After my recent FROG visits to Greenwich and Rotherhithe, where old abandoned timbers of past vessels were recorded, it reminded me of the amazing model ships built for the Admiralty.


Models in the National Maritime Museum

For the period that Britannia ruled the waves, the procurement decisions lay in the hands of the Navy Board at the Admiralty in London. This powerful department was overseen by the First Sea Lord. The Navy Board was responsible for approving the design and authorisation for construction of all the warships of the day, together with other items of equipment.

Since the time of Samual Pepys in the reign of Charles II, it is likely that the Board would formally request that a model be built of the proposed vessel, so that the Sea Lords could better visualise the overall appearance. Therefore, quick decisions could be made with regards to changes or alterations which may have been necessary. As you will appreciate, this method would be more favourable than studying piles of two dimensional drawings and sections. The normal scale for warship plans was 1/4:1’.0 and therefore most of the models adopted the same.

The craftsmanship and skill involved in constructing these models is staggering and is unlikely to be surpassed in modern times. The models were made mostly from fine grained fruit wood such as pear or pine, and used mica for windows. It appears that the convention was to plank the top sides only, leaving most of the hull open for observation purposes. For models where frames were not required to be visible they were mostly made from timber block. Many of the models have survived and are on display in various maritime museums around the country. These now antique models are much sort after and would fetch many thousands of pounds at auction.

In my view, the model of HMS Victory built by Nepean Longridge, which is housed in the Science Museum, is the only model ship depicting that era that would approach that quality of the past. Nepean Longridge wrote a book “The Anatomy of Nelson’s Ships”, describing how the model was constructed and also includes extensive details of the actual ship. This book is generally thought by some to be one of the most informative on the connstruction of HMS Victory and therefore warships of that period.

Herewith a slide show of photos showing some of the magnificent models that can be found at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich: