HMS Nelson, the former barracks in Queen Street, Portsea, will be forever be known by senior readers of this column as Victory Barracks.
Across the road is the officers’ wardroom, a magnificent building into which few civilians have entered and which defies what lies behind the magnificent facade.
Recently I was given permission to have a look around the building.
What’s on display is marvellous naval memorabilia honouring our great naval history. One thing is for certain, our greatest naval commander, Horatio Nelson, is well represented as you would expect.
The building stands on the site of a former hospital for Anglesey Barracks, which was demolished to make way for the new naval barracks. The hulks in the dockyard, where sailors were billeted, were well past their time and decent living accommodation was needed. Original plans for a naval barracks were first drawn up in 1862. Plans were cancelled and reintroduced many times until building work began in October 1899. Nine firms placed tenders for the construction, which was won by Lovett of Wolverhampton and by September 1903 everything was ready.
On September 30, 1903, and with no ceremony, 4,000 officers and rating left the hulks and marched out of the dockyard to take possession of their new quarters.
Although the barracks have altered considerably over the years, the main gate now stands on its own island outside more modern gates and the parade ground has since been built on. However, the wardroom remains. Two old gates to the east and west have been closed and walls built. Apart from that everything looks the same.
Many will remember uniformed guards outside both establishments.
They have been replaced by the MoD Guard Service. It takes away some of the romance of the place I believe, but everything moves on I suppose.
The entrance to the building has three flights of stairs, built to observe naval etiquette in times past.
The stairway to the right was used by junior officers; the one to the left by lieutenant- commanders. The central stairway was for commanders and above.
Two items on display which have nothing to do with the navy are two guitars once belonging to Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi of Status Quo. They launched their album Heavy Traffic in concert on board HMS Ark Royal in 2002.
And the visitors’ book has the signatures of every famous naval and military officer you can think of, plus many esteemed visitors over years.