FROM Portsmouth sailed the ships that maintained the Pax Britannica across the oceans. Here, unquestionably, is the world’s greatest naval dockyard and the world’s finest historic fighting ships: Nelson’s famous flagship HMS Victory; HMS Warrior, the first ironclad steam powered battleship; and, of course, the remains of Henry VIII’s great warship, the Mary Rose.
Surrounding these are a
matching collection of naval buildings — not only the naval dockyard and adjoining gun wharf, but the arsenal at Priddy’s Hard across the water, the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard and the great Haslar Hospital at Gosport.
For too many years these treasures have languished for lack of funds to exhibit them, promote them and even properly look after them. Now, suddenly, the prospects for Portsmouth Harbour have changed dramatically with the offer of £40 million from the Millennium Commission.
The Commission’s money is intended to galvanise Ports-mouth with new projects: there will be dramatic cross harbour fountains and laser-lit water arcs; a network of waterbus services; and five kilometres of public prom-enade along the water’s edge. Topping it all will be a new 165-metre high observation tower, which is to be the subject of a major architec-tural competition. If all these projects can be made to work on a long-term basis, Ports-mouth Harbour will be a sensational attraction.
The heart of it all, though, lies in the historic sites and it is vital that these receive a boost on the same scale. This means proper funding for the proposed new arsenal museum at Priddy’s Hard, the sub-marine museum at Gosport and the Royal Museum in the dockyard.
Proper thought must also be given to long-term funding of the ships. HMS Victory is maintained as a national monument at public expense, but for other historic ships there is no nautical equivalent of English Heritage to help with repairs. HMS Warrior was saved and restored by the generosity and vision of one man, Sir John Smith, yet although 275,000 people visited her in the first 11 months of 1995 it is still a desperate struggle to find funds to keep her shipshape. I know, because I am a trustee.
If Portsmouth Harbour, more at this link, is to enjoy the glorious future mapped out for it, then this will depend not just on money but on sound planning policies, including the demolition of the high-rise housing which currently looms over the water.
As naval sites around the harbour become vacant and are offered for sale, strong emphasis must be placed on nourishing their historic character — breathing life sensitively into the old buildings and imaginatively landscaping open spaces. New development must be of the highest architectural quality.
Portsmouth must also do more for the creature comforts of its huge numbers of visitors. Portsmouth desperately needs comfortable, stylish hotels in converted historic buildings. If you want to see this beautiful place please check this hotel comparison website.
An apt model might be the splendid Admiral Hotel in Copenhagen, converted from a huge 18th century granary once bombarded by Nelson, more interesting information from Europe at www.europe-cities.com. With well over £100 million in public investment, Ports-mouth Harbour must be worth more than a day trip.