When the ’yard employed Jacks of every possible trade

One of the many lifelike displays in Boathouse No7
One of the many lifelike displays in Boathouse No7

Day out on the buses of old

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No doubt many of you have wanted to visit the Historic Dockyard but might have found the cost prohibitive.

Well, there’s a display there that you do not have to pay to visit along with a lovely cafe.

Members of the society in front of an exhibit. Nigel Linger, Robert Russell and John Regnard

Members of the society in front of an exhibit. Nigel Linger, Robert Russell and John Regnard

Boathouse No7 is the home of the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Apprentice Exhibition.

On show are exhibits and displays, many of which can be touched.

They show all aspects of the varied work that took place in the dockyard and the men who toiled there in the great days when warships of all kinds were constructed on the slipways – the most famous being HMS Dreadnought that revolutionised battleship design almost overnight in 1906.

In 1982, following the announcement of the rundown of the dockyard many of the skills and trades were to be abandoned and lost for ever.

The Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire Nigel Atkinson his wife Christine, the lady mayoress of Portsmouth Leza Tremorin and lord mayor David Fuller.

The Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire Nigel Atkinson his wife Christine, the lady mayoress of Portsmouth Leza Tremorin and lord mayor David Fuller.

The Historical Trust was formed to save for posterity and future generations the tools, records and items from the various trades and crafts practised by the civilian workforce.

I visited the exhibition recently when the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire and the lord mayor of Portsmouth visited to give the exhibition a boost.

As with all groups of this nature funds are always needed.

During the visit they met members of the trust’s volunteer support group, in effect the working arm of the trust, and discussed various ideas for the presentation and preservation of the dockyard heritage for the future.

Some of the many tools on show in Boathouse No7

Some of the many tools on show in Boathouse No7

Along with a visit to the exhibition, the guests were also invited to the Support Group storerooms in Storehouse No10, above the National Museum of the Royal Navy, itself a building more than 200 years old, to see where a large part of more than a million dockyard-related artefacts and documents are stored and preserved.

Anything to do with the dockyard and shipbuilding in general has been painstakingly collected and kept there for posterity.

They have the original paper employment records going back more than a century for every man and women who worked in the ’yard along with original dockyard stores lists dating back to 1781.

During my visit I looked through the archives and found the employment records of my late father who started in the dockyard, or ‘Royal Dockyard’ as he never let me forget, in 1938 as a Yard Boy. These records of your family members can be located and recorded for you to keep, on request, for a small sum.

Many former employees of the dockyard or their families have over the years donated many items, tools, medals and documents of all sorts.

The volunteers who give up their time several days a week in storing, and preserving artefacts of all types also interact with visitors. The artefacts’ store is not open to the general public but organised parties can arrange a visit for a guided tour and it is well worth it.

Nigel Linger, the vice-chairman of the volunteer support group, told me they would appreciate any new members, from former Dockyard employees to retired RN or anyone who has an interest in preserving the ‘old ways’ of the dockyard for future generations and who would like a chance to help them in their quest to keep the past alive.

The membership ages range from 93 downwards so new blood would be welcome.

Every trade needed to build a ship existed in the ’yard and apprenticeships ensured those trades continued as long as shipbuilding and repair continued.

Mike Smith, the Support Group’s spokesman, told me that during the war workers had an hour for dinner (lunch today) of which the first 15 minutes was for eating. The next 45 were spent sleeping. If an apprentice dared talk during this time he got an earful.

The reason was that because of air raids most men could not get a good night’s sleep so they made up for it in their lunch break.

To contact the Support Group for more information about visits or general inquiries, contact Nigel Linger at nigellinger@hotmail.com.