“We have … great work which the Nations Eyes is upon”: the Thirty New Ships shipbuilding programme
Peter Le Fevre (1)
On 17 May 1677 Sir Anthony Deane, the most skilful designer of his day* according to Pepys, wrote a long letter to his Navy Board colleagues on ‘another great work which the nations Eyes is on; namely the building of the Thirty Ships of War … a matter of so much import, that it will call for, not only an early foresight to improve this present season, but the doing what ever may contribute unto the advance of this great undertaking’.(2) Even though the importance of the Thirty New ships shipbuilding prgramme has long been recognised by naval historians such as Frank Fox and Brian Lavery, both of whom have brief accounts of the building programme; though Frank Fox is more concerned with the ships themselves, there has never been a full study of the Thirty New Ships building programme. Mr Richard Endsor’s research into the history and building of the Lenox the first of the Thirty ships to be launched and my own research into the third rate Anne, which lies off the coast of Rye, Sussex, for the Warship Anne Trust has uncovered a large amount of information about the Thirty New Ships. In fact there is so much information that Richard Endsor, Frank Fox and I are collaborating on a book on the Thirty Ships.
The third Anglo-Dutch War ended in 1674 and both England and its Navy were at peace with no major wars to be fought. The damage wreaked on the English navy during the Anglo-Dutch wars was considerable and the effective strength of the navy had been reduced. At the same time there was a growth of French aggression under Louis XIV and an expansion of the French fleet. In 1675 Samuel Pepys presented a paper to the House of Commons concerning the state of the English Navy. This showed a total of 92 ships. However at the same time Pepys also put in a comparison with the French and Dutch and this showed that France had 96 ships, an excess of 4 over the British while the Dutch had an excess of 44 ships over England. At the same time Charles II faced an attack from the Commons over what they saw as mismanagement of the War. Consequently he prorogued Parliament for fourteen months.
When it reconvened in February 1677 Pepys put to the House of Commons a proposal for the building of thirty new ships. This was intended to bring the British fleet up to the same level as the French fleet seen as the major threat to England’s expanding trade. Heated discussions took place during which Pepys made an impassioned speech in which he said ‘Our neighbour’s force is now greater than ours, and they will still be building more, so that we are as well to overtake them for the time past as to keep pace with them in the present building’. As Charles needed the money those in opposition tried to ensure he didn’t get any. The moderates in parliament however voted 23 Feb. 1677 £60000 to build the thirty new ships but, as they were reluctant to trust Charles as many thought he would use it for his mistresses, added the ships were to be built in two years.(4)
The admiralty commissioners met shortly afterwards to discuss how the ships could be built in the two years and to get the quantities of timber, as well as the guns and the hundred of workmen needed. Charles also increased the size of the third rate ships from the 900 tons approved by Parliament to 1100 tons and also enlarged the three decker ships. The thirty new ships consisted of one first rate (Britannia 1682), nine-second rates and twenty third rates. After debating the matter it was decided that the first rate, the nine second rates and thirteen of the third rate ships were to be built in the King’s yards at Chatham, Deptford, Portsmouth and Woolwich while the remaining seven were built by private shipbuilders under contract. Francis Baylie at Bristol built one; Sir Henry Johnson, the East India merchant, built four at his Blackwall yard. Captain William Castle built the remaining two at his private shipyard at Deptford [see appendix for the names of the ships and which yards they were built in].(5)
Steps were also taken to improve the King’s yards to ensure that the ships could be built. Sir Anthony Deane and Sir Richard Haddock, while in Suffolk looking for timber, surveyed Harwich, 31 May 1677, where they found ‘a convenient place for another launch for the building of a Third Rate …with no other charge but digging and laying the ways.’ They ordered the floor to be laid for a new storehouse ‘to make the moulds for the Ship’ and obtained permission from Harwich’s corporation to enlarge the dockyard by removing eight roods of decayed poles. Two third-rate ships were built at Harwich under the supervision of Isaac Betts.(6)
At the start it was believed that all the ships were to be built in the king’s dockyards. Consequently Sir John Kempthorne, Portsmouth’s commissioner, asked the dockyard’s master shipwright Daniel Furzer if there was any convenient place to build another third rate ship, since none of the new ships were to be built by contract. Roger Eastwood, the assistant master shipwright, suggested that if the house belonging to St John Steventon, the clerk of the cheque, was pulled down the ship could be built there. Fortunately for Steventon however it was decided that his house was not to be pulled down. Later Daniel Furzer, the Portsmouth shipwright, viewed the place and decided that a ship could be built there ‘without damnifying the house’. At Chatham it was decided by Sir Richard Beach, the dockyard commissioner, and Phineas Pett, the master shipwright, that of the three new third rates they were building two were to be built on the slipways and, as for the third new ship, Beach informed the Navy Board 15 June 1677 ‘a third rate ship may be set up in the head of the double dock and a second rate brought in astern of her to be repaired … the dock being 335 feet from wicket to lower altar.’ In order to accommodate another ship Beach suggested that a third slipway could be built but the proposal was turned down. At Woolwich the ships were built on a building slip next to the master shipwrights house. It soon became obvious that the dockyards could not build all the ships required so that contracts were entered into with private builders.
The Navy Board asked for estimates of the cost of building the ships.Isaac Bett at Harwich sent an estimate of £17160.0. 0 for building a second rate; this included the wages for the workforce and all the materials. Chatham’s master shipwright Phineas Pett estimated that his total charge for building a third rate at Chatham would be £12000 ‘with masts, painting, carving, joiners work, iron work, plumbers and glaziers work included’.(9)
Charles II took a keen interest in the building of the Thirty New Ships. When Daniel Furzer at Portsmouth, and Phineas Pett at Chatham travelled to London ‘with platts’ as the draughts were known, for the 2nd and 3 rd rates for the Navy Board to look at, Charles was also present at the meeting and suggested alterations, especially to the proposed first rate though what they were is not known.(10) Charles also increased the dimensions of the new ships upwards from the sizes that Parliament had agreed and he apved the final dimensions for the ships at a meeting on 17 May 1677. Charles II wished to have ‘all the principal sizes and measures requisite in the building of a ship … be one and the same’ and the dimensions were intended to make sure that there was some sort of standardisation, list. The dimensions list for the new ships departed from earlier ones in that the length of the keel which had been the main way to measure the size of the ship was left blank. With the thirty new ships it was the gundeck length which was to be used.(11) As well as the dimensions list a scantlings list which gave the size of the individual timbers making up the structure of the ship would have been issued. Brian Lavery assumed that the list ‘which would give much more detail about the structure of the ship does not appear to have survived’. In fact three have so far been found, each one slightly different in sizes. What they show is that the master shipwrights at each of the royal dockyards drew up their own scantling lists and then sent them to the Navy Board for their approval.(12) This means that though the ships might be similar in length each ship would have been different because of the timbers used.
