Wednesday 6 November 2019

Dockyard difference of opinion

A Dockyard Difference of Opinion

Allan Burnett's two part tale of Deptford Dockyard perpetuates the claim that Deptford was, as he puts it, the 'Cradle of the British Navy' (GIHS Vol.4.  No.1. p.9).

Portsmouth people could nurse a similar belief since the Mary Rose was built 'somewhere near' Portsmouth in 1509.
Referring to Nathan Dews History of Deptford  (page 250) it says 'Deptford was fixed upon by King Henry VIII as a site for a Royal Dockyard'.

Turning to Vincent's Records of the Woolwich District (Vol. 1.  P.128) Camden's Brittanica (1695) gives Woolwich seniority as the Mother Dock of England.  Vincent follows with two pages of detailed items relating to the materials used in constructing The Henry (or Harry) Grace-a-Dieu at Woolwich from 1512.

Henry had inherited four major ships from his father which were not warships but armed merchantmen and the sinking of one of them by the French promoted the laying down at Woolwich of the 'Great Harry'.  It is possible that a yard of some capacity existed at Woolwich in Henry VII's time, for the remains of a 'great ship' were unearthed in 1912 when Woolwich power station was built.  This ship was supposed to be one of those inherited by Henry VIII in 1509.

It appears then that then claim 'Cradle of the British Navy' belongs to Woolwich by a short head.

The comparison of armaments carried in the Great Harry and in Mary Rose suggests that the latter, built first, was a sort of pilot experiment by Henry VIII whose two passions were big ships and big guns.

The figures are

                                          Mary Rose              Great Harry

Displacement                  600 tons                  1,000 tons
Heavy Bronze                     7                               19   
Heavy Iron                        34                             102
Soldiers                            251                            102
Gunners                             20                              50
Mariners                          120                            301

On the basis of the foregoing, I think the Great Harry was the true 'First Baby' of the Royal Navy and its cradle was the Royal Dockyard, Woolwich.

Jack Vaughan

This article appeared in the March 2001 GIHS Newsletter

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