Naval Dockyards Society

Exploring the civil branches of navies & their material culture


The Naval Dockyards Society (NDS) is looking for a Secretary

 Our valued Secretary will retire at the 2022 AGM in March 2022, and we are seeking applications for this post. START date: 26 March 2022

To apply for this role, see here.

Closing date: 14 December 2021

This is an honorary (unpaid volunteer) post. It is a NDS member position, so the successful applicant will become an NDS member – if a full-time student their membership fee and future UK travel expenses to attend committee meetings and NDS conference will be paid by the Society (overseas officers would attend via zoom). Full-time students would also be paid a small honorarium.

You can be studying or interested in any topic, but education, history, sociology, maritime, built environment (architecture, civil engineering/surveying, planning), business and IT studies would be especially relevant; or be a member of a relevant volunteer organisation.

See here for further details.

15 November 2021

What’s Happening to Portsmouth’s Defence Heritage? Update.

Dr Celia Clark is reporting here on recent discussions regarding the future use of Tipner West site or Lennox Point as it has resently been renaimed.

In her article she also discusses the likely  fate of the Royal Marine Wardroom Eastney, which is shown below.

Eastney Barracks and Brent Geese

24 March 2021

Threat to Portsmouth Harbour

Chris Donnithorne, a former naval officer, has released a report which raises urgent concerns about the immediate and future viability of Portsmouth Harbour. The NDS is launching this report to raise awareness of multiple threats arising from recent environmental interventions.

Portsmouth Harbour is an amalgam of natural and manmade events, originating when rising sea levels drowned the coastal plain after the last Ice Age. Its entrance has been kept clear by a scouring ‘double high tide’ and the influx of river water from the South Downs, but it has required occasional dredging at the harbour mouth to reduce the silt bar. With its creeks, streams and mudbanks, the harbour is a complex organism which is showing identifiable signs of stress.

See the Report here and our Campaigns, Threat to Portsmouth Harbour webpage   for more information about the Report.
Dr. Ann Coats
30 November 2020 (updated 20 December 2020)

Announcing the Award of five £1000 Grants by NDS to Small Dockyard Museum or Dockyard Heritage Site Projects

The 2020 Naval Dockyards Society AGM agreed that part of its small surplus of funds could be used to award five grants of £1,000 each to small dockyard museum or dockyard heritage site projects. It was felt that grants could make a real difference to the future enhancement of worthy museums or sites.

Successful applications were received from the following sites:

Bluetown Remembered (Sheerness)

The project will further raise the profile of Sheerness Dockyard and Blue Town heritage, run from Bluetown Remembered, a music hall built in 1841, later a cinema. One floor is dedicated to Sheerness Dockyard. It welcomes over 20,000 visitors each year. The NDS grant will fund a booklet on Sheerness Dockyard for all Sheppey schools, part of two Kent-wide schemes, Wheels of Time and the Children’s University, bringing in families from all over Kent. It will also finance six monthly lectures about the dockyard and Blue Town to encourage history groups to visit as well as locals. Preshow tours of the island and the dockyard will be used to help promote the dockyard to this wider audience. Special events for care homes will also be hosted.

 The Dockyard Museum at Antigua Naval Dockyard

Unveiling the 8 March Exhibition, 2020, at the Antigua Dockyard Museum

A multidisciplinary research, interpretation, and public outreach programme has been developed entitled ‘8 March Project’ under the theme ‘Dockyard History is African History’, to recover and interpret archival and archaeological evidence of the enslaved and free Africans and their descendants who made possible the naval dockyard at Antigua, established in 1725. The ‘8 March Project’ identified eight enslaved Africans who lost their lives in an explosion on 8 March 1744. These names launched a project to recover more names of enslaved Africans who worked in the yard, which has recovered more than 650 names. In 2021 the dockyard museum will initiate an expanded programme including creative works by students from Antigua State College and the local Cobbs Cross Primary School, telling the stories of enslaved workers. The students will bring parents and grandparents.

