7 Portsmouth and Hampshire inventions that changed the world

Portsmouth and Hampshire both have a rich heritage for invention.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 2:58 pm

Many of these innovations are either still used today or have changed the world as we know it.

The course of some of the most significant historical events were changed from ideas spawned in Portsmouth and the surrounding area.

We’ve picked out seven of the most noteworthy inventions. How many do you already know about?

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17th February 1906: The most powerful battleship in the world, the HMS 'Dreadnought' at its launch by the King at Portsmouth. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Dry Dock

The worlds first dry dock was built in Portsmouth in 1495.

Sir Reginald Bray, Treasurer and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – and architect – designed the dock on orders from King Henry VII.

The Saunders Roe SRN-1 hovercraft on display at Cowes, Isle of Wight. (Photo by George Hales/Getty Images)

The dock was used to house ships and have an area to rebuild and dismantle them, as creating wooden ships from old parts was a common practice.

It’s first use came a year after it was built, with the pride of the Kings’ fleet – the Sovereign – entering the dock on 25 May 1496.

The dry dock employed hundreds of men at different times, and it’s revolutionary design became the blueprint for how dockyards were laid out and became home to further developments in ship construction.

Pulley Block Machinery

Pulley Block Machinery was invented and first used in Portsmouth Dockyard in 1805 to make wooden blocks for the navy.

The patents were designed by Marc Isambard Brunel, a French engineer and Royalist sympathiser who fled to the UK in 1799 via American, to save his life after the French Revolution.

Pulley Block Machinery was one of the first major examples of machine tools being used for mass production in Britain.

The steam powered network allowed ten workers to do the same job as 111 craftsmen, and it’s estimated the navy used 100,000 of these blocks every year for ship building.

This innovation laid the foundation for developments in mass production during the Industrial revolution, as well as modern day factory production lines.

HMS Dreadnought

Launched from Portsmouth dockyard in 1906 by King Edward VII, HMS Dreadnought would become one of the most destructive and history-making warships in British history.

She was built in only four months and her design was credited to admiral Sir John Fisher.

It was the first big-gun battleship ever created, carrying ten 12-inch guns that supposedly weighed as much as a small car, which could fire high-explosive shells over 4ft tall.

Former head of the royal navy, Admiral Lord West, described the vessel at the time as ‘a most devastating weapon of war, the most powerful thing in the world.’

The Dreadnought’s revolutionary firepower directly resulted in winning the First World War, as Great Britain won the subsequent ‘naval arms race’ that followed the ships creation.

The original HMS was sold for scrap in the 1920s, but her legacy and heritage lives on to this day.

‘Gosport Speaking Tube’

One of the most influential inventions in communication was created in Gosport at Grange airfield in 1917.

Flying instructor Robert Smith-Barry was baffled by the poor methods for teaching trainee pilots, with previous inventions such as the ‘Audiophone’ being so primitive that cadets couldn’t hear their instructors over the engine.

The innovative ‘Gosport’ variant consisted of a thicker rubber tube with a split at one end that attached to metal tubes fitted into the cadets helmet.

A rubber mouth piece was also fitted to the instructors side, and the whole system was routed to the instructors side through the dashboard of the plane, and it worked.

It was the first time both crew members could communicate directly in the air, and after the first successful test on 20 June 1917 over the Solent, the equipment was used by air-forces across the globe until the 1950s.

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Mulberry Harbours

Portable harbours nicknamed ‘Mulberries’ were designed in Portsmouth and Southampton dockyards in 1944 and played a vital role in the D-Day landings.

Two Mulberry harbours, both the size of Dover, were built as part of Operation Overlord so one of history’s greatest invasions could be launched.

Both harbours consisted of 73 concrete blocks, which weighed between 1,500 and 7,000 tonnes each.

When put together, they created the ports, breakwaters and pontoons necessary for ships to be docked so their cargo could be unloaded.

The invasion began on June 6, and the harbours allowed for hundreds of thousands of soldiers and millions of tonnes of supplies to land on the beaches of Normandy.

Subsequently, the Allied forces turned the tide of the Second World War.

Supermarine Spitfire

The famous warplane that defeated the German Luftwaffe during World War Two was developed in Woolston, Southampton, in 1934.

Designed by the inventor Reginald Mitchell, the single-seat fighter place was integral to victory at the Battle of Britain in 1940-1941.

The planes mobility and speed was down to it’s merlin engine, which produced the 1,030 horsepower necessary to destroy many German equivalents.

They were also importantly used as a photo-reconnaissance aircraft, as the planes performance at high altitudes made them almost immune to detection.

Information from these flights were crucial for future bombing raids and attacks on strategic Nazi positions.

SR.N1 Hovercraft

Designs for the modern hovercraft were created by Christopher Cockerell in the 1950s.

Under the Isle of Wight natives guidance, the Saunders Roe Nautical 1 (SR.N1) crossed the English channel on 25 July 1959.

He received a knighthood for his achievement ten years later.

Although the four-tonne craft could only carry a three-person crew, the design was the forefather of air-cushion transport vehicles.

Hovercrafts have ferried passengers across the channel from Dover to Calais until 2000 and is still used to transport people to the Isle of Wight.

The original SR.N1 is on display at the Hovercraft Museum in Lee-on-the-Solent.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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