Portsmouth’s enduring naval legacy is celebrated this year as the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard celebrates the centenary year of a significant Naval Museum in the Dockyard.
On June 28th 1911, the ‘Dockyard Museum’ was opened. It was located at the end of the great Ropehouse, in the space now occupied by the Victory Restoration Workshop. The Museum was the brainchild of Mr Pescott-Frost, the Secretary to the Admiral Superintendant of Portsmouth Royal Dockyard. Pescott-Frost was one of those far-sighted individuals to whom this country owes a great debt for preserving the rich heritage that we enjoy today.
He recognised that the launch of the mighty HMS Dreadnought in 1906 was ushering in a new era of steam and steel for the Navy, and that, unless something was done, the Sailing Navy – Nelson’s Navy that had made Britain into the world power that she remains today - would be forgotten about, consigned merely to books and ever-fading memories. So he used his influence to ensure that relics of the ships of that great age were kept. In particular, he secured over 40 warship figureheads, those colourful and evocative representations of that bygone age.
Photographs and a surviving catalogue show that the Dockyard Museum, which was visited a year before its formal opening by King George V, was a treasure house, packed from floor to ceiling with objects of all shapes and sizes. Although some of these were taken away in 1937 to be displayed in the new National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, key items, including the figureheads, remained in Portsmouth.
And they can still be enjoyed today, on the upper floor of the Victory Gallery, located opposite HMS Victory, now part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN).
In 1972, Mrs Lily McCarthy, an American lady offered the McCarthy collection of Nelson commemorative items to the nation, at the same the Great Storehouses became surplus to requirements and her collection was opened to the public in May 1972.
In 1975 the Museum acquired another private collection from Captain Kenneth Douglas-Morris, a collector of naval memorabilia, books and medals, from which a series of new galleries were opened to tell the story of the Royal Navy and its earliest times to the present day.
The NMRN is the direct descendant of the Dockyard Museum, and, as it enters their 100th year, staff too are looking forward, just as Mr Pescott Frost did. They have recently received Heritage Lottery Funding to begin plans for a £4 million wing of new exhibitions on the Royal Navy in the 20th and 21st Centuries, together with a Special Exhibitions Gallery. The aim is to open this new wing in 1914, to coincide with the national commemoration of the Centenary of World War I.
Centenary Birthday Celebration Sunday 26th June, 11am – 4.30pm
The National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is the direct descendant of the Dockyard Museum so is delighted to be inviting visitors to share in with their anniversary at their big birthday bash celebrating 100 years.
The day will include fun and games for all the family with face painters, balloon modellers and a bouncy castle. There’ll also be traditional party games, with a twist, such as Pin the Medal on the Admiral and a Giant Pass the Parcel game. Plus, a historical Punch and Judy show, and not forgetting the cutting of the centenary cake!
For further information on the weekend please visit
www.historicdockyard.co.uk/armedforces or call 023 9283 9766
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard offers over 800 years of maritime history, with the world famous ships, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior 1860, the Mary Rose Museum, the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Action Stations and a Harbour Tour.
The Historic Dockyard opens at 10am daily and further information can be found at www.historicdockyard.co.uk or by calling 02392 839 766.
Photo Caption: Staff at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard celebrate 100 years of Naval Heritage as part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s centenary celebrations.
Photographer – Peter Langdown