Jacob Acworth

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Sir Jacob Acworth (abt. 1673 - 1748) was a Master-Shipwright who went on to become Surveyor of the Navy from (1715-1749)

Naval Career

In around 1682 Jacob Acworth began his apprenticeship, probably as servant to the ships carpenter, serving on the HMS Hope in 1685–7 and others, then in 1690 he returned to sea as Master Carpenter of HMS Salamander, a bomb ship built in 1687 at Chatham. Following this he had periods on the captured French frigate Play Prize (Note that his brother John Acworth was also a carpenter on the Play Prize but died in Barbados in 1694), HMS Bonadventure and finally HMS Swiftsure where he was made Master Carpenter. Then returning to Chatham at the end of the Nine Years War in 1697 he was eventually made Master Mast-maker in 1698 and Assistant Master Shipwright in 1699

In 1705 Jacob Acworth became master shipwright at Harwich Dockyard, a small yard used for careening and minor repairs, then moved to Sheerness Dockyard a larger but more remote yard where he managed the build of 3 ships. In 1708, while Master Shipwright at Sheerness, Jacob Acworth was temporarily suspended from duty for negligence which he managed to overturn within a week.

In 1709 Jacob Acworth was moved to Woolwich as Master Shipwright where he built a number of ships including the HMS Devonshire, the most successful. In 1710 Jacob Acworth purchased and greatly extended it. His daughter, who was later the Lady Avis later conveyed it by marriage to Sir George Wheate. Jacob Acworth bought the mannor and priory of Blackmore (Blackmore Priory) in Essex from Thomas Smyth in 1710 - greatly extending it.

The original Jericho stood in the Priory grounds near the church and was sold in 1714 by Mr Smyth to Jacob Ackworth a shipbuilder and afterwards surveyor of the Navy, who obtained his money from Government contracts. Jacob Acworth built the present building now known as Jericho Priory. When digging the foundations, the workmen found a leaden coffin about a yard long full of human bones with other human bones scattered nearby. This was probably the old Priory cemetery. The House passed to his son-in law Jacob Wheat who married his daughter Avice in about 1768.

In 1714, Jacob Acworth was promoted to Assistant Surveyor of the Navy, then in 1715, he was made Surveyor of the Navy, a post that he held until 1745, reporting to First Lord of the Admiralty. He was the only carpenter to have reached this rank in the eighteenth century. He was Knighted in 1722

Sir Jacob Acworth was Surveyor to the Navy in 19 May 1729. The role of Surveyor made him responsible for examining and approving the plans and models of new ships being built or rebuilt for the Navy and if the rapid promotion made him unpopular, being uncritical of Joseph Allin's design for HMS Victory in 1737, which was eventually lost in a storm in 1744 along with all hands would not have helped.

Acworth was a man who relied on good practice, simplicity and empirical data rather than scientific theory and was incumbent during a period of conservative approach to warship design, preferring tweaks rather than fundamental changes. He made a number of proposals to increase strength and reduce cost and eventually took control of the design process, a change that became permanent to the role.

By 1733, following reforms in the Navy, it was decided that Naval officers should receive better training and the resulting Royal Navy Academy in Portsmouth was probably built according to Acworth's plans.

In the end, Acworth's conservative approach was not acceptable to some heavyweight reformers and people like George Anson made life uncomfortable. By 1746 the members of the Board of Admiralty were determined to secure Acworth's retirement and appointed his professional rival, Joseph Allin, as joint surveyor in 1747. He wrote his will in 1749 and died the same year whilst still in office.