In the 17th Century, shipbuilders had to balance the requirement for a heavy armament against sailing qualities. Ships were also the homes of many men so space had to be found for their accommodation, stores and provisions. One of the most fundamental principles dictating the design of a British warship, however, was that it had to be built to survive for as long as possible.
By the middle of the century, all British warships carried most of their armaments at their sides. The weight of the armament itself was one of the key factors determining the dimensions of the ship and the size and nature of the timbers used in her construction. The batteries alone weighed between 130 and 165 tons, with the ships also carrying the weight of shot that these batteries could deliver, based on the traditional allocation of forty rounds’ worth of powder and shot to each ship. These weights increased through the course of the period, both reflecting and causing the increase in the sizes of warships of all rates. Notably, the objective to carry as many guns as possible often caused the ships to sit uncomfortably low in the water.
Ships were often referred to by their number of complete gundecks, with the largest ships in the fleet having three gundecks, medium-sized ships having two, and the smallest warships having just one. The hold, containing storerooms for provisions, was located above the ‘floor’ of the ship and, from about the third quarter of the century onwards, the beams above this were planked over and became known as the orlop deck. This contained more storerooms, some cabins, the surgeon’s cockpit and the cable tiers. The main powder magazine was located under the gunner’s storeroom in the bows. The next deck was the gundeck, above which was the upper deck on a two-decker (a three-decker would have had a middle deck as well). The upper deck contained several structures, including a forecastle that contained the cook’s hearth and a lengthy quarterdeck for the ship’s officers.