Wednesday, October 25, 2006

19thC toilet paper and other mysteries

Further to my blatant looting of "Steering To Glory", I received an email from the author, Mr Nicholas Blake. Yes, trust me to be caught out being rude about a book title again - last time was David Charlesworth's... But no, your correspondent isn't about to be embroiled in legal action (at least not so far), but instead some rather interesting additional info has this way come from Mr Blake. I'm awaiting the nod or no on whether I may post most of it (better safe than sorry), but in case anyone else was as perplexed as me (hence the [?!]) as to the use of "junk axes" and "woolding nails"; apparently junk axes "were used to cut up old rope to be made either into oakum or into tows, for use as the equivalent of toilet paper." Which leads me down a whole different and disturbing road wondering about 19thC toilet paper... However... I sort of pictured all the axes that had seen better days were all kept for some purpose, "just in case". In fact I was thinking that Boatswain must have been a galoot to keep decrepit tools in his stores on the off-chance they'd come in handy, so a bit of a disappointment there. Apparently woolding nails were "used to secure the woolding rope used to support masts or yards that were either fished (broken) or made in pieces." Now that does ring a bell from one or other of the fictional escapades I've read over the years, so I'm quitely kicking myself at not remembering. But no matter. I wonder what their particular attribute was that made them especially suited for the task?

I must admit to thinking it's pretty damn cool to get personal footnotes like that, so very many thanks to Mr Blake. It gets better, but as I say, I don't want to jump the gun without checking first so let's just say I've been practicing my copperplate deciphering today...

Erm, yes... Deciphering copperplate equates to not going into the workshop I fear. Well it was raining buckets anyway - I'd have needed that boat I'm not making.


  1. Well the next time someone complains that I didn't buy the correct brand of toilet paper, I'll tell 'em they don't know how lucky they are........

    Paul Chapman

  2. ALF,

    It's the price of fame. You did recommend purchase of Mr. Blake's book, so perhaps he will be kindly disposed.

    I am finding accounts or physical evidence of shipwrights' tools from the Age of Sail difficult to come by on line. As you said earlier, the tools generally walked off the ship with the shipwright. Where do you find a Napoleonic-era Newlyn Chest?

    What is so tantalizing about HMS Victory is that the ship is still in commission at Portsmouth, and its entire history is recorded. Do you suppose there might be a tool chest from the Age of Sail in one of the museums at Woolrich, Deptford, Chatham, Portsmouth, Barrow in Furness? There were so many shipyards in Britain, and so much activity....

    Remnants of the tools of the Mary Rose were recovered, and I found a few photos of them on line, including a striking plane body--I think maybe a dado plane or rabbet.

    Hoping Mr. Blake will oblige, Wiley

  3. Al
    Put's that old Xmas present favourite, the "Soap-on-a-rope" in a whole new light.......Do you think that it was some kind of deluxe version? ;)
    Brings tears to my eyes,
    Philly ;)


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