I came across this brilliant article some years ago and present it without permission, for you to read, which I'm sure was Colin's Tipping's intention in writing this factual history of the decline of the Ship Draughtsman.

Colin Tipping served an apprenticeship as a ship draughtsman on Tyneside, and currently combines work as a computer draughtsman with research into technical aspects of maritime history.

I also served an apprenticeship as a ship draughtsman on Tyneside, believing that I was entering a technically skilled trade full of hope and ambition.   But alas the decline described in the following had already began.

I had the pleasure during my first year in the Drawing Office to occupy the board next to Colin, that was in 1970 when two of the directors (Gillchrist & Christie ?) still wore a bowler hat when walking through the shipyard as did all Managers and Foremen when promoted from the shop floor, in days gone by.      Attempts to trace Colin Tipping to gain permission have failed.

History of Swan Hunters on the River Tyne

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By Colin Tipping

Since the development of iron shipbuilding in the late nineteenth century, ship draughtsmen have made a considerable contribution to the growth of the industry both nationally and regionally. Because of their expertise in design and construction, they were also able to move into other disciplines, to take up senior management positions, and provide staff for the world’s marine classification and regulatory bodies.

With the considerable technical advances and commercial and political changes in the industry since 1945, the job of ship draughtsman underwent radical changes. This paper, based on the author’s personal experience in the Tyne and Wear shipyards of the north-east of England, will examine the technical factors to show how this particular group of shipyard workers changed from skilled craftsmen to a less demanding role.


At the turn of the century the industry saw the development of design teams which replaced the tradition of the single, brilliant designer such as William Pile of Sunderland, and G.B. Hunter on the Tyne. Whereas the designer and shipwright once made the decisions, there were now specialists who oversaw different aspects of each vessel. Without these teams of specialist draughts men the development of, for example, a new class of large, fast passenger ship could not have progressed. The sheer volume of necessary drawings were now beyond the old-style tradition of designer and shipwright. Swan Hunter & Whigham Richardson Ltd. were only able to commence design work on the .Mattretania because of teams of draughtsmen producing the hundreds of working drawings and calculations, culminating in the vessel entering the Atlantic passenger service in 1907.

From this era, through the First World War, the cyclical depressions of the 1923s and ‘30s, and the Second World War, technical development continued with the introduction of turbine and diesel propulsion. Petrol and oil tankers were developed, along with longitudinal framing, which replaced the traditional transverse frames. Other advances were the supercharging of engines, turbo-electric propulsion and much higher engine speeds. Towards the beginning of the Second World War, electric arc welding began to be introduced into the yards, albeit on a limited scale.

Despite these technical advances, up to the late 1950s the tools used by the draughtsmen had changed little since the mid-nineteenth century. They consisted of drawing instruments for pencil and ink work, a range of scales from 1/16 inch to the foot, and up to one inch to the foot, and a range of curves usually made from thin boxwood or maple. These fitted the tight curves used for small detail work, and the much flatter curves of the deck sheer. In between were the curves used in drawing the cross-sectional curves of the ship’s hull - known by their shape as ‘ram’s horn’ or ‘pear’ curves. These were often acquired from retiring draughtsmen, or by making your own from thin wood or transparent plastic. A set of the most used curves was a valuable addition to the draughtsman’s tool box. In the late I 950s it became part of the apprentice draughtsman’s training to make a set of curves, as part of an eve-training exercise for a draughtsman who would spend his life dealing with the curved surfaces of ships.

Large curves such as waterlines or deck outlines were drawn with the aid of wooden battens, held in place by lead weights, and while some draughtsmen had small battens of their own, battens and weights were part of the drawing office equipment.

As drawing offices were handling arrangement plans of ships drawn usually at a scale of ¼ inch to the foot, it was not unusual to have drawings 10 feet in length. Adjustable drawing boards as used in engineering were therefore of little use in ship drawing offices, and they were equipped with flat benches up to 42 inches wide, and between 10 and 20 feet long. They were about 39 inches high and fitted with shallow plan drawers, shelves, and deep drawers. Being solidly built there was no movement to distort the accuracy of the drawings.

Plans had been drawn in ink on translucent tracing paper, or linen backed paper, until the advent of sized linen in the inter war years, and this medium continued to be used for detail or sketch work. Sized linen was a more robust material and was prepared by stretching onto the bench with drawing pins and applying a light coat of chalk, which was then dusted off. Useful additions to the draughtsman’s equipment were a small brush and dusters. Plans continued to be mapped out in pencil, and then inked-in with black Indian ink when the final details were decided.

