The Arms

Learn about the elements that make up the Arms of the Shipwrights

The Arms

The arms have a history of their own, unlike the situation in most other Companies. In the late 16th century a company of "foreign" shipwrights was founded at Redrith (Rotherhithe) on the south bank of the Thames. Since its impetus and membership most probably derived mainly from the Royal Dockyard at Deptford, it was clearly a rival to the Free Shipwrights of London, centred on the north bank. By 1578 it was prospering sufficiently to petition for a charter from the Crown, which it received in 1612, and in the interim in 1605 it had been made a grant of arms, which form the basis of the present blazon.

After a prolonged legal battle, in which the Free Shipwrights had the support of the City, and latterly the Shipwrights of Redrith that of Mr.Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Navy, in 1684 the foreign shipwrights' company was suppressed and its charter cancelled. Contrary to heraldic law and usage, the Free Shipwrights promptly adopted the foreign shipwrights' arms and, from the evidence of the beadle's silver staff head which was commissioned in 1702 and engraved with those arms, used them undifferenced.  In 1782 the Company was granted its livery.

It is evident that they were already a well-known "logo" in the shipbuilding industry, and the Company continued to use them until 1920, when King George V ordered that the situation should be regularised in accordance with the rules of heraldry.

The differences granted by the College of Arms in that year consisted quite simply of adding the sword from the City of London's arms to the shield and crest, in gold ("Or", in heraldic terminology). In 1982, to commemorate the bicentenary of the grant of Livery, the Company was granted the supporters of two shipwrights, one carrying an axe, the other a caulking hammer: again, they had been in unofficial use for 200 years. Finally, in 1995, to complete the process, the Shipwrights were granted a badge, based on the crest depicting Noah's Ark, as a more easily reproducible and recognisable emblem.

The motto "Within the Ark, Safe for Ever", is obviously appropriate and dates back at least to 1782, but carries a double meaning in that Noah's Ark used to be used as a symbol for the Church.