New gallery telling story of HMS Victory to open as visitors return

The exhibition is part of the revitalised museum site at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which is reopening after lockdown.

HMS Victory biennial painting
HMS Victory biennial painting

A new exhibition telling the story of Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory “from acorn to icon” is to open to the public for the first time as the 256-year-old warship reopens following lockdown.

The gallery, entitled HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship, explains the construction and conservation of the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission.

Previously unseen objects from the ship going on show at the museum in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard include a section of the ship’s mainmast, which was damaged at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Coronavirus – Mon May 17, 2021
Alison Firth, curator of art at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, cleans the glass window in front of WL Wyllie’s Panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The gallery has been refitted to tell the ship’s history through film and interactive displays from its role in the Battle of Trafalgar to its decline and rescue in the 1920s by the Society of Nautical Research (SNR).

It includes a digital interpretation of the giant 13m by 4m Panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar by WL Wyllie – which is so big that the original building was constructed around it.

Visitors will also be able to walk into the dry dock under Victory’s hull on a new walkway which was only open for a short period last summer before the site was closed again.

However, Victory itself has a temporary look after its wrought-iron mainmast was removed on May 14 for essential conservation work.

A new immersive visitor experience is also being planned for later this summer at the neighbouring Mary Rose Museum which will put visitors virtually on board during the Battle of the Solent in which the Tudor warship sank, as well as allowing them to hear about the ship from a representation of King Henry VIII.

The reopening of the site, which also features the 160-year-old steam-powered frigate HMS Warrior, comes after the museums faced financial uncertainty since the start of the pandemic.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) has gained additional £4.42 million in funding from the Royal Navy last month and the Mary Rose Trust also received a grant of £327,562 from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund in addition to more than £900,000 previous allocated to the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust.

Steps have been taken to ensure the dockyard meets Covid-19 safety standards and it has been awarded VisitEngland’s ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, director general for the NMRN, said: “We are delighted to be able to welcome back visitors to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard this summer after another extended period of closure.

“Over 80% of our income comes from visitors. Without visitors, we will not survive. They are our lifeblood.

“We have sought to use this period to continue to develop our offer and the new HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship gallery is a thrilling addition to the destination.”

Dominic Jones, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, said: “We are really excited to welcome our visitors, staff and volunteers back after months of closure to both the Mary Rose and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

“Along with our colleagues at the National Museum of the Royal Navy we have been working hard to ensure Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and its amazing attractions are safe places to visit.”

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