The Mary Rose Trust is situated in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and Naval Base, a place full of history and associated with many world firsts and notable people.
For example in 1495 the first ever dry dock was built and in 1906 Dreadnought was launched, the first steam-turbine powered battleship. Some of the buildings we occupy are listed and have had an interesting history of their own before we got our hands on them.
Portsmouth is a natural harbour and easily defended and has been some kind of port since Saxon times. It was during the 13th Century that it was first developed as a dockyard but came to prominence for ship building and as a royal dockyard during Henry VIII’s reign. By 1814 it was the world’s largest industrial complex but unfortunately during the 21stCentury its importance in the shipbuilding industry has declined.
This building is located against the Dockyard wall in College Road, the original construction dates from 1807 and was then used as a guard house but in 1909 this was incorporated into a new building giving us what we see today. The windows facing south onto Queen Street were also inserted at this time. From 1951 the building served as Police quarters, then in 1986 we took occupation and now use it for our main offices.
This building is located to the rear of 1/10 and is Grade 2 listed as it was constructed in 1754.
It began life as the original Pay Office and was extended in 1808 with a fire-proof building containing a brick built vaulted ceiling, supported on iron columns. It is probably the earliest example of such a building in a naval dockyard and also contained a strong room and safe, which is still present. Charles Dickens’s father, John Dickens, worked here as a clerk from 1805-1814 before moving with his family to London in 1815.
It was originally a two storey building but the upper floor was destroyed by bombing, however the fireproofing stopped the fire spreading downwards. The Mary Rose Trust currently uses this building as archaeological workshops and for the storage of artefacts. It was also where the mounts for the thousands of artefacts in the Mary Rose Museum were made and tested.
The Block Mills
This building lies within the Naval Base itself but can be glimpsed from the rear of the new museum across the adjacent dock. Constructed between 1802 and 1807 it is Scheduled Ancient Monument No 395. One of the most historically important buildings in Portsmouth Naval Base, it is the site of the world’s first mechanized, mass production process using Marc Brunel’s famous steam powered, block-making machines. It was at the leading edge of the industrial revolution and by 1808 there were 45 machines making over 130,000 pulley blocks a year, making it one of the most important industrial buildings in this country.
The blocks were used for controlling ships rigging and ropes on gun carriages. Marc Brunel’s famous son Isambard Kingdom was born in Portsmouth and went on to be a great engineer in his own right. Work here ceased in the 1960’s and the building is now awaiting development. The Mary Rose Trust occupies part of the underground tunnel system to store timbers that are awaiting conservation; this system of tunnels would have originally been for providing water for the steam engines.
Chain Test House
This building is within the Naval Base itself, accessed through Lion Gate under the Semaphore Tower but can been seen from the jetty of HMS Warrior.
Built around 1905 it was used for testing anchors, cables, chains, rope, and wires. The floor is made up of hundreds of iron blocks which were once ballast, probably from the ships of the Georgian Navy. During the 1960’s an anchor for HMS Victorious was being tested, a 1930’s aircraft carrier which saw service in WW2.The anchor broke and as they were unable to remove it, it still sits within the building next to our preservation tanks.
No 3 Dry Dock (New Museum)
This Grade 1 listed dock was completed in 1803 and is Scheduled Ancient Monument SM397.
It was the first dry dock to be built using the inverted stone arch principle pioneered by Samuel Bentham, Inspector General of Naval Works. Since October 1982 No 3 Dock has contained the remains of the hull of the Mary Rose. From 1982 until 2010 she was inside a specially constructed aluminium and insulated fabric structure to protect her from the elements and enable us to carry out the preservation work.
In 2010 work began on building the new museum which you see today and which was opened to the public on 31st May 2013.
Researched and written by Wendy Pyatt, Front of House Team Member and member of the Mary Rose Digital Content Team