Friday, 26 February 2010

phineas pett 1570 -1647

Phineas Pett of Chatham in the county of Kent one of his Maj.s shipwrights
of the age of XXXiX yeres or thereabouts sworne and examined the daye and yere aforesaid.

via wikipedia
Phineas Pett first met the King (James I of England) in 1607, through the good graces of the Earl of Nottingham, William Howard, the Lord High Admiral, to whom he had presented a model of a ship intended for the young prince Henry.

Howard thought the mould good enough for the direct attention of the King and arranged for a presentation in the presence of James, and his son the Prince, at Richmond. The model was presented to the Prince at St. James's, "who entertained it with great joy, being purposely made to disport himself withal." King James being likewise impressed and ‘exceedingly delighted with the sight of the model’ placed the task of constructing a full-size replica of the ship in Pett’s charge.


a letter sent post to Chatham from my honourable Lord
Admiral, commanding me with all possible speed
to build a little vessel for the young prince Henry
to disport himself in above London Bridge, and to
acquaint his Grace with shipping and the manner
of that element, setting me down the proportions
and the manner of her garnishing, which was
to be like the work of the Ark Royal, battlement
wise. This little ship was in length by the keel
25 foot, and 12 foot in breadth, garnished with
painting and carving both within board and with-
out very curiously, according to his Lordship's
directions. I laid her keel the igth day of Janu-
ary, wrought upon her as well day as all night
by torch and candle lights under a great awning
made with sails for that purpose.

Stephen Johnston, ‘Making mathematical practice: gentlemen, practitioners and artisans in Elizabethan England’

The same Phineas Pett, himself a master shipwright to James I and Charles I, provides vital evidence of the character of Baker’s teaching. Despite much enmity between the two men in subsequent years, Pett was to recall in his autobiography that in the winter of 1595/6,

in the evenings, commonly I spent my time to good purposes, as [page 133:] in cyphering, drawing and practising to attain the knowledge of my profession, and I then found Mr Baker sometime forward to give me instructions, from whose help I must acknowledge I received my greatest lights.31

Pett’s testimony is of exceptional interest. Firstly, it specifies the area in which he supposed knowledge of his profession to lie: ‘cyphering, drawing and practising’. Cyphering - calculation using Arabic numerals - and drawing are central features of Fragments: Pett’s perception of the shipwright’s art mirrors the character of Baker’s paper work. In addition, primary responsibility for fostering this perception is ascribed to Baker, who was evidently encouraging and open with his knowledge, even though Pett was never his apprentice; in an (admittedly flattering) letter to Baker of 1603, Pett remarked that ‘although I served no years in your service, yet I must ever acknowledge whatever I have of any art (if I have any) it came only from you’.32

Pett’s casual comment that Baker’s instruction was given in the evenings also suggests a deeper point. Shipwrights traditionally learnt their trade by the observation and imitation of a master out in the shipyard. The art was passed on during the hours of the working day and the process did not demand literacy or formal numeracy. But Baker was sponsoring an alternative approach to teaching, carried out when work was over. Facility in calculation and draughting techniques was developed and literacy probably assumed. Baker was promoting a form of training separate from the exercise of the craft at the workplace. So not only design, but craft teaching too, was removed from the wooden world of the shipyard and transferred to a new space like that of [page 134:] Baker’s drawing office (Figure 3.1).33

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