The Thames became an important shipbuilding centre during the Tudor period.
King Henry VIII (1491-1547). © NMM
Henry VIII's quarrel with the Pope over divorcing his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, led to the threat of war with Catholic France and Spain.
At that time, Portsmouth was the country's most important naval dockyard. However, it was a long way from the Royal Armouries in the Tower of London, where ships were fitted with cannons and artillery.
So Henry decided to construct two dockyards on the Thames to build warships. They were built during 1513-14 at Woolwich and Deptford - places close enough to London to obtain arms and a labour force.
The Royal Dockyard at Woolwich. © NMM
Woolwich and Deptford
Woolwich and Deptford were also well placed for building materials. All ships were built of wood, which meant that many trees were needed.
There were still large forests in parts of Kent. Henry also chose Woolwich and Deptford as they were near his palace at Greenwich.
Both dockyards were extended during the following years. They were important centres for ship construction and repair until they closed in 1869.
|The Royal Dockyard at Deptford. © NMM|
The dry dock
By 1547 Deptford was the most important yard in the country. The earliest dry dock there had a wall of mud blocking the end nearest the Thames.
Every time a ship was ready to be launched it took 20 men one month of digging to remove the wall so that the dock could fill with water.
Launching ships became easier after floodgates were built at one end of the dry dock. As well as space for building the ships, storehouses were needed for masts, rigging and cooperage (making storage barrels).
In 1570, privately owned rope works were set up in Woolwich and Deptford to supply rope for rigging. Each dockyard was a self-contained community of skilled craftsmen.
|Counter commemorating Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) issued in 1613. © NMM|
In 1513 Henry VIII established the Corporation of Trinity House at Deptford. It was responsible for collecting pilotage and light dues on the Thames.
This made it easier for larger vessels to negotiate the river. Elizabeth I insisted that the Corporation set up buoys and beacons to help ships find their way at sea.
Since that time, the Corporation has been responsible for lighthouses, buoys, lightships and other navigational aids.