I am a third generation Devonport Dockyard employee and I completed an electrical fitter apprenticeship in Devonport Dockyard from 1945 to 1950. I went on to serve the Royal Navy in many posts until I retired in 1989. Today, Devonport Dockyard is one of the biggest in the world, and I relate some of the history of the dockyard with the aid of my sketch of the dockyard in 1950 (see Seabreezes Print Edition) and some illustrations from old picture postcards.
I include the building of the dockyard and the building of ships for the Royal Navy, and give some details of the massive battleships involved. Also I mention some of the Devonport apprentices who were successful academically and achieved great success in ship design and construction.
William and Mary arrived in Devon in 1689 and they became Joint Sovereigns. William III then used his influence to start the development of Devonport Dockyard in 1690. Edmund Dummer, Surveyor of the Navy, was given the task of starting work on a little 24 acre yard in what is now South Dockyard. By 1780 more land had been purchased and the dockyard had been enlarged to 70 acres. A dockyard chapel was built, and a terrace of houses known as “The Terrace” was erected to accommodate the Dockyard Officers. There were Building Slipways, a Basin, four Docks, a Ropery, Workshops, a Masthouse, and a large Storehouse etc to start building ships.
By the 1800s steam engines had been invented and many ships were steam driven. So 43 acres of foreshore was purchased to establish a Steam Yard at Keyham which is known as North Yard. Messrs George Baker & Sons carried out this work from 1846 to 1853. It consists of the construction of No’s 5, 6, and 7 Docks, together with Nos 2 and 3 Basins, the Quadrangle, and all the facilities required to serve the Navy.
Larger warships were being designed and built so larger docking facilities were needed and Sir John Jackson was contracted to do the great extension work required. This involved adding another 114 acres including about 79 acres on the foreshore of mud. The Extension Yard was then constructed from 1896 to 1907 and this included No’s 4 and 5 Basins and some large docks now known as No’s 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 Docks.
The Naval Dockyards required their apprentices to attend the Dockyard School to study: mathematics, naval architecture, electrical engineering etc and the most gifted students were awarded cadetships and further degree courses to become Naval Constructors in the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors and ship designers. Sir William White, was a Devonport Dockyard apprentice and he became Chief Naval Constructor in 1885 and was awarded a knighthood. The Royal Sovereign Class was his first design followed by the Majestic Class. He continued advising the cabinet and designing ships until completion of the King Edward VII design in 1902.