Henry V preferred
Southampton as a port and the real growth of Portsmouth as a naval base
began in the reign of Henry VII. Five years ago, we celebrated the 500th
anniversary of the building of what was claimed to be the worlds first
dry-dock at Portsmouth. There may of course be other claims! - but we
know that Henry VII ordered a dry-dock to be constructed of timber
somewhere around the present site of HMS VICTORY. The dock had an inner
and outer gate, and water was pumped out by an engine with a number of
ironbound buckets. One year later in 1496 the “SOVEREIGNE” was docked on
25th May. The docking operation took a full day and night of non-stop
work by 140 men.
Henry VIII, more than any other, is entitled to be regarded as the
founder of the Royal Navy. He added at least 85 ships and made
Portsmouth its chief centre. His flagship, the MARY ROSE, was laid down
in Portsmouth in 1509. Two years later Portsmouth was officially
appointed as a building centre for the king’s ships and much work
followed due to the fear of invasion.
. In 1563, the plague hit Portsmouth and 250 people died, robbing the
yard of skilled men and driving away shipping to safer ports. The great
Tudor naval enterprises were followed by a century of stagnation until
wars against the Dutch provided new work and the dockyard was
considerably enlarged. In 1656, under Cromwell, a double dock was built
which was to last until the extension of the great basin in 1801. The
navy continued to prosper under Charles II and James II. Eight acres
were added to the dockyard to provide for a rope house nearly 400ft
long. The mast pond was also constructed, together with a mast house
near the main gate (now called Victory gate), part of which remained
until destroyed by fire during the 1939-1945 war. Sir Bernard de Gomme
fortified the dockyard with earthworks and a moat which were constructed
by Dutch prisoners of war.
To give some idea of numbers, in 1674 the Navy Board ordered the
dockyard workforce to be reduced to 218 men, including 120 shipwrights,
20 caulkers and one team of horses.