Touching a piece of history

In August I received an excited phone call from my partner asking me if I had ever heard of platers’ models1. Needless to say, as I was only just embarking on my research into the history of “the yaird”, I had not. By sheer chance he had been talking to someone who knew that there were two in the City of Edinburgh Museum, and had arranged for me to be shown them!

It surprised me that they should have survived. The survival of historical memorabilia from the yard is patchy. This is to some extent because of its sad run down during my teens when all relatively small items were removed despite the workforce’s sterling attempts to ensure the tools, machinery and materials to enable it to function remained. So it was very exciting to have the opportunity to be shown them, partly to learn what they are and particularly to be able to gain more of an insight into my great grandfather’s world.

When we were shown to the room where they are stored we both immediately realised that there were not two, but four models. As they are half ships along their length, they had been paired, and so appeared to be two complete ships. Since that visit I have seen a considerable number of such models, but of ships built by other yards, particularly the splendid display in Aberdeen’s Maritime Museum which makes excellent use of their open spiralling staircase to show their collection. Having talked with some of the people who used the platers’ models at Robbs I have been told that they were so accurate that they could virtually cut and fit the plating using these models without any recourse to drawings!

Whilst I looked at the amazing detail on the models on one side of the shelf my partner set about taking some pictures for me. On his return from the far side he had a strange grin on his face – not unusual as he has a habit of pulling funny faces – but I knew something was afoot.

On rounding the end of the shelving to view the other two models, I realised instantly what had brought the smile to his face. One of them was the Aaro, which my mother had launched in January 1960, six months before my appearance in the world. The circumstances were that, on the official launch day, the weather was too bad to risk a launch. So the formalities were held and on another day, when the conditions were more favourable she slipped out to sea at the behest of my mum as tradition dictates that a lady should always launch a ship. The ribbons, lovingly re-stitched round a fresh bottle are a feature in her home all these 50 years on.

The other models are of the Kaitoa and Flaminian, both launched in 1956 and the Kaitangata which predates all the others, having been launched in 1948.

To be able to see, marvel at and record the continued existence of these amazing artefacts, the oldest of which dates back to my great grandfather’s time was indeed touching, a piece of history with a very personal resonance.


1. Platers’ models are models of a half ship with the plating’s placing and measurements fully detailed. They are basically a three dimensional detailed drawing of the shapes, sizes and positions (including the order in which they were to be put on) of all the plate to be put on the ship.

Copyright: Ruth Patterson 2010

About Ruth Macadam

Great Granddaughter of Henry Robb. School teacher.
This entry was posted in Leith Shipbuilding, plater, Shipbuilding, Shipyards and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Touching a piece of history

  1. My thanks to Ron Neish for this comment which came in email but should be added to the blog to correct some of the information. (Interestingly enough, in the three museums where I have seen them, the incorrect term is used for half block models – however, I shall always use the right one in future!)

    “Love the bit on the Half Block Model, which was the first thing produced after the Loft had run the ships line’s, it was a job for the top draughtsman, although in my time there the models were inked in by the “gaffer” draughtsman, it buy the way was never refered to as “A platers model” but always as “The Half Block Model” and from this model was drawn the Shell Expansion Drawing.”

  2. Another couple of corrections, the Aaro was not delayed, I am thinking of the ship which my Uncle (the third generation Henry Robb) sent down the slipway as a wee laddie, more of which later. Also, the Aaro was commissioned in January 1960, Mum launched her in the summer of 1959 before I was even a twinkle in her eye!

    Sorry Mum, I will read my notes rather than relying on my memory of what you have told me in future!

  3. Pingback: Ladies who Launch | Henry Robb's Shipyard

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  6. Tom Petrosino says:

    I have a half block model that is dated 1956…it looks to be a navel ship ..possibly a destroyer. The above information was very helpful. The model,I have,is about ten foot long and in very good condition. I don’t know the value or the maker. I could really use some help.

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