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Portland Harbour

Southern and eastern entrances of Portland Harbour looking northeast from the Isle of Portland across Balaclava Bay. The dark colour of the water between the two breakwaters in the foreground indicates the position of the scuttled battleship HMS Hood.
The western side of the Harbour with Chesil Beach, Lyme Bay and the Fleet Lagoon in the background.

Portland Harbour is located beside the Isle of Portland, off Dorset, on the south coast of England. It is the second largest man-made harbour in the world,[1] and the largest man-made harbour in Europe. It is naturally protected by Portland to the south, Chesil Beach to the west and mainland Dorset to the north.[2] It consists of four breakwaters — two southern and two northern. These have a total length of 4.57 kilometres and enclose some 520 hectares. The initial southern breakwaters were built between 1849–72, while Portland Harbour occupied a Royal Navy base until 1995.


  • History 1
    • Creation of harbour of refuge and breakwaters (1844-1872) 1.1
    • Construction of harbour defences 1.2
    • Establishment of Royal Navy at Portland 1.3
    • Role in both World Wars (1914-1945) 1.4
    • Post-war role and closure of naval base (1946-1995) 1.5
  • Modern Port 2
  • Recreation 3
  • Grade listed features 4
  • Breakwater defences 5
  • On-shore defences 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


Creation of harbour of refuge and breakwaters (1844-1872)

Historically the original harbour was formed by the protection offered by the south coast of England, Chesil Beach and the Isle of Portland. This gave protection from the weather to ships from all directions except the east. With the natural shelter being used by ships for centuries, Romans valued the area's strategic importance, and in 789 the Vikings made their first raids on the English mainland at Portland. Centuries of hostilities with the French and the Spanish raised concern for the safety of shipping in these waters, and so King Henry VIII built Portland Castle and Sandsfoot Castle to defend the anchorage in the 16th-century. The Spanish Armada passed nearby and a great battle was fought off Portland Bill, and local vessels took part, with captured galleons being towed across the bay to Weymouth. During the Civil War parliamentary warships lay in Portland Roads and, shortly after, Admiral Blake fought a battle with the Dutch Admiral Van Tromp.[3]

A refuge harbour had initially been suggested for Portland in 1794, however parliamentary approval was not granted until in 1844. Construction of the modern harbour began in 1845 when the Royal Navy established a base at Portland for replenishment of the fleet (in particular the provision of coal for new steam-driven warships). Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert sailed into Portland Roads in August 1843, gathering a welcoming reception. Prince Albert was to play an influential role in the development of the breakwater and the massive defence works which were needed to protect it. At the time the Commission concluded that Portland had the greatest strategic value of all the possible harbour sites. The new Portland Harbour was to be the first naval anchorage specifically designed for the new steam navy. The construction of the initial two breakwaters - the southern pair - began in 1849, after HRH Prince Albert laid the foundation stone on 25 July 1849.

Construction of the southern breakwaters began in 1849 to the initial designs of engineer James Rendel. The work was carried out under the civil engineer John Towlerton Leather, with James Meadows Rendel as engineer in chief (until his death in 1856), and John Coode as resident engineer.[4] During 1848, HM Prison Portland was opened to provide convict labour, to help construct the breakwaters of Portland Harbour and its various defences.[5] A large array of nearby quarries were developed for convicts to work in. Once established, the Admiralty Quarries, as they were known, saw convict labour providing 10,000 tons of stone per week for use on the breakwaters.[6] The area of quarried stone now features Nicodemus Knob, which is a landmark pillar left as a quarrying relic to mark the extent of how much stone was removed.[7] To transport the stone to the harbour miles of railway and inclined planes were built down to the breakwater site, known as the Admiralty Railway. In order to complete the large task, resources were received on a national scale. Under the main contractor John Leather, engineers, skilled craftsmen and administrators came from all parts of the country to assist in the building of the breakwaters.[8]

