The Portsmouth Command; which side of Portsmouth's famous harbour, Gosport or Portsmouth, had the most individual naval establishments?

Be AMAZED at the end of the story?


Gosport had for a long time, been the poor cousin of the Portsmouth Command so said some, but in reality, it had punched more than its weight over the years. The years to which I allude have sadly gone now and both sides of the harbour have suffered because of severe cuts to defence budgets, year on year, governments on governments.

As should be obvious from  my title above when I have used the word 'had', that what follows is a reflection on the past, a past which saw Gosport and Fareham naval establishments  as leaders in the provision of naval support, operational and administrative, far far removed from being [at any time] the lame-duck of  the premier naval port of Portsmouth. The port and the harbour should of course be referred to as the Portsmouth and Gosport harbour and port, but it never was, and as sure as eggs are eggs, it never will be now!

The page is intended to be a "history of the 'support navy" of the Portsmouth Command, functioning to keep our ships, submarines and fleet air arm squadrons at sea, seen from an usual perspective, namely the Admiralty's and then from 1964 onwards, the  MOD[N]'s portfolio of real estate, measured in the traditional way of acres or hectares, all intended, whether small plots or large, to make sure the seagoing navy had everything possible to sustain it in battle, albeit, subservient [of course] to the wonderful and essential services provided by the ubiquitous dockyard personnel, but who, once the ship's were again seaworthy, took a back seat to become subservient to the wonderful and essential services provided by the support services.  Crews without victuals [and rum?] - guns without shells - engines without fuel were just as useless to the fleet as were crippled or defect hulls! This rather perverse way of delineating the size of a fleet support service differs hugely from the traditional use of  'long tons' used to describe the displacement of our seagoing vessels!  However, in this case,  a large acreage equates to a large displacement, both pointing to something big and important?

The following list is not a list one should refer to with dogma, especially when comparing Gosport with Portsmouth in terms of overall size, for the support Portsmouth footprint is not as large as many think whereas the Gosport/Fareham  footprint is much larger by far and transcends that of its cross-the-harbour neighbour.

So, just as an exercise of nostalgia, here are the establishment which jointly made up the Portsmouth Command under the overall command of the C-in-C Portsmouth, some still extant.

Please note! Not all my maps have been made using the same zooming level,  but irrespective of the sizes of pictures shown, the acreages are correct.

1# HM Dockyard 1 HMS Siskin *1
1# Queen Street Barracks 1 HMS Sultan *1
2 Pitt Street 2 HMS Dolphin
3 HMS Vernon 3 RNH Haslar
4 RM Barracks Eastney 4 Institute of Naval Medicine ?
5 Stamshaw 5 Gosport Naval Barracks
6 Victoria Barracks 6 RN Cemetery Clayhall
7 Duchess of Kent Barracks  7 HMS Ariel*2
8 HMS Excellent 7 HMS Daedalus*2
9 HMS Phoenix  8 RN Survival School Seafield Park
10 ASWE 9 Admiralty Fuel Experimential Establishment ?
11 Fort Southwick 10 Gilkicker Signal Station
12 HMS Temeraire 11 Torpedo Range and Jetty Stokes Bay
13 - 12 HMS Hornet
14 - 13 Clarence Victualling Yard
15 - 14 Forton Road Barracks
16 - 15 RNAD Frater
17 - 16 RNAD Priddys Hard/Bedenham
18 - 17 HMS Centurion
19 - 18 Rowner Ratings MQ's  ?
20 - 19 RNAY Fleetlands
21 - 20 HMS Collingwood

1*  = Same establishment first named Siskin and then Sultan
2*  = Same establishment first named Ariel and then Daedalus
1#  = These two areas are considered as one called the Portsmouth Naval Base, and virtually seamless divided only by the dockyard wall and a gateway through it.
Shown in Red -No longer in the MOD[N] Portfolio
? = Disposition not known

