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NOTE; Woolwich and Deptford were in the original in the original County of Kent  until 1889 when by an act of Parliament they became part of London .  Up  until then North Woolwich which was on the North bank was also in Kent.


Behind the high wall which encloses some 40 acres between Woolwich Ferry and Charlton lies the former Royal Dockyard of Woolwich and known to former generations of  dockyard men as the Mother Yard.  Deptford and Deal had Royal Dockyards before the one at Woolwich and a short lived one at Erith even  preceded those . The legend behind the title “ Mother Yard “ was that here was built the first ship designed especially for the purpose of  war at the expense of the State and of the modern navy. Somewhere behind that wall the “ Great  Harry “ was laid down in 1512 ,although Woolwich was not considered a Royal Yard  until 1520.

The “ Great  Harry “ was designed and built under the direction of Brigand?? But the fitting out was completed at the Royal Dock at Erith by William Boyd ,thought to have been the first Master Shipwright of the dockyards and the bearer of the title which survived over 360 years and longer than Woolwich Dockyard itself. The early ships of Henry VII and Henry VIII were of  Italian and Florentine ornamentation was apparent in then early ships of the navy. It was at Harwich that the  “Kindred “ as the Pett family were known found their way into the Kentish Dockyards having been shipwrights at Harwich for over one hundred years  although their known  forebearers  were of Irish stock and followed the legal profession .

It is difficult to imagine this Metropolitan District as being the centre of naval activities until just over a century ago . Only in later years did the Arsenal overshadow the dockyard .Chatham heard the new Cockney dialect of Woolwich and Deptford in 1547 when shipwrights  and wood caulkers were again pressed into service to open the new yard . The Warrant for impressment was worded  “ To  repair to his Maty’s Yard  ……”  and the name Maty or Matey has existed throughout the years as a nickname for a dockyardman .So all the Royal Dockyards then in existence were withbin the original geographical boundaries of  Kent.  The gently sloping shores ,the shingle available for ballast , and the heavily wooded forests together with the closeness of the weald  iron industry made the Thames a favourable place to build and repair ships .  The closeness to the Royal Palace at Greenwich , the defence of London , the protection of the fishing fleet and the convoying of ships in the Baltic trade favoured the Thames yards before dry docks were introduced  . With the formation of the Naval Board in 1547 Woolwich prospered and by 1572 was a thriving concern under the Master Shipwright Matthew Baker of Deptford and later under Richard Chapman who built the “Ark Royal “ in 1588.

The wars with Spain  found  the Kentish Yards fairly remote from activities as the Spanish Netherlands did not constitute a maritime threat but Woolwich continued to grow in importance and in 1574 a ropery was established  near the dockyard . Ropemaking has continued in  the Woolwich and Charlton district  until the present time  although there have been stormy occasions connected with the craft down the years .Whether by accident or design electrical cable making which embraced techniques similar to ropemaking became a local industry nearly three centuries later.

Although the Pett’s became the dominant power in the Kentish Royal Dockyards they were contemporary with the more loyal and honest family of Shish whose influence also lasted for two centuries at Deptford and Woolwich but never extended to Chatham as did the former . In 1607 Phineas Pett  enclosed the yard ,designed and built the new dock and its gates and generally improved the art of shipbuilding and the selection of materials. Pett designed and built “ The Sovereign of the Seas “laid down in 1637 of 1,630 tons burden and  she was the prototype ship of those built up until the early 19th century. When her timbers were examined 60 years later they were still in good condition.









David  G Penney B.S.,  M.S. , Ph.D,. W.H.O.

Professor of Physiology, Director of Surgical Research Providence Hospital , MI.,

 Wayne State University, Detroit MI. etc.





Bert was a very keen and a  very helpful historian  . As a very senior Dockyard Foreman ,a post equilavalent,  to say a Managing Director of a very large Business ,he had access to all Naval Dockyard records and  after his retirement  was allowed access  to all Naval Establishments for his research . Most of his research he sent to The Maritime Museum who were very grateful  for Bert’s interest ,he spent a lot of time there with his research. 

He also researched his Family Tree , the Ratcliff family and many Queenborough Families. And he helped many people sort out their Family Tree problems.