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Author Topic: Chatham Royal Dockyard - some 18th Century facts.  (Read 3749 times)

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Offline numanfan

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Re: Chatham Royal Dockyard - some 18th Century facts.
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2016, 12:43:53 »
Chatham Dockyard museum had a selection of trades that had been modelled, one of which was the scavelman. The display is no longer in the museum, but I believe that the set (or at least some of them) is by the Wooden Walls exhibition within the dockyard.
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Offline conan

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Re: Chatham Royal Dockyard - some 18th Century facts.
« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2016, 14:55:55 »
That's lovely numanfan. Where on earth is the model to be found? :)
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Offline Bilgerat

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Re: Chatham Royal Dockyard - some 18th Century facts.
« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2016, 17:25:21 »
The only questions not answered so far are those about the dry-docks:

No.1 Dry-dock was backfilled in the late 1890's I believe, at the same time as No.1 and No.2 slipways. The brick retaining walls across the mouths of all three are visible from Thunderbolt Pier. The site was used for the construction of the Armour Plate shop and the No.1 workshop, both of which are still standing.

No.2 Dry dock was rebuilt in stone, the work completed in 1856.

No.3 Dry dock was the first at Chatham to be rebuilt in stone and that was completed in 1820.

No.4 Dry dock was rebuilt in stone and completed in 1840.
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Offline Longpockets

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Re: Chatham Royal Dockyard - some 18th Century facts.
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2016, 16:53:53 »
Hatchelling is the straightening or combing out of the raw fibres. These fibres are then taken by the Spinner who would wrap a bundle round his waist, twist some onto a rotating hook to make twine.

Offline conan

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Re: Chatham Royal Dockyard - some 18th Century facts.
« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2016, 14:59:43 »
Thanks for that helicon, I must admit that I assumed that a hatcheller worked the hatches and sluices used in the dry docks, but that seems to have been the job of the scavelman, Oh well?
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Offline helcion

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Re: Chatham Royal Dockyard - some 18th Century facts.
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2016, 22:04:28 »
Conan   -    I was equally baffled by 'Scavelman' but between me & Mr.Google we've come to the conclusion that he used to clear sluices & channels & the like.
A  'Hatcheller' did something with twine, in the ropewalk presumably.

Bilgerat   -  thanks for a fascinating post.

Offline conan

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Re: Chatham Royal Dockyard - some 18th Century facts.
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2016, 22:00:28 »
Fascinating reading Bilgerat,thank you.
A couple of questions. Were the wood dry docks replaced by stone at this time? Secondly,  what on earth is a scavelman?
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Offline Bilgerat

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Chatham Royal Dockyard - some 18th Century facts.
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2016, 21:04:52 »
These bits and bobs are from research I did some time ago when intending to write a book about HMS Leviathan, a 74-gun Third Rate ship of the line built at Chatham and launched in 1790. That ship is the subject of this article:
http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=17025

As I've mentioned in a number of other articles, Chatham was the largest and most important of the Royal Dockyards up until the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This had seen King James II forced to abdicate the British throne in favour of his sister Mary and her Dutch husband, Prince William of Orange. For the first and only time in our history, the country had seen a King and a Queen reign together with equal powers, Queen Mary II and King William III. This, in turn, brought an end to more than half a century of on-off war against Holland. French support for the deposed king saw the start of what is informally known as the 'Second Hundred Years War' the following year; a series of wars which did not end until the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte on the battlefield at Waterloo in 1815. This in turn led to the Royal Dockyard at Chatham declining in importance in favour of the Royal Dockyards at Portsmouth and Plymouth and over the course of the next ninety years, the Chatham Dockyard fell into disrepair and parts of it were derelict by 1770.

Although this period saw a steady stream of new ships being built at Chatham, including HMS Victory, the  first of the Common Type of 74 gun ship HMS Bellona and the first of the Large Type of 74 gun ship HMS Valiant, the general air at Chatham was one of neglect and decay.

The Seven Years War (1756 - 1763) had been the first proper world war in the true sense of the phrase and had seen a war fought on a scale never before seen. Large numbers of old, obsolete ships had been pressed into service and a large number of new ships had been built. In addition to that, armies on an unprecedented scale had had to be raised, fed, paid and equipped and taken together, this war had caused the Government to be indebted to a degree never before seen. The decay at Chatham continued at a faster pace and in the years following the Seven Years War, closure was being seriously discussed at the highest levels of the Admiralty and the Navy Board.

