Plymouth, Devon, England
An aerial photograph of the core of HMNB Devonport with several ships alongside. The buildings in the lower half of the picture are the Fleet Accommodation Centre
|Controlled by||Royal Navy|
|In use||Since the 16th century|
|Commodore Ian Shipperley|
Her Majesty's Naval Base, Devonport (HMNB Devonport), is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy (the others being HMNB Clyde and HMNB Portsmouth). HMNB Devonport is located in Devonport, in the west of the city of Plymouth in Devon, England. Having begun as Royal Navy Dockyard in the late-17th century, it is now the largest naval base in Western Europe and is the sole nuclear repair and refuelling facility for the Royal Navy. Shipbuilding ceased at Devonport in the early 1970s, but ship maintenance work has continued: the now privatised maintenance facilities are operated by Babcock Marine, a division of Babcock International Group, who took over the previous owner Devonport Management Limited (DML) in 2007. From 1934 until the early 21st century the naval barracks on the site was named HMS Drake (it had previously been known as HMS Vivid after the base ship of the same name). Recently, the name HMS Drake was extended to cover the entire base; the barracks buildings are now termed the Fleet Accommodation Centre.
HM Naval Base Devonport is the home port of the Devonport Flotilla which includes the largest ship in the Royal Navy HMS Ocean and the Trafalgar-class submarines. In 2009 the Ministry of Defence announced the conclusion of a long-running review of the long-term role of three naval bases. Devonport will no longer be used as a base for attack submarines after these move to Faslane by 2017, and the Type 45 destroyers are based at Portsmouth. However, Devonport retains a long-term role as the dedicated home of the amphibious fleet, survey vessels and half the frigate fleet.
- 1 History
- 2 Today
- 3 Nickname
- 4 Nuclear waste leaks
- 5 Devonport Flotilla
- 6 Other units based at Devonport
- 7 Navy Days
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
In 1588, the ships of the English Navy set sail for the Spanish Armada through the mouth of the River Plym, thereby establishing the military presence in Plymouth. Sir Francis Drake is now an enduring legacy in Devonport, as the naval base has been named HMS Drake.
Origins of the dockyard
In 1689 Prince William of Orange became William III and almost immediately he required the building of a new dockyard west of Portsmouth. Edmund Dummer, Surveyor of the Navy, travelled the West Country searching for an area where a dockyard could be built; he sent in two estimates for sites, one in Plymouth, Cattewater and one further along the coast, on the Hamoaze, a section of the River Tamar, in the parish of Stoke Damerel. Having dismissed the Plymouth site as inadequate, he settled on the Hamoaze area which soon became known as Plymouth Dock, later renamed Devonport. On 30 December 1690, a contract was let for a dockyard to be built: the start of Plymouth (later Devonport) Royal Dockyard. Having selected the location, Dummer was given responsibility for designing and building the new yard.
At the heart of his new dockyard, Dummer placed a stone-lined basin, giving access to what proved to be the first successful stepped stone dry dock in Europe. Previously the Navy Board had relied upon timber as the major building material for dry docks, which resulted in high maintenance costs and was also a fire risk. The docks Dummer designed were stronger with more secure foundations and stepped sides that made it easier for men to work beneath the hull of a docked vessel. These innovations also allowed rapid erection of staging and greater workforce mobility. He discarded the earlier three-sectioned hinged gate, which was labour-intensive in operation, and replaced it with the simpler and more mobile two-sectioned gate.
Dummer wished to ensure that naval dockyards were efficient working units that maximised available space, as evidenced by the simplicity of his design layout at Plymouth Dock. He introduced a centralised storage area alongside the basin, and a logical positioning of other buildings around the yard. His double rope-house combined the previously separate tasks of spinning and laying while allowing the upper floor to be used for the repair of sails. On high ground overlooking the rest of the yard he built a grand terrace of houses for the senior dockyard officers (the first known example in the country of a palace-front terrace).
Most of Dummer's buildings and structures were rebuilt over ensuing years, including the basin and dry dock (today known as No. 1 Basin and No. 1 Dock). The terrace survived into the 20th century, but was largely destroyed in the Blitz along with several others of Devonport's historic buildings. Just one end section of the terrace survives; dating from 1692–96, it is the earliest surviving building in any royal dockyard.
Development of the dockyard
The dockyard was established on the southern tip of the present-day site; it then expanded northwards, in stages, over the next two-and-a-half centuries. The town that grew around the dockyard was called Plymouth Dock up to 1823, when the townspeople petitioned for it to be renamed Devonport. The dockyard followed suit twenty years later, becoming Devonport Royal Dockyard. In just under three centuries over 300 vessels were built at Devonport, the last being HMS Scylla in 1971.
