How to look for records of... Royal Naval dockyard staff

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1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you find records of the staff of victualling yards, naval and dockyard establishments. Sources include pay and pension books.

Most documents are arranged by yard, so for most searches it is vital to know the name of the yard where the person worked.

The records cover yards in the UK and abroad.

If you are researching a man’s career, especially one of the skilled men (artificers or tradesmen), also try looking at Royal Navy personnel records.

Please note that gun wharves were the responsibility of the Ordnance Board. The National Archives has some records of Ordnance employees, mainly within WO 54.

2. Pay records (1660-1868)

The best place to start a search for records of a dockyard worker is in the various records of pay.

You will need to know the relevant yard and rough dates of employment. You can only search by yard or ship’s name, as these records have not been catalogued by personal name.

If you do not know the name of a dockyard, find an abridged list on the National Maritime Museum website or see the further reading section. Alternatively browse ADM 42 to get an idea of what dockyards are covered. Dockyards did change their name so you may need to search using alternative names (see appendix below).

The records do not cover every yard in every year.

The following terms appear in record descriptions and are useful to know:

Ordinary: refers to those who were paid salaries ‘borne on the ordinary vote’. This includes senior officers, clerks and foremen (inferior officers), established artificers and labourers of the yard.

Extraordinary: refers to the payment of unestablished/casual employees who were employed only when neded.

3. Searching for records (1660-1868)

3.1 For dockyard workers

Use the advanced search option in Discovery, our catalogue.

Search for a yard name, for example ‘Woolwich’, within

  •  ADM 42 (yard books)
  •  ADM 36-38 (ships’ pay books and musters)

If you search is unsuccessful, try also searching within ADM 33 and ADM 7.

You can refine results by date.

Another source is ADM 106, try keyword searches within this series. Increasingly, this series can be searched by an individual’s name as part of the Navy Board cataloguing project. (The project also includes ADM 354 and ADM 359; these records are at the National Maritime Museum.)

3.2 For victualling yard workers

Use the advanced search option in our catalogue to search for the name of the yard within series:

4. Additional records for before 1832

If your search is not successful you could also try browsing the following:

Description Catalogue reference(s)
Coopers and Labourers, 1797-1816, yard unknown ADM 30/58-61
Shipwrights, 1800 ADM 30/62
Artificers dismissed, 1784-1811 ADM 106/3006-3007
Caulkers, Coopers and Ropemakers, 1798-1831 ADM 6/197
Officers superannuated, 1801-9 ADM 6/403
Protections from the Press, 1794-1815 ADM 7/377-80
Civil Establishment of Admiralty and Navy Board (including yard officers), 1694-1832 ADM 7/809-823
Salaries, home yards, 1808 ADM 7/859
Salaries, home yards, 1822-32 ADM 7/861

5. Pay records 1832-1892

Musters and lists only survive into the mid-19th century, as the rest were destroyed under statute.

Browse the following salary and pension records for dockyard workers who retired or worked after 1832:

Records 1892-1939

Some service records for dockyards personnel are held by the Ministry of Defence. Visit Veterans UK to find out how to request a summary of a service record.

6. Background information: how the dockyards were organised

6.1 Before 1832

Before 1832 dockyards were run entirely by naval officers who were civilian employees of the Navy Board, not sea officers.

However, there was movement between the two services. If you are researching a man’s career, especially one of the skilled men (artificers or tradesmen), try looking in the records of the Royal Navy. See our research guides on Royal Navy personnel for more information.

The senior official of each dockyard was the commissioner, who was supported by senior officers including:

  • clerk of cheque and storekeeper -responsible for finance and administration
  • master shipwright -responsible for building and repairs
  • master attendants and boatswain -supervised yard craft and boats in ordinary (on reserve)
  • master ropemaker -responsible for the ropeyard

Clerks and foremen, known as inferior officers, supported the senior officers.

The senior officers of a victualling yard were the agent victualler (in larger establishments only), the storekeeper or naval officer, and the clerk of the cheque. The victualling yards reported to a Victualling Board, which in turn reported to the Navy Board.

6.2 After 1832

In 1832 the Navy Board was abolished and all yards and establishments, except gun wharves, were amalgamated under a single authority. The victualling yards, however, continued to be practically independent.

The senior officer was now a serving sea officer – the superintendent, admiral or captain-superintendent – who was often also the port admiral, or flag officer. New positions were created such as inspector of steam machinery, as steam factories were attached to major yards.

The yards have continued to be run by a mixture of civilians and sea officers.

7. Further reading


Visit the National Maritime museum website for other sources and background information


Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.

R Cock and A Rodger, A guide to the naval records in The National Archives of the UK (London 2006)

8. Appendix

Some dockyards changed their name so try searching under alternative names:

Dockyard name Alternate search term
Cork Haulbowline
Kingston Jamaica or Port Royal
Plymouth Devonport
Penang Prince of Wales Island
York Lake Ontario
Minorca Port Mahon
Cadiz Mediterranean

As some victualling yards also changed their names, you may need to search for alternative names:

  • Deptford became Royal Victoria
  • Plymouth became Royal William
  • Portsmouth became Royal Clarence

Guide reference: Military Records Information 41