18th century shipbuilding – use of beech for "walls"

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  • #12077
    Malcolm Lewis
    Participant

    Reading ‘Buckler’s Hard a rural shipbuilding centre’ (pub 1985) – A J Holland Curator of the Buckler’s Hard Museum 1974-84 writes (p.113) Henry Adams the owner of the yard used “beech for the ‘walls’ of the ship”. I am unsure of the meaning of the term ‘walls’. He adds that most of the beech as well as elm was brought in from neighbouring counties and that beech comprised 14% of planking. I have never seen a reference to beech being used in any quantity for wooden vessels and have previously understood it was considered unsuitable for shipbuilding. There is a layer of beech recorded in the construction of Victory’s false keel but so far I have not seen it used for other parts of a vessel.
    Adams’ Yard is famous for the building of Thomas Slade’s Agamemnon 64, Nelson’s “favourite”. Whilst a good sailer it required an exceptional amount of maintenance during its career. If beech was used in her construction could this have been a reason for her problems?
    I would be grateful for other references to the use of beech for major areas of 18th century ship construction.

    #12138
    Nicholas Blake
    Participant

    Admiral Smyth says the walls of a ship are that part of her sides between the tumblehome and the water, so possibly the author means wales. On 20 June 1787 the Admiralty issued a warrant that authorised the use of timber other than oak in specified parts of a ship, because of the scarcity of oak. Beech, fir and elm were listed. Elm was to be used for ‘the garboard strake and 5 or 6 strakes cut’, and beech ‘from thence to the light draughts of water’, ‘if the ship is soon to be put into the water not exceeding 3 months, otherwise to be East Country plank’. Beech was also used in the hold and orlop, and elsewhere, for example pillars on the gundeck. The reference is TNA: ADM 106/2509, no 496.

    #12139
    Malcolm Lewis
    Participant

    Thank you Nicholas. Apologies for my ignorance but could you be kind enough to explain “from thence to the light draughts of water if the ship is soon to be put into the water not exceeding 3 months, otherwise East Country plank”.
    It sounds as if there were certain qualifications for using beech as an alternative to oak i.e. it was inferior.

    #12140
    Nicholas Blake
    Participant

    The garboard strake is the first line of planks, attached to the keel, so ‘from thence’ means as far upward as the light waterline. The timing means that beech is to be used if the ship is to be launched within three months (presumably the idea was that if the ship was needed urgently then inferior build quality mattered less). East Country plank was oak plank from the Baltic or surrounds. Steel gives a full explanation of how this works in practice here: <https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=pjcDAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA201&dq=%22east+country+plank%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi-2c6Xs6rMAhXkJ8AKHUcUBpwQ6AEIIjAB#v=onepage&q=%22east%20country%20plank%22&f=false&gt; (Unfortunately the Googlers didn’t unfold the plates before scanning.) He also says that these four or six strakes may be of elm or beech.

    All the timbers mentioned in this warrant were inferior to oak, and only used because oak was running out.

    #12148
    Malcolm Lewis
    Participant

    Thanks for the useful references. From what I can assess European beech is unstable and even over a short period would have been a problem for the underwater planking. Elm which is of a lower density than beech however performs well when immersed in seawater. It is interesting therefore that beech, even as a low percentage of the total planking, was used in times of oak shortage for planking below the waterline. This must have led to maintenance problems and the need for frequent dry-docking.

    #12222
    David Roger Burton
    Participant

    My name is David Roger Burton, I would appreciateany help regarding the idenity of a shipwright’s rase mark singned with 2 capital r’s—-RR, marked into a joint section white lead painted oak with iron fastening.

    #12408
    David Roger Burton
    Participant

    Does anyone out there have information about timber master’s rase mark sinitures particularly (capital RR) posted by David Roger Burton, mail@victoryoak.co.uk

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