 For the "naval services" per se, you will need to visit the diverse nature of that title often, to keep up with the state of flux in and around our ever reducing navy, its sites and sea going vessels. Additionally, one cannot talk of the Royal Dockyard today except if you are referring to the footprint of the site, for within its walls are a multiplicity of functions and titles, some naval and some civilian. What was once used wholly for the navy [managed and controlled by its officers, branches and departments when we had a large navy] is now segmented and used by training establishments [medical and dental for example moved from Fort Blockhouse after it took over from the submarine service], civilian organisations [UK companies] running the naval functions on behalf of the MOD Navy [names like Babcock, Fleet Support Limited, BAE Systems Maritime].  Historic Royal Dockyard, Central Naval Museums HQ -archives and exhibits, commercial shops and restaurants, Mary Rose [now a separate entity to Historic Royal  Dockyard], purposely not mentioning HMS Victory which has been the centre piece of the yard since 1922. Overall, whilst the footprint remains, the purely naval part of yard has been  considerably reduced in the last quarter of the 20th century continuing into the first two decades of the 21st century. It is difficult to recollect that in my time [1953>] we used to be mustered on HMS Victory's [that the Queen Street Barracks today known as HMS Nelson] cavernous parade ground before buildings appeared on it, and then as a ship company, marched, ceremoniously, the length of Queen Street lead by a Royal Marines band [and sometimes a blue-jacket band as well]  in through the main dockyard gate on the Hard, through Semaphore Tower Arch to South Railway jetty, ready to board [or more correctly] to man our vessel.

When a naval dockyard and a builder of naval surface ships, the yard was run by an extremely busy [because of our large navy] admiral whose title was AS Portsmouth = Admiral Superintendent, with a huge staff of naval and civilian personnel.  I recall that he was addressed either for action of for information on every signal sent concerning the environs of Portsmouth. As the navy dwindled and with it his responsibilities, so too did his title, and through several stages of demise it has disappeared altogether today, with a senior officer controlling only the ships based on Portsmouth. I think I am right in saying that the RN has but 19 ships [2018 assessment], destroyers and frigates, with many of those Devonport based, so in terms of business, Portsmouth's role over the last thirty years has reduced dramatically, where merchant vessels using the harbour far outweigh the comings and goings of warships - very sad indeed!  Quite literally, if one stood on the round tower for a week, one would see a multiplicity of types of commercial vessels and in goodly numbers overall coming and going, with perhaps, if lucky, one warship per week!

Other reductions have been made in the Portsmouth greater areas, filling empty spaces in fleet establishments which I haven't mentioned above because they were some distance  from Portsmouth proper - these include HMS Dryad and HMS Mercury. HMS Excellent once the navy gunnery school and all things ceremonial where even the individual blades of grass stood rigidly to attention occasionally swaying to salute passing officers, was filled to the brim taking in HMS Phoenix [the fire fighting and damage control school from the outer limits of Portsmouth, and sometime later, all the senior admirals who for a lengthy period were domiciled in Northwood, Middlesex in the confines of HMS Warrior. Likewise the largest naval establishment outside the USA, HMS Collingwood, the former dedicated RN Electrical and Electronic School at Fareham on the Gosport side of the harbour, took in the former Signal School [HMS Mercury decamped from Leydene, East Meon, Hampshire and a little later on the associated SCU = Special Communications Unit], and then later still,  the  Radar and Maritime Operations School HMS Dryad at Southwick, Hampshire. These former establishments sat on a very large and generous footprints, but once in Collingwood they were squeezed into relatively very small teaching blocks. They used to say that Collingwood sat on the edge of the town of Fareham, but at such a size and diversity, jokers say that Fareham is the lesser of the two camps and it sits on the edge of Collingwood!

Talking about footprints and although seemingly not a published fact, the acreage of any one of the separate titles above, Portsmouth having just twelve titles vis--vis the twenty of Gosport, doesn't mean much when trying to adjudge the total area taken up by the MOD[N] on either side of Portsmouth harbour, although in reality Portsmouth/Gosport harbour. That the dockyard's footprint, would at first glance/visit seem to be the most obvious overall winner, it  is well short of the the case ##, and no one should underestimate the size of the Gosport/Fareham naval real estate. 

## The Portsmouth Naval Base has the following approximate [but not far short of its true size] parameters, giving it a perimeter as 4354 meters in length [2.7 miles]  and its area 325 acres which equates to just over  0.5 sq miles or 1.27 km2, somewhat smaller than just one of Gosport's footprints namely that of the RNAS at Lee-on-the-Solent HMS Daedalus!  See picture below. In helping me to calibrate my measuring device as accurately as possible for all events on this page, I have acquired a brand new book called The History of the Portsmouth Dockyard 1212 to Present Day by PAUL BROWN ISBN  9780750989572 Published by History Press. In his section The Victorian Navy under the heading called The Great Expansion he states, and I quote. "In 1867 began the great expansion to increase the capacity of the dockyard from 116 acres to 300 acres. Except for minor modifications in the Dreadnought projects, that very ambitious expansion of a near doubling in size remains the same area to this very day. I have seemingly been over generous in my measurement, but better that than penny pinching for no good reason!


