Portsmouth’s Heroes – An Inspiration

Most of you are probably aware that Portsmouth is home to the Royal Navy also the birthplace of Charles Dickens, but the town of Portsmouth has much more to its history than just its connections with the navy and Dickens.

The Mary Rose left Portsmouth on the 16th July 1545 as flagship of George Carew, the vice admiral of the fleet setting sail to engage the French fleet which had entered the Solent aiming to land troops on English soil. I’m sure you are all aware of what happened next, and Christopher Dobbs from the Mary Rose trust will tell us more at conference. However at the time of the accident that led to her sinking the Mary Rose was 34 years old, having been commissioned by King Henry VIII as one of England’s earliest purpose built warships in 1511 with her sister the Peter Pomegranate. The first surviving reference to the Mary Rose being found in a document dated 1510 relating to a payment for the movement of the ship from Portsmouth to the Thames.

Portsmouth’s leading edge technological position doesn’t end there. Frequently at the leading edge of maritime technology Portsmouth always enjoyed a reputation for engineering excellence, and leaping forward in time to 1809 and event took place in Portsmouth which would shape Britain’s future. On the 9th April 1806, a boy is born in an unremarkable terraced house in Britain Street, that boy would grow up to become an icon of British industrial history, his name ? Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Isambard’s father Marc Brunel was at the time working with Henry Maudsley on a project for the Royal Navy within what is now the historic dockyard. The aim was to find a way of saving the large amount of time and money involved in producing rigging blocks for the Royal Navy’s ships. (In 1800 a 74 gun warship, the mainstay of the fleet required 922 of these blocks). Brunel and Maudsley’s solution was to mechanise the process and in 1802 the navy began the installation of Brunel and Maudsley’s block-making machines at Portsmouth. The world’s first production line was now being commissioned, over one hundred years before Henry Ford !

Brunel and Maudsley’s block-making machines were so efficient and ahead of their time that in 1944, the landing ships delivering troops to the Normandy beaches were equipped with blocks made on those very same machines.

Surely Brunel and Maudsley still stand as an inspiration to us, on what can be achieved through perseverance and just a little creative thought.