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Shipwrights were responsible for constructing the structure of a ship and most of the internal fittings.

Engraving of a Shipwright from the Book of Trades


Shipbuilding was a tough job. Ships were built in open air shipyards throughout the year, even in winter. The tools used such as drills and riveters were loud and dangerous. Shipwrights had overall control of the construction of the ship, but were not the only trade involved in their construction.

Ships were traditionally built in wood until the mid-late 19th Century, when other materials such as iron and steel were used. This led to conflict between the Shipwrights and the metal platers who belonged to the Boilermakers' union.

Other trades were involved in the construction of ships, joiners would construct some of the internal fittings, engineers would fit the engines and boilermakers would fit ventilation systems and funnel. If you know your ancestor worked in shipbuilding you would need to know what job he did to be able to find the right union. For example, if your ancestor was an engine fitter he would belong to an engineering union.

For more information on Shipwrights' unions, click here

Sources for family history in our collection

Boilermakers built iron and steel ships. See the Boilermakers page for more information.

Shipconstructors' and Shipwrights' Union
The following information can be found in annual reports:
We do not hold annual reports for the years 1918, 1920, 1921, 1924, 1929, 1936 and 1937

  Information Dates
Obituaries Name, age and cause of death
1882-1912, 1916-1917, 1930-1941
New members Name and registration number 1885-1916, 1919-1942, 1946-1962
Registration of members' wives for funeral benefit Name, registration number, wife's name and age 1911-1916, 1919-1942, 1946-1963
Unemployed and friendly benefits Name, registration number and monies received
sick and unemployed 1885-1912
accident 1899-1912
superannuation 1906-1912, 1928-1930
Branch officials Name and address 1882-1962


Resources about Shipwrights in the library collection

Anthony Burton, Tracing your shipbuilding ancestors: a guide for family historians (2010) – Shelfmark: R08

Sheila Lewenhak, Steamships and shipbuilders in the Industrial Revolution (1978) – Shelfmark: H39

Tim Latham, The Ashburner schooners: the story of the first shipbuilders of Barrow-in-Furness (1991) – Shelfmark: M18

Harry Fletcher, A life on the Humber: keeling to shipbuilding (1975) – Shelfmark: Q07

JF Clarke, Building ships on the North East coast: a labour of love, risk and pain - part 1, c. 1640-1914 (1997) – Shelfmark: Q28

JF Clarke, Building ships on the North East coast: a labour of love, risk and pain - part 2, c. 1914-c. 1980 (1997) – Shelfmark: Q28