Last chance to visit fascinating Diving Deep exhibition and explore the seabed without getting wet this half term
Join Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for a fun-filled half term with hands-on craft activities, the last chance to be transported to the seabed in a fascinating interactive exhibition and Tales of Three Ships storytelling that will keep all the family entertained.
On 23 October from 12pm to 4pm, Red Sauce Theatre presents a special Halloween performance, a tale about a tail, one that was owned by a mystery ship’s cat.
‘The Mysterious Tale of a Ship’s Cat’ is a family-friendly adventure, and one that demands some audience participation. The performances will be held in the Victory Gallery, and is available at no extra cost to ticket holders.
The Mary Rose Museum also has a series of crafty half term events, for those younger ones less eager on the horror of Halloween. From the 25 to the 29 October there are arts and crafts projects every day, from building your own Tudor warship, to making your own Tudor clay tile.
New this month at Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower is The Night Hunters: The Royal Navy’s Costal Forces at War, a major new permanent gallery celebrating a lesser-known navy division of largely young men undertaking deadly operations, at high speed and often under darkness, to defend the English Channel and the North Sea.
Half term also marks the last chance for visitors to experience the Diving Deep exhibition, free to any ticket holder. The exhibition showcases the extraordinary story of the discovery and excavation of HMS Invincible, the captured French ship that became the model for many Royal Navy ships of the line. To help visitors gain an even deeper insight they can listen to talks from the divers who helped uncover it, and meet those who put the exhibition together.
The “HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship” exhibition in the Victory Gallery also has a brand-new item in its collection. A farthing placed for good luck under the mast of HMS Victory in the Victorian period makes its debut at the exhibition, a rare and exciting piece not seen since it was originally placed there over a century ago.
Younger adventurers will love the Horrible Histories Pirates exhibition. Learn about some of their most infamous and their gory tricks of the trade. Better yet, become a real pirate, and make good use of the ships and their air cannons. Half term marks the last chance to see the exhibition, so make sure you learn all you can about these sea-faring scoundrels.
As one of the UK’s leading visitor attractions, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, based on the coast of Portsmouth welcomes in excess of 850,000 visitors per year. It is the UK’s premier destination for naval and maritime history and is the home to iconic ships HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose. The best value Ultimate Explorer Ticket means families can visit as much as they like over the year, with full access to all attractions including the Harbour Tour. Its water bus service, included in the ticket price, connects it with the Royal Navy Submarine Museum and Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower in Gosport, meaning visitors to the site can access all attractions for one ticket.
Entry to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard starts from £39 per adult and £29 per child for an Ultimate Explorer Ticket which gives entry to all 11 attractions including Explosion Museum and Night Hunters, HMS Victory, the Mary Rose Museum and HMS Warrior. It is valid for multiple entries throughout the year, with family tickets available. Book online at www.historicdockyard.co.uk
Century-old coin sensationally uncovered under HMS Victory mast is put on display in Trafalgar Day tribute
A 127-year-old coin placed under the mast of the nation’s historic flagship, HMS Victory as part of a centuries-old sea-faring tradition has been sensationally uncovered and put on display at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to mark this year’s Trafalgar Day commemorations on Thursday 21 October.
The coin, identified as a farthing, was uncovered in the base plate of the 32-metre, 26-tonnes mast section which was temporarily removed from Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship during a highly complex three-day engineering challenge, earlier this year.
It will be put on display from Trafalgar Day in the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s newest gallery, HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship, which charts the extraordinary story of the remarkable survivor considered by many to be the world’s most famous ship.
The coin is a farthing from 1894, with a face value at the time of ¼ pence, which would be worth about 0.1p today. If in perfect condition it would feature Queen Victoria’s head on one side, with her hairstyle documented to 1874-94 and Britannia on the other with a lighthouse in the background, however this coin is impacted by corrosion, so this is less clear.
The tradition of placing coins under their ship masts may date back to Roman times and remains a naval tradition. The date of 1894 ties in with when these particular masts were inserted into the ship, when their ship, HMS Shah, had been decommissioned. The masts replaced Douglas Fir ones inserted in the 1850s that had since become rotten.
The Head of Conservation at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Diana Davis, found it when she was examining the base plate, once the mast had been lifted out in May 2021. The historic ships team had known about a metal wedge that had been placed between the mast and the base plate, to allow the mast to sit at the desired angle. As the team was inspecting the remains of the wedge, the coin was found.
Rosemary Thornber, Principal Heritage Advisor for HMS Victory said:
“We had wondered if there would be a coin under the mast, to follow with naval tradition, and imagine our excitement when the coin was found and news rapidly spread through the team who were sworn to secrecy whilst we conserved it and made plans to put it on display.
“It’s been a real privilege to research it and to see the damage that had been caused by the pressure from the mast sitting on it. Whilst on paper it’s not particularly rare, the fact that it occupied such an intriguing place for so many decades and now its imprint is part of Victory’s fabric, makes it invaluable to us and our visitors will love to see it.”
Head of Conservation Diana Davis, who uncovered the coin described the process undertaken since to stabilise it for display.
“I excavated it from the shim on the mast base-plate with a leaf trowel and scalpel, after recording and drawing it in situ. Then in the laboratory I removed as much of the corrosion as possible without damaging the patinated copper alloy surface. There has been a little bit of loss to the coin surface from the impact of the mast with upwards of 21 tonnes resting on it but I was able to clean enough of the sound surface to uncover the lighthouse to the lower left side of Britannia, allowing us to date it as an 1894 farthing. It’s been one of the more unusual projects I’ve worked on – being the first person to see the coin in over 120 years!”
