Naval Dockyards Society

Exploring the civil branches of navies & their material culture


Britain’s second carrier leaves for sea trials

HMS Prince of Wales leaves Rosyth Dockyard (where she was built) for the first time, for sea trials, 19 September 2019. (Crown Copyright, 2019). 

28 September 2019


Seamen of the early nineteenth century Omani navy seen during a visit to Portsmouth Dockyard.


Conference: Saturday 4 April 2020

Where Empires Collide:

Dockyards and Naval Bases in and around the Indian Ocean

The Naval Dockyards Society’s Conference for 2020 will be on the subject of Dockyards and Naval Bases in and Around the Indian Ocean. Scheduled for Saturday 4 April 2020 it will be held at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England.

See Call for Papers for full details.

Philip MacDougall
16 March 2019


‘Hidden Deptford: An evening of our maritime history’, St Nicholas, Deptford, 7 February 2019

Attending a Lenox Project event to publicise building a replica of the 1678 3rd rate ship on a chilly February evening, I was astounded to enter a packed St Nicholas’s Church. The audience figure was 268, an amazing number, showing how topical Deptford Dockyard and its shipbuilding community is to its residents. It had been advertised on but most of the audience must already have planned to attend.

Normally the handsome church of Saint Nicholas is much emptier, allowing one to examine closely the beautiful carvings and eminent shipwrights’ and naval memorials and those of the children of fellow-diarist and friend of Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn, who lived in nearby Sayes Court. But on this occasion Deptford residents were enjoying the relaxed, informative and amusing talks of two leading seventeenth century historians, Dr David Davies and Richard Endsor.

David, best-selling author of Pepys’s Navy: Ships, Men and Warfare 1649-89 and Kings of the Sea: Charles II, James II and the Royal Navy, began with the reasons for the dockyard’s creation by Henry VIII. The most important were its convenience by river from the seats of government at Whitehall, the City and the Tower, its protection upriver from foreign attack and its nearness to Greenwich royal palace. As many wars until the late seventeenth century were fought in or across the North Sea, the Thames was the centre of warship building. Deptford and Woolwich therefore became key research and development yards which could be managed fairly closely by the Navy Office situated in the City. David and Richard gave many examples of Charles II and Samuel Pepys, secretary to the Navy Board and later to the Admiralty, visiting frequently for business, ship launches and pleasure. Ultimately Deptford’s distance from the sea marked the end of its usefulness, however. By the nineteenth century it was becoming less accessible for larger naval ships and was eventually closed as a dockyard in 1869.

Richard spoke of the women of Restoration Deptford, emphasising the forcefulness of iron contractor Susan Beckford and Ann Pearson’s post as ratcatcher. He tracked Pepys’s seduction of shipwright’s wife Mrs Bagwell, apparently with the approval of her family, through his Diary and the invaluable ADM 106 correspondence at The National Archives. He also described how Charles II gave his mistresses enormous power and status. Louise de Kéroualle, created Duchess of Portsmouth, was the mistress most connected to Lenox, the first of the 1670s and 1680s Thirty Ships building programme, as she attended the launch in 1678 with her son Charles Lenox, aged 6. Apparently, Charles II treated the people of Deptford to a slap-up meal to celebrate afterwards. Richard also spoke of eminent Deptford shipwrights such as John Shish who built the Lenox, the speaker’s skilful watercolours adding greatly to our understanding of the events he described so fully. The talk was enriched by social and technical detail from ADM 106 which would otherwise be unknown.

The break between the speakers was enjoyably enlivened by the South East London Folk Orchestra, the church resonating with the audience joining in the folk songs and shanties. Lenox Project Director Julian Kingston ( described the origins of the Lenox Project, acknowledging the artistic generosity of Richard, whose book, The Restoration Warship: The Design, Construction and Career of a Third Rate of Charles II’s Navy, sparked the idea to rebuild the Lenox. Julian related how the Project is working with Deptford Dockyard developers Hutchison Whampoa and Lewisham Borough Council to bring the plan to fruition, including some innovative ideas for acquiring timber. In the process it is raising awareness of Deptford’s international, national and local heritage and will train Lewisham young people in transferable craftsmanship and IT skills.

While the event was free to get in, organiser Esther Lie joked that it would cost £20 to leave! The collection box on the door was certainly accumulating significant amounts of the folding stuff for the Lenox Project. This is altogether a heartening story of how committed, well organised and knowledgeable enthusiasts can galvanise a community and the authorities by what at first might have seemed a fantasy but appears to be well on its way to realisation.

Dr Ann Coats

Picture credits: Diana Endsor

Richard’s oil painting of the Lenox launch in 1678 can be seen in the NDS website banner at
For more information about the event and the Lenox Project, see
For extensive studies of Deptford Dockyard’s archaeology and history see Antony Francis, The Deptford royal dockyard and manor of Sayes Court, London: excavations 2000–12, MOLA Monograph Series 71 (London, 2017) and Philip MacDougall, ed., Transactions of the Naval Dockyards Society, Volume 11, Five Hundred Years of Deptford and Woolwich Royal Dockyards (Naval Dockyards Society, Portsmouth, 2019), ISBN 978-0-9929292-8-2.

