The Thames became an important shipbuilding centre during the Tudor period.
King Henry VIII (1491-1547). © NMM
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
Woolwich and Deptford were also well placed for building materials. All ships were built of wood, which meant that many trees were needed.
|The Royal Dockyard at Woolwich. © NMM|
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
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.
|The Royal Dockyard at Deptford. © NMM|
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).
|HMS Saint Andrew in a moderate breeze. © NMM|
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.
In 1513 Henry VIII established the Corporation of Trinity House at Deptford. It was responsible for collecting pilotage and light dues on the Thames.
|Counter commemorating Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) issued in 1613. © NMM|
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.