Revamped visitor experience on HMS Warrior paves way for busy summer in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Agatha Robinson, a Victorian tourist who hails from a naval family, has a look around HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Agatha Robinson, a Victorian tourist who hails from a naval family, has a look around HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Promoted by National Museum of the Royal Navy

HMS Warrior, once the pride of the Victorian Royal Navy and now a highlight at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, is set to welcome visitors onboard this half-term with a revamped visitor experience that echoes the ship’s Round-Britain tour of 1863.

History will be brought to life with a dozen new areas of the ship to explore, live acting and hands-on activities. The reimagining of Warrior is part of a much wider National Lottery Heritage Fund project onboard and this element cost almost £750,000 to complete.

Launched in 1860, this famous warship was an engineering marvel - bigger and faster than any other ship of the time. The tour in 1863 was a thank-you publicity tour from the Royal Navy to the taxpayers showcasing the ingenuity and technology behind the ship.

At a time of change for naval engineering, where ships were beginning to move away from wood to iron-hulled, it was a chance to show taxpayers how their money was being spent.

This came at a time when serving in the Royal Navy was becoming a professional career and attracted huge investment. It is estimated that between 1859–1864 £50m was spent on the Royal Navy – equivalent to £140bn in modern terms.

According to records, over 700,000 visitors boarded the ship during her 12-week tour of Britain. Andrew Baines, Deputy Director of Historic Ships of The National Museum of the Royal Navy said: ‘This reimagining of Warrior puts the people back on the ship. We meet the people, learn what they do onboard and what they thought of this technical marvel – the biggest and fastest ship of her time.

'It’s been a real challenge to get it right. Things were moving at such a pace in Victorian times, the research has had to be exact. What’s more we had to prepare certain areas, stripping back literally 150 years of paint and accumulated debris.

‘Adding the human element has been really popular, like naming each of the kit bags in the laundry with an authentic roll call of the crew. Our visitors love to see if their names match!’

Areas of the ship including the captain’s cabin, galley and cabins belonging to senior officers have been opened to the public for the first time. Each is packed with historically accurate details, from distinctively-shaped hat boxes to reading glasses, crockery and clothing - as if the inhabitants have merely stepped out for a while.

It is even possible to see the heavy diving equipment used by men to repair the hull and the first washing machines to have been included on a ship.

Visitors are welcomed on the jetty by an original piece of armoured plating, weighing almost four tons, to demonstrate just how different Warrior was to other contemporary ships. Across all four decks, they are likely to encounter costumed actors, each portraying a colourful character linked to the Round-Britain tour, from a tourist with a passion for ships, to a foul-mouthed midshipman prone to getting into trouble.

There are also opportunities for visitors of all ages to try their hand at basic sword-fighting and flag signalling - an essential means of communication at sea.

Entry to HMS Warrior is included with a ‘Full Navy Ticket’ to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which costs from £31 per adult and £18.50 per child. Family tickets are also available. Tickets offer access to the site’s 11 attractions and are valid for multiple entries throughout the year. Book online at www.historicdockyard.co.uk.