This map below shows a well known sliver of land on the Portsmouth side which has an acreage of just 136 acres.

In the next picture we show the multiplication of 2.4 to give  an area of Portsmouth which equates to the overall size of  the Portsmouth dockyard in acreage viz just in excess of of 300 acres under the Great Expansion of 1867.  The dockyard was fat and squat unlike this Southsea sliver which is long and thin. The dockyard was the home of an unprecedented  haven to warships either to build or repair them, remembering that in the first half of the 20th century we had the biggest navy on the planet.

Sizing them as stand alone areas, the main naval airfield at Lee-on-the-Solent, once HMS Daedalus and before that HMS Ariel is a mega-large plot well in excess of 400 acres in all, true, with very little infrastructure commensurate with the flying and control of fixed wing fast jet aircraft, so rather large and long runways, lots of hangars and maintenance sheds, a control tower and precious little else. Next in order I would say, would be the very large footprints [including huge areas of generous sport pitches external to the barracks proper, of HMS Sultan and HMS Collingwood, together having the combined area of 365 acres

 The combined areas of RNH Haslar, the Admiralty Fuel Experimental Depot,  the Haslar RN Cemetery at Clayhall , HMS Dolphin and HMS Dolphin Two [now the Submarine Museum], HMS Hornet [known as Gunboat Yard], Gosport Naval Barracks [now an immigration confinement and formerly a prison/Borstal] - 6 areas -  all seamlessly joined in the same location, are again, vast in size covering 173  acres. The areas of the Gosport Barracks and parts of the old gunboat yard total nearly 18 acres. Below you will see measured areas of the other establishment

Gosport Naval Barracks

Join RNAY Fleetlands and RNAD's of Frater, Piddy's Hard and Bedenham  together all  backing onto Fareham Creek having the busy A32 running nearby, and the answer is a massive 762 acres with a perimeter of 7795 metres = six and three quarter miles around. Much building has taken place over the years at Elson, Hardway and other areas, but much of the vast footprint remains as it was although in new ownership and diverse in use!

The  outspread area of the infamous and universally maligned and condemned Rowner RN Married Quarters, an estate of a whooping 15 acres on its own, built to house 1000 people and nearby HMS Centurion, which together nearly reach the 18 acre mark.

Yet another vast parcel of land was taken over by the enormous Clarence Yard Victualling and Fuel depots sitting on the Gosport side of the harbour occupying a built area of 50 acres and thereafter extended to 62 acres. It sat immediately opposite the alongside Portsmouth berths ranging north from South Railways Jetty [SRJ] right up to North West Wall [NWW] That was just Clarence Yard's waterfront and it went right back to Weevil Lane. It had its own dedicated anchorage, and alongside berthing arrangement for the royal yacht [one of several] which conveyed the Queen from the Isle of Wight to Gosport on occasions, and its own railway station. The Royal Station was closed to passengers for good,  the day before  Queen Victoria's coffin and attendants left there for Waterloo station for her State funeral 2nd February 1901, the deceased Queen  having spent the night in the Royal Clarence Yard with her chief male mourners King Edward VII and the German Kaiser  Clarence Yard was named after the Duke who became King William IV, the monarch before Victoria.

Before moving on to the small scale establishments adding to the foregoing, we finish the big boys with Forton Road Barracks, designed as a military hospital but built  as a barracks for the army. After getting on for 50 years [in 1848] looking after army soldiers, the Royal Marines took it over, later on splitting into two quite separate corps the RMA and the RMLI respectively Marine Artillery and Marine Light Infantry.  Finally the RMA got Forton Road, and the RMLI  Eastney Barracks on the Portsmouth side. Later the navy took Forton Road Barracks and called it HMS St Vincent in which they trained boys until 1940, when it became a fleet air arm training centre for pilots and observers, resuming its role in training boys in 1946; boy's training carried on in Douglas on the Isle of Man in HMS St George,  a requisitioned holiday camp throughout WW2, thought safe and out of range of German bombers.  With all the additions added to the footprint after the main site build was completed [commanders house and married quarters, etc, which at that time were external to the barracks proper] the site measures 13 acres with a perimeter of 934 metres.

