This article attempts to briefly define the various Trades & work involved. It is not comprehensive as the range of work for most Trades is vast.

1. Over the Centuries, specifically the 20th century, changes in technology with computers, automated controlled machinery & numerous other innovations, required modern Shipbuilding, Repair, Maintenance & Upkeep to advance rapidly.

2. Trades have diminished dramatically with amalgamation of many & loss of identification with the past. The past should not be forgotten, our forbearers undertook work in a manner under extremely difficult conditions that persons today would not even contemplate thinking about. Knowledge of the past is fading fast, but those persons remembering their own lifetime careers whose marvellous memories, written articles, taped interviews and hard work are prepared to record & retain this valuable asset are to be commended. Historically the derivation of current work will always require the ‘hands on skills’ of a craftsperson. After all, even the machines & computers etc that are now controlling work practices require design, manufacture, installation, repair & upkeep by craftspersons to achieve the end product of the ships. It is an ever evolving cycle requiring skills, training & people.

3. Royal Dockyards Shipbuilding/Repair Industry have Dockyard buildings, locks, docks, basins, slipways, cranes, transport, ships, machinery, plant, tools, all the utilities, power, water, electricity, generating stations, policing, fire, victualling, etc involved inside the Dockyard walls. Indeed too much to define in this article other than ‘the Dockyard comprised a ‘Town’ in its own right’.

4. Artefacts have been recovered, retained, stored, restored & displayed inside historical buildings for the benefit of present & future Generations. Storage & display facilities are essential in permanent buildings and are paramount for the preservation & retention of these important historical artefacts.

5. The following Trades & descriptive material are derived from memory & use of PRDHT (Support Group) archived Apprentice Training Syllabus. Detailed further information (if required) of most Trades can be obtained from the Support Group,

6. The amalgamation & demise of some Trades are collated at the end of this article to illustrate some of the current technological developments creating change. Nuclear power is just one such change.

Dockyard Trades (Craftspersons)

1. An Indentured apprentice became a ‘Journeyman’ when successfully completing the full term of training years, (originally 7 years, in 1930s reduced to 5 years subsequently 1967 reduced to 4 years), including all associated Trade lectures. Test pieces had to be manufactured to exacting acceptable standards (repeats were common), workshop & shipboard learning skills attained on large variety of different work with mentor skilled tradesmen. Personal standards had to be maintained throughout in accord with Rules & Regulations. College academic attendance & examinations had to be passed, drawing office training (for some) satisfactorily undertaken. Finally, apprenticeship ending with a ‘final year test piece’ embracing a multitude of skills associated with the Trade of the apprentice.

2. Indentured Apprentices on successful completion of their training were encouraged to continue in employment in the Dockyard Service worldwide. Many craftspersons remained working at their skills with their tools. This aspect for many, was the pride & enjoyment to work with ‘hands on’ experience. A policy of promoting the Dockyard trained craftspersons into Management posts worldwide giving opportunities for personal advancement in a Dockyard Managerial career that was very rewarding & ensured employees remained loyal to Dockyard Service throughout their working lifetime. (Note: The Career progression subject will be explained in a future article). In 1969 female apprentices were allowed to be trained in selective Craft Trades although females have worked in an Industrial capacity for centuries & particularly during the war periods. Hence, ‘Craftspersons’ now in use.

3. Craft Trades (following is a brief outline only of work involved that covered both Ship & Shore establishments). Major trades allowed selected apprentices a period in Drawing Office to study drawing aspects involved in the Dockyard & Ships programmes of work. Shopwork machines & syllabus for 1st year of apprentice training followed a similar pattern making tools & test pieces allied to the Trade.

a. Shipwright
Manufacture, erection, repairs & alteration to ships structures, ships plating, welding. Ventilation systems, trunking, thermal & sound insulation, fitting out compartments, deck coverings. Lining off & fitting wood decking, cutting & bevelling shores for dry docking of ships, g ratings, ladders, benches, stowages. Mould Loft work including Laying Off lines for boats under construction. Manufacture dinghies & wooden small craft including mast & spars, and fitting out. Production plate work. All structural work for new construction, refit & repair of ships involving metal, wood, plastics, GRP, including tanks etc (originally included welding, riveting etc)

b. ShipFitter Mechanical (except main engines - Engine Fitter Trade), Auxiliary machinery, deck machinery, Capstans, Winches, Rudders, steering gear, valves of all types, hydraulic systems, air systems, firemain system, Submarine hydroplanes, snort, sonar installations, machining gun rings, tank testing, hull valves, cranes, davits, aircraft lifts, aircraft arrester gear. Shopwork machinery & machining, boring, shaping, welding various items large & small.

c. Engine Fitter
Main engines, steam, gas turbines, internal combustion engines & all associated valves, lubricating oil, diesel, missile launching equipment, propellers, shafts.

d. Boilermaker
Manufacture marine boilers, steam pressure vessels. Fabrication steel work for tanks, large structures, funnels, cranes. Plate Shearing & rolling machines. Riveting & welding, gas & electric welding MIG & TIG. Tube bending, expanding, rolling, boiler testing, boiler water treatment, zinc spraying, non destructive testing.

e. Blacksmith (includes former ‘Specialist’ Smiths)
Forging of hot molten metal for chains, springs, shackles, Ships galley ranges & ovens, anchor & cable gear Gas & electric arc welding.

f. Plumber
Manufacture, installation & maintenance of low pressure temperature pipework systems, domestic, sanitary, drainage including sheet metal & plastic composite materials

g. Coppersmith
Manufacture & installation of pipework systems for high pressure temperature & pressures. Sheet metal work brazing & welding techniques.