Charles’s interest extended beyond just amending the dimensions of the ships. While they were being built Charles kept up his interest in their progress. Even when racing at Newmarket in April 1678 the King and the Duke of York were reported to be ‘very solicitous about the building of the ships’. Charles II occasionally attended the launches. He attended the launch of the first of the Thirty Ships to be completed, the Lenox, built by John Shish at Deptford, in 1678 when trumpets had been played and a banquet laid on. Occasionally launches would be put back if the king could not attend. This had happened in 1676 with the Defiance, also built at Chatham by Pett. Pett had planned to launch the Defiance on 16 June 1676 but the Navy Board told him that Charles would not be at Chatham until the 17th and therefore he was to delay the launch.(13) Charles II was at Woolwich in July 1679 for the launching of the newly built third-rate Grafton. However, Charles’s plans to sail on the ship were thwarted by the wind.(14)
Centralised control can be seen in the designs of the carvings for the decorations of the second and third rates, which had a number of new features. Though the lion remained as the figurehead, ‘it was now accompanied by various cherubic figures’. Though it is not possible to actually identify the author, it is more than likely that both Deane and the Surveyor Sir John Tippetts, or possibly Tippett’s clerk Edmund Dummer, designed the patterns for the carved work and the lions for the heads of the new ships, with female supporters for the stern.(15) ‘I have received the draughts of the carved work for the sterns of the 2nd and 3rd Rate ships here’ Sir John Kempthorne at Portsmouth informed the Navy Board. He then gave the draughts to Lewis Allin the Master Carver and told him that ‘the figures of the heads were to be with lions and[sic] the draught of which you would be pleased to send him as soon as possible’. Kempthorne also told Allin that the lions on the 2nd rates were to be bigger than the third rates.
The Navy Board sent contracts to the master carvers for the carved work and these contracts laid out the decoration for the stern, gallery and heads in minute detail. The master carvers were also expected ‘to oblige myself that all the carved works were to be as good as the carved works on the Defiance and the Rupert. The master carvers were to be paid £160 in three instalments; the first part was to be paid at ‘the beginning of each ship’; the second when half the work had been done; the third part on completion of the work and the issuing of a certificate by the master shipwright the work had been completely finished.(16)
The designs and building of the new ships were entrusted to experienced shipwrights such as John and Thomas Shish at Deptford and Woolwich and Daniel Furzer at Portsmouth. At Chatham the new ships were built by Phineas Pett who was the second son of Peter Pett of Deptford. He was appointed assistant master-shipwright, Deptford 1652 and Chatham 1660-1 and then master shipwright at Chatham 1660-1680, the year he was knighted and was appointed Comptroller of Stores account 1680-6 and Commissioner at Chatham 1686-1689. However his career ended in 1688 with the arrival of William of Orange. It was Phineas Pett of Chatham’s cousin, also Phineas Pett, master shipwright at Woolwich until his death 9 March 1678. who designed and partially built the first two Woolwich third rates, Captain and Grafton. They were finished by the Sheerness master shipwright Thomas Shish who was appointed master shipwright at Woolwich 9 March 1678.(17)
At Chatham Pett’s relationship with the commissioner sir Richard Beach was stormy at times. Beach complained to the Navy Board in August 1677 that Pett had gone to Woodbridge in Suffolk when the moulds for the new ships were not ready ‘whereby it is feared that much time will be lost in the preparing of the said frames’. Pett replied to the Navy Board 25 Aug. 1677 ‘I am very sorry that it is still my great unhappiness to be concerned with such malicious Species that will not cease to give your honours the trouble of such false information…but [I] do most faithfully assure your Honours …that there hath not been the least time lost in the making of the Moulds for the three 3rd rate ships which is building at Chatham, which in regard of making and ordering a whole bend of moulds for such individual ships, to prevent loss of time in moulding did require longer time in making them and were all made about two months ago’. Pett also told the Navy Board ‘I am very sorry that Sir Richard Beach should give you this trouble and so much misinformation… and do heartily wish that he may at last be found to have been as ready in the furtherance of his Matys service (particularly in the works of these new ships as he hath been in the misrepresenting me to your honours and his daily abusing and slighting of me and had it not been for the Honour and Respect I have for his Majesty’s service … I could not have so long aboum with it having made my Life so uncomfortable In so much that unless some Expedient be found out that I may act with peace and quietness in my station and that I may carry on his Majesties Service with cheerfulness.(18) Despite the occasional outburst the ships were built. In 1679 Beach was accused of embezzlement and he was about to be dismissed when the death of Sir John Kempthorne, Portsmouth’s commissioner, in March 1679, led to him being moved from Chatham to Portsmouth.
