The Solent Forum

Working in partnership for the future

Naval History


The world’s first dry dock was built by King Henry VII at Portsmouth in 1495 when he chose it as his Royal Dockyard. A major Naval Base then developed throughout the middle ages, with Henry VIII establishing a permanent Navy based wholly at Portsmouth. From here the Navy defended the Solent from various invasion threats. The Dockyard continually expanded until it breached the walled town in the early 18th century, leading to the establishment of a new adjacent town, named Portsea. The Dockyard was a large self sufficient industrial hub that was by 1800 the largest industrial complex in the world.  There are Navy installations all around Portsmouth Harbour, including the Submarine base HMS Dolphin, Haslar Hospital, the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard and the Naval Ordinance Depot all at Gosport; and the HMS Excellent on Whale Island.

Many generations of Warships were built at, maintained at or allocated to Portsmouth Dockyard. Henry VIII’s Mary Rose and the first of the revolutionary Dreadnought battleships were among the warships built there. It was home to the three Historic Warships that may today be seen preserved at the Historic Dockyard; HMS Warrior, Nelson’s famous Victory, and the Mary Rose. A Number of the Mulberry Harbours used during the D-Day landings at Normandy were also constructed by the Dockyard Engineers.

Other locations around the Solent where Naval shipbuilding contracts were also received include; Cowes, Itchenor, on the shores of Chichester Harbour and at Redbridge and Bursledon, in Southampton. Further components for the Mulberry Harbours were also built at Southampton Dock in 1944.


Southampton has always been a maritime centre, and the docks have long been a major employer in the city.   During the Middle Ages, shipbuilding became an important industry for the town. Henry V's famous warship Grace Dieu was built in Southampton.  His forces sailed from West Quay for France in 1415 during the Hundred Years War. Southampton has been used for military embarkation, including during 18th century wars with the French, the Crimean war, and the Boer War. It was designated No. 1 Military Embarkation port during the Great War and became a major centre for treating the returning wounded and POWs. It was also central to the preparations for the Invasion of Europe in 1944.

Marchwood to the west of the city acquired a military port during World War II which played a vital role in the Normandy Landings and continues to service Britain's overseas military interests.

Bucklers Hard

At Bucklers Hard on the banks of the Beaulieu River, three of the ships were built that saw action at the Battle of Trafalgar - Agamemnon, Euryalus and Swiftsure.  In WWII Mulberry (moveable) harbours were built on the old oyster beds in prepration for the D-Day landings.  Bucklers Hard Maritime Museum charts the history of this secluded port.