Portsmouth Historic Dockyard brings back free entry as plans are revealed to transform the site

AMBITIOUS plans to revitalise Portsmouth Historic Dockyard into a ‘vibrant, living breathing community space’ have been unveiled as part of a fightback strategy following the coronavirus pandemic.

By Tom Cotterill
Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 4:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 7:35 am
The gates are open: Step into Portsmouth’s Historic Quarter with new free pass
The gates are open: Step into Portsmouth’s Historic Quarter with new free pass

The news was announced by the head of the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust (PNBPT) as the organisation today launched its new Historic Quarter Pass into the naval attraction.

The pass, available from today, will see the welcome return of free entry into the dockyard, allowing unprecedented access to the historic buildings preserved within the 12-acre site.

Heritage bosses have touted the move as a promising step forward, showing the dockyard is now starting to recover after a turbulent 19 months, blighted by lockdowns, closures and limited visitor numbers.

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The gates are open: Step into Portsmouth’s Historic Quarter with new free pass

Hannah Prowse, chief executive of PNBPT, said this was part of the first phase of her long-term goals to help transform how people view the dockyard.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Hannah said: ‘We want to transform the historic quarter of the dockyard into a destination.

‘This is your local history. These are your grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ history; this is how they made their living and why they lived in Portsmouth.

‘I want people to feel that sense of ownership and kinship with the place. We have a beautiful history and heritage in the city that I want to celebrate.’

500- year-old chandlery Arthur Beale has relocated from London to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, thanks to the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust. Full steam ahead. Store manager Jane Percival and store assistant Ashley Martin pictured in the relocated store alongside Hannah Prowse CEO of the PNBPT. Picture: Stuart Martin (220421-7042)

Included under the umbrella of the Historic Quarter pass will be Boathouse 4.

The site, which is home to the International Boat Building College, will allow visitors to watch experts and volunteers in action alongside students as they meticulously restore historic boats, echoing the building’s original role 80 years ago,

Also opened up to the public will be Storehouse 9, which is currently filled with creations from resident artist Pete Coding, who is working on his largest piece of art to date - a life-size sail drawing inspired by Portsmouth.

Culture vultures will have the chance, too, to see one of the UK’s most historic shops, the 500-year-old Arthur Beale Chandlery.

While in Boathouse 7, visitors will be able to discover how Britain’s oldest Royal Dockyard led innovation throughout the ages in ‘The Dockyard Apprentice’ exhibition.

And to celebrate the launch of the new pass, HMS Sabre will be on the pontoons by Boathouse 4 offering free visits, VIC 56 will be in steam and available for passengers to board both today and tomorrow.

Hannah said the scheme had shown how the dockyard was on the road to recovery following the pandemic.

‘After an incredibly challenging 18 months, it’s a brilliant milestone for us to be able to grant free access to the Historic Quarter for all to enjoy,’ Hannah added.

‘We are incredibly grateful to all those who’ve visited the grounds since August 2020. As a charitable trust, the support from visitors was vital in keeping us operational during the pandemic and maintaining the livelihoods of many businesses and partners at the dockyard.

‘But now, it’s time to ensure our rich heritage is given back to the community; history should be enjoyed and made accessible to all.’

As guardians and custodians of the estate, PNBPT is responsible for the conservation and sustainable restoration of buildings, boats, and structures of outstanding architectural and historic interest at the dockyard.

Hannah said there were long-term projects already in the works, which include a 12-month restoration project of Storehouse 9, which could begin later next year.

Once completed, she hoped the new facility would free up Boathouse 7 to become a new ‘food hall’ open to the whole community.’

‘My vision is for a living breathing dockyard that is a vibrant community space,’ she added.

Councillor Ben Dowling, cabinet member for culture, leisure and economic development, was excited by the plan and welcomed the introduction of the Historic Quarter pass.

He said: ‘Portsmouth’s historic dockyard is a vital part of our city’s heritage and infrastructure. We are delighted to see it being opened up to the local community once more. We share PNBPT’s vision of the dockyard as a destination to enjoy, alongside the cultural attractions of the museums on site.’

Visitors can continue to purchase tickets to enjoy the experiences available at the world-class attractions located within the estate, including the National Museum of the Royal Navy, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior, and the Mary Rose Museum.

The Historic Quarter Pass is available to collect during standard opening hours from the Dockyard Visitor Centre.