Preparations were also made to make sure that there was enough timber in the dockyards to build the ships; at least two thousand oak trees were needed for each ship. At a meeting of the Admiralty Commission 22 March 1677 Charles II suggested that the Navy Board should talk to timber merchants, some of whom travelled to London to see the Board, about selling their timber and invite tenders for naval commodities at the Exchange and the Custom House and advertise in the London Gazette, as well as writing to the gentry about selling their timber to the king for the new ships. Dockyard purveyors forwarded lists of both the landed gentry and timber merchants to the Navy Board and details of surveys that they had carried out, as well as the dates when timber would be felled.(19) As well as the formal contacts from the Navy Board, dockyard commissioners approached local timber merchants informally to come and talk with them.(20) Information about suitable trees was sometimes received by indirect means. Samuel Pepys forwarded on to the Navy Board ‘this being a time when nothing can be thought too much’ details of trees in Sewley Forest, Northampton which might be suitable. The details had been given to him by the second lieutenant of the Swiftsure. commanded by Edward Russell.(21)
Not all the approaches to the gentry proved successful however. William Courtenay at Powderham informed the Navy Board 21 May 1677 that all the timber ‘I have is but a small grove belonging to an ancient castle, which if cut down will not only render the place very insignificant, but very contemptible’ and that they were so old they ‘are altogether unfit for the purpose they are required for’. Sir Edmond Bacon informed the Board that his trees stood so near his house ‘that it’s both an Ornament and Defence’ though he was prepared to let the king have the shirt off his back or even lay down his life if he wanted it. Also recalcitrant was the Catholic peer William 4th Baron Petre who had ‘a large and most useful parcel of timber’ (about seven hundred trees which were large and suitable for deck beams). Though they had originally been offered to the Navy, Lord Petre now refused to sell it unless at a higher price than he was originally offered. Even a visit from Sir Anthony Deane and Sir Richard Haddock could not make him change his mind. In the end the Navy Board bought Lord Petre’s timber from his agents Sir William Warren.(22)
It was not only the Navy Board Commissioners such as Sir Richard Haddock and Sir Anthony Deane who travelled round the country visiting large estates to view the timber on offer.(23) Thomas Lewsley the dockyard purveyor at Deptford, as well as master shipwrights such as Isaac Berts at Harwich and Daniel Furzer at Portsmouth, also travelled the country visiting local gentry like Sir John Darrell in Kent and Christopher Cole of Pulborough Sussex, an iron master and timber merchant, to pick out and mark trees that could provide timber.(24) Robert Eason the Chatham purveyor visited Maidstone market on market day to see if there were timber merchants who might supply what was needed.(25) There were also those like the iron master Foley brothers who used family relationships such as Lord Chief Justice Francis North to ensure they got contracts in connection with the thirty new ships.(26) Occasionally the aristocracy supplied wood; three hundred and five trees were bought from Lord Berkeley of Stratton which ‘will prove good for they are some of the finest timber’.(27)
On occasion the gentry’s involvement in the thirty new ships building went further than selling trees to the Navy. Sir Edward Dering of Surrenden not only sold timber for use at Chatham; he also loaned £1800 to the government ‘the necessitie of the occasion more than anything else induced me to it, £1000 being expressly lent towards carrying on the new ships, viz. the first rate ship now in the stocks at Chatham, and a second rate ship at Harwich, which is very forward and wants but about £3000 to finish’. This ‘necessitie’ was because the money allotted by Parliament, of which Dering was a member, for building the thirty ships was now exhausted, ‘and six ships being yet unbuilt’. This was because Charles II ‘was persuaded ‘to exceed the rates agreed upon by the parliament.’ Dering noted. The choice was therefore simple ‘either we must leave them with shame and loss, they being all began [to be] laid which will be altogether spoiled if not carried on, or we must take up the money as we can. However this little sum was help at present’ though Dering hoped that more money could be found before the £1000 was used up as he had been told by the navy commissioners that one thousand pounds ‘would keep them on a month’.(28)
The prices paid by the master shipwrights and the purveyors for the timber depended on its quality and what sort of timber it was. There was more straight timber[square] than the rarer compass [curved] timber and this was reflected in the price which varied from £2 13s Od to £3 2s 6 per load where it was felled to £4 10s 0 a load for delivered timber. If the delivery price was not included in the agreed purchase price that would be negotiated separately and would include the price to the nearest port for delivery and then the carriage to the dockyard.
The purveyors also inspected woods and forests and good timber, as with the timber bought from timber merchants and the landed gentry, was marked with the King’s broad arrow. Contracts would then be entered into with local gentry for their sawyers to cut the trees and deliver them to the dockyards. Sometimes pieces of timber that had been selected turned out not to be as good as first thought. In 1677 a piece of timber selected to form the stem post of one of the thirty new ships building at Chatham was found to be defective by the dockyard sawyers who had been sent to cut the piece of timber as it had proved to be too heavy for the carriage transporting it.(29) Zachariah Medbury the Portsmouth purveyor not only inspected timber with a view to its furnishing knees for the ships or other commodities, but also selected timber for the frames for the ships building and even knowing exactly where on the ship they would go.(30) The Deptford dockyard master shipwright John Shish visited two wharves at Guildford in November 1677 to examine various pieces of timber to see if they would be suitable for the Thirty New Ships shipbuilding programme. He decided they were and he had them floated down river and delivered to Deptford.(31)
R. G. Albion argued that the timber that was bargained for was ‘small lots of timber. Many of the dealings were for only twenty or thirty trees, and seldom more than a hundred.’ But this is not correct. A list drawn up at the beginning of 1678 of timber contracted for and sent to Chatham dockyard shows that the loads varied considerably from small amounts such as twenty loads, to large loads such as the eight hundred loads of compass and straight timber bought from Sir Charles Bickerstaffe, of Seale Kent, a regular supplier of timber to the dockyards. Lavery’s comment that timber suppliers ‘had no idea what kind of timber the Navy needed, and merely caused the purveyors to make needless journeys’ is misleading. As the purveyor’s reports show most of the timber examined was suitable and was accepted.(32)
Some of the gentry who had timber to sell and also some timber merchants refused to part with their timber unless they were paid ready cash instead of having to wait for payment. The problem was that many of the gentry and timber merchants had not been paid for over six months for ‘old’ goods that had already been supplied to the dockyards, and this meant that they would not be prepared to await payment for any further timber they might supply. As Chatham’s commissioner Sir Richard Beach told the Navy Board at the beginning of January 1678 ‘here is great Clamouring and Complaining for money to satisfy those we have bought timber and other materials of, they reporting up and down the Country the payment is grown so bad that such contracts are desperate as are on the old accompt’ that they were no longer prepared to supply goods on credit. Beach asked the Board to have the accounts cleared as soon as possible ‘to gain a good reputation to the Board’.(33) Harwich’s purveyor Richard Nicholls was followed round Ipswich day and night by timber merchants ‘ever ready to make any clamour’, which meant ‘I cannot be at any quiet’.(34)
The problem over delay in payment meant that excellent timber was being sold by timber merchants for other purposes. Sir Richard Beach informed the Navy Board 28 May 1677 that the best timber in Kent had been bought up at great rates by milk and water pail makers. The pail makers cut off nine or ten feet of the Butt ends and used the rest of it for pails and buckets. ‘If some means be not used for preventing this grand abuse the nation may suffer through the want of such large timber’. Beach was even more shocked when he learnt that in Essex the best timber was used to make oyster barrels.
