Discover Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

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In Portsea, with many people at work, the streets bask in hot sunshine with not many enjoying the unusually clear skies... until you get close to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Hordes of people bustle through the Victory Gate archway, tourists from as far away as New Zealand and America trying to catch a glimpse of some of the area’s iconic heritage.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.'''Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (131913-1)

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.'''Picture: Ian Hargreaves (131913-1)

Bringing in £17m for the local economy each year, the historic dockyard is a focal point of the city. But not just for people from overseas – residents are being encouraged more and more to pay a visit to the world-beating attractions on their doorstep.

For Jacquie Shaw, the head of communications and visitor services at the historic dockyard, it’s the beating heart of the city.

The 49-year-old from Clanfield says: ‘There has been a dockyard in the city since the 12th century and Portsmouth is so closely connected with shipbuilding and the Royal Navy, so the historic places are such a significant part of our lives.

‘It’s what makes Portsmouth stand out from other cities, nationally and internationally. Peoples’ fathers, grandfathers and mothers have all worked there, everyone has a really close connection with the dockyard. The history of it articulates that relationship.’

The dockyard features a range of attractions including HMS Warrior 1860, HMS Victory (victorious at the Battle of Trafalgar when Admiral Lord Nelson was shot on the deck), the Mary Rose Museum, dry docks used in filming for Les Miserables, Action Stations and the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

This August bank holiday the Victorious Festival, featuring acts such as Level 42 and Charlotte Church, is being held in the historic setting. And next week HMS Collingwood’s theatre company will perform Henry V outside HMS Victory.

Museums At Night has also offered visitors the chance to stay in some of the iconic buildings, and each November the dockyard hosts the Victorian Festival of Christmas.

It’s all about reaching out to Portsmouth people, as well as overseas visitors.

Jacquie explains: ‘I think a lot of people think it’s a dry museum experience, so anything we can do to get people in and see what we have to offer is brilliant. If that means they could go to an event about shopping or music and it gets them into it, then that’s great.

‘We want people in Portsmouth to see it in a different way. Not everyone is interested in the Royal Navy but everyone is intrigued to know where the saying “square meal” or “letting the cat out of the bag” comes from.’

She adds: ‘They have as much to do with the Royal Navy as ships and battles.’

Lincoln Clarke, 43, lives in Chichester and is the chief executive of the Historic Dockyard.

He says: ‘It’s very important that we have a good relationship with the city and that everything we have here is interesting to them, as a lot of it is their local history.’

The historic dockyard does seem to have been everywhere in the past few months, whether it be on TV, radio or in the newspapers – and it’s all thanks to the opening of the Mary Rose Museum.

Housing the unique Tudor warship that was raised from the Solent 31 years ago, it’s of worldwide significance. And the numbers reflect that.

Lincoln says: ‘We had double as many visitors this year during June. It’s about 90,000 against 38,000 this time last year. The museum is very significant for the dockyard, for Portsmouth and the nation.

‘It’s been a lot of preservation and work, and it’s an incredible feat of human endurance. A Tudor warship is now an amazing exhibit that we have.’

The historic dockyard is bringing in 450,000 visitors a year, and a lot of that is from visitors outside of the area.

Jacquie says: ‘The Royal Navy played a big part across the world. We only need to think about the Battle of Trafalgar and on the Victory there were something like 22 different nationalities.

‘People think about it as the British navy but it was more the world navy at one point. It’s really an international story.’

She adds: ‘The Mary Rose coverage has been seen by nearly a billion people, we estimate – that’s a seventh of the world.’

Lincoln believes the dockyard is important to preserve because of its worldwide connections.

‘The historic significance of the harbour, with Edwardian and Georgian buildings, is unmatched. It helps keep that history alive for future generations.

‘Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is probably the most significant naval maritime heritage site in the UK and one of the most important in the world. It’s a memorial to the people that worked here.’

And the future looks exciting too.

There are plans in place to build up an interactive visitor experience, and to tell the story of the dockyard in the 20th and 21st century.

Lincoln says: ‘It’s improving and increasing what is on offer.

‘We are starting to bring the historic dockyard to life telling the story of itself. There will be a huge range of programmes that we will be improving on that will take the site to the next level.

‘We want to get to a million visitors a year and we are in a good place to reach that with the opening of the Mary Rose Museum.’

The dockyard is always looking forward. HMS – Hear My Story is a £4.5m exhibition being opened in spring next year about the past 100 years of the navy. And there are more ideas in the pipeline.

Right now the demand to get through the gates is huge, as Lincoln explains: ‘The amount of people who visit is increasing. It’s a challenge we welcome.

‘Over the summer months we will have a huge number of people coming through. We could potentially be at capacity a lot of the time.’

Jacquie adds: ‘We want to be sustainable and look after the ships and collections. It’s about reaching out to as many people as possible to demonstrate why the dockyard is so important and why we should tell this story.

‘People should remember and continue the story, it’s really a story of the sea. We are an island nation after all and Portsmouth, more so than any other city, is fashioned by the sea.’

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