Hms Warrior Portsmouth, United Kingdom

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Hms Warrior Portsmouth, United Kingdom


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Review of "Hms Warrior Portsmouth, United Kingdom"

published 29/03/2013 | hiker
Member since : 28/03/2003
Reviews : 797
Members who trust : 108
About me :
Just a flying visit...hope all is well with all my Ciao buddies.
Pro Insight into the progression of warship design
Cons None - but as a ship, not easily accessible for those of restricted mobility
Is it worth visiting?
Transport links
Family Friendly

"Short-lived Queen of the Seas"

If every warship in the 19th century still existed and was available for preservation, Warrior would still be my first choice. Those were the words of Sir John Smith, businessman and philanthropist whose personal efforts were instrumental both in the saving of the Warrior and the setting up of the Manifold Trust which agreed to underwrite the original costs of preservation, and the dedicated Warrior Preservation Trust subsequently established for her ongoing welfare.

This is where I confess ignorance. Until I arrived at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in 2012, I'd never heard of either Smith or the Warrior. About Smith, I still know very little… but this is about Warrior.
The Basics

Nestling as she does close to HMS Victory it's interesting to compare the stats, side by side.

Warrior was laid down on 25 May 1859 and launched in December 1860, just under 100 years since the Victory first hit the water. Ship design and construction had moved on in those hundred years.

Her overall length is 418 feet (compared to the Victory's 227), but only 58 feet in the beam (compared with Victory's 50ft).

Her top speed was 13 knots under sail, 14.4 under steam, and 17.5 under combined power. Over one and half times as fast as Nelson's ship.

Weapon-power and tactics had also moved on. Against Victory's 100 guns ranging from 6-pounders to 42-poundersr, Warrior carried only 40 guns… but the smallest was the 40-pound Armstrong rifled breech-loader and the main battery were 68lb muzzle-loaders.

In just those few facts, even for the militarily ignorant (like me) it's clear that ships are bigger, sleeker, heavier, faster and much more deadly by 1860.
Warrior's real advantage though was the armour plating of her citadel. The citadel was a protected zone within the main body of the ship, where the weaponry and machinery were housed: four-&-a-half-inch wrought iron plate bolted to 18 inches of solid teak bolted to the hull. Modern tests suggest that the most powerful guns of the time could not penetrate this even at point blank range.

The stern and bow were not armoured, but the armouring of the central section had another advantage: for the first time it was possible to compartmentalise the bowels of the ship in a watertight sections. The criticality of this development would be brought home centuries later in a peacetime ferry disaster. For Warrior it would never be put to the test.

Her 'company' was also significantly different. Of the 705 aboard, 115 would have been Royal Marines: artillerymen and their officers whose job didn't really commence unless landed. They were land-based riflemen. There were the usual ranks of the royal navy: Officers (36), Warrant Officers (3), Petty Officers (109) but also newcomers to the roster: Chief Engineers (2), Engineers (10) and Stokers and Trimmers (76). Part of my interest in the ship has to lie with the last of these… that being the role my Dad played almost a century later in the merchant marine of the 1950s.


The power-potential of boiling water had been known about for thousands of years, but it was only in the late 18th century that engineering caught up and started to produce mechanisms that could really harness it to practical purpose.

The early days of steam are shrouded in claims and counter-claims. The first recognised British steamship seems to be the Kent: an unsuccessful experiment funded by the Earl of Stanhope. Paddle steamers were being used in auxiliary capacities (dredging and such like) as early as 1802. And by 1838 Brunel's ¬_Great Western_ was crossing the Atlantic.

The miliary were keeping up with the new technology. The last naval battle fought entirely under sail was the Battle of Navarino in 1827, but There were problems. Most of the early steam ships were paddle steamers, which had serious implications for how you could deploy your guns on a warship (a full broadside couldn't be carried) and the wheels themselves were vulnerable.

So as late as the 1860s HM sailors were still being trained to fight under sail rather than under steam. When Warrior was commissioned, it was the norm to be equipped with both – though that might be as much to do with the reluctance of the officer class to accept this modern technology as any shortcoming of the concept.
The industrial revolution was well under way by the middle of the century and social change was coming with it. On the international front, Britain was expanding its Empire, which could only be protected by ruling the waves and (as ever) we were concerned about the French.

Warrior's commissioning was in direct response to La Gloire the French ironclad being recognised as THE ship of the day.

HMS WARRIOR was built to outclass her. And she did.

She could outrun anything on the waters.

This was a time of rapid change though and as "cutting edge" as she was, she'd be obsolete within a few years. Those few years were pretty peaceful ones (as these things go) and so her name doesn't echo down the collective consciousness.