After the trees had been viewed and marked by the purveyors, prices had been agreed and contracts entered into and contracts signed the next step was transportation. The timber was usually transported either by river or by the roads. Christopher Cole’s good large white oak timber lay within six miles of the river at Arundel and Horsham, while Sir Thomas Fitch’s timber in Essex was near the port of Maldon. Occasionally the Navy Board entered into contracts with the master of hoys to freight timber. Edward Prince the master of a Great Yarmouth hoy carried timber from Ipswich to Harwich and plank to Chatham. Isaac Berts asked for two hoys to be hastened down to Harwich with timber ‘for the want of vessels for water carriage doth much retard our business’. Timber was sometimes carried by barge to Guildford and then on to Deptford and Woolwich, again by barge.
The badness of the roads could at times cause problems, especially in Sussex. In August 1677 two teams of horses in Sussex were unable to cope with the large pieces of timber it was carrying. ‘The carriage shrunk down to the navels of the wheels’. As a
result the Chatham purveyor Robert Eason had the timber carried back, a pit dug and the piece of wood cut accordingly. In 1679 Beach told the Navy Board that a stretch of highway near Chatham needed urgent repair as ‘after a great rain any timber wagon or other great weight should come upon it, it will give way and may be the destruction both of men and cattle’. What could happen on unrepaired roads was shown when a carrier coming from Redgrave to Ipswich with timber for Harwich was killed when the cart overturned, while several carriers between Denton and Manningtree were badly bruised when a wagon overturned.(39)
The bad state of the roads were not the only problems. John Williamson, a Suffolk carrier, employed in carrying timber from Maindham and Wingfield to Deptford and Woolwich found himself in trouble with a local justice of the peace. ‘I… am necessitated by the badness of the ways to use six or seven horses to draw the same.’ At Hallsworth the local JP Mr Bennifield ‘takes away my horses above five’ and made Williamson pay 20 shillings to redeem the two horses and told him if he found him again with more than five horses then Williamson would have to pay 40s. Even though Williamson told him he was on the King’s business and showed him the contract Bennifield replied ‘I care not for it, for I know what I have to do’.(40) At Bristol Francis Baylie bought sixteen oxen and two ‘new pair of wheels’ to haul his large timber because as he told the Navy Board ‘the common harvest lieth so backward…. by the grete rains we have had here that I could not get ploughs to help carry the timbers, only one plough of a small strength to carry small timbers’. Richard Beach also pointed out the problems that harvests could bring. He informed the Navy Board in August 1677 that timber selected by Robert Eason Chatham’s purveyor was unlikely to be delivered soon ‘it being harvest time and the ways bad, carriage can scarce be produced’.(41)
Shortage of money and delays in payment could cause difficulties, as could the labour force. Robert Nicholas had a great deal of trouble delivering timber to Harwich, frequently complaining ‘of the backwardness he finds in persons to carry the Kings timber … which may prove of very ill consequence to the King’s service’.(42) He found the Ipswich carriers to be ‘a parcell of very cross fellows, who will not bring it in except they have their money on the ground for every load as they take up’. If the JPs had not been present when the timber was loaded ‘they would a threw it down again’. Some timber was later found which had been thrown in a ditch. Though he managed to persuade some carriers to carry the timber and 100 loads were delivered Nicholas still found the carriers ‘obstinate and stubborn’. Violence and intimidation was used by the ‘obstinate fellows’ who would not carry the timber, to try and persuade those ‘that do carry to let it alone & tell them they are fools to carry any of it’. In the end LCJ Scroggs, the Assize judge for the Norfolk circuit, was told to deal with the whole thing . Part of the trouble was the Ipswich carriers wanted to be paid for every half a mile they travelled, while Nicholas was only prepared to pay for every mile.(43)
It was not only timber that was sought out. Tenders were sought from, and contracts negotiated by the Navy Board and the local dockyard commissioners with local tradesmen such as the platerers John Hardwin at Portsmouth or Mrs Sarah Steane at Chatham. Hardwin told the Navy Board that he was ready to supply Globe and Raking lanterns to Deptford and Woolwich as well as Portsmouth ‘as cheap as any other person can tender’. Steane supplied one suit of ‘raking poop lanterns with crowns’ at a cost of £24.00 as well as the Muscovia glass and ‘plateing the Gallerys, bellfry and cookroom’ for the new third rate Berwick launched in 1679. Hardwin’s widow and Stearne continued to supply the Navy Board with lanterns until the 1690s.(44) Richard Taylor of Rochester, a brazier, contracted with Sir Richard Beach the Chatham dockyard commissioner to supply copper furnaces for the ships building at Chatham at a price of d per hundred weight.(45) Robert Waith of Camberwell, who was described as a gentleman, agreed to deliver to Deptford dockyard two thousand yards of good sound Ipswich canvas ‘backt … according to the pattern left in the Navy Office’ for the new ships building there.(46)
The Navy Board drove hard bargains in their contracts. Both Edward Grey and William Wood of London mastmakers agreed in their contracts to make ‘with my own materials and at my per cost and charges, six complete suites and yards to an ensign staff and jack staff fit and convenient for the Thirty ships’ according to the dimensions they had been given. The standing mast was to be of Riga or Gothenburg trees; ‘the main foremast to be cheeked and headed with oak of good length to be well fastened with Iron Works and all caps and cross trees were also to be made by him. Grey and Wood were to be paid £480 each suit if they found the trees necessary to make the standing masts, but only £330 each suit if the main yards and bowsprit timbers ‘be not found by me, but that the same may be made in his Majesties yards’. Four suits of masts were to be delivered to Deptford and Woolwich dockyards by 25 June 1678 while the remaining two were to be delivered to the same dockyards a year later by 25 June 1679.(47) The contracts stated what the timber was to be used for and also that it was to be delivered ‘free of charge’ at the dockyard. In fact all contracts made by both the Navy Board and by the local dockyard commissioners included the fact that all deliveries were to be made ‘free of charge to his Majesty’.(48)
Contracts were also entered into with large London timber merchants such as Sir William Warren and Sir John Shorter who were contracted to deliver timber supplies from Norway, as all the timber that was necessary to build the ships was not likely to found in England.(49) Warren contracted for 4,000 loads of oak in June and then two months later in August he contracted for New England masts. In April 1678 he put in a tender for Norwegian timber with his price pitched so low ‘that no man shall have them cheaper’ Warren contracted again for New England masts at the beginning of 1679. Warren was paid well over £32,000 between 1677 and 1679 through the contracts he entered into.(50)
The Navy Board laid down strict instructions as to how the dockyards were to deal with the stores that they received for the building of the Thirty New Ships. ‘The clerks of the cheque, stores and comptroller will take care that a particular account be kept by itself of whatsoever relates towards the building of the new ships.’ These records had to be kept ‘in books particularly set apart for that service’ and were laid out in columns; ‘a column by itself expressing the charge of workmanship on the New Ships as also the taking up and carriages of Timber plank’.(51) The four right hand columns were used for the stores for the new ships as they came in, ‘the rest on the left referring to the old works.’ Deptford dockyard had an even more elaborate procedure to keep track of the issuing of the stores. Any demands were noted in the book and gave details of the quantity taken, how much was left and the name of the ship it was intended for.(52) As well as the receipts and issues of stores for the thirty new ships the dockyards also had to furnish the Navy Board with quarter books of payments which were made to those working on the new ships.(53) These were to be kept separately and when they were made up they were then sent to the Navy Board and copies were kept by the clerks of the cheque at the dockyards. In order to cope with this increased workload the dockyard officers appointed their own assistants usually from within the dockyard, to keep the records.(54) The dockyards also had to send the Navy Board weekly progress reports on how the building of the ships were proceeding and these were then sent on to the admiralty commissioners. The weekly progress reports, limited for some ships, survive from each of the royal dockyards. These progress reports begin with the details from all the dockyards set out as tables; then either the dockyard commissioners or the master shipwrights such as Isaac Berts at Harwich or Phineas Pert at Chatham give them in letters. These mean it is possible to follow the building of the ships from the keel being laid down to the completion of the ships. Daniel Furzer informed the Navy Board on 20 July 1678, ‘We have all our gundeck and middle deck beams of the 2nd Rate Ship Ossory in fore and aft and almost all the knees & carlings & ledges of both in, we have some 15 upper deck beams up’.(55)
Apart from the building reports the Navy Board took other steps to ensure that they had a record of each of the thirty ships being built. Each of the ships had their bodies and dimensions drawn by Edmund Dummer who was employed as an extra clerk to Sir John Tippetts the Surveyor of the Navy. Originally Dummer seems to have drawn the ships bodies at Tippett’s request, but as the events of the Popish Plot threatened to engulf Dummer, Tippets took him to see Charles II. When Charles heard and saw what Dummer was doing, he gave the scheme his ‘approbation’ and a warrant dated 24 February 1680 was issued to Dummer to continue what he was doing.(56)
Using the records that survive it is possible to reconstruct the date that Dummer drew the ships bodies as well as the dates of twenty-two of the thirty ships. Dummer started drawing the ships when he accompanied Tippetts to Harwich in April 1678 ‘and by his approbation of the Manner I took the bodies of the two ships there’. These were the 2nd rate Sandwich and the third rate Restoration. Between April 1678 and March 1681 Dummer visited the kings dockyards as well as the private dockyards to ‘take the draughts of the ships’.(57) He usually stayed seven to ten days and he drew the ships as they were being finished and about two weeks to a month before they were launched. Dummer drew the ships on sheets of squared up paper using black pencils and ‘a plate of copper for the use of the taking the figures of the said ships’ which had been engraved by the King’s Hydrographer Mr John Seller. Dummer then duced the final draughts at the Navy Office on large sheets of Vellum and he was paid £20 a draught.58 If these draughts survived they would be the holy grail of shipbuilding. [Frank Fox’s comment to me]
Some of Dummer’s sketches showing the hull forms or dimensions relating to eight of the Thirty new ships (one 2nd the Duchess) and seven of the third rates exist. They can be found in what Lavery calls ‘a rather obscure source, a small volume in the British Library entitled Tables of the portion of Ships.’ As Lavery points out ‘it is a series of manuscript drawings of the body sections of some of the ships of 1677, executed on squared paper. It is not signed or dated’ In fact Dummer took the draughts of the ships concerned between March and November 1679.(59) Dummer drew ‘the Body of the 1st rate building at Chatham’ on 15 September 1681, though the series of perspective drawings of a 1st rate which are to be found in the Pepysian Library cannot be ‘specifically identified with the Britannia‘ Lavery states. The lines of Britannia which are shown in the Coronelli prints are muddled and possibly came from a model.(60)
The ships being built in the private yards were built under the supervision of master
carpenters from the dockyards; John Newberry the Portsmouth master carpenter oversaw
the building of the third rate Essex being built by Sir Henry Johnson at Blackwall and
also the third rate Elizabeth being built by Mr William Castle. Francis Wye, Chatham’s
master carpenter oversaw the building of the third rate Kent by Henry Johnson.(61)
The Navy Board also surveyed them, while Dummer took the ‘dimensions’ of two of
the ships building at Sir Henry Johnson’s Blackwall yard in April and May 1679. The
Corporation of Shipwrights also surveyed the ships; early in January 1680 they surveyed
the new first rate (later the Britannia) that Pett was building at Chatham and reported that
they found the building ‘well and sufficiently performed, both in goodness of timber,
scantlings and workmanship’ and that only one or two pieces of timber ‘being defective’
needed to be replaced. Once the ships were built and launched, each of the master
shipwrights were given ‘a piece of drinking plate’ by Charles II as a reward ‘for his good
service’ in building the ship. John Shish, Isaac Berts and Daniel Furzer each received a
flaggon worth £20 for building the third rates Lenox, Restoration, Eagle and
Expedition. The flaggon would, possibly, have had the King’s arms on it (replacing the
Duke of York’s which had been on there in the 1660s) with an inscription under it which
possibly read: ‘Art the launching of his Majesty’s ship …. Day of 166 Built at
by his Maj Master Shipwright there Burthen, Tunns Menn Gunns'(63)
