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.
|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 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.
|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.
|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.