Portsmouth Historic Dockyard | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Portsmouth, England, United Kingdom

Luke Tomes

12 Feb 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is an area of HM Naval Base Portsmouth which is open to the public. Managed today by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the dockyard contains several historic and famous ships including HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard history

For the last 500 years, the dockyard at Portsmouth has been one of England’s most important assets. For much of this period it was first among the family of Royal Dockyards, without which the Royal Navy could not have existed.

In 1194, King Richard I first granted Portsmouth its first Royal Charter and ordered the construction of a dockyard. 300 years later, King Henry VII ordered the construction of the world’s first dry dock in Portsmouth – a hugely significant moment in naval history.

The first warship built here was the Sweepstake of 1497 and of more significance was the carrack Mary Rose of 1509. Ships from Portsmouth were a key part of the fleet that drove off the Spanish Armada in 1588.

As France began to pose more of a military threat to England, the strategic importance of Portsmouth grew. In 1689, Parliament ordered a new dry dock to be built there, large enough to accommodate the latest first-rate and second-rate ships of the line (which were too big for the existing docks).

Between 1750 and 1850 Portsmouth’s dockyard reached the zenith of its importance due to the continuous wars during the Age of Revolution. In this period the dockyards storehouses, residences and rope house were built. In 1802 the block mills were opened, this was a factory that mass-produced ship pulley blocks. The block mills used machinery designed by Marc Brunel, Isambard Kingdom Brunel‘s father.

By the trun of the 19th century, the Royal Navy had 684 ships and the Dockyard was the largest industrial complex in the world. In 1805 Horatio Nelson toured the newly opened block mills before embarking from Portsmouth on HMS Victory, leaving Britain for the last time before his death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Since then, Portsmouth has remained a vital naval port in Britain. Throughout the First and Second World Wars, the naval base continued to be the hub of Britain’s naval defence against invasion. The base itself was the headquarters and main departure point for the military and naval units destined for Sword Beach on the Normandy coast as a part of Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944.

During the Second World War Portsmouth became the target of bombing attacks due to its significance of being home to the Royal Navy. In 1984 the Royal Dockyard lost the title of Royal Dockyard and became known as a Naval Base.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard today

Housing the Royal Navy Museum and still part of an active naval base, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard today offers visitors a great insight into the British navy, both its past and present. The dockyard’s three main attractions are:

HMS Victory

Vice Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship and the site where this heroic figure died.

HMS Warrior

At one time the British Navy’s most advanced warship, HMS Warrior is sole surviving member of Queen Victoria’s Black Battle Fleet.

Mary Rose

A sixteenth century warship favoured by King Henry VIII, sunk in 1545 and recovered in 1982. Currently not viewable, but the Mary Rose Museum is still open housing finds from the wreckage.

The Royal Navy Museum

One of the Britain’s foremost maritime museums and the only one to focus on the navy’s ships and serving members. Includes The Trafalgar Experience exhibit and The Nelson Gallery.

Getting to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is less than 5 miles from Junction 12 of the M27. From here follow the brown and white signs to ‘Historic Dockyard’ which will lead you to our official 295 space car park which is located only 400 yards from the entrance at Victory Gate. If this car park is full there are others within close proximity at Gunwharf Quays and Havant Street.

If travelling via public transport, South Western Railway run frequent trains from London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour, with a journey time of only 90 minutes. There are also regular services to and from Southampton Central with links to the South West and the West country. Portsmouth Harbour train station is only 200 yards from the entrance to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Many local and regional bus services stop at the Hard Interchange (adjacent to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard entrance).

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