At some time during the apprenticeship the draughtsman would have a special draughtsman’s tool box constructed in the Joiners Shop. He could then fill it with instruments, set squares, curves, scales, and all the paraphernalia of a ‘proper’ draughtsman.

Essential for calculation work was a set of mathematical tables containing trigonometric functions, logarithms, square and cube roots, in addition to a slide rule. In the mid-1950s the mechanical calculating machine was replaced by the electric-powered version. The calculation of areas and volumes, and inertia's, vital for the determination of ship stability, continued to be done manually in the Design Office using the planimeter and integrator. The technique for using these instruments in the 1950s remained the same as was set out in the well-known ‘Attwood’s’ book on naval architecture, first published in 1899.’

Hull forms were, in the 1940s and 1950s, still designed largely as they had been decades before, by reducing the required displacement volume of the ship to a series of transverse sectional areas, and drawing the derived waterlines on linen-backed paper to a scale of ¼ inch to the foot. The offsets, or dimensions of the Lines Plan, the waterlines, sections, buttocks, and diagonals were then compiled into a table, and redrawn full size on the floor of the Mould Loft. Writing in 1948 on the history of the shipwright’s trade in the seventeenth century, Sir Westcott Abel notes that it was curious to remark that this procedure was ‘common practice, nearly 250 years later’.2

With a broad-based apprenticeship in design, construction, and outfitting, draughtsmen were expected, as a normal part of their duties, to liaise with foremen in

other trades in ironing out design faults and production problems, and to go into the yard or aboard ship to assess problems. As they were, at times, in a supervisory role their status and salary reflected this, and most senior draughtsmen were paid more than the foremen. Responsibility and decision-making were, therefore, a feature of the job and did, as many believed, elevate them to a status recognised as being between management and manual worker.


The technical changes to which the ship draughtsman has adapted since 1945 can be Listed under four main headings. These are welding and prefabrication; materials; new ship types; and the advent of computers. Although these changes took place at various times, and over varying periods of time, they can be readily identified by a comparison of two standard textbooks used in the industry: Steel Ships published in 1944 and reissued in 195O, and Ship Construction published in 1994.


If one development can be said to have pointed the way forward for postwar shipbuilding, it must be the wartime Liberty Ship programme which began in 1940. Developed by the California Shipbuilding Corporation, to an original design by J.L. Thompson & Company on the River Wear, this shipyard launched 11 ships, and delivered another 15, in just one month in 1942, and demonstrated the advantages to be gained by the use of electric arc welding and prefabrication.

The old riveted construction was essentially a piece-by-piece assembly where nearly every component was fitted to the next on the building berth to ensure accurate lining up of the ship’s structure. Welding allowed components to be fitted together in sub-assemblies on a flat surface, where down-hand welding could be employed, thus making for easier, and cheaper, construction. It also allowed girders and stiffeners to be used in a manner which produced stronger and lighter construction. Whereas riveted angle bar stiffeners were fixed by the flat part of the angle (thus: L ), welded stiffeners were reversed and welded by the ‘toe’( -is),so that most of the metal of the stiffener was away from the plate to be stiffened. This results in a much stronger structure, so that a smaller size of angle bar can be fitted, thus saving weight and cost. Each sub-assembly could be turned around to facilitate easier welding and attachment to other sub-assemblies. The disadvantage with the new technique is that welding causes shrinkage and some distortion of the metal, unlike the fastening of riveted joints, and that allowance for distortion had to be made in the design, planning, and material cutting stages.

Readjustment to these new techniques was referred to by A.J. Marr in a paper to the Student Section of the North East Coast Institution of Engineers & Shipbuilders (NECIBS), when he noted that before the start of welding and prefabrication ‘there was not much that the drawing office had to know about the yard facilities’, but now the draughtsman’s knowledge ‘must be related to the requirements of erection’.6

Despite the availability of data on welding and prefabrication, the Tyne and Wear yards were said to be ‘run down’ and operating, in 1945, very much as they had done decades earlier.7 The exception was Bartram’s yard on the Wear, who had, with government assistance, re-equipped with overhead electric cranes allowing them to use prefabrication techniques and large-scale welding of up to 85%.8 Bartram’s Weekly Returns on Employment of Trades records that from about equal numbers at the end of the war, by 1957 there were six welders for every riveter. The total riveting and welding force increased by 67 per cent, but the percentage of riveters fell from 50 per cent to only 14 per cent.9

The move towards all welded prefabricated ships was not reflected in all the region’s yards, for Pickersgill built their last all-riveted ship, the Needles, as late as 1958.10 This apparently tardy adoption of large-scale welding is also reflected in a shipbuilding text book published in 1950, but which still retains the 1944 edition’s regard for welding as 'in a more or less experimental stage'."

