Some Notes on Warship Building by Contract in the Eighteenth Century

By Bernard Pool, published May 1963


When the war of Spanish Succession began in 1701 the Royal Navy was well supplied with ships in reserve built after the last peace with France in 1697. At the start of the war of Austrian Succession in 1739 there had been no new construction and the existing fleet was decaying. Thus began a period of construction using private yards under contract, firstly on the Thames and then using ‘country’ yards in the face of high prices on the Thames. Commercial yards took the risk under contracts and some faced bankruptcy, but the Admiralty showed flexibility over penalties to encourage the yards. With peace no new ships were started and when the Seven Years War began in 1754 urgent construction was called for. The number of ships placed out to contract exceeded those with the royal yards. Difficulties with getting seasoned oak and with hasty construction caused problems with the state of the fleet when the War of American Independence began in 1775. Lord Sandwich has been unfairly criticised over the state of the fleet. Due to the efforts of Sir Charles Middleton the fleet was in good shape when war came with revolutionary France in 1793.

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Filed under: Spanish Succession | Austrian Succession | Seven Years’ War | American Revolution | French Revolution | Other (location)
Subjects include: Harbours & Dockyards | Shipbuilding & Design

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