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UK Tourist & Leisure Attractions - Portsmouth

Belinda and Mike - follow our tourist travels in the UK

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and Victorian Festival of Christmas

We needed to wrap up warmly for our chilly winter 2008 trip to step back in time and celebrate Christmas Victorian style at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in Hampshire.  The visit also gave us an opportunity to climb aboard Lord Nelson's Flagship, HMS Victory, plus HMS Warrior as well as view the preserved Mary Rose.

HMS Victory in dry dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's Flagship HMS Victory was launched in 1765 and is now a visitor attraction preserved in dry dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, part of the sprawling naval base there.

Some of HMS Victory's big guns on the middle gun deck
Here on HMS Victory's cramped middle gun deck there were plenty of big guns to heave to.  The warship's crew comprised over 800 men all living, eating and sleeping on the gun decks.

The complicated looking rigging on HMS Victory, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
On the upper deck we looked up at Victory's amazing rigging.  We figured the sailors had a few choice words when they got the ropes in a twist - like 'frigging rigging' perhaps?  Later, we viewed Victory's by now rather tatty fore topsail, displayed at Trafalgar Sail.

HMS Victory's wheel under the poop deck
HMS Victory's steering wheel is located under the poop deck and operated the rudder via a system of ropes.  There was no power steering in the olden days so it needed up to eight strong men to steer Victory in rough seas.  Heave to!

How the other half live - the great cabin on HMS Victory
The great cabin looked very spacious and plush and it was here Admiral Nelson hatched his famous battle plan for the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, a defining moment in history indeed.  Back on Victory's...

The spot on Victory's quarter deck where Nelson fell during the Battle of Trafalgar
...quarter deck the lady here was pondering over the brass plaque marking the spot where Nelson fell during the Battle of Trafalgar when he was mortally wounded by a French sharpshooter aboard 'Redoutable'.

HMS Victory's Galley, mind that mouse!
It didn't look like there was room to swing a cat in HMS Victory's Galley.  In any case it should be chasing the mouse on the left!  The sailors got a tot of Rum each day - the 'splicing the main brace' (or should that be 'all heave too' if they got too much in rough seas!).

Outside view of HMS Victory's guns, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Hmmm, just look at those three levels of guns!  HMS Victory certainly meant business in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar.  Admiral Lord Nelson was Britain's greatest Naval hero, despite losing an arm and the sight of one eye in previous battles.  What a hero!

HMS Victory's stern
Mike paused for a pic at the stern end of HMS Victory as we headed over to the Royal Naval Museum at the majestic Portsmouth dockyard.  Then it was...

How do's, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson in the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth
...Belinda's turn to pose as she shook Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson's hand in the fascinating Royal Naval Museum.  Next we moved on to...

Victorian Festival of Christmas: Fort Cumberland Guard
...the wonderful Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and enjoyed the Fort Cumberland Guard who also performed a noisy musket firing at the Warrior slipway.  Clearly a lot of planning and effort had gone into the festival.

In character at Portsmouth's Victorian Christmas Festival at the Historic Dockyard
The festival had many Victorian characters dressed the part in their period costumes.

A powered bath chair at Victorian Christmas Festival
We think this must be a Victorian inventor trying out his powered bath chair.  It'll never catch on mate!

A very grubby chimney sweep at the Victorian Festival of Christmas
Now, this grubby chap was the chimney sweep who's job it was to climb up peoples' chimneys and clean all the soot out.  No health and safety worries in Victorian times then!  But at least he had 'green' transport even if the chimneys he serviced were far from green!

Victorian policeman at Portsmouth's Christmas festival
Oo-er - watch out Mike, this Victorian policeman might press gang you into serving in the Navy!  Hang on... it's OK, he's after that scoundrel Fagin.

Mrs Lovett's Pies at the Victorian Christmas Festival
Another bit of 'street theatre' we came across at Portsmouth's Victorian Festival of Christmas was the enchanting Mrs Lovett's Pies performance.

Victorian Christmas Festival: Chim-chimmany - chimney sweep apprentices
These Victorian urchins at the Christmas Festival must have been the chimney sweep's apprentices, seen here performing their energetic dance routine to Chim-chimmany at the dockyard.

More Victorian characters at the Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth
The Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard sure was enthralling; here's some of the characters mingling among the visitors and just going about everyday Victorian business.

The Mary Rose at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Now the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's favourite warship from the early 1500s.  It was undergoing an 'active conservation process' to prevent it disintegrating, and annoyingly we were being constantly herded forward by a jobsworth as soon as we entered the museum!

Inside Portsmouth's Mary Rose Museum
The Mary Rose Museum gave us an alluring insight into Navy warfare during the 14th century and contained many recovered military artefacts from the warship.  Here we looked at a heavy gun used on the ship, which carried both cast bronze guns as well as older wrought iron guns.  There were also live 'hands on' exhibits and educational demonstrations in this wondrous museum at the Historic Dockyard.

HMS Warrior & the Spinnaker Tower at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
HMS Warrior of 1860 was the world's largest and most heavily armed warship of her time and was our final visit at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.  To the left is Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower.

Portsmouth: below decks onboard HMS Warrior
Down below decks things seemed much more spacious since Nelson's day, despite the guns being larger.  HMS Warrior was constructed of wrought iron and was steam powered as well as sail.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard: HMS Warrior Wheelhouse
The Wheelhouse was also larger and had four wheels, requiring eight sailors to heave to.  One thought - how did they see which way to steer Warrior with the wheel below decks?  Erm, back to the drawing board lads, we didn't think of that one!

Admiral's quarters within HMS Warrior at Portsmouth
Like on Victory, the Admiral's quarters were rather luxurious on HMS Warrior compared to what the sailors had to endure.  They ate, slept and worked around the guns.  HMS Warrior never fired a gun in anger, but helped to keep the peace.

Searchlights sweep across the mast on HMS Warrior's deck
As we returned to HMS Warrior's deck with the weak November daylight fading fast, we caught the moment the colourful searchlights flashed across the mast.
Most of our Portsmouth Historic Dockyard photos were taken with our new digital camera which we've reviewed.


Even if the marvellous Victorian Festival of Christmas was excluded we found plenty to see and do at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in Hampshire; in fact we didn't even get to see half of it.

Visiting Nelson's Flagship HMS Victory provided a fascinating insight into Navy life during the early 19th century, and it was interesting to compare the changes by 1860 on HMS Warrior.  The Mary Rose was intriguing to observe too, even if it was behind a mist of preserving spray!

See our UK tourist resources for related websites and further information on Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the warships, and the Victorian Festival of Christmas.

Oh, we've also been across the Solent to visit Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.


Other visits of interest: Chatham Historic Dockyard, HMS Belfast and Bovington Tank Museum.