The strength and reliability of welding was a matter for concern to draughtsman, builder, owner, and classification societies alike. They were expressed in a number of articles such as the alarmingly titled ‘The Breaking in Two of Welded Ships’,’2 which considered the disposition of welded joints, and the stresses imposed by the process itself, and the alignment of prefabricated units. The dangers of water traps and subsequent corrosion were also dealt with in other articles,’3 although these latter problems were common to both riveted and welded construction.

Much was done by the shipping press to bring these practical problems to the attention of the ship structural draughtsmen. Unlike riveted joints which could cater for a number of components joined at a common point such as occurred at the edge of shell plates, early welding design called for joints to be staggered so that the intersection of welds did not undercut the steel or cause brittle fractures, the so-called ‘hot spots’. This was the subject of the first of a series of articles in the Shipbuilding and Shipping Record,’4 which enabled draughtsmen, who were perhaps not at a yard where welding and prefabrication were fully adopted, to gain extensive knowledge of the emerging techniques.

By the late 1970s structural plans had ceased to be drawn showing the whole of a main structural element, for example, the Upper Deck Plan or all the Watertight Bulkheads. These plans were now drawn for an entire prefabricated Unit, and showed only the relevant sections of decks and bulkheads as required by the planning and construction departments, and the draughtsman now also worked to the datum lines needed for laser sight alignment, as well as the old method of frame numbers. Ships were now designated in Units (or construction blocks), and within them, zones. Most items such as pipes, vents, seatings, and bought-in equipment which had to go into each zone were attached to the Units before erection on the building berth. This technique of ‘pre-outfitting’ increased the work of the drawing offices, the planning, production, and purchasing departments in terms of parts lists and building schedules, and many draughtsmen found themselves transferred to these expanding departments, and no longer required to produce drawings.


Although wartime production of mild steel had included armour plating and special alloy steels for armaments, shipbuilding continued to use a general-purpose steel having a tensile strength of between 26 and 32 tons per square inch.’5 The draughtsman’s calculations for non-standard structures were based upon this, and other requirements could be safely taken from Lloyds Rules for the Construction and Classification of Steel Ships. As far as high carbon steels were concerned, Walton noted in 1944 that ‘very little is definitely known of their higher elastic limits or yield points’,’6 so that in areas of particular stress, for example, in the corners of hatch openings, stresses were catered for by simply increasing the thickness of plate, and champhering the edges to match up with adjacent plates.

In 1959 the major classification societies standardized their requirements for steel, for, with the increase in the size of ships and correspondingly higher structural stresses, it proved impractical merely to increase the thickness of plating or stiffeners. The result was that differing grades of steel were developed for merchant shipping. The use of these steels was a natural development of those used in warship building, and draughtsmen would have been able to familiarize themselves with their capabilities, including the welding techniques necessary for high grade steels, in a paper on their use published by the NECIES.’7 They also had to adapt to the new Lloyds Rules which were originally set out as a series of tables. During 1966 the Rules were rewritten, and reissued in 1967. These new Rules were formula based to cater for new ship types, and the general increase in the size of vessels.

The use of a number of grades of steel in the same hull resulted in lighter structures, but demanded a greater expertise from the draughtsman to ensure that poor structural detail did not result in unacceptable stresses being built into the Unit, and, ultimately, into the completed hull.

Although steel has been the prime material of the shipbuilding industry, aluminium alloy has also been of importance for its resistance to corrosion, and non-magnetic properties which has resulted in its adoption by builders of leisure craft and mine protection warships. The major advantage for merchant shipping and the larger warships, however, is its light weight, being only around one-third the weight of mild steel.

While an assessment of aluminium alloy as a shipbuilding material had been published early in 1946J~ it was not until two years later that the NECIES published the first of two papers concerning superstructures,’9 when the north-east draughtsmen could familiarize themselves with the capabilities of this, for them, new material.

