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 Passed by Technical Reproduction Branch 18 Dec 1942. No Admiralty Objection to publication, signed, Captain R.N. Wivenhoe. [from back of photograph]

Wooden shipbuilding at Wivenhoe, in 1942, with 105ft motor minesweepers building in the shipyard, where the shipwright's trade had flourished since at least 1654: in that year the 262-ton, 28-gun 'Ship of War' FAGANS was built there, probably on ...
Cat1 Places-->Wivenhoe-->Shipyards Cat2 War-->World War 2

Passed by Technical Reproduction Branch 18 Dec 1942. No Admiralty Objection to publication, signed, Captain R.N. Wivenhoe. [from back of photograph]
Wooden shipbuilding at Wivenhoe, in 1942, with 105ft motor minesweepers building in the shipyard, where the shipwright's trade had flourished since at least 1654: in that year the 262-ton, 28-gun 'Ship of War' FAGANS was built there, probably on the site of this shipyard, which passed through many owners and periods of activity and inactivity over the centuries. During the 19th century Philip Sainty, the smuggling shipbuilder, Thomas and then John Harvey, successively made it famous for fast yachts, warships and commercial craft. Forrestts and their successors brought steel shipbuilding to the Colne on the site after the 1880s, but the yard declined during the 1920s and lay derelict during the 1930s. Then, in 1940, Wivenhoe Shipyard Ltd reopened the yard to build wooden warships of many types: minesweepers, naval auxiliary craft, motor fishing vessels, netlayers and even three wooden 'submarines'; effective replicas to be moored in naval harbours to draw attack or confuse enemy reconnaissance aircraft and spies. Many steel ships were also dry docked for repair.

These 105ft 'Mickey Mouses' were hard-worked little ships of the narrow seas and were built of readily available timbers, with English oak centreline, frames and beams and larch and Columbian pine planking. Once again the water side echoed to the thud of mauls and click of caulking mallets, If one discounted the electric circular saws and hand drills, these shipwrights were building as their forefathers had for centuries.

Here planking has started down from the sheer and binding strakes and up from the garboard. The curving strakes will meet at the bilge with the 'shutting-in' strake or 'shutter'. Then the seams of the hull will be caulked and paid below waterline, stopped above, as is being done to the ship on the right. The inner planking or ceiling will be fitted and then the deck beams and planking, while other shipwrights and joiners construct the wooden deck house and wheelhouse, masts, spars and all the myriad completion items, so she can be launched and receive her engines, gear and equipment. Yard equipment was minimal. When prepared, frames were hoisted in place with a simple tackle on a derrick. Crude staging posts and spalls support shipwrights dubbing the faces of the frames finally fair with adzes before fitting the next plank. Others in the foreground plane up a plank and more planks lie nearby, ready to be shaped.

The author worked on these and similar ships in the early years of his apprenticeship, which afforded a unique opportunity to experience something of the last of wooden shipbuilding, which is very different work from the building of wooden yachts and boats still fairly common.

In 1962 the yard completed its last ship, a 150t wooden coastal minesweeper. A few years later the site was sold for conversion into a timber wharf, and the shipbuilding tradition of four centuries was lost.
Plate.43 in SWW.
Used in The Sailor's Coast Page 73.
Date: 18 Dec 1942      


Photo: John Leather Collection - Douglas Went
Image ID BOXB5_014_001
Category 1 Places-->Wivenhoe-->Shipyards
Category 2 War-->World War 2


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This image is part of the Mersea Museum Collection.