Arming the Fleet

This major new book reveals, for the first time, the complete history of Britain’s naval ordnance yards from the early conversion of fortifications such as Upnor Castle and Portsmouth’s Square Tower, through the development of the major sites at Priddy’s Hard and Bull Point, to the underground strongholds of the Second World War.

From extensive research using a wealth of original documents, David Evans, author of the acclaimed Building the Steam Navy, traces the development of the sites, buildings, workers and policies that underpinned Britain’s armed forces for over 150 years. The author explores the vast network of depots created in response to technological improvements, through the rise and fall of innumerable bureaucracies, the changing face of war and the misfortunes caused by human fallibility.

The resulting book not only offers a unique insight into a little-known area of military infrastructure, but also provides background context of developments in ordnance and armament and includes an extensive gazetteer of surviving sites, making it an essential work for historians, academics, local history enthusiasts and military and naval aficionados.

The book came about as a result of the contraction and rationalisation of the Ministry of Defence estate after the end of the Cold War, which coincided with an appreciation by English Heritage of the need for wider public understanding of, and where appropriate the conservation of, military sites. During the past decade research has been carried out on barracks, naval dockyards, airfields and the archaeology of the Cold War, the results of much of which has been published. During a re-evaluation of the designations within the Royal Naval dockyards, and new research on the Victorian navy, it became apparent that very little was known about the naval ordnance yards, which were built for the storage and manipulation of armaments and explosives.

Research was undertaken to address this lack of knowledge, focused mainly on three principal sites: those around Upnor Castle opposite Chatham dockyard; Bull Point just to the north of Devonport dockyard, dating from the 1850s; and Priddy’s Hard in Gosport. Gosport Borough Council, assisted by Hampshire County Council, were in the vanguard in the protection of this latter site, acquiring much of it in 1989 and designating it as a conservation area the following year. English Heritage commissioned studies of the ordnance yards, which underlined the importance of Priddy’s Hard as the site that retains the best-preserved range of structures relating to the navy’s transition from the age of sail, powder and solid shot to the dreadnought era of the early 1900s, a period that encompasses Britain’s dominance as a sea power on a global scale.

This research proved to be a challenging task due to the fragmentary and dispersed nature of the documentation. However it has revealed for the first time at a national scale the high-level political and military decisions that determined the way in which these sites developed, the rich variety of technologies employed within them and their importance in an international context.

Arming the Fleet was published in November 2006 by Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower in association with English Heritage and Hampshire County Council.

  • Price £19.95 | ISBN 0-9553632-0-9
  • Paperback | 210 x 297 mm
  • 272 pages | 250 photographs, drawings and plans

For further details, or to order a copy of the book please contactthe Museum via the contact form on the website or by telephone on 02392 505600.

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