Unit History: Royal Corps of Naval Constructors
The Royal Corps of Navel Constructors was a civilian branch of the Royal Navy for the design and navel architecture of British warships and supervision of their construction in Royal Dockyards. Established by order in Council of 23rd August, 1883 on the recommendation of the Navel architect Sir William White. The Corps was headed by a Director of Naval Construction who was also the principal adviser on warship construction to the board of Admiralty. It still exists, as a branch of the Navel Service. Its precursor was the Royal school of Navel Architecture.
Back from Tudor times the ships of the Royal Navy where under supervision of the Master Shipwright to the design of the Surveyor of the Navy who was always an ex-Master Shipwright and built in Royal Dockyards. In 1805 due to the application of science being applied more in industry a school of Navel Architecture was recommended by Lord Barhams. It was to produce men suitably trained to both design the ships of the fleet and to manage the work of the Royal Dockyards. In 1811, at Portsmouth this school was created, though after a few changes it settled down at Greenwich in 1873.
With the effects of the industrial revolution they led to the formation of the Institution of Architects in 1860.
Due to poor career prospects of the Navel architect William White, then a Professional Assistant Director of Navel Construction, proposed training and career program and these ideas were approved in 1882 by committee under Lord Brassey. Queen Victoria later approved it in an order of council on 23rd August 1883, as follows:
WHEREAS, we have had under our consideration the position of the Civilian Officers charged with Shipbuilding duties in the Department of the Controller of the Navy, and in Your Majesty’s Dockyards; and whereas we are humbly of the opinion that the said officers should be constituted into a Corps, to be called “The Royal Corps of Naval Constructors”, Your Majesty having been graciously pleased to approve of the said Corps being designated Royal.
We recommend that Your Majesty will, by your order in Council, approve of the Corps being constituted under such Rules and Regulations as regards Titles, Numbers and Salaries as we may from time to time determine with the concurrence of the Lords Commissioners of Your Majesty’s Treasury.
Sir Nathaniel Barnaby was the first head of the Royal Corps of Navel Constructors, though due to illness he resigned in 1885 and Sir William White was his successor.
With the numbers of the Royal Naval Constructors growing, then involved in the build up to the First World War they help successfully design and build the ‘Dreadnought’. This was one of their best known achievements at the time, although they were also involved in future advances in machinery and weapons like the design of submarines. The Royal Corps also was involved in projects to convert ships to operate aircraft and by 1913, the design of the first aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes. Success of these ship, submarines, escorts and weapons designed by the Royal Corps played a large part in the British Naval Supremacy.
With World War two a similar expansion of shipbuilding was seen with the expansion of shipbuilding. Many members of the Royal Corp served in uniform in the ranks up the level of Constructor Real-Admiral.
With the post war period they were involved with the design and maintenance of the fleet of nuclear powered submarines and changing the nature of the Corps itself.
The Royal Corps of Naval Constructors was later combined with the professional Electrical and Mechanical Engineers of the Royal Naval Engineering Service in 1975. Then with a further combining Weapons designers and manufacture of the T45 class warships, nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers due to the complex engineering systems.
Currently the Royal Corps has numbers at approx 100 Naval Architects, Marine and weapons engineers with the aims to continually provide highly professional engineers for the design, build and maintenance of the Royal Naval vessels.
The RCNC and the Naval Service.
The RCNC, by virtue of the Order in Council, forms part of the Royal Naval Service. As such members of the Corps hold equivalent Royal Navy ranks, preceded by the word "Constructor", and followed by the post nominal designation RCNC (example Constructor Commander A Nonsuch, RCNC). Constructors are entitled to wear a modified version of the standard RN uniform, the difference being the presence of grey bands between gold stripes worn on the arms and on shoulder boards. Constructors may wear uniform in certain posts in UK establishments (predominantly naval bases) and in several overseas posts.
D.K. Brown, The History of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors