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Brief History of the Dockyard:
King Richard I ordered the construction of a dockyard in Portsmouth, and
granted the town its first charter, in 1194. Eighteen years later, his
brother King John instructed that the dockyard be enclosed "by a good and
Henry VII had built the world's first dry dock in the dockyard in 1495. It
was designed by Sir Reginald Bray, architect of the Henry VII Chapel at
Henry VIII made the dockyard his fleet construction centre, and when
Charles II created the Royal Navy in 1670, he gave Portsmouth the status
of Royal Dockyard. With this came new slips, wharfs, storehouses and the
first stone docks. The Great Ship Basin and six surrounding dry docks -
one now occupied by HMS Victory and another by Mary Rose - are one
of the surviving legacies of the great age of sail.
Sail's golden age, between
1750 to 1850, saw the yard at peak production because of almost continuous
war. To this period the dockyard owes its glorious brick storehouses,
residences, and ropehouse, the latter rebuilt after a famous arson attack
by Jack the Painter, a sympathiser with the cause of the American rebels.
In 1800, the Royal Navy had 684 ships and the yard was the world's largest
The age of mechanisation provided the world's first steam powered factory,
the Blockmills, opened in 1802 to mass-produce ship pulley blocks. The
machinery was designed by Marc Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Another world first in that year was the caisson, or floating dam, which
was installed at the entrance to the enlarged Great Basin. It was filled
with water to keep it in position. When the water was pumped out, it
floated out of the dock entrance. It was wide enough for a road to run
across the top of it.
The end of the Napoleonic Wars resulted in huge layoffs. The work force
dwindled to 2,200 in 1822. This was only temporary as soon the development
of steam propulsion heralded the yard's greatest expansion to date. Within
20 years, the work force had trebled and in 1829, the yard built the
world's first steam screw warship, HMS Fox.
|Expansion was relentless during the 19th century. Factories multiplied and
huge new docks were constructed. By Parliamentary decree, another 180
acres were added in 1864. HMS Colossus, Portsmouth's first steel
ship, was launched in 1882.
Portsmouth Royal Dockyard's greatest achievement was only, however,
reached with the construction of the Dreadnoughts at the beginning of the
20th Century. HMS Dreadnought built in record time was the first
major warship with steam turbines. New basins and locks were created to
cope with the demand. Then came the super-Dreadnought, the first oil-fired
battleship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, launched in 1913.
The yard played a crucial role in Britain's success in both World Wars.
However, because of defence cuts, the frigate HMS Andromeda,
launched in 1967, was the last of the 286 Portsmouth-built ships. Further
contraction saw the work force fall to 8,325 in 1978 and to 1,400
currently, with a temporary revival in between because of Falklands War in
The Royal Dockyard title disappeared in 1984, but the Naval Base remains
the home port of the Royal Navy. Ships based at Portsmouth include the
aircraft carriers HMS Invincible, Illustrious and Ark
Royal, Type 42 destroyers, Type 23 frigates and Hunt and Sandown class
mine countermeasures vessels.
In 1985 the British Government granted a long lease over the most historic
part of the Dockyard to the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, a
registered charity charged with the conserving its many historic buildings
by finding new economic uses. This part of the dockyard is now open to the
public and is home to the attractions covered by the
Portsmouth Dockyard houses
some of the rarest ships and relics in the world, now under the banner of
Flagship Portsmouth. In one place you can visit the Mary Rose, HMS Victory
and HMS Warrior (1860).
Our historic naval dockyard is the world's leading maritime heritage
Dockyard attractions can be visited in any order. However, timed tickets
are issued for visiting HMS Victory.
The Mary Rose (1511)
Exhibition: a display of the Tudor 'treasures' found aboard. There
is also a 15 minute film about the raising of the hull shown every half
hour. You are recommended to visit the exhibition before seeing the ship
Guided tours around Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of
Trafalgar 1805 (and the flagship of Admiral Sir John Jervis at the Battle
of St. Vincent - 1797). Tours take approximately 45 minutes. Please arrive
at the ship 5 minutes before the tour time on your ticket. Transcripts of
the tour are available in most languages.
HMS Warrior (1860)
Queen Victoria's magnificent warship to explore at your leisure. Deck
plans are provided before you go aboard (available in English, French,
German and Spanish) and audio information wands are available for a small
Royal Naval Museum
The story of the Royal Navy and its people over 800 years.
The Historic Dockyard
Dockyard 500 exhibition: explains the pioneering technology that
built Britain's most famous dockyard.
Invented and developed at Portsmouth: the Rolling Mill (Henry Cort), mass
production line manufacture - pulley blocks (Marc Brunel), first screw
propulsion warship (HMS Fox)
Ship Hall: the hull
of the Mary Rose. Audio commentary wands are available at the Ship Hall in
English, French, Spanish and German.
Dockyard Apprentice: displays the skills and crafts of the
Portsmouth ship builders.
Audio information wands are available from the reception desk in Boathouse
Historic Dockyard Trail: self guided walking tours around the
heritage area. Audio information wands are available from the reception
desk in Boathouse No. 7.
Eating and Drinking: Tradewinds Restaurant - licensed
restaurant serving a wide range of meals, snacks and drinks throughout the
Ships Biscuit - cakes, snacks, hot and cold drinks
unusual and exciting gifts from
The Purser's Store, The Mary Rose Shop and
the Royal Naval Museum Shop
Children's play area:
The Fighting Top - children's
themed play area in Boathouse No.7 - admission charge of 50p per child.
are not permitted at any of the attractions (except for guide dogs).
Dogs should not be left unattended in the Dockyard.
24 hour information 023 9286 1512
Useful Naval links:
Portsmouth New Hampshire
The information on this page has mainly
been provided from the St. Vincent College & Flagship webs
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