Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrightry

Mattew Baker, c. 1570

The Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrightry is a collection of miscellaneous notes and incomplete plans of ships started by an English shipwright named Matthew Baker (1530-1613) in the 1570s, and continued with notes from one of his apprentices, John Wells, and annotations on mathematics. 

Baker was born in 1530, the son of a shipwright of King Henry VIII of England.  There is notice of him traveling to the Levant in January 1551, at the age of 21, probably as a ship's carpenter aboard an English merchantman.  He may have visited Italian and Greek shipyards and collected Venetian and Greek designs of midship frames.  A fairly cultured man with a good understanding of mathematics, he certainly had contacts and was influenced by the Italian shipwrights hired by Henry VIII in 1543.  These Italians appear to have remained in the country for over forty years, earning wages thirty percent higher than their English counterparts.  In 1572 Baker was appointed Master Shipwright of the kingdom.  He worked with other men of knowledge, and his notes reflect the first steps of a trend to change English shipbuilding from the medieval empirical method to the modern standard of paper plans and conceptual models that could be repeated, improved and enlarged.  When he died in 1613, he left the manuscript to his neighbor and protégé John Wells. 

Baker's notes present a compilation of precious observations, abacus, tables, and drawings, comprising more than 30 geometrically defined midship sections, from the sections of 4 galleasses designed by his father, James Baker, in the second half of the 16th century to the early 17th century midship sections that were in use when new methods to determine the rising and narrowing of the bottom of the vessels in the central portion were fully defined in England.  The part added by John Wells is mostly occupied with calculations of spherical geometry, making extensive use of logarithms from 1617 on.



Translation into English




Barker, Richard "Fragments from the Pepysian Library," Revista da Universidade de Coimbra (1986) 32:161-178.

Barker, Richard "'Many may peruse us': Ribbands, Moulds and Models in the Dockyards," Revista da Universidade de Coimbra (1988) 34:539-559. 

Glasgow, Tom "Maturing the Naval Administration," Mariner's Mirror (1970) 56:3-26, 10 and 24.

Citation Information:

Filipe Castro,
2002, Ship Treatisis and Books: Matthew Baker's
Fragments of Ancient Shipwrightry, World Wide Web, URL,, Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University