Her first commission was as leader of the Channel Squadron, patrolling home waters from Gibraltar to Scandinavia. In 1864 she underwent a comprehensive refit, including complete re-arming with 7” and 8” muzzle loaded rifled guns. By the time she was back in service in 1867, her crown had been usurped. Another five years in home waters, were followed by another four in major refit (including improved boilers, steam power for the forward capstan and a new poop deck to accommodate an Admiral). But her return to service was only as part of the First Reserve Fleet, where she was to remain until May 1883.

Thereafter she sank into unloved neglect. She was used as a depot ship and as a floating oil jetty until 1929 when she was towed to Pembroke Dock and basically abandoned.

It was another 50 years before the campaign to restore WARRIOR started, spearheaded by Sir John Smith who formed the Manifold Trust and enlisted no less a figure than the Duke of Edinburgh to chair the committee.

Warrior was handed over to the Maritime Trust in 1979. Ownership transferred in 1983 to the Ship’s Preservation Trust which then became the Warrior Preservation Trust. It took eight years and £8m to bring her back from the brink.

Given that she never fired a shot in anger, you might wonder: why bother?

Warrior's significance is really in her design. She was at the cusp of steam becoming the predominant ocean power – the first to build the armour into the body of the ship rather than simply plating the outside. She was only just too early to benefit from the triple expansion principle, but presumably her new boilers at refit brought this extra benefit. Water containment in the hull if penetrated.

She was considered at the time to be the ultimate deterrent. Fastest, heaviest, best-armed, best-armoured on the waves. Her rule might have been short-lived, but it came at an important juncture in the UK's relationship with France.

It was a bold move by the powers of the day, the First Lord of the Admiralty questioned his sense in commissioning it, but no more than the Director of the Thames Ironworks & Shipbuilding Company did in his sense in accepting the commission. Both held to the idea though, with the Admiralty stepping in to save the yard from bankruptcy as the costs mounted.

To fully understand just how pivotal a development this was, think on this: as she put to sea, she made every other warship on the planet pretty well obsolete overnight. Within 15 years Britain had another 22 armoured ships, purely steam-driven (no sails), with armour up to 14 inches thick and able to sail for three times as long without refuelling. She was obsolete herself.
The Tour

HMS Warrior is one of the first ships you see as you enter the historic dockyard. Perhaps not as "pretty" as the Victory, she still has an understated elegance. Her rust coloured keel is surmounted by ominous black, with her white figurehead of an unnamed Greek warrior, picked out in gold chains and borders.

Masts and rigging dwarf the funnels. Her name is spelled out in signal flags, and no longer a commissioned ship of the line, she flies the red ensign at her stern.
The tour is free-form, you simply go aboard and wander at will. The recommended time of an hour to ninety minutes isn't long enough. I think I spent about two and a half hours aboard, and was somewhat surprised to discover that I'd completely missed a major rainstorm while below decks. I went aboard in bright sunshine and came out to the same, except now there were puddles everywhere.

You come aboard on the upper deck and work your way down… the main deck (the gun deck), the lower deck, the boiler & engine rooms.

As always the aspects of the ship that interest you most might not be the ones that intrigue me, but I can only speak to my own…


Facts & figures:

The propeller weight 26 tons & would have required several hundred men to raise.

There are no sails in the rigging on my visit but at fully rig she'd have hoisted 37,546 square feet. (I would tell you what this is in terms of the universal measure of "football pitches" – but my research says they are so variable as to be as meaningless as, say, a "pinch" in cooking!) It's a lot!

Despite what the guides tell you, Warrior was deployed mainly in home waters, so unlikely that she ever had livestock in pens on the upper deck. Chickens and ducks kept in the boats… hmmm… have you ever tried to "keep" chickens and ducks? I guess they might have been netted down.

I was most intrigued by the tracks for the guns. I guess I'd been subliminally aware that they must have been able to shift these things about the deck, but had never really wondered how they did it. The intricate arcing brass tracks are as beautiful as they are functional.

The ship's wheel is a far cry from the one-man affair of pirate movies. Warrior has two wheels, the highly decorative affair on the upper deck aft and another directly below on the main deck. Each wheel can be manned by 8 seamen and in the worst weather it would take all 16 of them to hold a course. It took 6 complete turns to swing from hard-a-port to hard-a-starboard and Warrior was notoriously unresponsive to the helm, twice colliding with other vessels, in one case depositing her figurehead on the deck of the Royal Oak in the process.

The inscription on the wheel rim repeats a message signalled by Princess of Alexandra of Denmark on the occasion of Warrior accompanying the Royal Yacht bearing her to her marriage with the Prince of Wales.


