ARTISANS


The artisans were under the command of the head of Holmen, while daily management was in the hands of the Chief constructor of the Navy. The artisans´ wages consisted of several items. In addition to the regular pay, the workers received financial aid for food and clothing and for those who did not have permanent housing in Nyboder the Navy also subsidized the rent. Furthermore, a bonus was added for every day work was carried out at Holmen, i.e. for every day the individual artisan reported on the roll call. The artisans were often sent home because the weather conditions made it impossible to work, especially in the winter. At times part of the wages was given in the form of rye, dried peas, malt, tallow candles, barley groats, butter, meat and bacon. The provisions were handed out from the Victualling Yard at Slotsholmen on certain days, commonly known as 'fare days'.
The workdays were long and the work was hard and made heavy demands on the physique of the workers. Only few mechanical aids were at the workers´ disposal. For the extremely heavy work processes simple machines such as wedges, cranes and tackles were used. Only in exceptional cases did the workers use horses and oxen as traction. The workers at Holmen usually reported for duty at 5 a.m. and not until nightfall were they free to go home to Nyboder again. In the winter the workday was adjusted according to the length of the day, since the light was the decisive factor when the working hours were determined. In order to fully exploit the fire in the forges, the blacksmiths, however, had to report early all year and their wages therefore were higher than that of the other artisans.

For a long period of time the artisans´ ability to report for duty, also known as the roll call, was supervised at daily inspections. These inspections took place in the morning as well as after the lunch break. One hour after the beginning of the workday the roll call ended and those who were late or absent were reported. In case of the offence being repeated the wages would be reduced. If it came to the worst the worker would be sent to jail or subjected to corporal punishment. Throughout the 18th century Holmen was the largest workplace in Copenhagen.  A conservative estimate is that about one fourth of the city’s breadwinners earned their daily livelihood at Holmen. An impressive figure indeed and if we include army personnel, it becomes clear that city life was dominated by uniforms and that the economy of the city was highly dependent on their presence.

Many different trades were represented in the workshops. In addition to the trades relating directly to shipbuilding there were a number of other trades, many of which are now extinct such as: mast makers, ropemakers, caulkers, 'pælebukkere', coopers, drillers, block makers, pump drillers and carriage makers.

New artisans were recruited among the boys living in Nyboder, who could enroll as 'rye boys' as early as at the age of seven or eight. They did not get any wages, but their parents were granted an extra portion of rye for their work, hence the name. When the boys turned twelve they were promoted to 'fare boys' and only later did they enter into a legitimate apprenticeship. After this the young man or 'karlen' (the fellow) could start his slow advance within the hierarchy of artisans.