Mr Hilhouse of Bristol: Shipbuilder for the Navy 1749-1822


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James Martin Hilhouse (1749-1822) was Bristol’s foremost shipbuilder. He built warships for the Navy where none had been built for 100 years and at a time when ships were of vital importance in war and in trade he built privateers for Bristol’s enterprising merchants and fast running armed ships for plantation owners and traders. Aged 23 he established in 1773 his company which developed through the age of steam and iron and continued to flourish for the next two centuries. In his lifetime he enjoyed a national reputation and yet this man’s contribution to Bristol’s maritime history has been largely overlooked. In this book Andrew Whitefield sets out to rediscover Hilhouse’s career and answer the questions that first attracted him to the enigma of Hilhouse. How did he start as a first generation shipbuilder? How did he overcome the Navy’s prejudice against merchants and reluctance to build at Bristol? Where was his famous Redclift yard? Why did the Navy cease to place orders? Drawing on hitherto unpublished primary sources and following tantalizing clues, he traces Hilhouse’s family’s origins, their involvement as Dissenters and Merchant Venturers in Bristol’s Golden Age trading in sugar and risking all in privateering ventures. The book describes Hilhouse’s shipbuilding career, not without setbacks, with details of his dockyard organization, dealings with the Navy and histories of his warships and also recounts the cultural side of his life and influential artistic friends. The story that emerges provides a fascinating portrait of a shipbuilder, artist and family man, during a vital period of Britain’s maritime history and gives James Martin Hilhouse the recognition he deserves. ISBN 978-1-904537-68-1 244 x 172mm 184pp, with colour and mono illustrations