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The Tudor and Stuart port

Royal Dockyards and Trinity House
Trade and expansion in the 16th century
Trade and expansion in the 17th century
Improving the port
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Royal Dockyards and Trinity House

Shipbuilding centre

Henry VIII, 1491-1547.

View full size imageKing Henry VIII (1491-1547). © NMM

The Thames became an important shipbuilding centre during the Tudor period.

Henry VIII's attempts to recover English possessions on the continent led to war with France in 1512. To transport his army across the Channel and defend England and her trade routes he needed a strong navy. 

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.

Woolwich and Deptford

A view of His Majesty's Dock Yard at Woolwich, on the south side of the River Thames, in the County of Kent.
View full size imageThe Royal Dockyard at Woolwich. © NMM
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 dry dock

Deptford Dockyard.
View full size imageThe Royal Dockyard at Deptford. © NMM
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.

HMS Saint Andrew at sea in a moderate breeze.
View full size imageHMS Saint Andrew in a moderate breeze. © NMM
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.

Trinity House

Counter commemorating Queen Elizabeth I.
View full size imageCounter 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.



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Light dues

Find out more
StoriesTrinity House
Showing the way
StoriesDeptford and Woolwich: London's Royal Dockyards
The rise and decline of Henry VIII's Dockyards
Fact fileElizabeth I
Queen of England, 1558-1603
Fact fileSamuel Pepys
Diarist and Master of Trinity House
Fact fileSir Thomas Spert
The first and longest serving Master of Trinity House
Fact fileHenry VIII
The king who had six wives
Fact filePhineas Pett
Ship builder
Fact file'Golden Hind'
Sir Francis Drake's ship for circumnavigating the globe
GalleriesDeptford Royal Dockyard collection
GalleriesWoolwich Royal Dockyard collection
GalleriesVideoMaritime London video gallery
From Roman settlement to today's Docklands, explore the history of maritime London
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory Greenwich New Opportunities Fund  
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