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History of British Ship Building

A fun look at the time when Britain Ruled the Waves 14 Questions.

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A whole range of trades were employed by shipbuilding yards when ships were made mainly from wood. Some of the youngest workers were 'oakum boys'. What did they do?

  • Carried oak planks
  • Shredded old rope.
  • Drew circles on oak


The old rope shredded by the 'oakum boys' was called 'oakum'. What was it used for?

  • Packing into gaps between timbers before sealing
  • Cleaning tools after use
  • Laying on the ground to soak up water.


The adze was a sharp tool used by shipbuilders to shape timber. How was it used?

  • Swung downwards like an axe
  • Swung sideways like a sythe
  • Swung upwards like a croquet mallet


What was 'the gingerbread' in relation to shipbuilding? It is the origin of the saying "taking the gilt off the gingerbread" meaning to do something to make a situation less attractive.

  • An iced cake eaten at breaks
  • Elaborate carving on the stern, often painted gold
  • The nickname for a deck and the 'gilt' was tar.


The 'Humber Keel' was a style of ship that carried cargo along British rivers and on short coastal voyages. How many sails did this type of ship have?

  • 2
  • 3
  • 4


The first semi-official Naval Base was established by King Richard in the later part of the 12th Century. Where was it?

  • London
  • Plymouth
  • Portsmouth


One of the earliest ways of measuring the size of a ship was by 'tunnage'. How was this calculated?

  • By the weight of the unladen ship
  • By the number of 'tuns' or barrels it would hold
  • By the weight of the cargo it would hold


Marc Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, invented a machine which revolutionised the making of what?

  • The block and tackle used to hoist and lower sails
  • The planks used for decking
  • The ships wheel


'Knees' were curved supports used to strengthen a ship's hull. Large ships were constructed using numerous 'knees'. How many 'knees' were used in the construction of Nelson's flagship "The Victory"?

  • 238
  • 438
  • 638


Early steam powered ships also retained sails. Why was this?

  • The boilers were unreliable
  • They could only carry enough coal for short distances
  • Both of the above


Thomas Roberts was given an award in 1807 because of an idea which was considered revolutionary. What was it?

  • Using iron 'knees' instead of wooden ones.
  • Using a gun turret that pivoted instead of cannons
  • A new design of a dry dock


What was the name of the first ship built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel?

  • City of New York
  • The Great Western
  • The Great Britain


"The Great Britain" built by Brunel was revolutionary in many ways. Can you pick out the reason below that is not this ship's claim to fame?

  • It had the first British ship with an all iron hull
  • It was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic
  • It was the first to use 'Screw Propulsion' to cross the Atlantic.


When HMS Warrior was commissioned she was the largest warship in the world. Which year was this?

  • 1831
  • 1861
  • 1891