h. Patternmaker
Manufacture of patterns from wood for casting of engineering items. Sectional parts of mould for withdrawing & strong enough to withstand the wash of molten metal parts has to be understood, shrinkage allowances & machining allowances all incorporated to allow for accurate shape & size required. Complex drawing interpretation & metallurgy is essential knowledge. The patterns were prototype without aid of previous models. Metal, plastic, plaster, wax, clay patterns are also part of the Patternmakers task.

i. Founder
Preparation of casting moulds (from patterns produced by Patternmaker) pouring molten metal to produce castings. All types of molten metals utilised.

j. Joiner (subsequently included Carpenter, Blockmaker, Cabinetmaker)
Manufacture, maintenance & fitting metal, wood, laminates furniture, cabinets, caskets, linoleum, carpets, curtains, insulation in ships & offices etc. Polishing, varnishing, wood treatments, upholstery, wheelwrights work.

k. Painter
Decorative & artistic paintwork (but not ship hulls – unskilled workers task). Preservation decoration of ships & boats. Gold leaf gilding, graining, marbling, signwriting, heraldry, ships crests, lifebuoys, badges, artwork & honours boards. Staining, water, spirit & oil based stains. Spraying & stoving equipment.

l. Ropemaker
All forms of manufacturing, spinning of ropemaking & installation in conjunction with Riggers.

m. Iron Caulker
Riveter Pneumatic (air) cutting tools, grinding, riveting, caulking of steel & other structural materials for welding processes. Originally Caulker was the craft trade & riveter unskilled.

n. Welder
Undertakes welding of all types of materials following the use of exotic materials & complexity evolved in mid 20th century.

o. Sailmaker (Flagmaker)
Manufacture & repair of sails, awnings, boat covers, lifesaving equipment, life rafts, overalls, making up & fitting Carpets, insulating specific pipe & air conditioning systems. (Subsequently included Signalling & National flags of Flagmakers)

p. Hosemaker
Manufacture & repair of canvas hoses, leather goods, clothing, safety straps, harnesses, webbing etc

q. Blockmaker
All forms of blocks, utilising associated machinery for design & manufacture, assembly of lifting equipment, spars, sails, yards, masts, mooring etc

r. Electrical Fitter
Manufacture, installation, repair, maintenance of Electrical circuits, switching equipment, armatures & stator winding, AC & DC starter & control gear, main engines machinery motors, wiring, electronic apparatus, generators, solid state circuitry, and all items electrical including telecommunications. Vast syllabus whereby specialism in particular aspects evolved within the Trade.

s. Electrical Station Fitter
The maintenance & upkeep involved in main electricity Generating Station providing electricity to Dockyard and Establishments. These were specialist Electrical Trade trained specifically as Generating Station employees in all aspects of electrical Fitter Craftspersons

t. Motor Transport Fitter
Repair & maintenance of all types motor vehicles. Includes welding, sheetmetal work, panelling, auto eletrics and all aspects of vehicle upkeep.

4. The Trades of:-

a. Engine Fitter & Ship Fitter combined in 1967 into Fitter/Turner Mechanical.

b. Electrical Station Fitter demised when the Dockyard Generating Station ceased operation & Power supplied from National Grid.

c. Sailmaker embraced Hosemakers & Flagmakers but all demised circa 1983 together with Patternmakers & Founders.

d. Motor Transport Fitter demised as Dockyard Trade with centralisation of vehicles into satellite Establishment

e. Ropemakers declined when sailing ships where replaced by modern riveted then welded warships & ceased within Dockyards although Riggers (steel cables, splicing, lifting equipment slings etc) became their successors.

f. Welders became a major Craft Trade with introduction of exotic materials primarily, MIG & TIG welding, Titanium, Aluminium,etc

g. Caulkers, Riveters, Burners formally ‘titular trades’ combined to formal Trade

h. Joiners embraced Blockmaker, Cabinetmaker, Carpenter .

5. The Craft Trades included initially, Student Apprentices who were mainly academic trained for Management roles but if academically unsuccessful in gaining professional qualifications or otherwise unsuitable, they were not employed as Craftsperson due to insufficient craft training, but discharged from service. The Student apprentice scheme discontinued in 1961 as it was not possible to recruit enough high calibre people.

6. The introduction of Technician Apprentices scheme recruitment into a major Specialisation of either Mechanical, Constructive or Electrical replaced the Student scheme in 1962. The Technician Apprentice followed standard 5 year general specialisation ‘craft trade’ training, drawing office techniques and Management training in their studies for appointment into Draughtsman & Technical Grade Officers. The Technician scheme was discontinued in 1981 as it blocked promotion of Craft apprentices into Management roles.

7. In 1981 intake of apprentices ceased with the final Craftspersons completing apprenticeships in 1983. However, in 1984 Dockyard apprentice recruitment recommenced on a very limited basis into the balance of traditional Trades mentioned above (para 3 as amended by para 4) of a single stream of Craft trade entry with initial ‘off job training’ & Academic studies undertaken at external Colleges. Progression to higher posts within Dockyard Service is open to all based on qualifications & calibre of each individual.

8. Another article ‘Career Progression within Dockyard Service’ & an insight into one persons actual lifetime Career will be written for a future Journal issue.

Written by John Regnard,


Royal Dockyard

Historical Trust (Support Group) 1951 entry Ship Fitter Apprentice

John Regnard

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