Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Boathouse No 4

Colin Bishop visits the latest attraction and facility at Portsmouth Dockyard


Boathouse No 4 at Portsmouth Dockyard was originally built in 1939 as part of the naval rearmament programme. It has its own dock opening from the harbour and locks which connect to the mast pond on the other side of the access road.

It has recently (Autumn 2015) been restored and converted into a boatbuilding skills training centre and will also be used by the International Boatbuilding College Portsmouth and Highbury College. The building additionally houses a very interesting exhibition of small craft entitled ‘Forgotten Craft, and entry to this is free, including a high level gallery overlooking the main working area. There is also a café with superb view over Portsmouth Harbour although this was not open during my visit in December.

The accompanying photos give a general overview of this new attraction which is well worth seeing by anyone visiting the dockyard and worth a special visit by anyone interested in small boats and boatbuilding skills.

The photos accompanying this article give an idea of what is on view. They were taken with my phone camera which did quite a good job!

Photos 1-12 show the restored steam powered Naval Steam Pinnace originally built in 1911 and believed to have been one of two carried by the dreadnought battleship HMS Monarch.

Photo 13 is a general view from the upper gallery walkway over the working area.

Photos 14-16 are of the Fairey Huntress fast motor boat carried by the dock landing ship HMS Fearless of Falklands fame. Regular member Dave Milbourn tells me that the unsightly grey switchgear on the cockpit bulkhead is not a standard fitting and was added by the Ministry of Defence.

Photos 17 & 18 are of one of the collapsible metal kayaks designed for the wartime raid on the River Gironde in France crewed by RM Commandos, better known as the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ and celebrated in the film of the same name. The various ingenious folding mechanisms can be closely examined.

Photos 19 & 20 show activities on the main working floor.

Photos 21-24 are of the fast motorboat originally carried by the cruiser HMS Diadem and later by the post war carrier Ark Royal until her decommissioning. This boat is in operational order and can be launched when required.

Photo 25 shows a large wooden yacht under restoration while the view along the workshop in Photo 26 includes the huge photographic mural of dreadnought battleships on the far wall. The yellow metal structures support overhead cranes to move the boats to and from the dock currently occupied by the Picket Boat.

Photos 27 & 28 are of a small motor dinghy known as a ‘Skimming Dish’ carried by smaller warships. This one was originally from the post WW2 destroyer HMS Dainty.

Photo 29 is of Sir Alec Rose’ famous round the world yacht ‘Lively Lady’ currently undergoing restoration.

In Photo 30 the white area is part of the workshop which has been left clear for use as a ‘lofting floor’ where timber parts can be drawn out and checked before being fitted.

Photos 31 & 32 show a section of the ground floor which has been fitted out as a comprehensive carpentry workshop. During the time of my visit an 1890s pulling boat was being repaired and also used as a pattern for a modern clinker built replica. Temporary frames are set up on the keel to allow the planking to be fitted after which they are removed and internal stiffening ribs added.

As can be seen, Boathouse No 4 is a splendid new attraction to the Historic Dockyard as well as being a working educational and small craft restoration facility. Let us hope that the building enjoys every success in its new role. If you visit the dockyard, be sure not to miss it.