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Thursday, 7 November 2013

It’s all history now - Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Doubtless, Nelson is turning in his grave, along with many other great naval men, as a result of the craven decision to effectively close down all shipbuilding in Portsmouth, England. For the information of any global readers, I’ll paraphrase the news. Defence giant BAE Systems announced it was cutting 1,775 jobs. That’s 1,110 from Portsmouth will be laid off; another 835 jobs will be lost at yards in Goven and Scotstoun on the Clyde in Glasgow, at Rosyth in Fife and at the firm’s Filton office near Bristol. BAE bosses apparently told the Portsmouth workers that they could apply for voluntary redundancy, retrain or be redeployed to Govan – this last seems most odd, since Govan is taking a personnel cut as well. Needless to say, those directly affected, and indeed most observers and pundits smell a rat, and it isn’t a rum rat. Though it may be a rum do.

I’ve got every sympathy for anyone made redundant. It happened to me three times in the 1990s. Indeed, there may be sound commercial reasons for reducing the workforce at BAE Systems, to make it leaner – though some commentators have been heard to wonder how lean their fat cats are on the weighing machine… BAE’s proposed tie-up with European aerospace giant EADS collapsed in October 2012, so BAE has had to refocus outside UK. Their negotiations with Saudi Arabia are not going anywhere fast either, apparently. So, because the highly paid individuals who drive desks and posh cars can’t get their ducks in a row, the chop has to descend on the grafters. Usual story. The writing’s been on the wall for some time – but, hey, no problem, let’s break it to them gently, just before Christmas.

One redundancy I suffered, I returned from the Christmas break to be told I was no longer required, they were cutting back staff. They’d known I was destined to go before the holiday, but decided not to spoil my Christmas. That was good of them, in retrospect.

The elephant in the room, of course, regarding this latest decision is the imminent referendum next year – will Scotland vote to stay in the UK or vote to leave. (Nobody has given the English the opportunity to vote, which seems most odd, too). Most suspect that retaining the shipbuilding capacity in Scotland was a sop to the Scots. We’ll see.

Painting of Mary Rose by Geoff Hunt
It’s the 210th anniversary of Trafalgar in 2015. What dismal celebrations they will be – as compared with the Trafalgar 200 commemoration. Then there was weekly family-based entertainment, including a giant jigsaw based on Admiral Lord Nelson; knot demonstrations; shanty singing; circus performers; eccentric street theatre such as Monkey Madness and Morris Men riding Harley Davidsons! (Maybe not much singing now…) Other highlights at the time included Victorian Navy Days on board HMS Warrior with gun drills, guards of honour, piping party, idlers and Victorian messing all authentically re-created. 

The dockyard will still offer maintenance to Royal Navy vessels, and stores and equipment replenishment will occur, as before. The feeling is that the place will be a shadow of its former self, though there are promises of £100m investment to extend the dockyard for its expanded ship servicing role. Whether that happens or not, another slice of Great Britain has been whittled away, probably for political expediency.
Even so, there’s plenty of history still to enjoy in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard – Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, HMS Victory – the oldest commissioned ship, HMS Warrior, and the Royal Naval Museum. Housed in the RN Museum is a forty-two feet long panorama painted in 1930 by famous maritime artist W L Wyllie: Panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar. It’s free to enter Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and visit the shops, art gallery, cafes and restaurants. Tickets are only required to visit the attractions.
HMS Warrior

There’s also the Trafalgar Sail – the largest, single artefact from the Battle of Trafalgar, the ninety cannon-ball holes that pock mark the sail pay chilling testimony to the ferocity of the battle on the day. Many a British ship was bloody but unbowed at the end; Portsmouth suffered its own blitz in WWII and has fought back before; I hope it will do so again, and not be consigned to history.


The national archives have listed all the British sailors who served in the British fleet during the battle; you can find out here -

The historic dockyard website:

HMS Victory, Portsmouth
HMS Victory website:

A list of Mortons who served in Trafalgar - from National Archives         

Age at Trafalgar
Born at
Ship at Trafalgar
Joined from
John Morton (Moreton)
Private, Marine
HMS Bellerophon
Plymouth HQ
John Morton
London, mother Margaret)
Ordinary Seaman
HMS Defiance
HMS Indefatigable
John Morton
North Shields, Northumberland
HMS Temeraire
Thomas Morton
Private, Marine
HMS Temeraire
HMS Goliath
William Morton
Fleatham, Northumberland
Able Seaman
HMS Victory (Post Trafalgar, joined HMS Ocean and deserted 1806 at Gravesend)
HMS Penelope

Interesting that at least two came from Northumberland, which was my home county (until the politicians messed up the boundaries some years back).

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