Aerial view of National Shipyard No.2, Chepstow. c.1917/1918
Facility Type & Function:
National Shipyard (N.S.) – Merchant ship building yard.
During 1916 German U-boats sank over 300,000 tons of merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean. The only British counter-measure was limited and largely ineffectual aerial detection of the U-boats by airships. In May 1917, given the huge losses to the nation’s merchant shipping fleet, British Government resolved to rapidly build more cargo ships to help maintain the country’s international supply routes. To supplement the nation’s privately owned shipyards the British Government embarked on a program to build three new National Shipyards. These were to be built at Chepstow, Beachley and Portbury, on the Rivers Wye and Severn. In total the three shipyards comprised 41 slipways. To maximise launch rates at the yards it was intended for them to build partly prefabricated ships of a standard design. Parts of each vessel were to be manufactured in other parts of the country and then moved to the National Shipyards by rail for assembly.
National Shipyard No.1 was developed on an existing yard established in 1916 by the Standard Shipbuilding Company. It was located on the west bank of River Wye, immediately south of the town’s railway bridge. The yard’s aim was to mass-produce ships to a “standard” design. It comprised eight slipways which were each capable of building ships of up to 600 feet in length and of up to 300 tons in mass.
As part of the shipyard’s development over 6,000 skilled workers moved to Chepstow from other shipbuilding areas including Tyneside and Clydeside. New housing was built to accommodate the workers in three new “garden suburbs” (i.e. Hardwick, Garden City and Bulwark) which were added to the town. The construction of the shipyards, and the manufacture of the concrete blocks used to build the workers’ homes, was undertaken in part by prisoners of war, and in part by the Royal Engineers. Additional temporary housing was provided in the form of huts as well as a new hospital and power station at Chepstow.
In August 1917, the British Government took over the Standard Shipbuilding Company as they were frustrated in the lack of progress to increase the yard’s ship building capacity. They appointed their own managers to carry on the development work. However, the effect of this was to slow progress down further.
Sections of the first ship arrived at Chepstow in April 1918, but progress was slow and the organisation of the project was criticised, both by existing shipyards and by trade unions who were excluded from the initiative and objected to the use of military labour. In August 1918, the Chepstow shipyard took over the adjoining Finch’s Works immediately to the north of the site, and the following month the War Forest (a C-Class Standard Ship, which remained in commission until being torpedoed and sunk in 1943) was launched from the Finch’s site. This was the first standard ship to be launched from any of the National Shipyards. However, by the end of the war in November 1918, no prefabricated ships had been completed.
The National Shipyard scheme came under server criticism after the Great War for its lack of launch rates during hostilities and its excessive costs.
After the Great War the government sold National Shipyard No.1 to the Monmouth Shipbuilding Company. In 1925 it was acquired by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited bought and later dismantled the shipyard. In due course the company became Fairfield-Mabey Limited who now specialise in steelwork for bridges and other structures.
For more on the history of National Shipyard No.1 click on the “Gramophone” image below where a web link will take the reader to an oral history recording about the site which is part of the BBC Radio’s “World War I at Home” Series.
Chepstow, Monmouthshire – On west bank of the River Wye as it discharges into the Bristol Channel.
Associated Token, Check & Pass Issues:
Function: Unknown (Note 1)
Design: Uniface with milled edge
Shape & Size: Circular, 31.9 mm
Obverse: Raised legend around upper edge within raised and beaded borders reads .NATIONAL SHIPYARD. and below No.1 plus around bottom, CHEPSTOW . The absence of a stamped identification number in the check’s centre field indicates that it is an unissued example.
Date: 1917 to 1918
Maker: Unknown (Note 2)
Published References: Cox N. & A. – The Tokens, Checks, Metallic Tickets, Passes and Tallies of Wales 1800-1993. 1994. Token reference number 390.
- Probably used as a works pass and/or a time check by a civilian shipyard worker.
- Checks based on the same design were also used at the National Shipyard No.2 located at Beachley. It is assumed that these were produced by the same maker who made the above checks for Chepstow.