Monday, April 20, 2015

Portsmouth Dockyards

During our recent trip back to the UK, we also took in Portsmouth's Dockyards and the historic ships.  It's been quite a while since I last did that, so it was good to re-visit and see what's changed.  There is so much to see, from the historic ships themselves, to harbour boat tours and then the recently developed Gunwharf Quays shops and restaurants.

Portsmouth is the UK's only island city, located on Portsea Island (not a lot of people know that).  It has been a significant naval port for centuries (since at least 1200, when it was used primarily for attacks against France!), although the earliest settlements date back to Roman times, and is home to the famous historic ships above, as well as being a major dockyard for the Royal Navy.  At its height, the dockyard was the largest industrial site in the world.

During our visit, we took in both the Mary Rose and the Warrior, viewed HMS Victory from the dock (sadly it's currently undergoing repairs and it's masts have been removed so it looks a little "stunted"), and took a boat tour of the harbour itself, taking advantage of the beautiful weather whilst we could.

HMS Victory - the oldest commissioned warship;
Nelson's flagship which saw battle at Trafalgar in 1805

The Mary Rose is a tudor ship - she was Henry VIII's war ship built in 1510.  She sank in the Solent in 1545, during an engagement with a French invasion fleet just two kilometres from the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.  The wreckage was rediscovered in 1971, eventually being raised in 1982 (a huge endeavour at the time, which I remember from my childhood).  Since that time, considerable work has been carried out to conserve what remains of the wreckage and the thousands of unique finds from the ship and the crew.  The conservation work is now in its final stages, and the wreckage is uniquely displayed in a specially built museum.  Eventually, the black venting tunnels will be removed so that you will get a full unobstructed view of the remaining wreckage.  Amazing to think that this ship is now over 450 years old...

A huge number of artefacts have also been recovered that give a real insight into life on board the ship.
Reconstruction of one of the brick ovens on board on the ship
Peppermill and pepper corns

Oil and vinegar bottles
Next up was HMS Warrior - the world's first iron-hulled warship, launched in 1860.  She was built to counter French developments in naval shipbuilding, and when launched, she was the largest, fastest and most powerful warship in the world, combining sail and steam, wood and iron, to present the greatest advance in ship design for centuries.  Basically, she kept the peace by deterring the enemy.  The contrast with HMS Victory, launched one hundred years earlier, is quite striking. 
It was really interesting to see the huge contrasts between the sail masts and the steam engines on board, the cutlasses and the rifles, and the shells and the cannon balls.

Six hundred men lived on board, divided into 34 messes, each with up to 18 men squashed into the space between two guns. They crammed around the mess table at mealtimes and at night slung their hammocks above.

Boiler room - 10 boilers, each with 4 furnaces
Finally, we took a boat tour around Portsmouth harbour itself, seeing the sights of Portsmouth from a slightly different angle:

Looking across to Portsdown Hill

The old and the new - HMS Victory sandwiched between two modern warships

Portsmouth Docks and the Spinaker Tower

The mouth of Portsmouth Harbour
Two iconic old pubs in Old Portsmouth - the Still & West, and the Spice Island Inn
All in all, a very interesting day out, made even better by the lovely weather!

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