 Museum of Slavery and Freedom, Deptford

This embryonic organisation aspires to acquire permanent premises, working alongside Action for Community Development in Deptford. The project, ‘Chip on Your Shoulder’, will combine Deptford Dockyard history and the Museum of Slavery and Freedom (MōSaF). It will use the Deptford Pepys Resource Centre as an anchor hub for museum tours about Deptford Dockyard, its support of maritime communities, and its links to the African, Irish and Asian diaspora. Deptford is significant as it was home to John Hawkins who became a prominent early English slave trader. MōSaF will demonstrate how Deptford, London and the United Kingdom grew rich from the slave trade but also explore the extent to which freedom from slavery was won and celebrate the many cultures and peoples who live consequently in the UK. The Lenox Project has kindly offered £500 to help fund this project.

Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust (SDPT)

Sheerness Dockyard Church

1820s Sheerness Dockyard Model

SDPT was founded in 2014 to conserve the historic buildings of the former Royal Dockyard at Sheerness. The Trust’s focus has been to rescue and reuse the Grade II* listed former Dockyard Church, built in 1828 to the designs of George Ledwell Taylor, Navy Board surveyor. In 2001 it was gutted by fire. The Trust has developed a project to conserve the building and convert it into a mixed-use community facility with an events space, a business start-up centre for young people, and a permanent display gallery housing part of the 1820s dockyard model. This model will play a significant part in informing the public of the history of the dockyard and the church’s place in that community. The NDS grant will contribute towards the interpretation and conservation of the model.

The Unicorn Preservation Society, Dundee

The stern of HMS Unicorn

Robert Seppings, the Industrial Revolution & HMS Unicorn’. 2022 is the 200th anniversary of the keel laying of Robert Seppings’s frigate HMS Unicorn on No 4 slip at Chatham. From 1800, many factors affected ship construction methods and yard operations, such as the increased availability of consistent wrought iron and steam propulsion. Seppings developed wrought iron diagonal straps to increase the torsional stiffness of the hull and wrought iron knees, offering greater strength at less weight. HMS Unicorn is now the only remaining ship which fully illustrates Seppings’s approach. The grant will be used, with other funding, for an exhibition linking the Industrial Revolution, Seppings’s ship design and shipbuilding in Dundee and naval dockyards. It will utilise oral histories of those who worked in the Dundee shipyards and link outreach to relevant school curricula.

This was an exceptional event for the Society and it was very exciting to see the range of projects thus funded, reflecting the scope of dockyard cultural significance. The NDS is optimistic that these inputs will enable wider interpretation of dockyard heritage, ‘as an oak cometh of a litel spyr’ (Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, Book 2).

All of the photos are courtesy of the respective organisations, we have permission to use them, no names of photographers have been supplied.

Ann Coats

23 September 2020

Naval Dockyards Society announces 5 Dockyard Project Grants

Who knows where an initial discovery can lead? Historic England investigated the dismantling site of Charles Darwin’s exploration ship Beagle, which sailed to South America and twice circumnavigated the world (Hunt for Darwin’s HMS Beagle Reveals Dock Outline)
This has led to the listing of a mud dock berth at Paglesham, Essex as a Scheduled Monument ( The list entry also recognises Beagle’s later career as a Coastguard Watch Vessel and the rarity of surviving mud docks. Such legacies have many meanings to local maritime communities and can become critical in enhancing local engagement in dockyard heritage.

Such small beginnings can stimulate local volunteers to carry out research into the dockyard site, write histories about its ships and people and hold open days. Thus the community learns about its evolving landscape, crafts and society, which ties it to larger stories. This can lead to more permanent sites, volunteer opportunities, and engagement with schools and visitors.