The major contract in the region employing extensive use of aluminium alloy was that of the passenger liner MS Bergensfjord, which began building in 1954 at the Wallsend yard of Swan Hunter & .Whigham Richardson. All the superstructure above the weather deck was aluminium alloy which, although expensive when compared to steel, saved a great deal of top weight thus improving stability, speed, and passenger capacity. In a joint paper to the NLCIES in December 1956, Swan Hunter’s technical manager acknowledged this ‘opportunity to gain valuable experience in the field of light alloy construction ,20 and gave details of the argon gas welding procedures, as well as the strength characteristics of the materials employed. Although not all of the company’s draughtsmen were employed on this particular contract, the opportunity was there to assimilate the technical differences in design, detailing, and construction methods.

Since the Bergensfjord entered service in May 1956, a number of yards have used aluminium alloy, primarily for superstructures, and the drawing offices have adapted to the techniques and regulations subsequently formulated by the regulatory bodies. It was another instance where progress in one field, ie. metallurgical development of heat treated aluminium alloys, resulted in design changes in another industry.


Tyne and Wear shipbuilding companies, like their national colleagues, had developed a reputation over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of being able to build any type of vessel. This had been a necessary skill for a trading island at the head of a worldwide Commonwealth which dealt in dry and liquid cargoes, cargo in bulk, bag, or cask, and carried at ambient or refrigerated temperatures. An idea of the great range of cargoes can be gained from Captain R.E. Thomas’s Stowage - the Properties and Stowage of Cargoes’ which gives details of how to handle over 2,500 commodities carried by cargo vessels. Volumes like this were part of the technical library of any drawing office, where carrying capacity, safety requirements, and stability were determined.

Whereas the steelwork draughtsman would ensure the strength of the hull, the outfit draughtsman would determine the stowage arrangements, cargo handling requirements, crew or passenger accommodation, and the related pipe work systems. In the late 1940s and ‘SOs cargo ships still catered for this wide range of commodities where, for example, a ship going to the African continent would carry manufactured goods out, and return with baled goods, timber, palm oil, food products, and other raw materials. Walton notes ‘special types of vessel’22 as being barges, trawlers, passenger ships and ferries, refrigerated cargo ships, and timber carriers. There were also the cable ships which laid the undersea links between continents, and the light ships which ringed the British Isles.

This wide range of vessels was a testimony to the maritime expertise of a trading nation. They were also a demonstration of the expertise and experience of the ship draughtsmen who were able to meet the diverse requirements of shipowners.

An assessment of British shipbuilding by John Spence notes, under a chapter entitled ‘Signs of Decline’, that ‘in 1954 West Germany overtook the UK in building for foreign owners’, and that in 1956 ‘Japan became the world’s biggest supplier of ships, helped by the boom in tankers following the Suez invasion’.23 While it is true, and confirmed by shipping journals, that the gross registered tonnage of Japan outstripped that of other nations, this does not reflect the technical content of the vessels themselves. The work carried out by the ship draughtsmen in producing the design and detail of, for example, a SOC-foot cross-channel vehicle and passenger ferry is considerably more than in producing the plans for a 1,200 foot oil tanker.

As tanker sizes began to increase above the 20,000 gross registered tons mark in the 1950s, the problem of physical building space arose. Many yards were faced with the problem of building vessels which were growing too big for the building berths. The solution found by John Crown & Sons on the Wear was to build ships in two separate halves.

The Rondefjell, of 22,400 tons deadweight, built for Olsen & Ugelstad, was the first oil tanker in the world to be built in two parts. The two halves were launched in April and October 1951 from Crown’s North Sands yard, towed to the River Tvne, and joined in the Middle Docks at South Shields.24 A number of vessels, known locally as ‘the half-crown ships’, were built in this way. Austin & Pickersgill’s Southwick yard also built the 46,000-ton deadweight tanker Happy Dragon in October 1966 and February 1967, the two halves again being towed to the Tyne for joining together.25 Although the technical problems were mainly those of stability and ballasting, it did reinforce the region’s reputation for building anything that floated.

