Within the painting department there were different grades of painters. The painters served a five year apprenticeship like other skilled trades and they worked on all the high quality painting. This included painting cabins on ships. Within the paint shop there were specialisms including sign writing and decorative work. Decorative work would include painting ships badges, gilding and anything else which contained artwork.
Skilled painters would paint the large identification numbers on the sides of ships, known as pennant numbers. he oral history extract below explains how at the beginning of the twentieth century painters were able to access the sides of the ships using a swinging stage. Later in the century, painters used purpose-built floating stages to paint the sides of ships.
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"We had our own swinging stage, which was very nice. It was about 6 foot long and you could put it on your back and then drop it down on the ropes and tie it up and then slide down the ropes to get onto the stage.
Interviewer: It must have been quite heavy though to carry around.
Well this was one we had made you see, this was, they banned it in the end they said it was dangerous but we never thought it was dangerous. we never fell off of it, it was about an inch board and it was only about 6foot long so it wasn't bad, with the ropes. and we didn't have the big thick ropes that they had on everything else, we had like a inch and a half rope which is quite enough to take the weight of the man. I was always the one that climbed down the rope but I always used to insist, get a ladder, because I wasn't very good at climbing up rope. I could climb up a rope.
Interviewer: So you had to climb up ropes as well!
Oh yes, yes, yes you had to get back in, if you couldn't get a ladder. They used to call them jumping ladders, you know the wire ladders and they used to put them in a roll and you could drop it down the side of the ship and come up on the edge of the ladder. Much easier than climbing a rope
Interviewer: I should think so! So what did the mate do while you were down painting the numbers on the ship?
Oh he would drop the paint down on a rope, that type of thing. Help find the ladder for me to get up and we used to, all unofficial what we used to do, when we had the stage over the side, when I done that letter we need to do the next one. Well I didn't climb up and move the stage along I used to stand this end of the stage and he'd untie this end and swing the rope round to there and you worked along the side like that. It was quite safe really.
Interviewer: Sounds horrendous!
Well no, he only undid one rope you see and then you wind round to the next one. So yes, you know."
Brush hands were labourers who worked on the less skilled paintwork and did not complete apprenticeships. This would include painting ship's sides and bottoms. They also worked on removing paint. Labourers sandblasted large areas of paint to remove it. Brush hands used coarse brushes to remove the final traces or work small areas.
In the early twentieth century, the paint shop mixed all of the paint the Dockyard used. As commercial paints improved the Dockyard began buying it in. To attach paint lids, the paint shop used these implements.