Aside from the problems arising out of almost a century of neglect, there were a number of issues with the continued use of Chatham as a fleet base. Firstly, the Dockyard was a full fifteen miles sailing from the fleet anchorage at the Nore, off Sheerness. Navigating the River Medway in a large, square-rigged sailing ship was a challenge even for the most skilled of sailors, with it's mud banks and many tight turns, some of which required changes of tack when the ship would be briefly out of control and at the mercy of the swift currents. To sail upstream, a Master had to use wind coming from one of only six of the thirty-two points of the compass to be able to sail his ship up the river from Sheerness to Chatham. Sailing downstream was slightly easier, with the wind coming from any one of ten compass points being usable. There were instances when ships of the line took a full two weeks to sail the fifteen miles, with most of the time being spent at anchor waiting for favourable winds. Other problems were caused by the gradual increase in the size of ships over the years combined with the continuous silting of the Medway.

The slowly-increasing size of ships was causing its own problems, not just with navigating the River Medway. The Chatham Ordinary, where ships were stored when not in commission, had 54 moorings, but by 1774, only three of them were in water deep enough to take a First or Second Rate ship of the line, with only five more able to take a Third rate ship of the line.

Things at Chatham came to a head in 1770. That year saw Britain and Spain brought to the brink of war in a dispute over the Falkland Islands. This was settled pretty much peacefully when the French refused to support their Spanish ally and they were forced to back down and negotiate. As part of the British preparations for war, orders were sent from the Admiralty to mobilise the fleet and Chatham was ordered to prepare nine ships from the Chatham Ordinary for service in the Channel Fleet. The orders were received in September 1770 and at the time, the Royal Dockyard at Chatham had no less then four dry-docks, all of which were timber-lined rather than the stone docks now visible at Chatham Historic Dockyard now. Of the four dry-docks, No.1 dry dock, originally completed in 1645, had been declared unsafe in 1768. The 60-gun fourth-rate ship of the line HMS Panther had been in the dock being re-caulked as part of a great repair at the time and this had had to stop while the dock was repaired with the ship still in it. No. 2 dry dock, also known as 'The Old Single Dock', originally completed in 1623, was busy with repairs to the sheer-hulk HMS Chatham. No.3 dry dock was occupied by the 20-gun post-ship HMS Mercury, in the middle of a 'Middling Repair'. This meant that only No.4 dry-dock was available to prepare nine ships for sea service. In addition to the problems with dry dock availability, the other sheer-hulk, HMS Winchester, had been condemned, leaving the Chatham Royal Dockyard with no sheer hulks able to lift masts onto ships moored in the river.

All these problems meant that it was to be December 1770 before the Chatham Royal Dockyard was in a position to be able to even begin preparing ships for sea, by which time, the crisis had been settled peacefully.

The Navy Board ordered the Resident Commissioner to do what had to be done to prevent these problems happening again, but by the time the American War of Independence broke out five years later, the work was behind schedule and had to be put on hold so that the available labour at Chatham could be freed up to prepare the fleet for another war.

With the outbreak of war, the Navy Board ordered that three of Chatham's four dry-docks be allocated to the work. July 1775 saw orders received to prepare three ships, August and September saw two each and October brought orders to prepare a further six ships for sea. June of 1776 saw the No.2 dry-dock examined prior to work beginning on preparing the frigate HMS Montreal for service. The survey found The Apron blown in such a manner that the whole of it must be taken apart and piles drove in to secure the ground ways. Every available house carpenter was assigned to the job.

The start of the American War of Independence highlighted yet more problems, this time with the levels of manpower in the Dockyard. July 1775 had seen the shipwrights go on strike over pay and conditions and as a result of this, 25 of them were dismissed. The strike lasted from June to September 1775 and aside from those sacked, the number of shipwrights in the Royal Dockyard fell from 657 to 593 as men sought better-paid employment in nearby private shipyards. Desperate to employ shipwrights, the number of apprentices allowed to be indentured to each shipwright was increased, sacked shipwrights were offered their jobs back and the Dockyard even offered to pay relocation expenses for shipwrights willing to join from further afield.

Overall, the numbers of people employed at the Chatham Royal Dockyard rose from 1775, as to be expected in wartime, but vacancies in some trades were particularly hard to fill, even in wartime. Aside from shipwrights, of whom there were never enough, Smiths were very difficult to find. Chatham's allowed complement of smiths was 70; in 1775 there were only 47 and this failed to increase despite extensive advertising of the vacancies in the Kent newpapers of the day. It took until 1790 to recruit anything like that number and even then there were still only 65 smiths employed at Chatham. The same problems were encountered with the recruitment of Caulkers. The maximum number allowed at Chatham was 90; in 1775 there were only 80 and this had only risen to 88 by 1790.