By 1969 the increased demand for oil, and the continuing closure of the Suez Canal, resulted in the building of the Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) on the Tyne. In this year Swan Hunter launched the Esso Northumbria with a deadweight of 253,000 tons, which was followed by her sister-ship the Esso Hibernia. These vessels received their final inspections in dry dock in Portugal before handing over to the owners, for they were, at 1,100 feet long, ‘too big ever to return’ to the Tyne.26 A similar situation occurred on the Wear with the Nordic Chieftain, built in 1974 of 158,000 tons deadweight.27

Problems of physical size were, however, more easily overcome than problems of design. When Swan Hunter embarked upon the VLCCs of the late 1960s they were designing above the limits originally envisaged by Lloyds Rules, so that a new technique had to be devised to establish the stresses on these ship structures, where a 250,000-ton vessel with a liquid cargo, and over 1,000 feet long, was operating in mid-ocean conditions.

The technique evolved was described as ‘finite element analysis’, and was the subject of a number of papers published by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) and the NECIES. Ship structures do flex in response to sea conditions and loading, and the draughtsman had been able to allow for these, and have his designs approved by the classification societies. The design and detailing of large vessels was no longer a response to past experience of loading conditions, but an attempt to predict the overall capability of ship structures subjected to stresses not experienced in past decades.

The commercial and political factors which caused the virtual demise of the VLCC supertankers did not reduce the need for large ships. This was maintained by the demand for large bulk carriers which carried the ores, grains, and oil cargo's of the world. Developed from the Canadian Great Lakes carriers, the ocean-going bulk carrier consisted of a series of large holds at the centre, with ballast tanks at each side, which could also carry oil cargo. The experience gained by designers and draughtsmen on the structures and pipe systems of VLCCs was therefore transferable.

One of the few completely new types of vessel to emerge in the postwar years has been the container ship. Essentially a large cargo ship, it has holds designed to carry pre-packed boxes measuring 40 feet, or 20 feet, by 8 feet square, which meant that new methods of loading had to be devised. During the war the US Army had converted cargo ships to carry pre-packed equipment to and from specially built port facilities, but it was not until 1966 that the ‘revolution got under way’, and this would be considered as ‘The year of the container’.28 When design work began in 1966 on the first large container ships for the UK to Australia trade, there was ‘not a great deal of precedent to work on’, and ‘for the first time the designers, accustomed to cargo liner work, found themselves without a basic ship’.29

The ‘container revolution’ is deserving of that epithet as it had a profound effect on the organization of ports and manning, reducing the dependency upon stevedoring,

and moving the distribution centres of commodities away from the sea ports and into distant areas of manufacturing and consumption. It also had a profound effect upon the cargo handling arrangements of merchant shipping.

A major economic consideration of shipping is to reduce loading and unloading time to a minimum, so that more cargo's can be carried per year. Container ports developed a range of cranes to facilitate rapid cargo handling, and to compete with this the more conventional cargo vessel had to modernize its shipboard systems. Cargo handling equipment consisting of winches and derricks, and their essential masts and rigging, had ‘remained relatively static for a long period’.30 In the 1970s and ‘80s considerable attention was paid to the use of shipboard cranes and hydraulic hatch covers which, while cutting down the number of crew, reduced the time in port.

The effect upon the work of the ship draughtsman was also significant. Shipbuilders now bought hydraulic cranes and hatch covers which were delivered to the yard and bolted, or welded, straight aboard ship. The old systems of winches, derricks, and rigging became largely redundant, and from the late 1 970s few draughtsmen were called upon to calculate and detail old-style rigging arrangements of wires, blocks, shackles, and associated fittings. The reduction in crew numbers also meant smaller accommodation areas, and proportionately less drawing work.

Just as developments in worldwide industry led to increasing ship sizes and the emergence of the container ship, developments in the oil industry produced its own ship types.

Although oil rig construction was carried out on the Tyne at one initial specialist company, with the rig being designed by structural engineers rather than ship designers, the production drawings and those for platform and accommodation modules were executed by ship draughtsmen moving into this new field from the shipyards from the early I 970s. While the oil companies did not train their own draughtsmen, they were able to use the ship draughtsman’s skills to produce the structural, accommodation services, and piping system drawings common to the marine environment.

