Saturday, 4 May 2013

My ancestor was a SHIPBUILDER...

Pizarro Shipbuilding
(Image link:,
User: Before My Ken, accessed 9 Feb 2014
In Britain we have a huge legacy for ruling the waves, which is all due in part to the ship building industries of the coastal towns of Great Britain.

Most port towns in some point in history was involved in ship-building of some type. Some towns became well known for specific types of boat building, for example, Whitby in North Yorkshire was well-known for the manufacture of flat-bottomed coal carrying vessels. Their flat-bottoms allowed grounding on sandy shores.

Often your ancestors who worked within the ship-building industry would have moved from one ship building town to another once a project had been finished and work became sparse in that town. The shipbuilding families would often move as a large collective group from one port to another in order to source work.

There were many skills and occupations that were required for building a ship and here are some of them:
  • shipwright - a carpenter who was skilled in carpentry required for building and repairing boats
  • ship's carpenter - similar to above
  • shipping joiner - a joiner who worked on the ships (a joiner who traditionally join the wood & a carpenter would fit it)
  • cabin fitter - would fit the interior of a ship
  • shipyard sawyer - a person who would cut or saw the wood to the required lengths for building
  • caulker - a person who made the wooden hull of a ship watertight by filling the spaces between the planks with a mix of tar and chopped up old ropes known as oakum
  • chandler - a fitter of candleholders and lamps for the ship's lighting system
  • stair railers - specialised woodworkers who crafted stair rails
  • stagers - a person who constructed wooden scaffolding for the ship to be constructed on
  • welders & rivetters - a person who constructed the ship by assembling metal sections together
  • boiler maker - a constructer of boilers for the ships
  • platers - a person who fitted metal plates to the outside of the ship
  • holders-on - a person who held the rivets in place
  • My great grandfather, Walter Davidson with
    his work mates on the docks in Hull
  • red leader - painted the raw metal with lead oxide to protect them from erosion

In my family I had many boiler makers and rivetters who initially worked in Poplar, London in the early 1800s and moved to Hull in mid 1860s. Later my great, great uncle would move to Sunderland to continue with the ship building industry there. Their story can be read on the Davidson page of my blog in especially in Chapters 3, 4, 7, 8, 13 & 14.

Some of the information for this blog post was taken from a booklet produced by the Your Family Tree Magazine called A day in the life of a... WORKING ANCESTOR (Oct 2012).

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan

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