The Loftsman
Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
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 A Sheer (profile) view of the majestic liner "Canberra" will we ever see such ships again?

With the advent of the computer lofting was right in the forefront of CAD and while this is not the place to go into it, when you look at the majority of ships today you will see that they have very few nice shapes to them, this in my opinion is of course a saving in time therefore money as it is easy to develop a nice flat shape and you don't need the same type of skill set to do, but the end result is somewhat poorer shall we say and leave it at that. In general commercial shipbuilding rarely will you see a beautiful raked bridge front angled on all sides with curvature all the way up, or a nice raked funnel all of which took into account the fact that a curved shape that was "fair" created less wind resistance and hence less fuel to burn to get to your destination, we are more likely to see what looks like a box structure plonked on the aft end of a boxy looking hull as this is more economical to build and should make the ship owner more money in the short term.


 A typical view of a CAD model, this one shows part of a container ship's lines.

It has to be said that the American Shipbuilders (see New York Shipbuilding Company) contributed a lot to the progress of and the use of Lofting, at the turn of the 19th century they were leaders with the use of templates being made to ensure that the full size part was correct and in issuing full size templates to the plate shops the risk of a plate not fitting and there fore expensive re-work was vastly reduced.

 A message that some of todays shipbuilders would do well to heed in this day of just forcing every thing to work to budget, and never mind the quality, they dont seem to see that with the more time spent getting it right first time the less overall cost and better job is produced.

Along with the need for templates for the developed shell plates complete with all the rivet holes marked, the need arose for the provision of bevels as the ships frames lie at 90degrees to the ships centre line, this means that on a frame made from angle section the flange of the angle plate needs to sit flush on the shell, and to do this the flange of the angle section had to be formed to the bevel of the frame.

Other problems solved by the Loft involved the complex areas of the bow where the anchor recess was placed and the run of the hawes pipe through the recess, this would usually be laid out on the floor at a working scale which would entail the construction of a quarter size mock up, which would be assembled in the Loft complete with scaled wooden anchor to ensure that the anchor worked when housed into the recess and the anchor did not damage the shell on raising and lowering, once the mock up was made this would be shown to the incumbent Lloyds surveyor for his satisfaction that there would be no problems with the design and workings when manufactured and in the bow of the ship. More mock up's would be made of things like stern rollers and complex funnel shapes along with bulbous bows. With the mock ups generally being made from yellow pine, a wood that is very good to work with and clean too.

Every shipyard had it's Loftsmen and most Lofts worked roughly the same way until it came to the complex problem of shell plate development, some yards used the Triangulation method as they did at Leith while some yards used the Square Line method, both were just as complex and both resulted in the shell plate expansion required, one yard which used the Square Line method and produced some of the finest looking ships was the shipyard of Charles Connell in Scotstoun, on the River Clyde.

This was a much larger shipyard than Henry Robb at Leith and as such required the use of more Loftsmen, one of the old Connells Loftsmen has kindly sent in a photograph od the Loftsmen from June 1954

Glasgow Loftsmen


The Loftsmen of the Charles Connell Shipyard, Scotstoun,
Glasgow taken in June 1953

Sent into the website by George Lamb and shown here by

the names are left to right;

back row; Harry Hamilton, George Lamb , John McManus,(assistant
foreman) John Conner, John Dalziel,

mid. row; Willie Stephen, Jackie ?, Willie McKay,

front row; David Cowan, Peter Weir, Allan Heron, John

There was also the lad who took the photograph, Ronnie McLaughlin


The Charles Connell shipyard Interestingly enough the shipyard of Charles Connell were
also well known for producing some very fine ships and they in fact built
around 17 ships from 1917 to 1967 for a very famous Leith Shipping Line namely
the Ben Line who's many fine looking ships got to be called the "Leith Yachts"
by the men who sailed with Ben Line such was there look.

A typical Ben Line "Leith Yacht" from 1958 built by Connells

The photograph is from a fine website run by Bjorn Larsson



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0 #8 George Lamb 2017-04-20 18:13
I visited this web site many years ago. It has certainly been added to since then.
I served my apprenticeship at Charles Connell of Scotstoun, Glasgow.
I started there in 1950 and left in 1961.
I went to Vickers Armstrong Aircraft in Weybridge, Surrey as a loftsman to work on the design for the "TSR2" fighter then on to the "VC10" and "Concord".
I went to Germany to work on the "Airbus A300B".
I went to Canada to work on the "de Havilland Dash 7".
+2 #7 Peter Wallace 2014-03-14 22:17
Have just discovered this excellent site! I have a special interest since my grandfather was the William Wallace mentioned in Gerry Finlay's blog#6. Look forward to the expansion of the site. Good luck!
+2 #6 Gerald Finlay. Gerry 2013-12-20 02:02
I served my apprenticeship in Henry Robbs from April 1949 until February 1955, my first year was a Loft helper to a journyman, The Foreman was William Wallace, the assistant Foreman was George Ewing, the jourmyman was James Love, Joe Alexander, George Powrie, William Tweedie, Robert Wise, 5th year apprentice was Douglas Hogg, 4th year apprentice was Peter Rennie, 2nd year Apprentice was James Foulis, 1st year Apprentice was Hugh Anderson, this was all the loft staff in 1949. at the moment I am writing out my experiences as a Loftsman and what my speciality was in the trade.
+2 #5 Kirk Bready 2013-03-29 15:55
My Dad, a third generation shipbuilder, was a mold loftsman starting in 1940 at the Bethlehem Steel Ship Repair yard in Baltimore, MD. I was always mystified by the problem of producing a precisely formed hull that curved continuously in every dimension. My curiosity was not helped by the fact that when I was a youngster his explanations went right over my head. Therefore, it was a joy to find this terrific article which has enabled me to more fully understand and appreciate what he and his peers accomplished.

As U.S. shipbuilding declined, my Dad wound up at a company in Memphis, TN that fabricated large industrial vessels but had limited capability with complex structure. There he introduced & set up a mold loft department that enabled them to expand their capability and market. They were very generous in expressing their appreciation. Thanks to this article, I can now understand why.
+4 #4 peter rennie 2012-08-09 19:16
My father was a loftsman in robbs spent all his working days at the yard.

Peter Rennie jnr.
0 #3 Gordon Sanstad 2011-03-23 18:15
Dear Sirs/Mdms:

I am looking for a history of lofting. Anyone know when and where it was first used or developed (in the construction of boats, I assume the first use)?

Thank you,
Gordon Sanstad
0 #2 MOHAMMAD ALI Asgar 2011-03-04 20:45
I am specilized on lofting works from small scale drawing to Lrgae scale full drawing 1:1 , making body plan, templaes for fabrication, bending, plates cutting and ships block making erection dhechking etc all fro lofting to Hull erection and superdtructure works also.
i have done one Rig ship selfpropelled in AHI, Ajman for Bibby shipping line, name Trident Bibby [1 working in Qatar Oil field.This is great website,thank you.
+2 #1 Billy Blair 2011-02-15 14:19
Fantastic find, I was an apprentice loftsman at Henry Robb 1980-1984. I look forward to any updates.

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