The major shipbuilding work was for the rig service vessels such as supply ships, and tugs, which usually had the additional functions of fire-fighting, anchor handling, or carrying aerated cement. Although these were comparatively small vessels mainly between 120 and 250 feet long, they had a high technical content and involved the builder with the characteristic problem of small ships — how to get a large amount of equipment into a small hull. Because of these difficulties the large shipbuilders found them uneconomical to build, and this type of vessel was built at Cleland's yard at Howden on the Tyne who, with Mitchison's yard at Gateshead, were the only Tyne or Wear yards to build small steel vessels such as supply ships, tugs, and fishing vessels. The only other yard, Ryton Marine, only remained in business for two years. These two specialist small yards, while training their own draughtsmen, also recruited from the larger yards. The essential difference in drawing office organization was that draughtsmen in the small yards were required to cover all aspects of the work, from basic hull design to detail production drawings, and not, as in the big yards, work in separate departments for steel, outfit, piping, and design.

Such was the demand for specialist oil related vessels that a great deal of work was carried out by the Tyne dry dock companies converting vessels, such as stern trawlers, into diving support vessels, and altering the role of existing supply ships to perform additional tasks. In what is essentially a rapid turn-round industry, dry docks did not train their own draughtsmen, thus the increase in oil exploration work, at a time when shipbuilding orders were decreasing, ensured that the ship draughtsman still had a range of employers where the traditional ‘build anything’ skills could be used to good effect.


The use of standard calculations to determine the strength of structures was an early task for developments in computing. In a discussion on the use of Manchester University’s digital computer for analysing structures, P.L. James noted that the possibilities for shipbuilders ‘are really immense’.31 By the early 1960s it was suggested that, as various programs had been developed to cater for both structural and hull form calculations, shipbuilders would be able to send data to a computer service centre for processing. The author of another paper noted that ‘it is unlikely that any one shipyard could justify the purchase of a computer for purely technical work’.32 The British Ship Research Association (BSRA) was a prime mover in this work, and requested the Tyne Shipbuilders Association (TSA) to allow shipbuilding staff to join the BSRA Naval Architecture Department to develop a range of programs specifically for the industry.33 Once the number crunching, or multiple calculation, aspect of computing had been developed, attention was focused upon the equations for curves used in the generation of a ship’s hull form.. Previous methods were described in a paper to the NECIES, and the author went on to show how these lines could be automatically faired by ‘high speed computer’.34 The enormous significance of this was that it showed how various hull forms could be compared, together with their stability data, in a matter of hours, whereas the old method of manual drawing and calculation took many days for each hull form.

Developments in plotting technology, where the lines were drawn out by machine, were the subject of a number of articles in The Draughtsman Journal 35 describing a system in use at General Motors. The major drawback with these developments was the physical size of the draughting machines. An account of BSRA’s research programme, while extolling the advantages of automatic ship’s lines fairing and calculation work, notes that the draughting machine had a plotting table 12 feet by 5 feet, making it completely unsuitable for drawing office use.36

While programs for hull forms and structural strength were being developed, other aspects of shipbuilding were being examined to devise integrated control systems for ship assembly, and the procurement and fitting of the thousands of bought-in components necessary for each ship contract. In an article on ‘Scientific Shipbuilding’37 the authors outline a series of computer programs based upon network techniques, where all aspects of a contract could be interlinked, thus providing a system of priorities for hour-to-hour control of work.

During the 1970s Swan Hunter and BSRA worked on a joint venture on behalf of the nationalized British Shipbuilders Corporation, developing the Britships 1 program for ship’s lines fairing and parts definition. By the beginning of the 1980s this had developed into Britships 2, which extended its scope ‘into the design and drawing office function and provides interfaces with other shipyard systems’.38 With the aid of small computer terminals developed by the IBM Computer Aided Design (CAD) program, drawing offices began to be equipped with individual computer workstations for draughtsmen, linked to a central company network. Tyne and Wear shipyard drawing offices began converting to CAD workstations in the early 1980s, and by 1985 almost all drawing work was carried out by computer. By then much more compact plotting machines were available, and installed within the technical offices.

