Mast houses

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    Malcolm Lewis

    I am interested in the history of the mast houses at the East India Company’s Brunswick Dock, Blackwall, London and the one in Copenhagen, Denmark. The latter is still in existence and probably the only one remaining from the sailing ship era. Information on their dates of building would be helpful.
    To my knowledge the Royal Navy’s only mast house was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but members might know otherwise. Considering the size of the fleet in Georgian times and the constant need for maintenance it is perhaps surprising that more of the Royal yards did not have this facility, having instead to rely upon sheer hulks.

    Frank Scott

    I suspect that tidal range was the key issue. Given the quite large tidal ranges in UK ports mast-houses would only be practical if they were in non-tidal basins, as was the case with the Honourable East India Company [HEIC] Brunswick Dock (Blackwall) Mast-house (built 1789/90).
    Halifax, Nova Scotia only has a range of about 2 metres, which would be practical for regular operations, while Copenhagen has no tidal range worth worrying about.
    Sheer-hulks had the great advantage of being able to operate regardless of the state of the tide, and they were cheap because the RN had a ready supply of aged ships. I may say that as I write this I am looking at the excellent E.W. Cooke engraving of a sheer hulk in Portsmouth harbour.
    NMM has a painting by William Daniell RA of the HEIC mast-house that dates from about 1803. To continue the E.W. Cooke connection, there is also a well-known engraving of the mast-house done by his father, W.B. Cooke, from an original study by Samuel Owen.

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