Curators at the ss Great Britain Trust start a year-long project to digitise one of the UK’s most extensive collections of ship plans on Tuesday (March 27).
Almost 7,000 ship plans, showing detailed draughtsman’s drawings, will be digitally scanned by specialists using a scaffold rig in the Brunel Institute next to the ss Great Britain.
The plans are all bigger than A3 with the largest being two metres in length.
The collection records the technical developments in shipbuilding over 300 years, from the 18th Century to the 1990s, and highlights changes in hull form and rigging.
And as many ships are broken up and scrapped at the end of their working lives, the ship plans provide a vital historic and visual record.
As well as Victorian ships, the collection includes Second World War battleships and River Thames passenger boats from the 1990s.
Today, ship plans are used by historians, those with a passion for naval architecture, as well as ship model makers. The plans are from the David MacGregor Collection, which was bequeathed to the Trust.
They include originals created by Mr MacGregor using measurements from models or builders’ plans, and from the vessels themselves during field trips along the coast or large rivers in Britain. From his measurements he drew up the vessels’ lines, using contemporary sources such as pictures and photographs to add masts, rigging and sails. His notebooks and drafts also form part of the collection. The work of other skilled draughtsmen is also represented in the collection, such as Edgar March’s plans of British sailing trawlers and drifters.
Visitors will be able to see for themselves the work unfold in the Brunel Institute on Tuesday 10.30am to 1.30pm, on Wednesday 2pm to 4.30pm and on Thursday 10.30am to 1.30pm.
The ss Great Britain Trust’s Curator of Library and Archive, Eleni Papavasileiou, commented: “This is an ambitious project to digitise one of the nation’s most extensive collections of ship plans. The scope of the collection is truly breath-taking and tracks the dramatic changes in ships and shipbuilding over the last three centuries. By digitising the collection, it will make it easier for the Trust to provide information for anyone with an interest in ships, naval architecture and ship design.”
She added: “We are delighted to be able to show members of the public what the Trust is doing, and explain a little bit more about the importance of ship plans and this collection. Staff and volunteers will be available to answer questions.”
The ss Great Britain Trust’s staff and volunteers will be working with the specialist Mobile Scanning Company and its ‘Digitisation for the Nation’ programme.