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'View of Mr Perry's Yard, Blackwall'

Green Blackwall collection

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Object ID BHC1865
Description (Updated, July 2016) A panoramic view of the Blackwall merchant shipyard on the Thames, commemorating the launch of HM ship 'Kent', 74 guns, on 17 January 1798. Shipbuilding at Blackwall began in the16th century but was regularized when the East India Company developed a yard there in the early 17th. The company sold it around 1650 and from 1708 the Perry family of shipbuilders became involved there, later as its managing owners. It continued to build Indiamen, warships on contract and other vessels and by the late 18th century was the largest private yard in the world. In addition to wet and dry-docks, there were timber yards, saw pits, cordage works, rigging shops, draughtsmen's offices and foundries - all employing hundreds of craftsmen. After 1810 it became known as Green's yard, or Green and Wigram's, after a half share passed into the management of George Green, who married Perry's daughter, with the Wigram family holding the other half share. In 1843 it was physically divided when this formal partnership expired, though immediate use remained the same. The top of Blackwall Yard House, the Perry (later Green) family home, can be seen to the left above the ships in dock, with the church tower of St Anne's, Limehouse, on the far left. Trees seen through gaps and to the right are reminders that the area behind was still fields - though rapidly built over in the first half of the 19th century. The distinctive building shown just right of centre is the Blackwall mast house (1793-1862) on the south-western side of the Brunswick (or Perry's) Dock, excavated by John Perry to the design of an engineer called Pouncey between March 1789 and November 1790. This had two basins with separate entrances, one capable of holding 30 large Indiamen (immediately beside the mast house) and the other for a similar number of smaller vessels (on the far right here). The mast house was a crane for masting and de-masting ships. Masts themselves were made and stored in the low range of the building (on the left) and could be drawn up through a slot in the centre of the tower for lowering into vessels in the basin alongside. The mast house was also used for storing sails and rigging. Two small naval vessels and two naval cutters are shown in the Thames, just before the launch, on 17 January 1798, of the 74-gun two-decker 'Kent' which can be seen ready on the ways, flying launching flags: this was the only Royal Naval warship launched by Perry during the French Revolutionary War: for the contract to build the ship, dated 1795, see ADT0061.The the yard launched ten more ships of the line (1802-12), with one or two perhaps among those on the stocks here, before the Napoleonic War ended in 1815. Just to its left, shown very small, the Admiralty Commissioners' barge is arriving for the launch, followed by a barge bearing a white ensign (which may in fact be the City of London flag). The Trinity House flag and ensign are also flying on the dockside, and that of the East India Company on a brig-rigged Company yacht in the main basin. Other merchant ships, including Indiamen, are also shown in various stages of completion and repair, indicating the considerable building programme at this time. The artist lived at Rotherhithe and Limehouse and made a living painting marine pictures as well as portraits. The painting is signed 'W. Dixon' and dated 1798: the last figure is not clear but confirmed by the event shown. Despite some age deterioration, especially of the sky and lower foreground, the detail of the shipping - notably the gilded stern decoration of the ships - is meticulous. There can be no doubt that, at the time, the detail included would have enabled Dixon's client - very possibly John Perry - and his circle to identify the ships shown. William Daniell also painted and engraved an aerial perspective of the Brunswick Dock and masthouse, the print of 1803 being dedicated to John Perry; see BHC1867 (oil) and PAI7125.
Date made 1798

Artist/Maker William Dixon
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Green Blackwall Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 825 mm x 1981 mm; Frame: 946 mm x 2092 mm x 106 mm
  • 'View of Mr Perry's Yard, Blackwall' (BHC1865)
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