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What was the Sail and Colour Loft?

04 January 2019

The Sail and Colour Loft

Here at The Historic Dockyard, we have many buildings that have been preserved for re-use by other companies. The trust itself used to work within The Sail and Colour Loft until we moved in April 2018 to the Fitted Rigging House.

But what was the Sail and Colour Loft used for before when The Dockyard was a working Royal Navy Dockyard?

The Sail and Colour Loft was built in 1723, consisting of 3 floors. The building was home to sewing, repairing, manufacture and fitting of items. These items were pieces such as canvas awnings, sails, loose covers for furniture, curtains, overalls, protective covers for Ships’ equipment and flags etc. The top floor was pillarless to give space for laying out the sails and it is this building that the sails for HMS Victory were likely to be made!

Who worked here?

There was a Master Sailmaker with sailmakers working below him. With difficulty ensuring a regular supply of sails when needed urgently in wartime, it led to the practice of making most sails in the Dockyard itself. In 1974, there were 31 sailmakers, 12 skilled labourers and 3 apprentices. On top of this there were 53 women colour makers, 2 supervisors and 3 labourers. As the Navy’s use of flags increased, a separate workforce of women was employed to make these and they became the ‘Ladies’ of the Sail Loft.

When the Trust entered this building to look at the modern day usage for it, it was left as if it was the end of the working day. All the sewing machines were still in place with the flags and other work under the needle of the machines as if the staff had finished for the day and left it ready for the next! The sewing machines have all been kept and are being looked after – one is on display in the gallery – Steam, Steel and Submarines.

Take a look at some of the photographs we have of the Sail and Colour Loft in action…

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