1914 Guide for Visitors to the Dockyard

The following text is extracted from 'A pictorial and descriptive guide to Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport with excursions by river, road and sea' [1]
Ed. 5, rev. Published 1914 by Ward Lock & Co Ltd. London.

.... At the western end of Fore Street is the main entrance to

The Dockyard.

Admission. Visitors are shown over the Dockyard between 10 a.m. and 12, and from 2 to 4 p.m. On Saturdays the hours are from 10 a.m. to 12 only. A policeman acts as conductor. British subjects readily gain admission (the same may be said of most of the other Government establishments) without other formality than that of knocking at the door and asking permission.

The visitor to Devonport is chiefly concerned with the Dockyard, and as a rule makes his way directly thither by tram from Plymouth.

As has been stated, the Dockyard was founded by William III. in 1691, on a spot known as Point Froward, where a little inlet became the first basin, and its upper end the first dock. The area then enclosed was not more than five acres, and this was soon found too small.

Extensions were made in 1728, and again in 1768 ; indeed the work of enlargement has scarcely ever ceased, new land being purchased at one time, the sea being robbed at another. The area of the Yard and of Keyham Factory (to give the place its old name) is now about 100 acres, all closely covered with shops, rope- walks, smitheries, stores, docks, and building-slips.

On beginning a tour of the Dockyard in charge of a well-informed member of the police force, every visitor is struck by the quiet and orderliness pervading the entrance to these hives of industry, where about 4,000 workmen are engaged. The avenue of trees and the Dockyard Chapel just inside the main entrance are hardly suggestive of the warlike activities beyond. The Chapel is not particularly interesting, but the adjoining Fire Engine House repays a visit. Here are kept many figure-heads of the old " wooden walls " which have long since found their way to shopbreakers' yards. The gaily-painted busts and figures which once adorned the bows of vessels which took part in many of the great battles of the past form a quaint and striking collection.

Leaving this building we soon reach the head of the steps which lead to the Dockyard, and from which a fine view is gained of the Docks and the Hamoaze. It is impossible to convey any idea of the varied activities which are to be witnessed at the dock sides and in the many workshops. The visitor should not fail to visit the large Smithery, however much the smoke and soot may drive him to the open air. Here anchors and other heavy metal work are dealt with and the great Nasmyth steam hammer may be seen. Another department of special interest is the Ropery, where practically all the ropes used in the Navy are made, for the output at the Chatham ropery, the only other Government establishment of the kind, is very small. A special order is required to enter this building, where the making of rope can be watched from the time when the flax is sorted and passed through the spinning jennies, tended by women, until it reaches the department where it is made into great ropes — all with the thin red twine, the Government trade mark, running through them.

Our guide will take us to the building-slips, where we shall probably see some mighty engine of war being put together piece by piece. Since 1897 Devonport has had a hand in the building of many modern ironclads. In March, 1902, Queen Alexandra launched the battleship Queen, and King Edward VII laid the keel plate of the battleship named after himself, which in its turn was launched in June of the following year by Queen Mary, then Princess of Wales. In our round of the Yard, we shall notice the King's Hill, where a neatly gravelled path, winding between beds gay with flowers, leads up to a sort of mound, on which is a pavilion. It is said that George III visited the spot one day, and was so pleased with the prospect that he requested that the hill might be turned to account for its present purpose. And so we have this oasis amidst the scene of activity, the pavilion being used for storing a few interesting trophies.

A tunnel over half a mile in length connects the South Dockyard with the North Yard and Factory at Keyham, and, en route, with the Gun Wharf. Thus the traffic between the establishments is conducted without passing through the public streets, and with far greater advantage of level.

The Gun Wharf,

built between 1718 and 1725, is the depot of the Ordnance stores. The designer was the famous Sir John Van brugh, the architect of Blenheim Palace, on whose grave, in St. Stephen's Church, Walbrook, London, is the witty epitaph "Lie heavy on him, Earth, for he Laid many a heavy load on thee".

An examination of the various weapons, disposed in more or less artistic designs, is not without interest.

Keyham Yard,

or the North Yard as it is officially called, is the most extensive of the kind in the world. Begun in 1844, at what was then Moon Cove (a name since changed to Keyham Point), it was opened, in defiance of seamen's omens, on Friday, October 7, 1853, when the Queen, of 116 guns, was taken in, all standing, the crew manning the yards. The Yard is connected by a branch line with the two railways that run into the town. A striking view is gained from the Yard, the teeming waters of the Hamoaze occupying the foreground, and the background being filled by Torpoint (almost a suburb of Devonport, though on the Cornish side of the estuary) and the hills of Cornwall. The original establishment contains two basins, each more than eight acres in extent, and capable of taking the largest vessels, with docks and a large engineering establishment attached.

In 1895 the Admiralty decided to carry out a scheme of extension at Keyham which had been mooted for many years. In February of the following year, Sir John Jackson, the contractor for the Manchester Ship Canal, began the most important and extensive and, needless to add, expensive dockyard works which the officials at Whitehall have designed. Hitherto the Dockyard and Factory had covered nearly 100 acres, and the extension included the utilization of a further 118 acres between the termination of Keyham Yard and the Ordnance Depot at Bull Point. The principal feature of the scheme was the provision of a large tidal basin, 10 acres in extent, and a closed basin with an area of 35 acres. The scheme also provided for three Graving Docks, the lengths of which are 660 ft., and two of 750 ft. each, and an entrance lock, which can be used as a dock, of 730 ft. in length. These docks will accommodate ships larger than any war-vessel yet constructed. Previously it was impossible for modern leviathans to be docked at Devonport, and the Admiralty undertook this scheme, at a cost of about six millions sterling, for the same reason that William III. built the first dock, because Devonport's geographical position renders it essential that there should be ample facilities here for repairing the largest, as well as the smallest, warships in case of necessity. The new Docks were formally opened by the then Prince and Princess of Wales in February, 1907. Access to these works is gained from the Keyham Yard, to which they are an adjunct, or by the gate opposite St. Levan Road.

While in the Keyham district we can see the large pile known as the

Royal Naval Engineering College,

in which for many years the engineer officers of the Royal Navy were trained. The College was closed in July, 1910, having been superseded by the newer colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth. Under the present system, all naval officers, whether destined to be engineers or to specialize in any other branch, receive their early training in common. In the neighbourhood, too, are the Royal Naval Barracks, where bluejackets live while waiting to be drafted to ships. The buildings accommodate 2,000 officers and seamen, having been recently doubled in size, at a cost of £160,000, to provide accommodation for the increasing personnel of the Navy. At the entrance to the Barracks are two interesting mementoes of warlike operations. One is a bronze muzzle-loading cannon in the form of a dragon, captured in the Burmese war of 1885; the other, in remarkable contrast, a modern Krupp gun taken by a party of seamen and marines landed from H.M.S. Aurora at the capture of the Chinese forts at Taku in 1900. Overlooking these modern institutions is the Blockhouse, a relic of the old fortifications.

[1] Document accessed November 2013 from US Archive website.

(page added November 2013)