i don’t tend to use this blog as a forum to make political comment, but i will admit that this post has been indirectly inspired by the news that hms ark royal, the current royal navy flagship, is to be decommissioned. i saw the ark royal fairly up close a few weeks ago when on a visit to the historic dockyard in portsmouth, alongside a number of other navy vessels, and was struck by a) the size of the thing and b) just how many war ships there are, sat, floating on our coast. as a namby pamby liberal i’ll admit to being surprised at the level of military presence, though this naval force is apparently there as a deterrent, as the british navy always has been. i’m not massively convinced either way on this argument.
however, i’m not here to do a doom and gloom post on the spending review. whilst in portsmouth i was lucky enough to be taken on a trip to see hms warrior 1860 and hms victory. here are two ships which are massive parts of british history, and the historian in me was doing loop-de-loops about seeing them.
hms warrior was the world’s first iron hulled warship, and acted as the ultimate floating deterrent. warrior famously never fired a single shot, despite the massive amounts of armaments on the ship. the boat carried 40 cannons, which are more than a little unnerving to be around, even if the majority of those on the main deck are fibreglass replacements.
wandering round the ship you are immersed in the life of a nineteenth century warship and that of the sailors therein. the scale of the warrior is possibly the most impressive thing, and as you climb down the decks, you realise just how much of this boat there is. it is only on seeing it again from the outside you can begin to put things into context, realising how much time you have just spent under water.
comparing the experience of seeing hms warrior up close, and indeed from the inside, with that of visiting the merseyside maritime museum in liverpool brings up some interesting parallels. at the maritime museum i had been stuck by the number of ‘disaster tourists’ who were there to learn of the titanic and the u-boat attacks of the second world war. i guess part of the difference is visiting the museum to see fragments of what is left, as opposed to a heritage site like the historic dockyard, where the life of the ships is being celebrate, alongside the obvious shadow of british engineering prowess.
celebration is certainly the correct term with which to consider hms victory. victory is probably the most famous warship ever built, and it is a bloody impressive sight. [nb - unfortunately the interior of the ship is off-limits to amateur photographers, so i've only got the one image of victory] the story of victory is surely quite well-known. battle of trafalgar, nelson inspiring his men to victory before getting hit whilst on deck, then dying below just after victory was assured.
wandering around the ship it is hard to believe that this vessel was built in the early eighteenth century, and is still in such good shape now. victory is now stationed in a dry dock at portsmouth, but the scale and grandeur of the ship is still impressive. the decadence of certain areas of the ship are a stark contrast to the coal rooms where the cannon shots were prepared, and the massive food stores in the hull. however, it is obviously the lord nelson related elements of the tour which prick up ears the most. x marks the spot on the quarter deck where the french musket entered nelson’s shoulder and proceeded to lodge itself in his spine. below deck the tour halts at the spot where a british hero died, which is actually quite a surreal experience. here one of the most famous names in history gave up all hope of life, and now 200 years later you can stop and wonder how much he was bleeding or what it smelt like.
i really would suggest visiting these two ships should you ever be in portsmouth. the one disappointment of the day was that the new mary rose museum is still not finished, though then again i now have a reason to definitely return. speaking of returns, i promise that the next post on here will be a return to manchester, the city that inspires me on a daily basis.