As ever it is the details that intrigued me. Small things like the markings on the ceiling and the rope pulleys that align the guns to their targets. And big things like the huge capstan that would have needed 176 men to heave it around to raise one of the five-and-a-half ton anchors. She had four of these.

The mess benches would have been familiar to Nelson's crew, as would the duty of mess cook. The galley too was little changed, although to the untrained eye, the massive ovens look a tad more efficient than those of the previous century.

Exploring the more salubrious quarters (the Captain's cabin and those of his seconds-in-command) I finally learnt the difference between Master and Commander i.e. that the Master was in charge of sailing & navigation and the Commander was the Captain's direct deputy responsible for fighting-fitness of the ship & crew.


The further down you go, the more interesting it becomes.

The officers' wardroom is much plainer that the captain's quarters, but no doubt also much more sociable – not least because he was only allowed in by invitation. In case you're wondering about the derivation of the name and/or why the officers might choose to be this far below decks: the "wardroom" was original a guard-room, it was where the captured treasure was stored…over decades or centuries of unscrupulous crew or maybe captains, the officers had "moved in to protect their share of the spoils".

More prosaically, the laundry is equipped with machines not too different (in all but size) from the first one we had at home when I was a child.

The sailmakers' cabin is equipped with all the trappings of the trade from years gone by – but the treadle sewing machine could only have been used for clothing repairs – it would never be robust enough to take a sailcloth needle.

And then there are the cells. Flogging was still a form of punishment, but incarceration and picking oakum were just as often used.


Then finally we come to the heart of the ship: the engine room. You probably need a particular kind of mind to be interested in this stuff. Generally, I guess, you need to be of the engineering persuasion. For me though, it was more personal. This is as close as I'm likely to get to understanding the reality of most of my Dad's working life.

He stoked boilers one way or another for nigh-on 50 years: firstly on the railway, then seven years at sea, then in a chemical plant, latterly watching the changes from coal to coke to gas… but still basically the same hot, dirty, thankless misunderstood task without which much else couldn't happen. We spoke a lot towards the end of his life, about what it was like down in the engine room, what you actually did, how the boilers worked and so on. No doubt things had moved on in the intervening century since Warrior's boilers cooled for the last time, but also, no doubt, much else hadn't.

It gave me a reference point at least to stand there looking up at the huge boilers, ten of them with four furnaces each – though not all would be in full use all of the time.

She's all clean matt black paintwork and shining metal now. I suspect that wasn't the norm.

Coal would be fed in using what my Dad called "the Armstrong method" (i.e. wielding a shovel) in temperatures reaching the high forties (degrees C). To understand just how much shovelling was involved take a look at the "Coal State" slate by the entrance: ten tons an hour roughly.
Arranging your visit

Like the Victory, HMS Warrior is part of the larger Portsmouth Historic Dockyard complex – so apologies to previous readers for repeating the same info, which applies equally here.

Full details of opening hours and restrictions are available on their website

More information is also available on the dedicated website - corporate event or unusual wedding anyone?

At the time of writing a single-attraction ticket for the Warrior will cost £15.30 for an adult, £11.25 for a child (with a number of concessions and family ticket options), whereas the All Attractions ticket is £18.90 for the adult, £13.28 for the child. With a year to use it, the latter is clearly a better deal – whether you're a local or travelling from further afield.

To put it in context, the Mary Rose is currently under wraps, but I spent a solid 5 hours between the Warrior, the Victory and some of the small museums and exhibitions. Add in a lunch break and a bit of shoppy-shoppy which I somehow managed to skip and you've got a whole day.. plus I need to go back to see the Mary Rose. I'm not suggesting it's a cheap day out, but for anyone with the remotest interest in ships and naval or social history, it is fabulous value.

The Dockyard opens at 10a.m. every day (except closed Christmas Eve to Boxing Day and late start on New Year's day at 11a.m.). Closing times vary during the year and between attractions, but generally sometime between 4pm and 6pm - see website for further info.

Definitely. Anyone who has spoken to me since I went to Portsmouth will know how enthused I am by this place. The Warrior was a fascinating visit not least, because I knew virtually nothing about her before arriving.

Seeing her alongside the Victory, with the almost exact century between them, adds to the value of seeing either in isolation. In retrospect though, it would probably make more sense to see Victory first and then come forward in time. I just went aboard in the order I came to them.


© Lesley Mason
hiker @

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Comments on this review

  • RICHADA published 04/04/2013
    A brilliant treview of what, in my opinion, is one of our greatest national heritage assets. R.
  • torr published 31/03/2013
    Really thorough and interesting review.
  • sweetybi published 30/03/2013
    E x
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Listed on Ciao since: 25/04/2005