The dockyard began in what is now known as the South Yard area of Devonport. It was here that Dummer built his ground-breaking stone dry dock (completely rebuilt in the 1840s).
In the 1760s a period of expansion began, leading to a configuration which (despite subsequent rebuildings) can still be seen today : five slipways, four dry docks and a wet basin (slipways were used for shipbuilding, but the main business of the eighteenth-century yard was the repair, maintenance and equipping of the fleet, for which the dry docks and basin were used). One slipway (1774) survives unaltered from this period (Slip No. 1): a rare survival. It is covered with a timber superstructure of 1814, a similarly rare and early survival of its type; indeed, only three such timber slip covers have survived in Britain, two of them at Devonport (the other, of similar vintage, later housed the Scrieve Board, for full-size drafting of ship designs).
From the beginning, the docks and slips would have been interspersed with workshops specializing in large-scale woodwork (mast houses, shipwrights' sheds etc.). As part of the expansion of the yard in the second half of the 18th century, a new rope-making complex was built (and survives in part, albeit rebuilt following a fire in 1812, alongside the perimeter wall). At around the same time, a smithery was built (1776; though subsequently rebuilt it still stands, the earliest surviving smithery in any royal dockyard). Initially used for the manufacture of anchors and smaller metal items, it would later be expanded to fashion the iron braces with which wooden hulls and decks began to be strengthened; as such, it provided a hint of the huge change in manufacturing technology that would sweep the dockyards in the nineteenth century as sail began to make way for steam, and wood for iron and steel.
The most imposing building of this period, a double-quadrangular storehouse of 1761 probably designed by Thomas Slade, was destroyed in the Plymouth Blitz as were several other buildings of the 18th and early-19th century, including the long and prominent pedimented workshop with its central clocktower, built to accommodate a range of woodworkers and craftsmen, and Edward Holl's Dockyard Church of 1814.
Morice Yard (New Gun Wharf)
Provision of ships' armaments was not the responsibility of the Navy but of the independent Board of Ordnance, which already had a wharf and storage facility in the Mount Wise area of Plymouth. This, however, began to prove insufficient and in 1719 the board established a new gun wharf on land leased from one Sir Nicholas Morice, immediately to the north of the established Dockyard. The Morice Yard was a self-contained establishment with its own complex of workshops, workers, officers, offices and storehouses. Gunpowder was stored on site, which began to be a cause for concern among local residents (as was the older store in the Royal Citadel within the city of Plymouth). In time new gunpowder magazines were built further north, first at Keyham (1770s), but later (having to make way for further dockyard expansion) relocating to Bull Point (1850).
In contrast to South Yard, which fared badly in the Blitz, most of the original building survive at Morice Yard, enclosed behind their contemporary boundary wall. On higher ground behind the wharf itself is a contemporary terrace of houses for officers (1720), built from stone rubble excavated during the yard's construction.
Morice Ordnance Yard remained independent from the dockyard until 1941, at which point it was integrated into the larger complex.
Keyham (the North Yard)
In the mid-nineteenth century, all royal dockyards faced the challenge of responding to the advent first of steam power and then metal hulls. Those unable to expand were closed; the rest underwent a transformation through growth and mechanisation. At Devonport, in 1864, a separate, purpose-built steam yard was opened on a self-contained site at Keyham, just to the north of Morice Yard (and a subterranean tunnel was built linking the new yard with the old). A pair of basins (8-9 acres each) were constructed: No. 2 Basin gave access to three large dry-docks, while No. 3 Basin was the frontispiece to a huge integrated manufacturing complex. This became known as the Quadrangle: it housed foundries, forges, pattern shops, boilermakers and all manner of specialized workshops. Two stationary steam engines drove line shafts and heavy machinery, and the multiple flues were drawn by a pair of prominent chimneys. The building still stands, and is Grade I listed; architectural detailing was by Sir Charles Barry. English Heritage calls it 'one of the most remarkable engineering buildings in the country'.
In 1880 a Royal Naval Engineering College was established at Keyham, housed in a new building just outside the dockyard wall alongside the Quadrangle where students (who joined at 15 years of age) gained hands-on experience of the latest naval engineering techniques. The Engineering College moved to nearby Manadon in 1958; the Jacobethan-style building then went on to house the Dockyard Technical College for a time, but was demolished in 1985.
In 1895 the decision was taken to expand the North Yard to accommodate the increasing size of modern warships. By 1907 it had more than doubled in size with the addition of No. 4 and No. 5 Basins (of 10 and 35 acres respectively), linked by a very large lock-cum-dock, 730 ft in length, alongside three more dry-docks of a similar size, able to "accommodate ships larger than any war-vessel yet constructed".