To build a ship in a year one hundred men or more were needed and would include over thirty shipwrights, twenty four carpenters, four pairs of sawyers, and at least thirty labourers and nine scavelmen.(64) It could have been done with less men, but the men had days off, at Easter and Christmas, (though the latter was flexible and up to the discretion of the Commissioner); at least one dockyard commissioner thought that the Easter holiday break should not be allowed as the men were reluctant to return to work and when they did were recalcitrant. Bad weather could also stop work and another factor was that the yard workmen were also required to carry out other work so it was a delicate balancing act.(65) At Chatham in 1677 the yard workmen were employed ‘siding of timber & hewing them and moulding them’ as well as laying the ways for the ship to be built in the double dock. In 1678 one hundred and seventeen shipwrights were assigned to work on the nearly completed third rate building at Chatham in the head of the double dock Thirty-one were assigned to one of the new third rates just beginning to be built and only thirty to one of the old ships.(66) The shortage of daylight during the winter months meant that the working day was less, while the long summer days meant more could be done. At Portsmouth Daniel Furzer gave all the shipwrights an extra tide per day, ‘they work half an hour at Breakfast time and an hour after six at more than any other workmen’.(67)
Not all the men were skilled -the skilled workmen included the shipwrights who earned two shillings and a penny a day. They worked an average two hundred days a year, which meant they earned about £25 a year at a time when the average household income was about £7 2 shillings. In order to ensure a regular supply of men, such as shipwrights, ropemakers and caulkers, impress warrants were sometimes issued by the Navy Board and master shipwrights to find the men. As with the naval press gangs this impress was unpopular. Two shipwrights impressed in Kent who took the conduct money offered to them were heard saying ‘they would be hanged before they would go into the King’s service’. John Jackson, an assistant to a John Russell pressing shipwrights and caulkers for Chatham, found his life threatened by shipwrights and caulkers ‘by reason I best know where to find them’. The Navy Board moved Jackson, his wife and 4 children to Woolwich dockyard.(68) Sir Richard Beach told the Board in July 1678 that only two of the caulkers who had been pressed in London and sent to Chatham had turned up. ‘but it is a common practise now to receive Imprest money and slight the service’. Beach blamed it on the fact that ‘there hath been no severe course with those that have been prest or warned in’.(69) The Navy Board issued arrest warrants.
Jackson might have been frightened and threatened but local knowledge could also sometimes prove useful. At Portsmouth when the clerk and Master of the ropeyard decided they needed twelve extra ropemakers for the ‘conveniency of his Majesties service, they believed they could find them ‘here in these parts’ the commissioner noted.(70) Isaac Betts told gave the Navy Board a list of names of 50 shipwrights in Great Yarmouth. However his attempt to impress them was frustrated by the senior bailiff of the Corporation, John Woodroffe (a nonconformist), who, despite promising that Betts presence in the town would be kept secret, ‘sent his officers to warn the men … that there was not a man to be found on the List in the town’. Woodroffe also told Betts that his warrant was illegal as it did not include Woodroffe being named with Betts, and if ‘the bayliffe had not a warrrant, there would be very few men got'(71)
However unlike the impressment of seamen, pressing the skilled men was also carried out with some compassion and the Navy Board appears to have had an enlightened attitude towards its workforce. In May 1677 one Ann Maverley wrote to the Navy Board about her husband John Maverley, a caulker who was being sent to work at Chatham. Ann Maverley was heavily pregnant and she asked that her husband could be allowed to stay with her. After considering the whole matter the commissioners told her that her husband would be allowed to spend a week with her.(72)
Once the ship was launched the work continued on the interior, caulking and the masts and the carved works. A skeleton crew made up of the warrant officers: a Boatswain and his assistant, a Purser and his assistant, Gunner and assistant, Carpenter and assistant and a Cook were appointed to make any repairs that were necessary to the ship so that it could be easily fitted out when needed.(73) They were also meant to provide watches for the ships, especially at times of increased tension. On 31 March 1681 Charles II dissolved the Third Exclusion Parliament meeting at Oxford and on 8 April issued his Declaration Touching the Reasons that moved him to dissolve his last two Parliaments. This led to concerns about a possible rebellion and precautions were put in place to protect the ships. On 12 April as the Navy Board officers returned from viewing Stanlett Creek they carried out a spot check on the ships moored in Chatham river. They found some of the warrant officers, mainly pursers, boatswains and gunners, were ‘very much wanting in their duty in not keeping careful watch on board’ as they had left their posts before they were relieved ‘whereby the Kings ships are greatly exposed to the attempts of any such ill disposed persons’. Seventeen of the warrant officers were suspended on 13 April for their neglect of duty and were only reinstated on Charles II’s orders after they had petitioned the king.(74)
Once they had been built and fitted out the ships from Deptford, Harwich and Woolwich were sailed round to Chatham after they were launched and were then moored between Rochester Bridge and Chatham. The possibility of a war with France meant that the newly built ships were to be fitted out as soon as they were launched. However with peace in 1679 most of the ships were paid off. There were so many ships riding at their moorings that, according to one observer ‘the navy now spreads from Rochester to Gillingham’.(75) A survey of the defects of all the ships undertaken in June 1684 showed how much repair work was required. Different views were put forward as to why the ships were rotten. Sir Anthony Deane blamed it on lack of maintenance at Chatham and at Portsmouth, while Robert Lee the master shipwright at Chatham blamed it on the imported Baltic timber, either past its best or which had been allowed to lie for so long it had become spongy.(76) Sir Richard Beach at Portsmouth blamed it on the lack of ventilation, because the officers of the ‘ordinary’ neglected to ‘observe the orders they have received to open the ports every morning when it is fair weather and shut them again at night keeping out any moisture, and opening the lower hatches and grateings and shutting them at night’. Five years later, in May 1689, when the ships at Portsmouth were again in a bad condition Beach blamed it on the Thirty New Ships ‘having been built in haste, by Timber and Plank not seasoned’ and on the fact that the ships repaired under the Special Commission of 1686 had not been graved for three years as had been ordered by Deane and William Hewer ‘never considering that ships lying so long without being trimmed and where a shag worm doth eat the Prejudice they receive under water’.(77) Later Samuel Pepys in his Memoires he wrote to justify himself, blamed the deterioation of the ships on bad ventilation and maintenance, not on over hasty building or inadequate timber.(78) If he had accepted the latter then it would have reflected badly on Pepys as he had been involved in the original planning and allocation of contracts.