Other trades were not so difficult to recruit and over the course of the American War of Independence, the following tradesmen rose in numbers:
Joiners - 27%
Riggers - 30%
Labourers - 37%
Sawyers - 12%
Spinners - 10%

The American War of Independence was ended by the Treaty of Paris, signed in September 1783 and effective from March of 1784. With the end of the war, the Admiralty asked that the numbers of people employed at Chatham be reduced, but the Navy Board refused. Their reasons were that there were still large numbers of ships which needed to be decommissioned, de-stored and placed in the Ordinary. By now, the fleet was significantly larger and a bigger fleet needed more people to look after the ships after decommissioning, over 400 at Chatham alone. In addition, the work on restoring the Dockyard itself had been put off at the start of the war and now the war was over, people were needed to complete the works, in particular, Joiners, House Carpenters and Labourers. There was a particular need for labourers because when many of the ships were paid off, their crews simply abandoned them, or unloaded stores and supplies onto the quayside and left it there. Of all of the Royal Dockyards, the end of the war saw Chatham suffer by far the smallest number of layoffs, because of the amount of work which still needed to be done.

In 1785, the Royal Dockyard at Chatham hosted a visit by the Navy Board, who undertook a review of the fabric of the whole Yard. As a result of that visit, some important decisions were made, most important of which was the decision that Chatham's future lay not as a fleet base, but as a Building and Major Repair Yard. Because of the difficulties presented in navigating the River Medway from Sheerness to Chatham, it wasn't worth the trouble and inconvenience of attempting to navigate the river for anything less than a major repair. A whole host of buildings were condemned; the Plank House, the Armourers Shop, the Trenail House, the main Store House  and the Rope House were all recommended for demolition and replacement, while the Mast Houses, the Rigging House, the Hemp House and all the wharves were identified as being in need of major repair. The previous year, the Navy Board had allocated £20,000 (or approximately the cost of building a new frigate) for repairs to buildings which by rights should have been demolished or totally renovated.

In 1786, it was decided to rebuild the rope-yard. A new double Rope-House was to be built to the same design as that of the one recently completed at Portsmouth. A program of works was laid down which started with the demolition and rebuilding of the Tarring, Black Yarn and White Yarn Houses. The rope makers were to move to the Laying House while the Spinning House, the Hatchelling House and the Yarn Houses were demolished. Once these were completed, the Laying House and the Rigging House were demolished, with the riggers moved to temporary accommodation while their new Rigging House was built. In 1786, the new Store-House was completed at Anchor Wharf.

For the craftsmen working at the Chatham Royal Dockyard, trying to work in what was to all intents and purposes a huge building site must have been a nightmare. Despite the fact that major parts of the Yard's infrastructure were being demolished and rebuilt, the work of ship-building continued. 1787 saw three ship construction projects under way. No.1 slipway was busy building the giant 100 gun, First-Rate ship of the line HMS Royal George, the replacement for the First-Rate ship of the same name which had foundered at her mooring in Portsmouth in 1782 in an accident which had claimed 900 lives; the worst accident to have occurred in the confines of a British port to this day. This was the first time that a First-Rate ship had been built on a slipway rather than in a dry-dock. No.2 dry dock was busy building HMS Royal George's identical sister-ship HMS Queen Charlotte, while No.4 slipway was busy with the 74 gun Third-Rate ship of the line HMS Leviathan, all of which were major projects which absorbed large numbers of highly skilled craftsmen.

Finally, here is a snapshot of the people employed at Chatham Royal Dockyard on June 14th 1783:

Resident Commissioner - Charles Proby
Master Shipwright - Nicholas Phillips
Master Attendant (in charge of the Chatham Ordinary) - Marcus Falconer
Clerk of the Cheque - John Williams
Clerk of the Survey - James Hamilton
Storekeeper - John Wetheral
Master Blacksmith - James Kincaid
Master Boat builder - Charles Keverne
Boatswain of the Yard - John Frazier
Master House Carpenter - John Southerden
Master Bricklayer - John Vinall
Master Caulker - William Peake
Master Joiner - John Parsons
Master Mast maker - Thomas Coleman
Master Sailmaker - Thomas Moulden
Purveyor - William Kettle
Porter of the Yard - John Adamson

In addition to these heads of department, the Royal Dockyard employed the following numbers of tradesmen:
Shipwrights - 621
Quarterboys - 12
Caulkers - 84
Oakum Boys - 26
Joiners - 47
House Carpenters - 60
Wheelwrights - 2
Plumbers - 1
Pitch Heaters - 2
Bricklayers - 15
Bricklayers Labourers - 13
Sailmakers - 32
Scavelmen - 50
Riggers - 62
Riggers Labourers - 32
Labourers - 260
Blockmakers - 2
Braziers - 1
Teamers - 14
Sawyers - 110
Smiths (Blacksmiths and Coppersmiths) - 64

In the Rope-Yard there were:
Ropeyard Foremen - 2
Spinners - 106
Hatchellers - 23
Labourers - 18
Boys - 10
"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent

 

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