Portsmouth Historic Dockyard reopens with new £1.4m exhibition on HMS Victory with thousands of bookings over the next month

VISITORS have been welcomed back at the reopened Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which has seen more than £1 million spent on new attractions.

By Richard Lemmer
Monday, 17th May 2021, 6:29 pm

The tourist site has reopened for the first time in five months with a new £1.4 million exhibition on the history of HMS Victory.

It sees previously hidden artworks going on display and new interactive features to engage visitors in the warship’s 300-year-old story.

And the exhibition – which has dedicated its upper floor to a gallery of ship’s figureheads and Nelson’s funeral barge - has the ‘wow-factor’ according to some of its first visitors.

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Visitors to HMS Victory on opening day at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Picture: Mike Cooter (170521)

Monica Vargiu, a PhD student in civil engineering at the University of Portsmouth, said: ‘When I first saw it, I thought “wow”. It’s better than I expected.’

The Italian student, who plans to return home in June, said: ‘I’m so glad I was able to visit.’

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Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has lost more than 80 per cent of its revenue during the Covid-19 pandemic, but now museum heads predict that the next 12 months will be ‘a great year’, according to Matthew Sheldon, director of museum operations for the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Matthew Sheldon, director of museum of operations at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, at the Victory Gallery on opening day at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Picture: Mike Cooter (170521)

He said: ‘We have a big next exhibition for us telling the long story of HMS Victory.

‘There’s a fascinating history of both her in the navy and her in this city, in Portsmouth, that we tell here.

‘One of the pleasures has been showing people around and showing them things they had never seen, when they thought they knew the history of the city.’

‘It’s really exciting – it’s the conversations people have, it’s the buzz – it’s why we do what we do.

Kevin Kelly (68) and Linda Kelly (65) wait to board HMS Victory on opening day at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Picture: Mike Cooter (170521)

‘There’s never been a better time to come – there’s never been more to see.

Now the site hopes to make the most of increasing demand for domestic holidays in the face of uncertainty over travel abroad.

Matthew added: ‘The next three months are key. It’s a great year with more staycations meaning people are coming to the city, coming to the region. I really think it’s going to be a great year.’

‘What’s really important is to book in advance.’

Monica Vargiu from Italy visiting the Victory Gallery on its opening day at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Picture: Mike Cooter (170521)

The heritage attractions are already drawing people from across the country.

Linda and Kevin Kelly from Ebbw Vale in South Wales opted to visit the city and its sites for a ‘little staycation break’ – and their visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has been a highlight.

Kevin said: ‘It’s been absolutely great. And it’s nice to get out and about.’

Thousands of guests have booked to visit Portsmouth Historic Dockyard over the coming three weeks, according to Dominic Jones, CEO of the Mary Rose Trust, which preserves the Tudor warship also on display at the site.

The trust leader said: ‘The forecast of sales is good. We have taken thousands of bookings (for) the next three weeks. We get £2.4 million a year from paying visitors – it costs £2.4 million a year to keep the ship and artefacts safe.’

With ticket sales making up 84 per cent of the revenue for the trust, last year the combined attractions at the Dockyard launched a new Ultimate Explorer visitor ticket, allowing unlimited visits to the site within a 12-month period.

Dominic said: ‘It’s now our most popular ticket.’

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