Building ships in the 18th century – the loftsman’s role

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    Malcolm Lewis

    I am interested in the career path of the loftsman working in the mould loft of an 18th century shipyard such as Woolwich.
    Am I right in assuming a loftsman was a qualified shipwright who, during his apprenticeship, had spent time assisting in the mould loft learning the skills of ship design? Was he then possibly selected on grounds of ability to put a foot on the ladder of becoming an assistant master shipwright and potentially an assistant surveyor of the Navy?
    Sir Thomas Slade (Surveyor of the Navy 1755 –1771), who came from a family of shipbuilders and designed the Victory, would seem to have been fast tracked to rise to the top of his profession based upon his design expertise learnt in the mould loft, and later with Admiral George Anson’s patronage. Slade worked his way up with senior management jobs at Sheerness, Chatham, Woolwich and Deptford.

    A.G.E. Jones ‘Sir Thomas Slade 1703/4-1771’, The Mariner’s Mirror, vol 63 no.3 (1977), 224-227
    Brian Lavery, ‘Slade, Sir Thomas (1703/4–1771)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)

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