2 March 2019

Completion of ADM 106 Project

In 2019 The National Archives and the Naval Dockyards Society will run a Seminar at Kew to celebrate the completion of the ADM 106 project (details to be confirmed)

Dr Ann Coats

21 January 2019

Conference: Saturday 30 March 2019
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

One of the cannon at Fort Hamilton built in the 1870s to protect Hamilton Harbour, access to Bermuda Dockyard and safeguard Atlantic trade routes. Like the 1860s forts surrounding British home dockyards following the 1860 Defence Act, the forts built around Bermuda as a result of the Colonial Defence Act of 1865 never fired their cannon in defence, their massive firepower providing an effective deterrent. (A. Coats, 2012)

Conference booking form

Conference program

Dr Ann Coats

16 January 2019

Forthcoming Naval Dockyards Society Tour 

Plans are in hand for the Society’s next overseas visit, a one-week study tour to the recently inscribed UNESCO world heritage site, the 18th-century British naval dockyard at English Harbour, Antigua.

The Society’s host will be Dr Reg Murphy, Director Heritage Resources Antigua & Barbuda National Parks and Secretary-General of Antigua’s National Commission for UNESCO.

Arrangements are being made by NDS member John Harris. PLanned dates for the trip: 17–24 May 2019.

Click here for a flyer for further details and booking form

29 December 2018

Navy Board Project at The National Archives (TNA) is extended for another year

At its 1999 AGM the Naval Dockyards Society agreed to support Sue Lumas’s proposal for a project listing ADM 106 at the Public Record Office. This ‘valuable collection’ (D. Baugh, Naval Administration in the age of Walpole (1965), 537) of Navy Board in-letters 1658–1837 comprises miscellaneous correspondence from dockyard commissioners, dockyard officers, naval captains, dockyard contractors and dockyard workers from around the world.

Of the 1,019 boxes of correspondence in ADM 106/281-1299, 881 boxes have been catalogued to date and are searchable on Discovery, TNA online catalogue. Fewer than 100 boxes remain to be processed. Note: each box can contain up to 500 individual letters.

The Navy Board Project (NBP) was one of the first TNA volunteer projects to be linked to another archival collection. Listing of ADM 106 at Kew was soon joined by the volunteer listing of Navy Board out-letters to the Admiralty, 1738–1809, at the Caird Library, National Maritime Museum Greenwich. ADM/B and ADM/BP at the National Maritime Museum are searchable on TNA Discovery as ADM 106/354 and ADM 106/359 respectively.

The NBP was due to end on 31 March 2018, but at the wish of the AGM, the NDS wrote to the TNA Catalogue Panel and User Participation Boards to request them to reconsider the deadline, as completion was so close. This week the NDS heard that the TNA User Participation Board, in recognition of the efforts, progress made and the commitment of the team over the last year in some challenging circumstances, has agreed to grant the NBP a final extension of one year to complete the project.

Our letter was supported by:

Chris Donnithorne, Naval Biographical Database, :

The value of the Navy Board Project is in identifying previously unknown material, and the care with which the process has been undertaken – it is reliable. This does not, of course, insure against error in the original source (thankfully relatively rare) but it does help significantly when faced with a plethora of websites which look terrific but tend to fail miserably when tested against the primary sources.

and Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust Researchers,

The research group for Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust has made extensive use of the thorough indexing of ADM 106 Navy Board Correspondence. It has enabled us to understand the systems and practices used by the Royal Navy and Royal Dockyards in a fuller and richer way. It helps us produce much richer biographies for individuals we have been researching. Importantly, it helps us cover a wider social/economic range more fully, expanding beyond commissioned officers to provide lots of material on warrant officers and senior dockyard artisans, as well as illuminating material on a significant proportion of lower ranks and tradesmen.

We thank TNA User Participation Board for their consideration, the Principal Record Specialist Manager at The National Archives for military, maritime and transport records and all the volunteers who have contributed their time to the NBP since 1999. But above all we thank Sue Lumas, its driving force and coordinator. The NDS will collaborate in an event to mark the completed project, to celebrate its valuable work in enabling global dissemination, research and publication of this key data for administrative, maritime and cultural history.

To illustrate the importance of this project and the documents thus produced, an example is shown below which is a Discovery entry for ADM 106/330/496, 1678 Dec 5:

Commissioner Sir Richard Beach, Chatham. Is sending a rough draft of the River, with an explanation of the numbers indicated on the plan and the defences proposed. St Mary’s Creek, the the platform at Gillingham, Upnor Castle, Cockram Wood and the yard are marked on the plan. A sentinel is also required at Faversham and a platform should be built on the site of Queenborough Castle and a 4th rate moored at Queenborough creek. Warning should be sent from Faversham and fire ships should be ready at Sheerness. He apologises for the quality of the plan but his sight is failing.

