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Harold A Underhill

Posted: Tue Apr 15, 2014 5:58 pm
by alanmmh
Can anyone tell me anything about Harold A Underhill. I have three books of his. Plank on Frame Models Vols 1 & 2 and Deep Water Sail. He appears to be very erudite on (sailing) shipbuilding and rigging and I am curious as to his background. Nothing found on the internet.

Re: Harold A Underhill

Posted: Thu May 01, 2014 10:56 am
by alanmmh
I emailed Brown Son and Ferguson who are Harold Underhill's publishers. Nigel Brown kindly sent me this short note on Mr Underhill.


The late Harold A. Underhill was born in 1897 in the industrial Midland town of Smethwick in the heart of the black country.

The elder of two sons by 10 years, he was a shy retiring boy who neither sought or desired companions of his own age and preferred to make and sail toy boats in the safe retreat of his own home. His love of the sea and ships, especially sail, was inherited from his maternal grandfather, who was a Devon man born and bred and who as a boy, and had tried to run away to sea. His father was a master Craftsman in the manufacture of stained glass and leaded lights, beginning as an employee of a well known Midland firm and eventually running the business as his own concern.

Mr. Underhill had much illness as a child, and as a result, had very few years at school. In the many months he spent at home he was content to collecting cuttings and articles on his beloved sailing ships, which he stored in large scrap books and which formed the basis of many a toy ship constructed in card and bits of wood.

He showed no desire as he grew up to follow his father’s craft and was articled in an architect’s office in Birmingham where he learned the use of the drawing board.

Upon the outbreak of the First World War, when at the age of 17 years, he volunteered for service and joined the Royal Engineers Service Corp. He served throughout the war in France and when a 2nd Lieutenant was awarded the M.C. for gallantry.

When the war ended he went to Glasgow, (became a qualified heating engineer having joined the firm of James Coombe & Son of that city). But at every opportunity he continued with his research in the history of the sailing ship and compiled the plans and details of many ships from personal observations. Eventually he set up his own business as a producer of authentic prints of famous sailing ships. He also wrote and illustrated several volumes on this subject, reviewed articles for the press and illustrated works by other authors.

Upon the outbreak of the Second World War he volunteered once again, joining the R.A.F. as a Flight Lieutenant and serving mainly in Scapa Flow in the defence of that base.

After the war he continued with his life’s work of compiling records of the days of sail, and finally, after a serious illness, moved, upon his doctor’s advice, to Somerset where until his death in 1965 he continued to record in print and painting his beloved age of sail.

His passing at the age of 68 years left a wide gap in the ranks of those who loved and understood the romance of the wind ships.

Re: Harold A Underhill

Posted: Thu May 01, 2014 5:09 pm
by Angus Mac Kinnon
Many thanks to alanmmh for sharing that interesting and useful potted history of that great sailing ship expert, Harold A. Underhill. I too have wondered, for many years, why so little was known of or recorded on his life and history. Clearly a very learned and enthusiastic historian of the windjammers, sailing ships and barques, his articles were always credible, well presented and the detail excellent. Thanks also to Mr. Nigel Brown, of the excellent Brown Son & Ferguson of Glasgow, to whom all aficionados' of things maritime owe so much over the years., for providing the potted history.

Angus Mac Kinnon