Draughtsmen and Tracers

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Draughtsmen and tracers worked in the drawing offices. Each of the three Dockyard departments (shipwrights, engineering and electrical) had their own drawing offices. The work of a draughtsman was to design ships or parts of ships and draw the plans. The tracers were women and would trace the plans to make multiple copies. The oral history extract below explains more about the work of tracers:

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"Interviewer: Oh. So they'd be drawn out by the actual draughtsmen.

Stella Threlkeld: Draughtsman. Yes, and then -

Interviewer: You would copy them on to the linen? Was it stretched onto frames or something the linen?

Stella Threlkeld: No.

Interviewer: I'm just trying to think how you actually sort of physically did it. I know nothing about this you see.

Stella Threlkeld: Well we had drawing pins. Big drawing pins about the size of a ha'penny you know and heavy weights.

Interviewer: On to a board, onto a wooden board?

Stella Threlkeld: A big wooden board. From here over to there, perhaps not quite so big.

Interviewer: Was it flat or were you on like a little drawing board?

Stella Threlkeld: No, it was -

Interviewer: Like you get now slanted.

Stella Threlkeld: Slanted, slightly slanted. There was nothing very posh about it. We had of course good lighting, which we could adjust.

Interviewer: And the thing you were copying would be in front of you, so you could copy?

Stella Threlkeld: No, no you pin the draftsman's drawing you would pin on the board, and then you would stretch the linen over it. And then you'd draw on the linen.

Interviewer: Oh you can see through it?

Stella Threlkeld: You could see through it.

Interviewer: Oh, so it's exactly the same as tracing with tracing paper now.

Stella Threlkeld: Yes, that's right."

In the late 1950s Draughtsmen stopped drawing on paper and instead used a plastic material. The Draughtsmen sent their work down to the printers directly where the printers reproduced it. This new technique made the tracers redundant.

Drawing Set
Drawing Set (PRDHT)

There were benefits to dividing the drawing offices between major departments because each department required a different set of guidelines housed in huge libraries. Each of the drawing offices was sub-divided into different groups. Draughtsmen developed knowledge of each discipline and expertise ensuring they worked in the most efficient way.

Fullers Slide Rule
Fullers Slide Rule (PRDHT)

The draughtsmen worked on all different aspects of ships. The general construction section created the blueprints for building new vessels. One of the specialisms was the submarine section which only worked on submarines. The ventilation section was responsible for working out all the ventilation for a ship. They would have to look at a compartment, find out what machinery was in it, whether it was hot or cold machinery and establish how many times the air needed changing in that compartment. The as-fitted section had the job of producing accurate ship drawings which involved drawing in anything on the ship which was larger than six inches.

The Drawing Office in the East Office Block
The Drawing Office in the East Office Block

The drawing office had a large planning role within the Dockyard. The docking section calculated the mathematics for docking ships. They also worked out which materials in the ship would need moving such as fuel and ammunition. The drawing offices also planned ships refits. Before a refit started, but after the ship docked, draughtsmen made or collected drawings of every new part and modification. In the 1960s the admiralty experimented with a system of sending draughtsmen overseas to meet ships and complete their work onboard as the ship sailed back to Portsmouth. The system failed. Although it saved time during the refit, it was not economical to fly the draughtsmen out to meet the ships.

The Planning Office
The Planning Office (BDFL)