Portsmouth's Historic Dockyards from Spinnaker Tower, southern England.

Philip Mitchell

WINCHESTER, United Kingdom

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The Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth offers a fascinating view northwards over the historic naval dockyards where HMS Warrior (foreground) is berthed and HMS Victory (middle distance) is laid up in dry dock. Around and beyond these two venerable ships, the Royal Navy continues to maintain and berth its modern-day fleet, with Portsmouth’s vast natural harbour stretching away into the distance.

Launched in 1860, Warrior was Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured warship and the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet. She was the largest, fastest and most powerful ship of her day and had a profound effect on naval architecture. Although she contained no radically new technology and even had a full sailing rig, she combined for the first time steam engines, rifled breech-loading guns, iron construction, iron armour and the propeller, all in one ship. She was also conceived on an unprecedented scale, twice the size of the French ship La Gloire that prompted the Royal Navy to have her built. In her day she represented the ultimate deterrent, but in only ten years rapid developments in battle-ship design left her obsolescent. She is the only one of the forty-five British iron hulls built between 1861 and 1877 to survive.

HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in September 1805, remains the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief of Naval Home Command and she is also maintained as a living museum to the Georgian navy. Launched in 1765 but not commissioned until 1778, the Victory remained in active service until 1812 thanks to several modifications and refits. In 1824 Victory became the flagship of the Port Admiral, but eventual retirement brought the threat of being scrapped. Hardy, her former captain at Trafalgar and now First Sea Lord, refused to sign the warrant however, and she was eventually promoted to being the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief in 1889, a move which undoubtedly saved her for posterity. Her long-term preservation was finally assured in 1922 when she was finally moved to her present dry dock and work could begin on restoring this iconic ship to her fighting condition of 1805. The work of conserving the great wooden vessel continues to the present day.

(This image was featured in Historic Places, 03 December 2011.)

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