Until the late nineteenth century, sailors whose ships were being repaired or refitted, or who were awaiting allocation to a vessel, were accommodated in floating hulks. Construction of an onshore barracks, just north-east of the North Yard, was completed in 1889 with accommodation for 2,500; sailors and officers moved in in June of that year. In 1894 a contingent of sixty Royal Navy homing pigeons was accommodated on the site. The prominent clock tower was built in 1896, containing a clock and bell by Gillett & Johnston; it initially functioned as a semaphore tower. 1898 saw the barracks expand to accommodate a further 1,000 men. The wardroom block dates from this period. More buildings were added in the early years of the twentieth century, including St Nicholas's Church.
The Royal Navy Dockyard consists of fourteen dry docks (docks numbered 1 to 15, but there is no 13 Dock), four miles (6 km) of waterfront, twenty-five tidal berths, five basins and an area of 650 acres (2.6 km²). The dockyard employs 2,500 service personnel and civilians, supports circa 400 local firms and contributes approximately 10% to the income of Plymouth. It is the base for the Trafalgar-class nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines and the main refitting base for all Royal Navy nuclear submarines. Work was completed by Carillion in 2002 to build a refitting dock to support the Vanguard-class Trident missile nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Devonport serves as headquarters for the Flag Officer Sea Training, which is responsible for the training of all the ships of the Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, along with many from foreign naval services. The nuclear submarine refit base was put into special measures in 2013 by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and it could be 2020 before enhanced monitoring ceases. Safety concerns on ageing facilities, stretched resources and increasing demand are blamed for the measures.
The historic South Yard is no longer used by the Ministry of Defence, though it is still a closed site and subject to security restrictions. The deep-water access it offers has made the site desirable for manufacturers of 'superyachts'. In 2012 Princess Yachts acquired the freehold to 20 acres with a view to building a construction facility. In 2014 it was announced, as part of a 'City Deal' regeneration agreement, that the South Yard would be 'unlocked' with a view to it becoming a 'marine industries hub'.
The Naval base at Devonport is still nicknamed "Guzz" (or, sometimes, "Guz") by sailors and marines. One suggestion is that this originates from the word guzzle (to eat or drink greedily), which is likely to refer to the eating of cream teas, a West Country delicacy and, therefore, one with strong connections to the area around Plymouth. Another explanation advanced is that "GUZZ" was the radio call sign for the nearby Admiralty wireless station (which was GZX) at Devil's Point, though this is disputed and has recently been disproved by reference to actual wireless telegraphy callsigns in existence over the past century.
Another explanation is that the name came from the Hindi word for a yard (36 inches), "guz", (also spelled "guzz", at the time) which entered the Oxford English Dictionary, and Royal Navy usage, in the late 19th century, as sailors used to regularly abbreviate "The Dockyard" to simply "The Yard", leading to the slang use of the Hindi word for the unit of measurement of the same name. The Plymouth Herald newspaper attempted to summarise the differing theories, but no firm conclusion was reached.
Nuclear waste leaks
Devonport has been the site of a number of leaks of nuclear waste associated with the nuclear submarines based there.
- November 2002: "Ten litres of radioactive coolant leaked from HMS Vanguard."
- October 2005: "Previous reported radioactive spills at the dockyard include one in October 2005, when it was confirmed 10 litres of water leaked out as the main reactor circuit of HMS Victorious was being cleaned to reduce radiation."
- November 2008: "The Royal Navy has confirmed up to 280 litres of water, likely to have been contaminated with tritium, poured from a burst hose as it was being pumped from the submarine in the early hours of Friday."
- March 2009: "On 25 March radioactive water escaped from HMS Turbulent while the reactor's discharge system was being flushed at the Devonport naval dockyard"
Ships based at the port are known as the Devonport Flotilla. This includes the Navy's assault ships HMS Ocean, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark. It also serves as home port to most of the hydrographic surveying fleet of the Royal Navy and seven Type 23 frigates. The previous commodore of the Devonport Flotilla was Commodore Peter Walpole ADC who assumed command in September 2005. As of February 2011, it is commanded by Commodore Steve Chick. Other important Royal Navy staff such as the commander of the UK Task Group, are based there.
