In Victorian times supremacy of the sea was all important.
The government firmly believed that a powerful navy would help preserve the British empire, so battleship building was big business. By the late 1890s Portsmouth was laying down at least one battleship a year.
In 1891 Queen Victoria launched the battleship Royal Sovereign, which was commissioned in May 1892, only two years and eight months after the keel was laid, and four months ahead of schedule.
This success was mainly due to one man – the Admiral Superintendent of Portsmouth Dockyard, Jackie Fisher.
In 1905 he became first sea lord and began his drive to produce a new design of warship with which to lead the world.
HMS Dreadnought, the first of a new class, was laid down on October 2, 1905, and with Fisher’s demonic energy fuelling the work, she was launched by Edward VII on February 10 the following year after a mere 130 days.
Dreadnought was the first battleship to cost more than £1m. She sailed for her sea trials in October 1906, just one year and a day after her keel was laid.
It was said that nowhere else in the world could such a feat have been possible – which puts Portsmouth well and truly into the shipbuilding firsts.