Outlines of decks, sections through the ship, and a range of standard details were available from ship files, and which could be called up and copied into each draughtsman’s files. Plans were drawn, on screen, in a series of coloured overlays, enabling other departments to select various information particular to their discipline. For example, an ‘Accommodation Arrangement’ would be drawn with one overlay showing the steel structure, a second showing the joinerwork bulkheads and furnishings, and a third with the sanitary fittings in their correct location. Once this drawing was underway the steel draughtsman copied the steel overlay for construction drawings, and the piping draughtsman took the sanitary fitting overlay to begin drawing the composite pipework arrangements, which also included cable trays and vent trunking. A detailed description of the system as used in the Tyne and Wear drawing offices was published in the NECJES Transactions in 1987, when the system had undergone numerous modifications.39

The CAD workstation had a profound effect upon the work and craft skill of the draughtsman. With the hull form being available literally at the touch of a button there was no need to learn how to use curves or battens, nor was there a need to draw many of the standard items used — all were available on file to be placed anywhere on the drawing, at any required angle. Software programs for the design of hull forms, stability, and strength calculations were also available either in-house or bought-in, so there was no longer a need for the draughtsman to be closely involved with these traditional tasks. With the use of text in various sizes and styles, there was not even a need to be able to print neatly!

Although the job still required knowledge and experience there was no longer a requirement for the craft skill of draughtsmanship. Some draughtsmen, of course, by the selection of line and print type and other available graphics, did introduce a measure of aesthetic appeal into their drawings, although this was a minority activity. A number of senior draughtsmen, trained in the old ways but fluent on CAD, referred to the new CAD draughtsmen as ‘button pushers’. The fear was that as the standard files built up, there would be little need for the trained draughtsman and that they would, like the craft of tracer, largely disappear.


Skill at any particular occupation depends upon aptitude and training, and both craftsmen and tradesmen are assumed to have a certain level of skill, yet the definitions of ‘craft’ and ‘trade’, and the essential difference between them, is less clearly understood.

The craftsman has always been in the position of determining how his, or her, work is presented — the design, appearance, and embellishment of the finished work are theirs. Similarly, the ship draughtsman selects from a number of variables and selects what, in their opinion, best fits the requirements, and then presents the work in the form in which they think best shows up their design. They are able to embellish the work aesthetically to their own taste, even though this aspect is not absolutely necessary.

Tradesmen, while every bit as skilful, do however execute their work on the instructions of others. The form in which their work is carried out is predetermined, and they have little input into its design, nor is embellishment of the work allowed even though they, like the craftsmen, take pride in the execution of their work and obtain a measure of job satisfaction.

The essential difference between the two is that the craftsman is able to exercise control of the design and presentation of the work, whereas the tradesman may not. In these respects we can conclude that the ship draughtsman was, up to the early 1960s, trained as a craftsman.

Technical changes such as the development of welding, the increase in the size of vessels, and new ship types would not, in themselves, have altered the way the ship draughtsman carried out his work. The prefabrication of ships, however, resulted in production departments dictating the format and method of the presentation of information, so that by the late 1970s control of the drawing process was substantially lost, even though the draughtsman retained control of the design process.

The introduction of computers in the early 1980s resulted in the craft skill being negated as draughtsmen became technicians compiling electronic data. Drawings and details could be selected from files, and modified by others, so that the final drawing need no longer be the work of a single draughtsman. The hand-drawn plan with its individual printing style and other idiosyncrasies had gone, and with them, the last element of craftsmanship. Many of the design tasks performed by the draughtsmen were now available as computer software, which further reduced the required knowledge base.

Technical reorganization and commercial pressures, influenced by political events, resulted in the elements of control of presentation, extended training structure, and responsibility in a semi-supervisory role being removed, thus destroying the craftsman status. The parallel erosion of access to the higher levels of management, generated by changes in education and training, and the differential in wages, hours, and pensions, resulted in the labour organization of the draughtsmen becoming similar to that of the manual trades, thus diminishing their craft or employment status.

Commercial and political influences affecting the Tyne and Wear draughtsmen, and women, have been considered in a recent study,40 and wider national studies are also available.41

The impact of these factors reduced the craft of ship draughtsman to that of a trade generally, and the closure of the north-east region’s shipyards in particular destroyed that trade. The ever diminishing number of ship draughtsmen continue to work as and where employment is available in the shipbuilding and maritime centres of the world. Centres which no longer include the Tyne or the Wear.