Amphibious assault ships
- HMS Ocean landing platform helicopter and current fleet flagship
- HMS Albion landing platform dock. In extended readiness till 2016
- HMS Bulwark landing platform dock
Type 23 frigates
Antarctic patrol ships
Other units based at Devonport
- Flag Officer Sea Training
- Hydrographic, Meteorological & Oceanographic Training Group
- HQ Amphibious Task Group
- HMS Vivid RNR
- Royal Marines Tamar/1 Assault Group Royal Marines
- 10 Landing Craft Training Squadron
- 4 Assault Squadron
- 6 Assault Squadron
- 9 Assault Squadron
- 539 Assault Squadron
- Supacat manufacturing unit
- South West Armed Forces Rehabilitation Unit
- Hasler Company Royal Marines
- Southern Diving Group RN
- Defence Estates South West
- HQ Western Division Ministry of Defence Police
- CID Devonport MOD Police
- DSG Devonport MOD Police
Navy Days happens once every two years when for two days at the end of the summer a large part of Devonport Dockyard is open to the general public. There is an opportunity to view the facilities at the naval base as well as a number of Royal Navy and allied naval vessels present. There are a large number of stands and displays present which provide of information on some of the less well known aspects of the Royal Navy, for example the Royal Navy submarine rescue service.
Several establishments were set up in the vicinity of Devonport and Plymouth in direct relationship either to the Royal Dockyard or to Plymouth's use as a base for the Fleet:
- Dockyard defences: including Devonport Lines and the later Palmerston Forts, Plymouth
- Plymouth Breakwater
- HMS Raleigh, RN basic training establishment, across the Hamoaze at Torpoint, Cornwall.
- Mount Wise, the location of Admiralty House (former headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth) and the Second World War Combined Military Headquarters (later Plymouth Maritime Headquarters, decommissioned 2004).
- Royal Citadel, Plymouth, base of 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery.
- Royal William Victualling Yard (1835) built by the Victualling Commissioners in nearby Stonehouse for supplying the Royal Navy; no longer in military use.
- Stonehouse Barracks, headquarters of 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines.
- "HNMB Devonport". Royal Navy. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- [dead link]
- Devonport Naval Base Handbook, 2010
- Hansard House of Commons (23 February 2015) Defence questions
- [dead link]
- Wessom, William (24 September 2007). "The Devonport Royal dockyard". Retrieved 4 October 2009.
- Fox, Celina (2007). "The Ingenious Mr Dummer: Rationalizing the Royal Navy in Late Seventeenth-Century England" (PDF). Electronic British Library Journal. p. 26. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
- MacDougall, Philip (September 2004). "Edmund Dummer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
- "Listed building text". Historic England.
- "Listed building text".
- BBC Devon
- English Heritage: Thematic Survey of Naval Dockyards in England
- "Listed building notes".
- Coad, Jonathan (2013). Support for the Fleet: architecture and engineering of the Royal Navy's bases 1700-1914. Swindon: English Heritage.
- English Heritage: Thematic History of Ordnance Yards and Magazine Depots
- 'A pictorial and descriptive guide to Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport with excursions by river, road and sea'. Published 1914 by Ward Lock & Co Ltd. London.
- A history of HMS Drake
- Morris, Jonathan. "Devonport nuclear base has special measures extended". BBC News. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
- Plymouth Herald
- Plymouth Herald
- "Website Disabled". Plymouthnavalmuseum.com. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- "Pompey, Chats and Guz: the Origins of Naval Town Nicknames | Online Information Bank | Research Collections | Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard". Royalnavalmuseum.org. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- Moseley, Brian (February 2011). "Plymouth, Royal Navy Establishments – Royal Naval Barracks (HMS Vivid / HMS Drake)". The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History. Plymouth Data. Archived from the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2015. (citing Brimacombe, Peter, "The History of HMS Drake", Rodney Brimacombe, Mor Marketing, Plymouth, July 1992.)
- See, for example: Dykes, Godfrey. "THE_PLYMOUTH_COMMAND". Retrieved 20 August 2011.
- A Minor case: OED contributions from a prison cell http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/02/william-minor/
- Royal Navy “Sailor’s Pocket Book” by Sir Frederick Bedford, 1875 http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=BmABAAAAQAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=guz
- The Plymouth Command - Origin of the Nickname GUZZ http://www.godfreydykes.info/THE_PLYMOUTH_COMMAND.htm
- Plymouth Herald, "Why are Plymouth and Devonport called Guzz", 21 March 2012
- Neil Philip, Michael McCurdy. "War and the pity of war". Google.co.uk. p. 57. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- "Radioactive leak at Devonport". BBC News. 28 November 2002. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
- Enforcer, The (11 November 2008). "Radioactive leak at Devonport". This is Plymouth. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- Edwards, Rob (18 May 2009). "Ministry of Defence admits to further radioactive leaks from submarines". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010.
- [dead link]
- [dead link]
- "Defence Ministers tour the South West". Ministry of Defence news. Ministry of Defence. 3 March 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
- "Historical information on Subterranea Britannica".
- HMNB Devonport web page
- Babcock International Group plc., the owner of the dockyard
- Devonport Naval Heritage Centre