That leaves the small footprints of the Institute of Naval Medicine, RN Survival School at SeaField Park on the periphery but outside the footprint of HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-the-Solent, Gilkicker Signal Station, Torpedo range and jetty Stokes Bay whose total acreage is small at approximately 10 acres in all.

That gives a total of 2135 acres + the LOOSELY applied footprint of Fleetlands/Frater/Priddy's Hard/Bedenham sites, a total real estate package of 3235 acres. In reality, demonstrably vastly larger than the Portsmouth footprint! Out of  interest only, 6000 acres is the estate size of what has to be England's [and possibly the world's] grandest house, Waddesdon Manor, the estate built for the resplendent family of the English Branch of the Richest family [and there are five families in different countries] on the planet, the Rothschilds. Of those 6000 acres, 3200 acres are currently farmed by five tennant farmers on behalf of the National Trust. 3235 acres = just over five square miles!

Just in passing, the Queen Street Barracks [HMS Nelson, formerly HMS Victory but not Nelson's flagship HMS Victory] and an integral part of the Portsmouth Naval Base, looks to be a large footprint but it's trapped between the dockyard wall and Queen Street, and minor roads feeding the A3 leaving the city and the civilian housing estate tucked under the continuing dockyard curtain wall as it travels south back to the old main dockyard gate. 

Pitt Street was a small centre and swimming pool for PTI's = Physical Training Instructors.

HMS Excellent [Whale Island] now a quintessential 'nerve centre' for the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, is 67 acres.

 Vernon was restricted from growth because of it's entrapment by the harbour, at the rear by busy main roads, and left and right by existing buildings and other infrastructure not least of which was a gigantic twin chimney coal fired power station. It too was not a large footprint, but see below for the map of it. 

Eastney Barracks wherein my wife and I resided for a period of five years {Harvey House} before relocating to a quieter life and way of living in Suffolk, was another compact site with a generous but certainly not a large footprint. We also trained there for Mountbatten's Royal funeral in September 1979 but that was before we moved there from Lee Croft, Hill Brow, Nr Liss, Hampshire, having lived there for twenty years in the former home of Rear Admiral Berthon.

Also at Eastney was ASWE 'Eastney East' down by Fort Cumberland, a radar experimental station [Fraser] and the SD Officers training school HMS St George. Neither commanded sizeable areas, but a reasonable guess would be in the order of 12 acres at best?

Stamshaw was exceedingly small and had once been earmarked as the new RN Signal School after the horrendous German bombing of the dockyard and the RN Barracks, in which the then signal school was established. In 1941 it moved out of HMS Victory [RNB] to Leydene, East Meon quite near to the local town of Petersfield about twelve miles distant from the dockyard.

Now Victoria Barracks and the Duchess of Kent Barracks at Southsea were joined at the hip separated by added partitions as dividers and unattractive flora of various types. The WRNS lived in the front of the enormous building [at the top of the picture]  facing Museum Road and the entrance to Portsmouth's NAAFI, and men lived in the much preferred and quieter back, with long and neatly tendered gardens bounded by Pembroke Road [leading left to Montgomery's Memorial, a former Army Garrison Commander of Portsmouth and right to the Anglican Portsmouth Cathedral]  facing the sea between what is now Clarence Pier and the Garrison Church, the venue for the marriage of King Charles II to the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza. It was a former resplendent Victorian army barracks, with plenty of room for the army to show off! It was a big plot for a inner city dwelling, in a position to be envied. On release from MOD[N] use, the WRNS part became the City's Museum and the back part  was used for civilian housing,  but the opportunity of graceful living was missed when too many were build,  now with an appearance of an estate.

ASWE [Admiralty Surface Weapon Establishment] which eventually took on board underwater weapons and several other branch technologies, and  had a gorgeous elevated position over looking Portsmouth and the Solent to the south, and with an equally pleasant view over the Hampshire countryside to the north. Its footprint was long and thin and relatively short in length so commercially unattractive, or so I thought anyway. 

Fort Southwick was one of Lord Palmerston's  many so-called follies, designed to fight Napoleon III  who was known to have desires Napoleon Bonaparte  himself once had, namely an invasion of England. He never did attempt one, but many follies of considerable cost were built in anticipation, both out at sea or like Fort Southwick high on a hill [Portsdown Hill], or at sea level on terra firma like for example,  the famous Forts at Gosport - Gomer, Elson, Rowner, Brockhurst, Grange, Monckton and Gilkicker with Fort Rowner in HMS Sultans back garden. What the casual passer-by saw above ground was nothing to the size of the underground Fort used by the navy as a communications station.

