Philip Reed has dedicated most of his life to building model ships; he explained why to Tessa Waugh. Portraits by Richard Cannon.

Philip Reed describes his need to build model ships as an obsession.

‘At best, it provides total, meditative absorption,’ he says.

‘At worst, total frustration.’

Mr Reed’s background is in fine art, but, one day, he spotted a model ship building kit in a shop window. It intrigued him so much that he went away to learn everything he could about the art. ‘I’d done this before with other subjects and then grown bored,’ he admits, ‘but model ships continue to fascinate me.’

Mr Reed soon began building models alongside his teaching work, selling them through a West End gallery and the American Marine Model Gallery in Massachusetts.

Model ship maker Philip Reed at his workshop above his house in Truro, Cornwall. © Richard Cannon / Country Life Picture Library

Model ship maker Philip Reed at his workshop above his house in Truro, Cornwall. © Richard Cannon / Country Life Picture Library

Since becoming a full-time model-maker in 1980, Mr Reed has written four books and numerous articles on the subject. ‘One of my great hopes is that someone will take up the baton and use what I’ve written to extend the life of this particular artform,’ he says.

Most of the models that Mr Reed has built over the years have either been from the Napoleonic era or warships from the First and Second World Wars.

However, in recent years, he’s been working on ships from the latter half of the 17th century, known as ‘Navy Board’ models, which fascinated him as a child.

‘They were built to a scale of 4ft to an inch, but my models – which are built to the miniature scale of 16ft to the inch – are a quarter of the original size, yet they retain as much detail as the originals.’

Model ship maker Philip Reed at his workshop above his house in Truro, Cornwall. © Richard Cannon / Country Life Picture Library

Model ship maker Philip Reed at his workshop above his house in Truro, Cornwall. © Richard Cannon / Country Life Picture Library

This photograph depicts HMS Hampton Court, an intricate model that took 18 months to complete. ‘Making these ships has been my life’s work and I wouldn’t swap anything for the pleasure it gives me,’ concludes Mr Reed.