Through the hard work of committee members and the generosity of members, the Naval Dockyards Society has accumulated a small surplus of funds beyond those needed for forthcoming publications. The 2020 AGM agreed that this could be used to support a dockyard museum/dockyard heritage site project. The Society will award five grants of £1,000 each, to help fulfil the NDS Constitution Aim and specific Objectives:


To stimulate the production and exchange of information and research into naval dockyards and associated organisations. The Naval Dockyards Society is an international organisation which is concerned with and publishes material on naval dockyards and associated activities, including victualling, medicine, ordnance, shipbuilding, shipbreaking, coastguard stations, naval air stations, provisions and supplies; all aspects of their construction, history, archaeology, conservation, workforce, surrounding communities and family history; and all aspects of their buildings, structures and monuments relating to naval history. The Society is therefore involved closely in the terrestrial, aviation and underwater heritage of all these sites.

Specific Constitution Objectives to:

5 Increase public awareness of historic dockyards and related sites.

6 Create links with related organisations in Britain and abroad.

7 Coordinate and promote new research into the topics relevant to the Aim.

8 Coordinate the historical, architectural and technical expertise available within the society to enhance dockyard sites and campaign against threats of damage or the destruction of dockyards or related sites.

10 Endeavour to increase access to historic dockyards and related sites.

12 Offer assistance to those establishing dockyard heritage sites.

13 Encourage the storage and collection of relevant archives and oral history interviews related to dockyard history.

The NDS wishes to support a small dockyard museum or heritage site organisation anywhere in the world, such as a not-for-profit organisation with 0-5 employed staff or an elected committee, with a constitution and annual member meetings. This sum could make a real difference to the future enhancement of a worthy museum or site.

What is a dockyard and a dockyard museum or dockyard heritage site?

A dockyard builds, fits out, supplies and repairs naval ships. Dockyards are defined by dry docks, from which water can be drained or pumped out for repairing or dismantling, whereas shipbuilding can be carried out on a slip, but the term was sometimes used where the yard did not have a dock. A dockyard was literally the yard that grew around the dock. The term implies naval ownership, but in this instance also encompasses commercial yards which built for the navy.

A dockyard museum or dockyard heritage site comprises groups of buildings or structures which, because of their distinctive architecture, fabric or their place in the landscape, display historical, aesthetic, communal and social value. This could be tangibly or intangibly associated with events or living traditions, ideas, beliefs, artistic and literary works of significance.

See Dockyard Project Grant Application Guidance 2020

Ann Coats

10 June 2020 (modified16/06/2020)

Another chapter in the sad story of Bermuda Dockyard workers’ housing

The last remaining terrace of workers’ houses, Albert Row, listed by the Bermuda Government, is threatened with demolition by the government quango West End Development Corporation (WEDCo), which is responsible for its care. Other workers’ houses at Portland Place, Princess Louise Terrace, Clarence Terrace, Victoria Row and Marine Terrace at Lodge Point have all been demolished.

Despite an NDS campaign dating from 2012, urging WEDCo to maintain is properties adequately, WEDCo then stated that it had carried out no maintenance apart from Health and Safety since 2009. As a result, Victoria Row was demolished in 2016, even though it took several weeks and cost $331,400. The houses were evidently not so derelict as portrayed.

The NDS was alerted to the new threat to Albert Row and wrote to WEDCo, the Royal Gazette and government bodies.

NDS members Brian Hyde and Roger Bendall, associated with the dockyard all their lives, responded generously with photographs and letters to the National Museum of Bermuda, Bermuda National Trust and Royal Gazette, which are supportive of the dockyars’s heritage.

Roger Bendall’s letter was published by the Royal Gazette: J. Bell, ‘Call to save historic Albert Row’, Royal Gazette, Oct 17, 2019,

See the NDS’s Bermuda Campaign page for the background to Victoria and Albert Rows.

For more information about Bermuda Dockyard, look at Roger Bendall’s Facebook group ‘Bermuda Dockyard community during the Second World war and the postwar years’

Ann Coats
19 October 2019

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

‘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

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