HMS Temeraire,  famously painted by Turner, replaced  Pitt Street [as inadequate for purpose] just a short distance back towards Old Portsmouth where Nelson regularly visited and stayed, as a modern site in which PTI's could hone their acrobatic skills in gym's and  a swimming pool,  and with plenty of modern sporting facilities to keep a premier league player completely satisfied. It was an in-town plot, very near to the old Portsmouth Grammar School,  and too small to be reckoned in my count.

So that's the end of my snippet. Just a wander down memory lane! Hope those who were of my time [1953-1984] and able to follow the story line, enjoyed the read and that it brought back memories to you also.

The Portsmouth acreage with these listed areas added shown in the table above will not have reached anywhere near 1000 acres never mind the 3235 acres of the Gosport/Fareham side.                                                                                                                              

There are some very obvious answers as to why this was, air stations [2 in  number especially when one operated large fixed wing fast jet bombers [the Buccaneer for example] which  cannot be placed in the centre of a city, though several years ago Portsmouth had its own small commercial aircraft terminall/airport down the Eastern Road, and a couple of major huge explosive ammunitions factories and handling plants which had to be built far away from well populated areas. The central naval hospital was on the Gosport side along with its massive burial ground,  although again, until 1905 Portsmouth had its own army/navy hospital called the Garrison Hospital [where the officers wardroom is now, serving the Queen Street Barracks] knocked down and replaced by the city's Queen  Alexandra Hospital on the bottom of Portsdown Hill at the navy's expense,  and other reasons too, for Gosport being a great deal larger in defence acreage than Portsmouth!!

Portsmouth I would calculate, omitting Fort Southwick for I don't know the useable underground space, Pitt Street swimming pool and gym, Stamshaw, Temeraire, and ASWE all too difficult to measure with the tools I am using, and unsure about the boundaries, but including HMS Vernon at Gun Wharf as follows:-

I calculate the footprint size of Portsmouth  as being 510 acres at best, and even estimating the areas I have been unable to measure with a great degree of accuracy, with them also, the Portsmouth total might, repeat might have reached say 650 acres.

Thus, in conclusion, Portsmouth's scores of 650 juxtaposed with Gosport/Fareham's score of 3235 acres, results in Gosport/Fareham having had 400% more MOD[N] acres than did Portsmouth. Added to that we must also consider the manpower and training of it all. Just about every technical rating and officer goes through either Collingwood or Sultan which includes all nuclear training, as do all operation branch personnel addressing above and sub surface training in communications, sonar, torpedo, missilery and radar, based around the MWS [Maritime Warfare School]. There is absolutely nothing like it on the Portsmouth side of the harbour, nor is there one square yard of ship maintenance/refit/repair facility on the Gosport side! It is said that the heart beat of naval training in readiness for combat is either in Gosport/Fareham, in the West Country or in Faslane. Hopefully these skills are honed at sea in the relatively few vessels we now have based in Portsmouth/Devonport in England and in areas of the River Clyde in Scotland.

Certainly, Gosport and Fareham have never been poor cousins to Portsmouth and its environs and markedly that remains a key feature of today's navy.

Now for that AMAZEMENT I told you about at the beginning of the story, and be prepared for a shock and an international credit for Gosport - second to none.

The largest naval base on the planet was, and is, the NSN = Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia USA {which I visited many times mainly because my submarine "Auriga" was based in North America on Halifax Canada but also subsequently to that, on the Staff of our Flag Officer Second Flotilla [FOF2] a Scot,  Rear Admiral {Whisky} Wemyss} in the surface fleet, coming in at 3400 acres.

Gosport, Hampshire, UK, in its prime, before all the late 20th and early 21st Century sell-offs and defence cuts, came in at 3235 acres in second place to Norfolk Va, albeit piecemeal  and not concentrated in one very large area! Does that or does it not deserve an Oscar or some kind of special international acknowledgement?

Finally, the Spithead fleet anchorage nearby to Gosport's Gilkicker, is the only part of the Portsmouth Naval Base which can accommodate  a safe anchorage to the largest of all NATO warships, the  gargantuan U.S.N. aircraft carriers!


From this page you can pick out several other pages written on the Portsmouth Command areas of Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham, plus adjoining Commands in the east and west.