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Published: December 20, 2023

Remember how Portsmouth Historic Dockyard used to look? You’d be amazed by how much has changed!

If you grew up in Hampshire, it’s more than likely that you have fond memories of visiting Portsmouth Historic Dockyard as a child. From historic moments like the raising of the Mary Rose from the seabed or HMS Warrior sailing into dock to school trips and visits with the grandparents, it was a fundamental part of growing up for a lot of us.  

If the last time you visited Portsmouth Historic Dockyard you remember the Mary Rose being sprayed with “water” then you are long overdue a return visit. With immersive new experiences, incredible attractions, and more to see and do than ever before you’d be amazed at how much has changed.   

Now is the perfect time to revisit those childhood memories and make some new ones! From now until 11 February 2024 we’re offering an incredible 30% off our Ultimate Explorer Tickets for local residents living in a PO or SO postcode. What’s more, each ticket lasts a whole year, so you’ll have plenty of time to explore everything we have to offer. Find out more about our local resident offer or continue reading to see how Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has evolved over the years.   

The Mary Rose – Then and Now

This is the classic memory of the Mary Rose for many, only to be seen through a watery mist*. While the old ship hall was impressive, the necessity of the sprays meant that it was almost impossible to get a complete look at the ship. It was also incredibly loud in there due to the machinery used in the preservation process.  

However, back in the day this was cutting-edge science as conservation of this scale had never been done before in the UK. Despite the noise and the mist, seeing the Mary Rose at this time was still an impressive sight.    

*Fun fact: The Mary Rose was actually only sprayed with water for a short period of her overall conservation time. It’s far more likely that what people remember being water was actually a wax-like substance called Polyethylene glycol 

 Polyethylene Glycol or PEG. If that sounds familiar it is also used to treat constipation in humans.  

Nowadays the old ship hall has been completely transformed. Gone are the industrial sprays and tiny cut-out windows. Now there are huge glass walls that let you see the Mary Rose in spectacular detail. What’s more she sits at the centre of a dedicated museum, housing approximately 19,000 Tudor artefacts that were onboard when she sunk.  

The innovation doesn’t stop with preservation though. With new, immersive, storytelling and technology there’s so much to discover about the Mary Rose. If you remember the day she returned to the surface (11 October 1982) than you’ll love Dive the Mary Rose 4D. This 4D theatre experience takes you below to the water and back in time. Follow the original divers who discovered her and see the world’s largest underwater excavation happen before your very eyes.  

HMS VICTORY – Then and Now

HMS Victory has been at the heart of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for hundreds of years. Flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Victory is a symbol of the United Kingdom’s naval prowess and an incredibly popular spot for school trips.  

As expected for a ship of her age, there has been an ongoing fight to preserve HMS Victory for future generations – the very first dating back to the ‘Save the Victory’ campaign of 1921. The picture above is of the removal of her bowsprit in 1982 as part of preservation work at the time.  

Family reading display boards inside the Victory Live exhibition at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Right now, HMS Victory is undergoing her most ambitious restoration project to date with Victory Live: The Big Rebuild. However, rather than keep people away, we’re inviting visitors in to watch conservation in action! Encased in protective scaffolding, which you can walk up, Victory Live is an awesome blend of traditional shipwrighting techniques and modern-day science.  

Not only are you able to see Victory in a completely new way, up in the scaffolds as the experts work to protect her, but visitors can also go down into the drydock housing HMS Victory . Looking up at HMS Victory from the bottom of the drydock is almost dizzying, as the true scale of her size towers above you.  

Family reading display boards inside the Victory Live exhibition at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

The National Museum of the Royal Navy – Then and Now

Another trusty school visit stop – perhaps you also remember being absolutely terrified of the dummies in the old Trafalgar Experience? The National Museum of the Royal Navy was a classic museum, with galleries dedicated to the life of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson, HMS Victory, and the sailing navy.  

What we love about this picture is that, unlike the rest of these entries, very little has changed on the outside of the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Visiting today, the Grade 1 listed storehouse looks pretty much the same now as it did when it was built in 1763. However, like all things, it’s what’s inside that counts. 

Worlds beneath the waves exhibition at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Discover the innovative technology transforming how we explore history and science with Worlds Beneath the Waves. Create never seen before sea creatures using AI technology or shape the ocean floor with your hands using augmented reality. Remember ‘Boaty McBoatface’? Well, you can see the real thing, as well as all the other interesting, awe-inspiring, or just plain fascinating items within this temporary exhibit.  

To find Worlds Beneath the Waves just head through the Hear My Story Gallery, another relatively new addition to the National Museum of the Royal Navy. This gallery covers the lives and experiences of the ordinary men and women who make up the Royal Navy, putting them at the centre of the story.  

Worlds beneath the waves exhibition at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

HMS Warrior (1860) – Then and Now

Another big day was when HMS Warrior arrived at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on 16 June 1987. Maybe you were one of the thousands of people who cheered her arrival? Perhaps you were lucky enough to be on one of the small boats that joined her on the water? Or were one of the first to climb aboard when she opened as a museum in July of that year?  

After extensive restoration work in Hartlepool, HMS Warrior’s arrival in Portsmouth was seen as a fresh start for the ship and an opportunity to create a permanent home for her.  

Georgian costume interpreters walk along the top deck of HMS Warrior

HMS Warrior has become such an icon of the Portsmouth waterfront it’s difficult for many residents to remember a time when she wasn’t there to greet visitors to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. For many local residents the transformation of her masts into a towering Christmas Tree truly marks the countdown to Christmas! As you get off the train or bus at Portsmouth Harbour, HMS Warrior’s lights it’s almost impossible not to feel a little bit festive at the sight of them twinkling up into the night sky.  

Further restorations have seen her returned fully to her Victorian heyday, just as she would have been during Queen Victoria’s reign. Beyond her looks is the fantastic work put in by our ‘Dockyard Alive’ team of costumed interpreters, who bring her to life every day.  

Georgian costume interpreters walk along the top deck of HMS Warrior

Boathouse 4 – Then and Now

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has a proud tradition of boatbuilding, with Boathouse 4 being part of this history. In the 1970s, this building would have been one of the first things you saw when entering the Dockyard (as HMS Warrior was still in Hartlepool).  

This enormous building, the last boathouse built for the Royal Navy, was where the X4 midget submarines were built during the Second World War. We bet there are still quite a few people who have memories of working here in the local area.  

Georgian costume interpreters walk along the top deck of HMS Warrior

When you visit now Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, you’ll be greeted by HMS Warrior against the backdrop of Boathouse 4. Housed inside are many historic small craft, including a Steam Pinnace 199 which is owned by the National Museum of the Royal Navy and maintained by volunteers of Group 199.  

Another new addition to the fantastic collection inside Boathouse 4 is the Waterbus Jetty. Ultimate Explorer Ticket holders can enjoy a guided trip around the harbour by boat. It’s a great opportunity to see some of the Royal Navy ships, or some of our international visitors up close.  

Georgian costume interpreters walk along the top deck of HMS Warrior

That’s just some of the things that have changed in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard over the years. We hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Be sure to share your favourite pictures and memories over on our Facebook and Instagram.  

Don’t forget that local residents can enjoy 30% off our Ultimate Explorer Tickets as long as they have a PO or SO postcode. You can find the full terms and conditions, booking portal, and more on our Local Resident’s Offer page.