Anthony Deane called the Thirty New Ships shipbuilding programme ‘a great undertaking'(79) while Brian Lavery has described it ‘as one of the most important in the history of the British Navy because it set precedences for the design and construction of the line of battle ships’. The final dimensions of the ships not only increased the sizes of the ships, but also altered how the ships were to be measured in future by using the length of the gun deck and not the keel length. At the same time standardisation in the size of masts were also laid down so that each could be interchangeable. Centralised control laid down the designs of the carvings for the ships, though the scantlings for the ships were set by the master shipwrights themselves and submitted for approval. New record keeping systems for keeping track of the stores bought for the thirty new ships were created. There were problems; shortage of money to pay for the timber and stores necessary and the lack of skilled men; but these were temporary setbacks and the ships were built, not as fast in the later years as they had been in the earlier years when the urgency to get a large fleet to sea in the event of a war with France meant as soon as one ship was built, another took its place. The legacy of the thirty ships shipbuilding programme were the 100, 90, and 70 gun ships which were the backbone of the later eighteenth century Royal Navy.
The Thirty New Ships built in the Royal Dockyards
The Thirty New Ships Built in Private Yards
Francis Baylie BRISTOL
Robert Castle DEPTFORD
Henry Johnson BLACKWALL YARD DEPTFORD
For their career histories see R Winfield British Warships in the Age of Sail 1603-1817 Design, Construction, Careers and Fates (3 vols Barnsley 2007-2010) vol 1 1603-1714
References in the text
1 I would like to thank Mr Richard Endsor and Mr Frank Fox for all their help, and commenting on this paper. Since I wote this essay in 2001 Richard Endsor’s research on the Lenox has been published in his excellent The Restoration Warship The Design Construction and Career of a Third Rate of Charles II’s Navy (2009) and this has in turn led to the Lenox project -http://www.buildthelenox.org
2 The National Archives: Adm 106/323 f 20; R. C. Latham & W. Matthews ed. The Diary of Samuel Pepvs (11 vols. 1970-83), x 8
3 Frank Fox Great Ships: The Battlefleet of King Charles II (London 1980) Chapter 8
‘The Thirty Ships 1678-1685’; B. Lavery ‘Thirty New Ships’ Model Shipwright; ibid
The Ship of the Line, I, The Development of the Battlefleet 1650-1850 (London 1983),
4 B. Lavery ‘Thirty New Ships’ Model Shipwright; British Naval Documents 1204-
1960 (NRS 1993) pp. 255-7; Folger Shakespeare Library Xd 539 (25)
5 J. R. Tanner ed. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Pepvsian Manuscripts [hereafter
CPM ] (4 vols. NRS 1903-23) IV p. 412; The National Archives: Adm 106/3538 Part 2
6 CPM 4 pp. 426, 431, 433, 441-2; TNA: Adm 106/322 ff. 176-176v
7 TNA: Adm 106/321 f 194; Adm 106/324 f 391 .(I would like to thank Dr Ann Coats for identifying Mr Eastwood).
8 TNA: Adm 1/3548 p. 77
9 TNA: Adm 106/322 f 260; Adm 106/326 f 94; Adm 106/3539 Pt 2 Pett to NB 26 June 1677.
10 TNA: Adm 106/327 f 200.
11 TNA: Adm 106/36; copy in NMM SER 79 fo 350v
12 Brian Lavery The Ship of the Line (2 vols. 1983,1984) 1 195; TNA: Adm 106/327 ff 215-7; Adm 106/329 ff 68-75v, 167
13 TNA: Adm 1/3547 p. 353
14 TNA: Adm 106/324 f250; Adm 106/345 f.49; for an excellent account of Charles’s interest in his navy see J. D. Davies “A lover of the Sea and Skillful in Shipping: King Charles II and his Navy” (Royal Stuart Society Huntingdon 1992).
15 TNA: 106/336 ff 35 42; Adm 106/349 f 358
16 TNA: Adm 49/24 pp.56-7, 60; Adm 106/336 f 42
17 I would like to thank Mr Frank Fox for this information; TNA: Adm 106/38 warrant dated 9 Mar. 1677/8; Adm 106/329 f 358
18 TNA: Adm 106/322 ff 246-7
19 B. Poole Navy Board Contracts 1660-1832 (London 1965) 22-4; CPM 4, pp. 407,
415-6; TNA: Adm 106/323 ff 16-18; Adm 106/326 f 34
20 TNA: Adm 106/321 ff 9, 142, 160
21 TNA: Adm 106/39, Samuel Pepys to NB 9 April 1678
22 R. G. Albion Forests and Sea Power The Timber problem of the Roval Navy (reprint
Annapolis 2000) 227; CPM 4 p. 472; TNA: Adm 106/321 ff 7 -v; Adm 106/327 ff 176, 434
23 CPM 4 pp. 471; British Naval Documents pp. 257-9; Albion Forests and Sea Power
24 TNA: Adm 106/321 f. 194; Adm 106/322 ff 251, 253; Adm 106/331 Part 2 f 305; Adm 106/3538 Part 2; Albion Forests and Sea Power 227
25 TNA: Adm 106/331 Part 2 f. 5
26 TNA: Adm 106/322 ff 136, 145; Adm 106/326 f 374; Adm 20/23
27 TNA: Adm 106/331 Part 1 f. 22.
28 Maurice F Bond ed The Diaries and papers of Sir Edward Dering Second Baronet
1644 to 1684 (House of Lords Record Office Occasional Publications No 1: HMSO
1976) p. 117.
