Dockyard was the navy's larder...

Back in the 19th century, Royal Clarence Yard in Gosport was bustling with brewers, bakers, butchers and coopers.

Today, you are more likely to bump into a jogger or somebody mooring a yacht at the marina.

Berkeley Homes has developed many of the historic Grade II listed buildings, built new shops, offices and homes and created new flood defences for the renamed Royal Clarence Marina on the western side of Portsmouth Harbour.

But there is still plenty of evidence of the days when this was an essential and influential victualling site for the navy.

In the bakery, ovens, oak beams and cast iron columns survive. The slaughterhouse and ornamental gates are still in place and Brewhouse Square, Cooperage Green and Flagstaff Green tell of the past.

It was at Royal Clarence Yard that meat, cheese, butter, dried fish, rum, chocolate and tobacco were produced and packed for the nation's sailors. Clothing and footwear were also packed and distributed to the ships.

The yard continued its victualling role until 1991, when the Ministry of Defence sold the site to developers.

To mark the transition to marina and to commemorate the end of an era, The Gosport Society and Gosport Borough Council are staging a free exhibition.

Feeding the Forces: The History of Royal Clarence Yard 1827-1992 is on display at the Education Centre of Gosport Discovery Centre until March 14.

Local historian and exhibition organiser Lesley Burton says: 'As the number of sailors in the navy increased dramatically from 17,731 to over 107,000 by the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars, there was a requirement for more beer and rum. It was not because they were all big drinkers, but because the quality of the water was very poor.'

In 1783 the government took over the brewery that was on the site of what would become Royal Clarence Yard.

From 1828 to 1832 the victualling establishments spread out across Portsmouth were closed and everything was brought together in a purpose-built establishment named after the Duke of Clarence – a midshipman who rose to the rank of High Admiral and later became King William IV.

Lesley continues: 'He was very interested in the life and wellbeing of his fellow sailors, so he was an apt character after which to name the yard.'

Matthew Sheldon, head of the Curatorial Department of the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, adds: 'One of the key factors of the navy's success was having a reliable supply of quality preserved food for ships to take to sea for three or six months.

'It was a real advantage, a huge logistical operation and major employer in our area.'

ROYAL VISITOR

Queen Victoria visited the yard when she and husband Prince Albert took up a private residence on the Isle of Wight.

She had a royal railway station built in the yard, which meant she could travel to the mainline station in Gosport, then on into the yard where it was just a few steps to her sailing boat to take her over to the island.

'She must've done that journey hundreds of times before she died at Osborne House in 1901,' says historian Lesley Burton.

After her death, Queen Victoria's body was taken to Gosport on the royal yacht and lay in state in the yard.

THE WAY THEY WERE – 1890s-1900

Both men are wearing 'number one dress', everyday wear with sennet hats.

This was standard issue uniform and is similar to the smart regalia that the navy wear today.

CHANGING FACE OF THE NAVY

Just as the yard has changed, so has victualling of the navy.

In 1909 there was a system of canteen messing, where 15 to 20 seamen would live together in a mess with a leading seaman.

The mess would nominate one or two of their members to be cook for the day.

These cooks would decide what to prepare from a list of what was standard issue.

They could also often buy some additional ingredients if they wanted.

Food would be prepared and cooked in the ship's galley and then brought back to the mess.

On an average day in 1909 a rating might eat:

1.25lbs biscuits

8th of a pint of spirit

2oz of sugar

1oz of chocolate

0.25oz of tea

Oatmeal

1lb of fresh meat

0.5lb of vegetables 'when procurable'

Today there is a system of general messing, where food is cooked centrally by qualified chefs. The Ministry of Defence spends 100m a year feeding servicemen and women.

On an average day today a rating might eat:

170g of frozen pre-jointed beef

41g of bacon

48g of sausages

1 egg

71g of canned beans

19g breakfast cereal

140ml of milk

14g of cheddar cheese

319g of bread

78g of rice

85g sugar

14g butter

43g margarine

25ml frying oil

28g jam

12g dried fruit

18g fresh fruit

227g fresh vegetables

28g onions

567g potatoes

10g of tea

THE WAY THEY ARE

Junior Rating Greg Robertson wearing The Number One Uniform now used for ceremonial wear.

It is also known as Square Rig by sailors because the shirt underneath is square.

It has a cap, a blue collar, a blue silk ribbon in a bow and a lanyard (white string) that hangs across the collar and ties into the bow.

Originally the lanyard would have had a pen knife looped in to stop it falling overboard.

INVENTION SITE

In 1961 the yard took on another role as the navy's food laboratories were centralised and housed there along with the laboratory of the government chemist.

Here they designed, manufactured and tested food. Much of what you can find in supermarkets today started life at the yard, where they perfected freeze-drying food and so brought us instant coffee and dried fruit and vegetables.

D-DAY CHALLENGE

Royal Clarence Yard's greatest challenge was the provision of vast quantities of food for the thousands of troops anchored at Spithead waiting for the go ahead for D-Day.

In the spring of 1944 staff from Royal Clarence Yard went out every day in their storage boats, topping up the waiting ships with fresh food and water.

Three 10,000-gallon tanks were used to take fresh water out to the invasion fleet. Each week 33,000lbs of bread was shipped over, along with 400 tons of potatoes, 100 tons of meat and 50 tons of fresh vegetables. Local dairies kept them in fresh milk too.

Harry Hanks, an 18-year-old stores assistant at the time, recalls: 'The invasion fleet was so tightly packed we could practically walk across to the Isle of Wight on dry land. We used to go alongside each boat and tap on the hull, calling out "any bread today?" or "any milk?".'

The yard was also involved in victualling operations for the Falklands conflict in 1982, when it would ship supplies to RAF Brize Norton to be flown to the frontline.

>>> The exhibition on Gosport High Street is open from 9.30am to 7pm, Monday to Friday, and 9am to 4.30pm Saturday. For further information, call (0845) 603 5631.