Biographical entry Watts, Sir Phillip (1846 - 1926)


30 May 1846
Deptford, Kent, United Kingdom
15 March 1926
London, United Kingdom
Naval architect


Naval architect Sir Phillip Watts was Director of Naval Construction with the Admiralty from 1902 to 1912. He was also General Manager (1885-1902) and then Director (1916-26) of Armstrong, Whitworth and Co.

During his time as Director of Naval Construction, Watts pioneered the concept of 'all big gun' armament in battleships. Lord John 'Jacky' Fisher was First Sea Lord at this time and was also dedicated to the radical modernisation of the Royal Navy. He commissioned from Watts a design for an 'all big gun' battleship.The result, the HMS Dreadnought (launched 1906) revolutionised the world of naval warfare. The ship was the fastest and most heavily armed battleship in the world at the time of its construction. Its unprecedented success established 'Dreadnought' as a class of ship, one that emulated the original design and dominated naval warfare until after the First World War.

After the Dreadnought, Watts went on to design the Bellerophon, St Vincent, Neptune, Orion, King George V, Iron Duke, and Queen Elizabeth classes of battleship. In the lead up to the First World War Watts developed the 'battle cruiser'.

Almost all of the Royal Navy battleships that were successful during the First World War were designed by Watts.

Watts' family had a long history in naval construction. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been shipwrights.



1860 - 1866
Education - Apprentice shipwright, Royal Navy Dockyard
1866 - 1870
Education - Achieved the title of Fellow, Royal School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at South Kensington
Career position - Appointed to the chief constructor William Froude's staff at the Admiralty
1870 - 1885
Career position - Constructor to the Admiralty
Career position - Draughtsman on the constructor's staff at the Admiralty
1872 - 1883
Career position - Assistant constructor at Pembroke Dockyard
Award - Member of the Institute of Naval Architects
1883 - 1885
Career position - Constructor of the Admiralty, at Pembroke Dockyard and Chatham Dockyard
1885 - 1901
Career position - Director of the War Shipping Dept., Armstrong, Whitworth and Co., Elswick
1885 - 1902
Career position - General manager and Naval designer at Armstrong & Co., Elswick
1894 - 1910
Career position - Lieutenant-colonel and honorary colonel of the 1st brigade of the Royal Garrison Artillery volunteers
Award - Elected Fellow of the Royal Society
1902 - 1912
Career position - Director of naval construction, the Admiralty
Award - Knight Commander of the Order of Bath (KCB)
Career event - Designed the HMS Dreadnought
1912 - 1916
Career position - Adviser to the Admiralty on Naval Construction
1915 - 1916
Career position - Vice President of the Royal Society
1916 - 1926?
Career position - Director of Armstrong, Whitworth & Co

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Published resources

Journal Articles

  • 'Sir Phillip Watts, KCB, LLD, DSc, FRS, Honorary Vice-President', Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects, vol. 68, 38451, pp. 285-292. Details
  • Watts, P., 'Speed trials of HM Torpedo-Boat Destroyer "Cossack" at Skelmorlie and the Maplin Sands', Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects, vol. 51, 38434, pp. 176-178. Details
  • Watts, P., 'Ships pf the British Navy on August 4, 1914 and some matters of interest in connection with their production', Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects, vol. 61, 38444, pp. 1-65. Details
  • Watts, P., 'Notes on the preservation of HMS Victory and her restoration to her Trafalgar condition', Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects, vol. 65, 38448, pp. 1-5. Details

Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: 'Sir Phillip Watts, KCB, LLD, DSc, FRS, Honorary Vice-President', Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects, vol. 68, 38451, pp. 285-292; Carlyle, E I, Watts, Sir Phillip (1846-1926), The Dictionary of National Biography, Weaver, J R H, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1922-1930, 895-898 pp,

Prepared by: Rebecca Rigby