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

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • None

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you find records of the staff of Royal Navy dockyards, victualling yards and other naval establishments from around the 1920s or before. The records covered are for yards in the UK and abroad.

These records are not available to view online so to see them you will have to either visit us in Kew or, if you can locate document references, order copies.

For records of workers from the last 100 years you should start your search at one of the dockyard historical trusts or societies or at a local county or metropolitan archive. Some post-1920s 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.

2. How the dockyards were organised

2.1 Before 1832

Before 1832 dockyards were run entirely by naval officers who were civilian employees of the Navy Board, not Admiralty sea officers. However, it was not unusual for officers to move between the the Navy Board and the Board of Admiralty over the course of their career.

The senior official of a Royal Navy dockyard was the commissioner, who was supported by other 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
  • the clerk of the cheque

The victualling yards reported to a Victualling Board, which in turn reported to the Navy Board.

2.2 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.

3. The principal records and how to search for them

The surviving records for dockyard workers tend to be various kinds of records of pay, including muster books (but not after the mid-19th century) and pension records. However, as some men worked in both the dockyards and aboard ships across the course of their naval career, it is sometimes also worth looking for records of individuals, especially skilled workers (artificers or tradesmen), in Royal Navy records (as administered by the Admiralty Board). See our research guides on Royal Navy ratings and Royal Navy commissioned and warrant officers for more information.

Dockyard personnel documents are usually arranged by yard, so for most searches it is vital to know the name of the yard where the person worked. For England this will usually mean one of the following six Royal Navy dockyards (the years in brackets are opening and closing dates):

  • Chatham (1567-1983)
  • Deptford (1513-1869)
  • Plymouth – from 1824 known as Devonport Dockyard (1690-present)
  • Portsmouth (1495-present)
  • Sheerness (1665-1957)
  • Woolwich (1512-1869)

For details of more Royal Navy dockyards, both in the UK and overseas, see the Appendix.

The records do not cover every yard in every year.

4. Records of pay

Use our catalogue to search within the records series listed below. In almost all cases you can only search by yard or ship’s name, not by a person’s names. Some dockyards have changed their name so you may need to search using the alternative names or the dockyard locations provided in above and in the appendix (you can also browse series ADM 42 to get an idea of what dockyards are covered by the records).

The following terms appear in the records of pay:

  • Ordinary: refers to the permanent workforce, those who were paid salaries – 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 needed, for example at times of war.

4.1 For dockyard workers

Click on the links below to search for a yard name, for example ‘Woolwich’, within the following series:

  • ADM 42 (Yard pay books 1660-1857)
  • ADM 36 (Ships’ muster books 1688-1808)
  • ADM 37 (Ships’ muster books 1757-1842)
  • ADM 38 (Ships’ muster books 1793-1878)
  • ADM 33 (Ships’ pay books 1669-1778)

Try searching by name or, otherwise, keyword in the various Navy Board records held in ADM 106 (1650-1837). The chances of finding someone by name within this series are steadily improving as details are added to the online catalogue 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.

4.2 For victualling yard workers

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

Click on the links below to search for a yard name within series:

  • ADM 113 (pay lists, musters, pension lists and registers for victualling workers 1703-1857)
  • ADM 224 (registers of staffing and pay at victualling establishments in Portsmouth and Gosport 1712-1903)

4.3 For gun wharf workers

Gun wharves, where ships’ guns were stored, were the responsibility of the Ordnance Board. The National Archives has some records of Ordnance employees, mainly within WO 54.

5. Additional records 1832-1928

As no muster books survive after the mid-19th century you will need to consult salary and pension records for dockyard workers after that period. The following series cover workers who retired or worked after 1832:

Try, also, searching the Admiralty Miscellanea in ADM 7 (1563-1956).

6. Additional records before 1832

Click on the series references in the table below to browse the record descriptions by year ranges:

Type of records Series references
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
Registers of protections from being pressed, 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, 1822-1832 ADM 7/861

Try, also, searching the Admiralty Miscellanea in ADM 7 (1563-1956).

7. Further reading


Visit the National Maritime museum Caird Library website for other sources.


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 N A M Rodger, A guide to the naval records in The National Archives of the UK (London 2006)

Appendix: Dockyard names and locations

Documents are usually arranged by yard, so for most searches it is vital to know the name of the yard where the person worked. For England this will usually mean one of the following six Royal Navy dockyards (the years in brackets are opening and closing dates):

  • Chatham (1567-1983)
  • Deptford (1513-1869)
  • Plymouth – from 1824 known as Devonport Dockyard (1690-present)
  • Portsmouth (1495-present)
  • Sheerness (1665-1957)
  • Woolwich (1512-1869)

The Royal Navy also had dockyards in Wales, Scotland and Ireland:

  • Haulbowline Dockyard at Cork (1869-1923)
  • Rosyth Dockyard at Fife (1909-1997)
  • Pembroke Dockyard at Pembroke (1815-1947)

There were other Royal Navy dockyards and naval establishments overseas including:

  • Jamaica Dockyard – also known as Port Royal (c.1675-1905)
  • Kingston Dockyard on Lake Ontario, Canada (1788-1853)
  • Penang Island – part of modern day Malaysia – also known as Prince of Wales Island (1800s)
  • Port Mahon Dockyard on Minorca (1708-1802)

See the National Maritime Museum Caird Library website for another abridged list of dockyards.