Ian Burrell on Portsmouth hometown: Scuttling of 800-year-old institution is shameful

Most locals knew someone who worked there. Ian Burrell recalls growing up close to the dockyard

I can remember it now, the moment of “out muster”, when the sound of the dockyard siren went up to signal the end of the day and a mass of men swarmed through the Unicorn Gate, all pedalling like fury.

The bicycles filled the entire street in a vast peloton the likes of which the Tour de France will never see. Other traffic users and onlookers – such as Seventies schoolboys like me, transfixed on the upper deck of the bus – stopped everything to witness the spectacle. The news that  Portsmouth Dockyard will no longer build warships is hard to comprehend for anyone with an association to the city. Such has been its importance that almost everyone in Pompey knows someone who worked in the yard.

It has been there since  Richard Coeur de Lion ordered the first “doc” in 1194.  Warships have been launched into the great natural harbour since at least 1497. In 1509, the yard built the Mary Rose. That vessel survives there today. But six months after opening a state-of-the-art building to house the Tudor warship, we have this news.

Portsmouth Dockyard feels increasingly like a museum attraction, albeit a magnificent one that showcases great ships such as HMS Victory and the ironclad HMS Warrior. The Ministry of Defence soothed yesterday that Portsmouth would “retain its proud  maritime heritage”. But  without shipbuilding it won’t be the same.

This was where Samuel Bentham, the brother of the  philosopher Jeremy, and Marc Brunel, the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, built the Great Basin and devised the block mills for rigging which pioneered the use of mass-production techniques in  British manufacturing. Among their contemporaries was Portsmouth Dockyard clerk John Dickens, the father of the novelist Charles. Together they helped to build the navy which held off Napoleon.

The 500 years of making warships have come at human cost – not least in 1825, when the 110-gun Princess Charlotte went down the slip before vast crowds and royal guests.  Tragedy struck when the dock gates burst and a huge wave swept scores of spectators to their deaths.

From the seaside railings by Southsea Common I watched the Invincible and Hermes lead the Task Force towards the Falklands in 1982 and I’m looking forward to seeing the two new aircraft carriers – the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales – moored in Portsmouth when they’re built.

David Cameron has inflicted more damage on an 800-year-old British institution than “Jack the Painter”, who tried to burn the place down in 1776. Jack the Painter was hung  64 feet from the mizzenmast of the Arethusa, erected at the dockyard gates.

* Shipyards jobs axe: an Independent Scotland 'could lose key Royal Navy contracts'  

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe
art
Sport
Robin van Persie leaves the field at the King Power Stadium last Sunday
football
Arts and Entertainment
tvPresenter back after daughter's Halloween accident
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

News
people

London 'needs affordable housing'

News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
Timeshift: The Ladybird Books Story (9pm BBC4 Sun 22 Dec)
BooksLadybird drops branding books for boys and girls
Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
Life and Style
tech
News
peopleIan Thorpe addresses Ricky Martin rumours
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines