Genealogy Research

Many people researching family history come across a reference to a shipwright forefather, and ask the Company for further information. Sadly, they are usually disappointed. There are two major reasons for this:-

  • Certainly by the 16th century, and probably much earlier, the Shipwrights' Company had become an association for the proprietors of the private shipyards on the north bank of the Thames below the City, in Blackwall for example. Such men had been trained as craftsmen, but were no longer "on the tools".  Being a shipwright by trade did not mean they were a member of the Shipwrights' Company.
  • By the late 18th century some 60% or more of all craftsman shipwrights in Great Britain were Crown employees in the Royal Dockyards of Deptford, Woolwich, Sheerness, Chatham, Portsmouth, and Plymouth.

Therefore, if your shipwright ancestor did not work in a civilian shipyard on the Thames, he is unlikely to have been a member of the Company, and your research will have to focus on the records of the locality in which he worked. The following Company records exist:

  • The original but incomplete records of the Shipwrights from about 1620 to the 1920s are lodged with the Guildhall Library in the City of London.
  • The Guildhall Library also holds a copy of the "Records of the Shipwrights' Company" in two volumes, a digest of the above made by C H Ridge in 1939/1946, giving all the names recorded.
  • The Company holds a recently-compiled list of Liverymen admitted between 1858 and the present day.

N.B.  All Company papers between the 1920s and 1941 were lost in the Blitz and the destruction of Barbers' Hall in 1941.  Until October 1948 it is difficult to determine the dates of admission to the Livery.  The only reasonably certain date is that of admission to the Freedom, except for the period between 1926 and 1942, the relevant Minute Book having been bombed, while other contemporary sources are known to be incomplete or inaccurate.  Candidates for the Livery were for a while admitted to the Freedom and Livery simultaneously, but it is not known when this practice started.  In the List compiled by Past Prime Warden Mr David Moor, a former Honorary Historian, which is held by the Clerk, unless an alternative date has been found known Liverymen are entered as admitted to the Livery on the day of admission to the Freedom.

Those researching family history will be well aware of the numerous websites dedicated to a wide variety of records. However, within the maritime field in Great Britain, and apart from the specifically Company records mentioned above:

  • The personal records of Royal Navy and Royal Dockyard people are held at the Public Record Office, Kew, Surrey TW9 4DU, website
  • HM Dockyard Plymouth has a museum website
  • The Registry of Shipping and Seamen holds a library of seaman and ship records, and has an information pack on those, and others transferred to other locations such as the PRO. If a shipwright signed on as a ship's carpenter, he may be recorded there. Registry of Shipping and Seaman, PO Box 165, , Cardiff, Wales, CF4 5JA.

Another avenue is to seek confirmation from the Clerk to the Chamberlain's Court at Guildhall to confirm whether or not the individual in question ever received the Freedom of the City.  If they did there is a good chance that the records exist and will confirm which Livery Company they were a member of.  The Clerk to the Chamberlain's Court can be reached on: 020 7332 1008   email:     Address:  Chamberlain's Court, Guildhall, London EC2P 2EJ