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Portsmouth Naval Dockyard

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

HMS Warrior - Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

On what turned out to be the hottest day ever recorded in the UK we visited the Historic Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth. A temperature of 40.3°C was recorded at Coningsby at 15:12 on 19th July beating the previous record of 38.7°C set in 2019 by 1.5°C. Thankfully it was a few degrees cooler near the sea.

Arriving at the dockyard soon after it opened, we were pleased that it appeared fairly quiet and decided before the crowds built up, that we would hop on the first harbour tour that was due to leave around 11.00 am. Boarding the tour boat we were surprised at how many passengers were already aboard. Later realising that she had already picked up passengers at Gunwharf Quey before heading to the dockyard.

What a sight as we rounded the dock and were faced with both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

HMS Prince of Wales with HMs Queen Elizabeth berthed forward.

Both Queen Elizabeth class carriers and built to carry around 50 aircraft. HMS Queen Elizabeth was actually named after Queen Elizabeth I and was commissioned in 2017 followed by the Prince of Wales two years later.

Other naval ships were in harbour but were somewhat dwarfed by these two mammoth marine beasts.

The following day Prince Charles and Camilla followed in our footsteps and visited the dockyard. They were attending a special reception onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth to meet veterans of the Falklands war and mark the 40th Anniversary of the conflict.

Courtesy of Portsmouth News

Back on dry land, we headed for HMS Warrior. Warrior was launched in 1860 and was the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet. She was powered by sail and steam and was the largest, fastest, and most powerful warship of her day. From being the most advanced ship of her day some 22 years later she had reached the end of her useful life as she quickly became outdated.

Warrior went into decline and was used as a depot, floating school, and oil jetty. Eventually, she was restored in Hartlepool before returning to Portsmouth in 1987. Warrior is now the unique survivor of the Victorian Black Battlefleet and sits proudly in Portsmouth harbour welcoming visitors onboard to witness the conditions Victorian Sailors had to endure. HMS Warrior

Portsmouth is now home to the Mary Rose once the pride of Henty VIII's “Army by Sea” The life of the Mary Rose coincides almost exactly with his reign. The Mary Rose at 600 tons was built to carry 6 or 8 heavy guns, this required a new design featuring gunports.

On 19th July 1545 477 years to the day of our visit the Mary Rose sank, in the Battle of the Solent. Having fired from her starboard side, she came about to fire from the port side, she listed to one side the gunports were crucially left open and with a nudge from the wind went under the waterline, the water flooded in and she very quickly sank to the bottom of the Solent of the approx. 500 men onboard only 35 survived.

Following the battle, it was believed that two ships could raise the Mary Rose to the surface, however, attempts failed when the masts with cables attached broke and further attempts in the following weeks also failed.

In 1836 pioneering divers John and Charles Deane were exploring wrecks in the Solent and came across the wreck of the Mary Rose after fishermen complained that their nets were getting caught in a particular area, The Deane brothers recovered several large guns from the ship and it was believed that the wreck had been detonated in case they caused problems for modern shipping and so the wreck was lost once more.

It was not until 1982 some 437 years after the sinking that the MARY ROSE was rediscovered and eventually brought to the surface in a maritime salvage operation which was watched by over 60 million people around the world

She is now preserved in a £35 million museum that was built around the ship. The preservation of the hull went on until 2015 when visitors could inspect the ship without being separated by glass walls. You now view the ship in a controlled atmosphere of temperature and relative humidity.

However, the highlight of our trip to the Historic Dockyards was not the Mary Rose but stepping onboard the HMS Victory in the footsteps of Nelson and the sailors that accompanied him on his voyages.

A hundred years ago HMS Victory arrived in her current location in Dry Dock No. 2 in Portsmouth Naval Base. On arrival at Dry Dock No.2, we were a little taken aback as we could not see the ship as she is now covered over. We were beginning to think that we would not be allowed onboard.

A fifteen-year project has begun to preserve the great man o’war to restore her to how she looked in her prime more than 200 years ago. The £35m package involves removing rotting planking from her hull and replacing it with new oak, repairing Victory’s structural framework, and finally fully re-rigging the flagship.

After Trafalgar she was retired from active service and played many roles for the remainder of the 19th Century, here roles included troop ship, tender, floating museum, and a signal school for sailors. During this time, she sank at least once and was not maintained at all well by the Admiralty.

In 1922 amid growing concern about her poor condition she was towed from her berth into Dry Dock No2. Where she still rests. She was reopened to the public in 1928 by King George V and has since welcomed over 30 million visitors.

Exploring HMS Victory is stepping back in time. The average height of a man in Admiral Nelson’s time was 5’6” and having spent only a couple of hours on the ship you wondered how the crew coped with the lack of headroom on some of the lower decks. It’s a great idea to wear a hat when you visit as you are almost certain to bang your bonce at least once.

Captain Thomas Hardy's Dining room

Life onboard was very divided according to status, much as l found when I joined my first ship Oriana in 1973. Back on HMS Victory Nelson's cabin and the cabin of the Ship’s Captain Thomas Hardy were very spacious and quite luxurious compared to the condition of the ordinary seamen. Victory had a complement of 821 men.

The sailors and petty officers were housed on the lower decks, with little natural light and burning flames were very restricted due to the dangers of fire. Of course, there was no privacy. Hundreds of unwashed men, many of whom were prone to sick sickness lived in cramped and unventilated spaces which reeked and were the breeding ground for disease and rats. No heating was required in cold weather, but this could be unbearable in the tropics.

Enemy action was not the greatest danger to British seaman, only 6.3% perished at sea in battle. However, 81% succumbed to disease and accidents.

Meals onboard consisted mainly of boiled, salted pork or beef this was supplemented by oatmeal, sugar butter and cheese. Each man had a ration of low-alcohol beer which provide much need calories. Fish was often caught, and birds were shot to enhance the rations. Rats were also hunted for sport and eaten.

Officers had the same rations as the crew, although they supplemented those rations with a mess subscription. Furthermore, meals for all were cooked in the galley using a large Admiralty-pattern stove.

A day is not enough time to explore the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth. Purchase a ticket that allows entry to all exhibits and is valid for 12 months.


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