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Camper & Nicholson Archive
February 2021 Newsletter

Exactly 200 years ago, in March 1821, the first vessel designed and built in the present day Camper & Nicholson shipyard in Gosport was launched. This yard, active until quite recently, was established inside the Charles Fort structure by Francis Calense Amos, and the £42 annual lease contract signed by Amos in 1792 is the earliest remaining document referring to the shipyard in the ancient military fort of Gosport. In 1809, a young William Camper joined the shipyard as an apprentice shipwright.
Despite the fact that the yard had evidently been operating since the end of the 18th century, probably building small open work and cargo boats that were not registered if they were not decked, the first documented vessel was COMMERCE, a smack of 35’ on deck, designed for carrying freight and built for Matthias March of Gosport.
We don't have any images of COMMERCE, but she may have looked something like this:

Surely William Camper's biggest merit was to approach the Royal Yacht Squadron, somewhere around 1830. In 1836 BREEZE was built, and she is the first yacht for which we have historical traces. She was built for James Lyon, who went on to became a great patron of yachting in the Solent, financing both the Camper shipyard and the Lapthorn sail loft, later famous as Ratsey & Lapthorn, adjacent to the shipyard itself. BREEZE was the sixth boat built by William Camper, and probably the first racing yacht. She was a cutter of 41 tons (Thames Measurement).
The memorable Camper & Nicholson archivist Jeremy Lines wrote in his notes on Breeze: “Her first sailing master, a Mr. Herbert, who was by all accounts ‘a good cutter sailer’ (sic) stated that ‘she was very stiff under canvas, weatherly, a fast sailer and a good seaboat, having been, when in his hands, at the trim calculated by the constructor William Camper.’
She was a very successful yacht for James Lyon, a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, winning the King’s Cup and 100 Guineas in 1836, and the Queen’s Cup and £100 in 1838.
BREEZE made a favorable impression on Squadron members involved in racing so many placed further orders with Camper.  In 1838, (Camper) built the 115 ton schooner CIRCASSIAN for James’s brother William Lyon who won the Queen’s Cup and £100 in 1842.”

William Camper's first project for a large vessel was the construction of the 327 registered ton brig ANONYMA for Colonel Greville, a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. ANONYMA was launched in 1839.
In 1842 a very young Ben Nicholson began work at the yard, and it appears that at around 1855 the collaboration between William Camper and Ben Nicholson became official. A few years later the name of Camper & Nicholson came into use for the yard and their designs.
This exciting international success story of men, ships and the most famous shipyard in the world will continue in our next Newsletter.
But in the meantime, we are very pleased to communicate more wonderful news related to the C&N archive - the Department of Architecture and Design of the University of Genoa has launched the following cultural proposal:
Master's Degree in Naval and Nautical Design

The archive of the Camper & Nicholson shipyard has recently been rediscovered and partially digitized. In collaboration with the yacht designer and historian Enrico Zaccagni, a cycle of master's degree theses is proposed with the following guidelines: to analyze the archive’s documentary, iconographic and technical material; to propose effective categorization and cataloging methods to aid design activity; to outline recognizable design parameters typical of the shipyard and evaluate their evolution; to elaborate guidelines for the nautical restoration process, both philological and historical; to apply the knowledge acquired through design case studies.
“The history of Camper & Nicholsons is integral to the history of Yachting. The shipyard was founded at Gosport even before sailing as a sport was invented.”
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cnyachting · Borgo Santi Apostoli 29 · Firenze, FI 50123 · Italy

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