Historic Dockyard of Portsmouth, England – A Naval History Site

Portsmouth is a port city in England known for its maritime history.  The city is on Portsea Island, which is part of the county of Hampshire.   Being surrounded by water, it has limited access from other major cities in England. One of its known attractions is the Historic Dockyard, the home of Her Majesty Royal Naval Base.  Local people says, traffic can be a challenge during the summer school breaks and bank holidays but these do not deter people from visiting the city for the historic naval base and its harbor-side shopping outlet packed with many designers boutiques.


On an ordinary weekend last month, the port was quite busy but not too crowded.  People were constantly rushing in and coming out of the pier,  boats and ferries approaching and leaving the pier.  Outside the naval base,  there were  visitors leisurely sitting on the benches and concrete steps facing the harbor;  having late lunch, enjoying the gorgeous afternoon sun, watching the activities at the waterfront and occasionally feeding the seagulls.


The Naval Base premises is big and well-kept.  It is secured by high brick perimeter walls and a tall iron gate, known as the Victory Gate at Queen Street.  Most of the 11 attractions that are included in the ticket are inside this premises.  Few are based offsite at Gosport, right across the water opposite the Portsmouth Pier, accessible via a service ferry.

The Naval Base entrance and exit


Walking through from the gate, there’s a Boat House on the left.   In my opinion it is more of a storage of different sizes, designs and age of boats, rather than a museum.   The museum galleries are housed in the neatly lined red brick buildings on the sides of the premises, known as the Stonehouse.

The Naval Base museum galleries to the direction of the iron gate at Queen Street


Walking past the galleries there are two warships positioned next to each other.  The smaller one is the HMS M33, currently sitting on the dry dock for maintenance work.   According to many  historians, she is one of the only three surviving Royal Navy warships of the First World War and the only surviving ship from the Gallipoli Campaign.  Proportioned to the size of the vessel are small sleeping quarters, and dining area.  It was a humbling experience to have seen the modest living condition of the navies who served the war in this tiny warship.

More about HMS M.33


The staff at HMS M33 opened up the iron door lock of this 6 inch barrel cannon sitting at the front of the ship on the upper deck.  Visitors had the opportunity to peek through the rifling of the gun barrel.


Another important attraction right next to HMS M33 is the HMS Victory (cover photo).  This is the famous warship of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.   Again, it was an honor and great privilege to have been in this most iconic ship; the flagship of  Admiral Lord Nelson during the Napoleonic war.  Admiral Lord Nelson was fatally shot on this ship and died shortly after, according to many historians.  At present, Lord Nelson’s 52 meters Column is a permanent landmark  at the Trafalgar Square in Westminster, Central London.

By the HMS Victory.  A souvenir photo with the present day ship’s Captain.  I was at the right place when he was about to board the ship.  


The inside of the HMS Victory has a much better living condition compared to the HMS M33.   The ship contains many significant collections that  give visitors the chance to see the past life on-board this historic war craft; the life of those who served under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson.  We can only imagine the chaos that occurred here on every single day and night while the war was going on for many years.

The navies’ sleeping hammock


Imagine the young men behind these cannons.  I can picture pride, bravery and patriotism on their faces as they fired or hold fire and waited for their commander’s signal in every crucial moments.  Apart from the enemies, what must have passed through on their minds during the critical moment they were positioned and aiming to execute commands behind these giant armors.  Quite possibly they were also thinking about their loved ones; families and friends that they left behind and their allegiance to their motherland.  Did they think about their own lives on that moment?  Heroes of wars; they deserved the highest  honor a country can commend.

The cannons deck


From HMS Victory we explored the museum galleries.   There are four different galleries to explore.  There’s  the Hear My Story Gallery, which is my favorite.   It was an amazement hearing the stories of navies during the war, via audio-visuals.  A great exhibition.  The other three are the Sailing Gallery, the Nelson Gallery that tells a story of Admiral Nelson’s life and the Sir Donald Gosling Victory Gallery that tells more about the history of the HMS Victory.   Both children and adults will enjoy the interactive displays and other multimedia in these galleries that brings the naval history back to life.

In one of the galleries


The Hear My Story Gallery  


On our way out we explored the HMS Warrior 1860.   Inside are piled of combat weapons like cannons, cannon balls and different sizes of cannon bullets.  Once again, it was a rare privilege to have a view of  the inside of this iron-clad battleship and had the opportunity to walk through the same combat decks where the servicemen slept, eat or load and fire away their weapons.

The HMS Warrior 1860


More here http://www.hmswarrior.org/history

The four impressive steering wheels of the warrior ship.  


The equally famous flagship of King Henry VIII, the Mary Rose, is not included in the ticket for the 11 attractions.  Although the museum is in the same premises as the HMS Victory, the management of this is separate according to the staff at the gate.  It was  a shame we ran out time for this one.  Here’s more about  Mary Rose.


And the recent addition to the naval base is the HMS Queen Elizabeth.  Her mighty Queen of the English seas peacefully docked in her own home port.   According to the naval base staff, this is not accessible to the public.  The Dockyard website gave a brief description of Her Majesty Ship:

“The £3 billion aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth is one of the most advanced warships ever built by the Royal Navy and will be on operations for the next 50 years. The new Queen Elizabeth class carrier is 35 times the size of Nelson’s famous flagship HMS Victory and four times her length.

Six UK shipyards were commissioned to build HMS Queen Elizabeth with 11,000 people involved in the construction process. The nation’s newest flagship will proudly sit alongside in dock across from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.” 

HMS Queen Elizabeth’s dramatic arrival at Portsmouth Dockyard in August 2017 (I don’t own this video.  Credit to the owner)


Few meters away from the naval base iron gate is the Gunwharf  Quays, a place for chilling out.  According to few sources online, the shopping complex area was used to be a military site where they stored and repaired cannons and other weapons.  The facilities were closed during mid-90’s and was transformed into a modern shopping complex with designers boutiques, high street brands, cafes, bars and restaurants.


Entrance to the shopping arcade 


At the seafront of the Gunwharf proudly stands the striking 170 meters Emirates  Spinnaker Tower; a contemporary structure that creates a balance between the historical atmosphere of the dockyard and the modern day developments.  Visitors can enjoy the breathtaking view of the harbor on a sunny day with a glass of prosecco from its sky deck.

Waterfront of the Gunwharf (Photo from Wikipedia)


Before I visited Portsmouth, I did not know who Admiral Lord Nelson was and I did not have the slightest idea about the connection of the famous Trafalgar Square to Portsmouth.  I have passed the square many times but I was always rushing and did not have the chance to check what the tall monument was about.  It was an amazing realization to have learned the great story behind the tall monument that dominates one of the tourist spots in Central London.  It was also a great experience to have a glimpse at the life of the sea servicemen and their contribution to the freedom of Britain;  a freedom that the British people have shared to millions of people who have migrated here after the war.  I’m one of these people and I am always grateful.


With many more interesting areas that can be explored at the Historic Dockyard, an afternoon was not enough.  Next time I find myself at Portsmouth I’ll cross the water to Gosport and visit the the Royal Navy Submarine Museum  and the  Explosion Museum of Naval Fire Power , which are part of the 11 attractions.

Information on the closest and spacious carpark here  – https://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/car-parking

It’s your turn to explore!



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