The mast’s removal is part of a 20-year-long conservation project on the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission, which has already seen a state-of-the-art support structure for the flagship unveiled. The mast needs to be analysed and conserved to ensure that it is structurally secure and materially stable enough to be fully rigged.
Visitors can still go onboard and experience the extraordinary story of Victory including the newly-opened dry dock walkway and the lower mizzen and foremasts remain in place. A new exhibition, HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship, located just opposite the ship, tells the intriguing 256-year history of this remarkable survivor, from acorn to icon.
Little-known story of the Royal Navy’s heroic coastal forces in both World Wars told for the first time in major new gallery at Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower.
The remarkable and little-known story of the Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces which made such an extraordinary contribution to both world wars is to be told for the first time in a major new permanent gallery opening on Saturday 9 October 2021.
The Night Hunters: The Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces at War opens at The National Museum of the Royal Navy’s Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower, Gosport and pays tribute to the small band of young, courageous men, often reservist volunteers, who manned the wooden craft which were heavily armed, carrying ammunition, explosives and high-octane fuel as they went in to attack enemy naval forces at close range. It is said it was the nearest thing to hand-to-hand fighting experienced within the Royal Navy in the Second World War and their service was recognised with an unprecedented 3,000 decorations, including four Victoria Crosses.
The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) has worked in partnership with the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust (CFHT), to fund and develop the new gallery which is located in the historic former mine store built in 1899 at Priddy’s Hard, the armament depot that supplied weapons, ammunition and equipment to the Royal Navy which is now home to Explosion Museum. CFHT was in receipt of funding from fines levied on the banking industry for manipulating the LIBOR rate. Lockheed Martin is also a corporate partner in the project.
Taking centre stage in the gallery are two of the Second World War historic boats, Coastal Motor Boat CMB331 and Motor Torpedo Boat MTB71, that made such an extraordinary contribution to naval warfare. Immortalised as “Spitfires of the Seas” they were often deployed in the dark, at incredibly high speeds as small but fast attack craft travelling at speeds up to 35 knots.
CMB 331 was commanded by Commander Derek ‘Jake’ Wright who quickly gained a reputation for bringing his crew back alive. He was one of only 44 to be awarded three Distinguished Service Crosses during the Second World War and post-war he became Director of the tea company Brooke Bond. The gallery features some of his personal artefacts including uniform which by modern standards would barely have managed to protect the crew from the elements.
Rare photographs capture the intensity of serving in the coastal forces and the off-duty antics of the crews. Because of the stealthy nature of their operations, few photographs exist of them in action. Sketches, note books and some of the more personal ephemera gives a fascinating insight into the lives of these everyday heroes.
Larger objects on display include a Holman Projector, a relatively crude anti-aircraft weapon operated by compressed air that was an effective stop-gap measure to deter German aircraft; a Mark 11 Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun and a buoyant acoustic mine, representative of the many thousands laid by the boats.
A gripping audio-visual display vividly recreates the drama and adrenaline of a motor torpedo boat (MTB) night attack on a convoy.
The crew, although very young with an average age of just 21-years-old, were highly trained and exhibited an exceptionally high esprit de corps in a theatre of war punctuated by high risks, incredible danger and challenging working conditions. Among them was the future Avenger Patrick Macnee, who became a household name in the 1960s, the second Dr Who, Patrick Troughton, renowned conservationist Sir Peter Scott and James Bond director Guy Hamilton.
The Night Hunters also highlights the essential role played by the Womens’ Royal Naval Service (WRNS) who managed and worked the 23 shore bases all around the UK coast from which the boats operated. Shore bases were also located across the globe from Iceland to the Far East.
Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy said:
“The Night Hunters is an extraordinary opportunity to highlight a hitherto little-known part of the Royal Navy story. Their service has all the elements of an incredible story, but sadly they often paid with the ultimate sacrifice. They were incredibly brave young men onboard what were really quite basic boats, loaded with fuel and ammunition, working at high speed, often under the cloak of darkness. Their service and sense of duty send a shiver down the spine and we are truly grateful to be working with the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust to open a gallery, so that their story can be shared.”
Vice Admiral Sir Paul Haddacks KCB, Chairman of the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust said:
I am delighted that the Coastal Forces Museum will open in the Autumn and that the Trust will therefore have realised its core objective. This is a significant milestone, the culmination of about ten years of planning, fundraising, lobbying and publicity. I want to take this opportunity to thank all our loyal and generous supporters who have continued to back the Trust over long periods of uncertainty and often with little obvious progress. I also want to thank and pay tribute to our principal partners, The National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust.
The gallery is named the Robert Hichens Memorial Exhibition. Lieutenant Commander Robert Hichens was a legendary figure, pioneering successes against German fast attack E-boats in the North Sea and English Channel. He became the most highly decorated RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve) Officer with two Distinguished Service Orders, three Distinguished Service Crosses and three Mentions in Dispatches. His death in 1943 sent shockwaves through the coastal forces.
Entry to The Night Hunters and Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower is included in a ticket for Portsmouth Historic Dockyard which is jointly operated by the National Museum for the Royal Navy and Mary Rose Museum. The joint ticket gives extraordinary access to world-class attractions based across the Portsmouth and Gosport sites including the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Gosport, HMS Victory, the Mary Rose Museum and HMS Warrior.
For further details about tickets, including the Ultimate Explorer Ticket which gives 12-month entry to all attractions, visit www.historicdockyard.co.uk. The Portsmouth Harbour and Explosion Museum sites are supported by the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust who are landlords and custodians for the historic estate and have worked with NMRN to bring the Coastal Forces Gallery to life through the repurposing of the building and surrounding area.