How To: Interpret Historic Buildings

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How to interpret your historic surroundings

Georgian buildings in Dockyard
Georgian buildings in Dockyard (B. Patterson)

This section of the website will give you some tips and pointers on how to interpret your historic surroundings. What do we mean by interpret? Interpret means to give or provide the meaning of something. In this sense it means to work out facts about a building or historical feature to answer questions. These include information on how it was built, what it was used for and what it is used for now.

So how do we get this information? A good way to start is to look at the building or feature and ask yourself some questions.

Is there evidence for it's current and original purpose?

This is the Mast Pond in the Dockyard.

Mast pond
Mast pond (RNM)

Its name gives us a clue about its original purpose. In the days of the sailing navy, the Dockyard used the Mast Pond to season the timbers used to make masts. To season timbers they sunk them to the bottom of the pond and then dried them slowly. This prevented them from splitting. When ships changed over from sail to steam power the Dockyard used the Mast pond as a boat storage area. The above photograph shows that the Mast Pond still houses boats.

Has it been damaged or altered?

This is Boathouse 6, it is currently the home of Action Stations. In the photo can you see a modern addition to the building?

Boathouse 6
Boathouse 6 (RNM)

The Dockyard built Boathouse 6 in 1844 for building and repairing boats. During World War Two German bombers destroyed part of the building. After the war the Dockyard temporarily patched it with metal sheets. They completed the work in 1999 when they built the external glass staircase.

What are the building's surroundings like?

It is important to look at the surroundings of the building you are looking at as these can provide you with clues about its former use. The image below shows a building next to the north camber.

Number 12 Storehouse
Number 12 Storehouse (RNM)


The building is number 12 storehouse and the Dockyard used it as a storehouse. Ships berthed outside the building and sailors loaded the provisions and stores needed onto the ship.