STEPHEN PAYNE WAS BORN AT PORTSMOUTH on the 8th July 1886 of a
long established Dockyard family. It was apparent from an early age that he had
the ability to follow in the footsteps of his two naval constructor brothers.
The Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, a civilian body, was founded in
1883 and is responsible for the design, construction and repair of warships of
the Royal Navy. Over the years the field has been widened to cover airships and
various designs and inventions covering all the fighting services. When
necessary, in peace or war, naval constructors wear uniform, the rank of
Constructor being equivalent to a Commander.
At the age of eleven,
Payne attended a school which specialized in obtaining top marks at the annual
Dockyard entrance examination. In 1901, 800 boys sat for the examination for
200 vacancies for apprentices in the Dockyard. Only those with top marks would
be accepted as shipwright apprentices, who later would have the opportunity to
become Naval Constructors. He came second in the examination and so passed the
first hurdle in his career.
Queen Victoria died only a few months
before he entered the Dockyard. The Fleet was a very mixed one and still
included a number of ships with auxiliary sail. In spite of this, the first
submarines were about to enter service in the Navy.
As an apprentice he
worked on the battleships of the Majestic class - these were armed with four 12
inch and twelve 6 inch guns and had a speed of only 17½ knots. Under
construction when he joined the Dockyard was the 2nd class cruiser Encounter,
which was later transferred to the RAN.
The young apprentice could have
had no idea that revolutionary changes in warship design were imminent. In fact
the most stimulating period in the history of warship construction was the ten
year period following the appointment of Admiral Sir John Fisher in 1904. The
ten years saw the design and construction of the mightiest fleet of battleships
and battle cruisers ever seen. Many of these great ships were built in the
Royal Dockyards. During the period 1902- 1912 the Director of Naval
Construction, Sir Philip Watts, was responsible for all but four of the battle
fleet which fought at Jutland.
At Christmas 1904 Mark Payne told his
younger brother the great naval secret of the day - the design of the
revolutionary new battleship Dreadnought. The most powerful battleship then
under construction was the 16,500 ton Lord Nelson with four 12 inch guns and
ten 9.2 inch guns, with a speed of 18 knots. Fishers Dreadnought had ten
12 inch guns although only 17,900 tons and a speed of 21 knots. She was also
the first turbine driven battleship.
Dreadnought was laid down at
Portsmouth in October 1905 and completed in great secrecy only twelve months
later. Payne was proud to have worked on the great ship, but before she was
finished, he heard that he had passed the first major hurdle. He was the first
of three shipwright apprentices to be appointed Naval Construction Cadet at the
Royal Naval College, Keyham at Plymouth. After four years hard work at the
Dockyard School he now had another four years to go before he qualified as an