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1 El. Attwood, Textbook of Theoretical Naval Architecture (Longmans Green, 1902);

2 Sir Westcott Abel, The Shipwright’s Trade (Conway Maritime Press, 1948)

3 T. Walton and J. Baird, Steel Ships, their Construction and Maintenance, 8th edn (1944), 2nd impr. (1950).

4 D. J. Eyres, Shizp Construction, 4th edn (Heinemann Professional, 1994).

5 V.C. Ryan, Construction Procedure USIVIC Type 2-S-Cl Cargo Vessel (California Shipbuilding Corp., 1942)

6 Allan Marr, ‘Why be a Shipbuilder?’, NECIES Transactions, vol. 73 (1956-7), 451.

7 John Spence, ‘Industrial Relations in Wearside Shipbuilding 1945 to 1981’ in Archie Potts, Shipbuilders and Engineers Essays in the Shipbuilding Industries oft he North East (North East Labour Hiscoiy Society, 1987)

9 Bartram & Sons, Weekly Returns on Employment of Trades, Tyne & Wear Archives, Document 990/445.

I0 Spence, ‘Industrial Relations’

11 Walton & Baird, Steel Ships,

12 Anon., ‘The Breaking in Two of Welded Ships’ in Shipbuilding & Shipping Record, vol. 88 (August 1956), 273.

13 Anon., ‘Ship Surveying with Ultrasonic Gauges’ in Shipbuilding & Shipping Record, vol. 88 (August 1956), 285.

14 R.B. Shepheard, ‘Aspects of Welding Research in British Merchant Shipbuilding’ in Shipbuilding & Shipping Record,

15 Walton & Baird, Steel Ships, 5.

16 Ibid, 16.

17 Sir Victor Shepheard, ‘Structural Steels for Warship Building with some notes on Brittle Fracture’

in NECIES Transactions, vol. 73 (1956-7), 301.

I8 Captain E.C. Goldsworthy, ‘Light Alloys and British Shipbuilding’ in Shipbuilding & Shipping Record,

19 NV. Muckle, ‘Resistance to Buckling of Light Ahoy Plates’ in NECIES Transactions, vol 64(1947-8), 223.

20 K. Harg&N. Carter, ~MS Bergensfjord’ in NECIES Transactions, vol.73 (1956-7), 113.

21 Captain R.E. Thomas, Stowage The Properties and Stowage of Cargoes (Brown Son & Ferguson, 1942).

2? Wakon & Baird, Steel Ships, 107.

23 Spence, ‘Industrial Relations’, 82.

24 N.L. Midkmiss, British Shipbuilding Yards, Volume 1: North East Coast (Shield Publications, 1993).

25 Ray Nichols, Changing Tide (Sunderland & Hartlepool Publishing & Printing, 1990), 65.

26 Anon., 'The Swan Hunter Story’ in Evening Chronicle (26 June 1993), 10.

27 Nichols, Changing Tide, 65.

28 Anon., 'Container Handling System Developments’ in Shipping World & Shipbuilder

(special supplement on ‘Port Development Cargo Handling’), vol. 159 (October 1966), 5.

29 Marshall Meek, ‘The First OCL Container Ships’ in RINA Transactions, vol. 112 (January 1970), 1.

30 Eyres, Ship Construction, 18.

31 R.K. Lireslv and T.M. Charlton, The Use of a Digital Computer with particular reference to the Analysis of

Structures’ in NECIES Transactions, vol. 71(1954-5), 67.

32 P.H. Judd, ‘Longitudinal Strength and Vibration of Ships by Electronic Computer’ in NECIES Transactions,

vol. 77 (1960-1), 61.

33 Tyne Shipbuilders Association Minutes dated 1 December 1960, Tyne & Wear Archives, Document 895/13.

34 T.M. Pitidus-Poutous, ‘The Mathematical Design of Ships Lines’ in NECIES Transactions, vol. 81(1964-5), 93.

35 M. Larant, ‘A Computer Draughtsman’ in The Draughtsman Journal (September 1966),

36 Anon., ‘Automatic Draughting Machine’ in Shipping World & Shipbuillder, vol. 160 (March 1967), 441.

37 M.R. Hargroves and R. Vaughan, ‘Scientific Shipbuilding’ in Shipping World & Shipbuilder, (June 1967),

38 RD. Forrest and M.N. Parker, ‘Steel-work Design using Computer Graphics’ in RIXA Transactions (January 1983),

39 G. Stephenson, ‘An Integrated Approach to Ship Design using CAD’ in NECIES Transactions, vol. 103 (1986-7), 75.

40 J.C. Tipping, ‘The Technical and Labour Organisation of the Craft of Ship Draughtsman on Tyne and Wear,

1945 to 1994’, unpublished MA Dissertation, University of Sunderland, 1995.

41 Bo Strath, The Politics of De-Industrialisation (Croom Helm, 1987).

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