This entry leads to a very significant document in the aftermath of the Dutch Raid on Chatham 9–23 June 1667. This action, which began when Admiral de Ruyter and his fleet arrived in the Thames estuary on 9 June, ended the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–67).

To save money in 1667, Charles II had ordered the fleet to be laid up in the Medway anchorage, ostensibly protected by a new Sheerness fort, river batteries and a boom. However, Commissioner Peter Pett failed to carry out his orders. The great ships had not been moved upriver and Sheerness Fort was incomplete. The fort was seized on 10–11 June with an amphibious force of ships and marines, threatening Chatham Dockyard. The Dutch breached the chain and burnt Mary, Royall Oake and Loyall London. At the last minute, ships sunk near the Medway riverbank in Dockyard Reach and the presence of large guns, cavalry and infantry deterred the Dutch advance beyond Upnor Castle. Chatham Dockyard was spared. Nevertheless, the capture of Royal Charles and loss of nine other warships, plus earlier battle losses, represented a shocking humiliation for the king and the country. The Raid effectively ended the war by forcing Charles II to sign the Treaty of Breda. The Dutch only left the Thames Estuary when the English signed the Treaty on 21 July (31 July in the Netherlands).

Ten years later, when the navy was reviewing its strategy, Chatham Commissioner Sir Richard Beach sent his plans to strengthen Medway defences against future attack, accompanied by a key (see below the map)

Chatham Commissioner Richard Beach’s map of his Proposal re. Cables, 1 November 1678, TNA, ADM 106/330, ff. 495-497.
Image by A. Coats, courtesy of The National Archives, Kew

A rough draft of part of this river with my opinion how it should be fortified against the Attaques or attempts by a fforreigne Enemy

  1. Chatham Yard
  2. St Mary Creek
  3. The platform at Gillingham
  4. The platform at the lower end of Cookram Wood
  5. Cookram Wood
  6. The Birds Nest in which are 18 Guns
  7. The platform next the Castle wherein are 12 Guns
  8. The wharf wherein are 3 Crabs for heaving taut the Boome or Chaine
  9. Upnor Castle
  10. One of His Majesty’s Ships
  11. Another Ship
  12. )Two ships moared with their broadsides towards the Chain
  13. ) to rake any ships that shall come up the Reach fore & aft
  14. The Boom or Chain
  15. Two cables which I would have seased together
  16. and a chain at each end, as at 18 and 19
  17. Pieces of Mast or Great Balks to be seased to the upper part of the cable with small chains

Dr Ann Coats

14 April 2018

Remedial action for Portsmouth Dockyard Buildings at Risk

After noting for too long that there had been no progress in conserving many buildings at risk in Portsmouth Dockyard, the NDS Committee decided to send a letter the Ministry of Defence to begin a dialogue about conserving and re-using its most vulnerable buildings.

Evidence shows that the MoD is falling short of government legislation and guidance to maintain its historic dockyard buildings to a ‘good’ standard.

The committee hopes that a cultural collaboration of stakeholders can help set up a MoD Conservation Group or a Heritage Partnership Agreement to resolve reported inconsistencies, deliver sustainable solutions creatively and accomplish what has not been achieved by the MoD in Portsmouth Dockyard in the last ten years.

Click here for Press Release and Letter to MoD.

We look forward to receiving your comments and suggestions.

Dr Ann Coats, FRHistS, Hon. Chair, Naval Dockyards Society

20 February 2017

20th Century Naval Dockyards: Devonport and Portsmouth Characterisation Report

Coats, A., Davies, J. D., Evans, D., and Riley, R. (2015)
Portsmouth: Naval Dockyards Society
ISBN 978-0-9929292-0-6
ebook ISBN 978-0-9929292-2-0

After three years’ work by the NDS research team this report was published in 2015, launched on 13 November at the National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth.

This extensive report is the product of three years of sustained archival and field research into the C20 built environment of these dockyards by members of the Naval Dockyards Society, completed to Historic England standards. It contains 650 maps, plans, models and photographs, many in colour, and is enriched by discussions with many institutions, societies and individuals.

It places C20 dockyards within historical, military, industrial, material, personnel, engineering and architectural contexts. Developing the local, national and international profiles of Devonport and Portsmouth dockyards, it adds to our knowledge and understanding of why and how they changed during the C20 and initiates future research by asking questions.

An important baseline reference book for the future interpretation and management of the two remaining operational English dockyards, it distinguishes which buildings are typical of the C20 naval dockyards and of unique interest, combining data, narrative and analysis.

See C20 Naval Dockyards for downloadable copy of the Report

The digital archive of 20th Century Naval Dockyards Devonport and Portsmouth has been made available by the Archaeology Data Service, University of York, funded by Historic England,

16 February 2016