selection of timber in the the Baltic countries once again. Resin, oils and tar were imported from the same sources, mostly in exchange for manufactured goods and wool. Duties according to grade were: responsibility for manufacture of the keel, cutting of frames and knees, fitting in place, bolting up, fitting of the mast on the keelson, arrangement of decks, planking in, and when the ship was finally afloat, fitting out and sand ballasting to maintain trim. The caulkers would be involved at all stages. The riggers, sailmakers, painters and joiners would do preparatory work, but would be mainly involved in fitting out. Shipwrights also attended contractors works and at private shipyards where warships were built to inspect the construction step by step. Shipwrights also docked and undocked ships.

Shipwrights were resistant to change. When materials changed from wood to iron and later to steel, the Thames and Medway shipwrights held out. As steam had already been introduced into wooden ships and engine and boilerworks had come into being alongside shipyards, the change to iron shipbuilding was embraced by the boilermakers trade, whose techniques were those required. These included: frame bending, plating, plate smithing, hot rivetirfg and iron caulking. So, in private industry, from the time of the building of the first iron ships until the present, shipbuilding has been in the hands of boilermakers.

The Master Shipwrights of the royal dockyards, however, were not so resistant to change as their lesser brethern, and became the foremost ship designers in both the royal yards and the private yards for iron vessels. The first attempt at iron shipbuilding in a royal dockyard was in 1863, when H.M.S. Achilles was begun. Following the lead of the private yards, boliermakers were engaged to do the work.


* the word "wright" as in shipwright means maker.