29 TNA: Adm 49/24 p. 86; Adm 106/321 ff 232, 303; Adm 106/323 f 244; Adm 106/3312 f 329 I owe this reference to Mr Richard Endsor; I am grateful to Dr Ann Coats for identifying Medbury, who was also Master Caulker at Portsmouth in 1685.
31 TNA: Adm 106/323 f. 327
32 Albion Forests and Sea Power 227; Lavery Ship of the Line 151; TNA: Adm 106/321
f 481; Adm 106/3538 Part 1 list of timber received between 20 June 1677 and 21 March.
33 CPM 4 p. 471; TNA: Adm 106/321 f 162; Adm 106/326 f 40; Adm 106/331 Part 2 f 16; for the importance of credit and debts see C. Muldrew The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (Basingstoke 1998).
34 TNA: Adm 106/326 f 361v.
35 TNA: Adm 106/326 ff 162, 171
36 TNA: Adm 106/321 f 165; Adm 106/349 f 114v
37 TNA: Adm 106/326 ff 218v, 363v; Adm 106/340 ff 26, 28
38 TNA: Adm 106/321 f 303; Adm 106/323 f 327; Adm 106/341 f 356
39 TNA: Adm 1/3548 p. 1105
40 TNA: Adm 106/326 ff 196, 199
41 TNA: Adm 106/40 Samuel Pepys to Navy Board 17 July 1678; Adm 106/321 ff 34, 303
42 TNA: Adm 1/3548 p. 1081
43 TNA: Adm 106/326 ff 361v, 363-v; Adm 106/329 ff 158v-159
44 TNA: Adm 20/23/1105; Adm 106/329 f 377; Adm 106/335 ff 43, 45; National Maritime Museum CHA/L/2
45 TNA: Adm 20/41 no 147; Adm 106/3538 part 2, Contract dated 11 July 1678;
46 TNA: Adm 49/24 p. 86
47 TNA: Adm 49/24 pp. 79-82
48 TNA: Adm 106/3538 part 2 List 23 March 1678
49 TNA: Adm 49/24 pp. 3, 5; Adm 106/326 ff 32v-33; Adm 106/340 f 10.
50 TNA: Adm 106/340 f. 17
51 TNA: Adm 106/321 f 194; Adm 106/323 f. 97
52 TNA: Adm 106/327 f 107; Adm 106/329
53 TNA: Adm 106/331 Pt 2 f. 303; Adm 106/342 f. 68.
54 TNA: Adm 106/322 f 285
55 CPM 4 pp. 454, 505, 512; TNA: Adm 106/337 Pt 1 f 119, Adm 106/3538 part 1 and 2.
56 TNA: Adm 18/63 p 298; Adm 106/349 f. 359v; Until Dr Ann Coats publishes her book on Edmund Dummer, see Celina Fox ‘The Ingenious Mr Dummer: Rationalizing the Royal Navy in Late Seventeenth Century England’ http://www.bl.uk/eblj/2007articles/pdf/ebljarticle102007.pdf 1-58
57 TNA: Adm 20/23 /451; Adm 106/349 f 359
58 TNA: Adm 18/61 p 87; Adm 18/63/64, 65, 2006, 2339, 2340; Adm 20/23/79; Adm 106/349 ff 359-V.
59 Lavery Thirty Ships I, 6; (I am grateful to Mr Richard Endsor for discussing this
volume with me)
60 Lavery Thirty Ships II 2; TNA: Adm 18/63/2340; (I am grateful to Frank Fox for his thoughts on this matter.)
61 TNA: Adm 20/23/1104, 1106
62 TNA: Adm 18/61 p. 89; Adm 106/332 f 199
63 TNA: Adm 20/41 p. 111; Adm 106/3520 f 2
64 TNA: Adm 106/322 f 86v; Adm 106/3538 Part 1; also based on extraordinary paybooks for Chatham and Deptford in Adm 42.
65 TNA: Adm 106/331 Part 2 ff 217v, 231; Adm 106/3538 Part 2
66 TNA: Adm 106/329 f 153; Adm 106/3538 Part 1
67 TNA: Adm Adm 106/327 f 112; Adm 106/332 f 180
68 TNA: Adm 106/324 ff408, 409; Adm 106/330 ff 231, 282
69 TNA: Adm 106/330 f 231
70 TNA: Adm 106/336 f 43
71 TNA: Adm 1/3548 pp. 237, 333; Adm 106/369 f 117; P. Gauci Politics and Society in Great Yarmouth 1660-1722 (Oxford 1996) does not mention this incident at all
72 TNA: Adm 106/326 f 154; Maverley’s letter is quoted by Jennine Hurl ‘She being bigg with child is likely to miscarry: Pregnant Victims prosecuting Assault in Westminster, 1685-1720’ The London Journal 24 (2) (1999) 18-33, on p. 28.
73 TNA: Adm 42/1-5
74 TNA: Adm 1/3552 pp. 25, 28-9, 31; Adm 106/3539 Box 2, brown folder lieutenants, petition of suspended warrant officers; Adm 106/3541 warrant dated 13 April 1681 for suspending warrant officers
75 TNA: Adm 106/342 ff 191, 421; 106/350 ff. 196,198.
76 TNA: Adm 106/370 f 51 (Lee’s letter is filed under Chatham); Adm 106/371ff. 28-30v; Adm 106/3566.
77 TNA: Adm 106/369 f 127; Adm 106/387 f 187
78 J. D. Davies ‘Pepys and the Admiralty Commission of 1679-84’ Historical Research
79 TNA: Adm 106/323 f 20.
(c.) Dr Peter Le Fevre 2001