The southern breakwaters used Portland stone, in all sizes from 7.1 tonnes downwards. It was heaped into a mound extending from the north of the island, with tracks laid over temporary timber trestles. This would allow further stone to be tipped out into the sea from loaded wagons, until the mound increased in length and finally became a complete breakwater. At the greatest depth, 15.2 metres below low water, the base width of the original breakwater was 77.7 metres. Side slopes were 1 in 1.5 (34 degrees), easing to 1 in 6 (9 degrees) on the seaward slope 3.7 metres below low water. The two southern breakwaters were completed in 1868 by Coode, and HRH Edward the Prince of Wales belatedly declared the harbour open on 10 August 1872. Both the Channel and Reserve Squadrons, headed by huge broadside ironclads including Minotaur, Agincourt, Achilles and Hercules gave a royal salute to welcome the Prince of Wales for the event.

The construction work quickly became Dorset's greatest tourist attraction, with visitors consistently arriving to see the progress, as millions of tons of stone were laid. By the 1860s the work was the country's most expensive public project.[8] Although the work had caused heavy losses the project was a success. Some of the losses included a temporary wooden lighthouse being burnt down; staging torn apart in storms; vessels wrecked on the unfinished breakwater wall; locomotives and trucks plunged into the sea, and lives lost in various accidents.[8] The work created a much larger harbour providing protection from south-easterly winds. A flushing current enters the harbour through the north entrance, rotates anti-clockwise and exits via the south and east entrances, which keeps the harbour self scouring and reduces the need for maintenance dredging.[2]

In 1859 it was announced that due to the size of the harbour, Portland was to be the start for Isambard Kingdom Brunel's steamship Great Eastern's transatlantic voyages. However this did not take place as an explosion damaged the vessel before she arrived, and the legendary Brunel died while she was under repair at Portland. The Great Eastern proved unviable as a passenger liner, but would return to Portland again on various occasions during a successful undersea cable laying service.[8]

Construction of harbour defences

A set of various defences were created to defend the harbour. The Verne Citadel, was designed by Captain Crosman R.E. and built by convicts from HM Prison Portland together with civilian contractors and the Royal Engineers between 1860 and 1881. The 56 acre fortress was designed for 1000 troops, and gun emplacements were built facing seawards on three sides. Located on the highest point of Portland, Verne Hill, it sits in a commanding position overlooking Portland Harbour, and later became HM Prison The Verne in 1949.[9] Below the eastern side of the citadel, East Weare Battery was built during the 1860s. The battery has sections from A to F, with the overall condition varying from poor to good today, although the majority of the now-derelict battery has not been opened to the public. The detention barracks of East Weare Camp were built above the battery circa 1880.[10] On the end of the inner breakwater the Inner Pierhead Fort was built, and on the outer breakwater the circular Portland Breakwater Fort, also known as Chequered Fort, was built between 1868 and 1875. In Weymouth, across the other side of the harbour, Nothe Fort was built at the end of the Nothe Peninsula in 1872 to protect the harbour.[11] In 1892 the Verne High Angle Battery was built in a disused Portland Stone quarry at the northern end of the island. Being down in a quarry the guns were hidden from view of any passing enemy ships, the element of surprise would keep them moving on, minimising a possible threat. The pace of maritime warfare however increased with the use of smaller craft like torpedo boats, and the big guns would be far less likely to score a hit. As a result, the battery was decommissioned in 1906.[12]

The scale and engineering achievement of the various defensive works impacted on the nation, which occurred at a time when British Empire was at its peak. The defences remain to this day monuments to the Victorian era.

Establishment of Royal Navy at Portland

The harbour became a Royal Navy base with dockyard, refuelling and training facilities. For some time Portland was the base for the Channel and then the Home Fleets and a depot for submarines. During the eighteenth century wars with France the Royal Navy operated from Torbay, Plymouth and Falmouth, blockading the French fleet in its bases on the Bay of Biscay. With the coming of steam-powered warships and the development of a French naval base at Cherbourg, it became necessary for the Royal Navy to have a base further east for a Channel Fleet and so followed the establishment of a naval presence at Portland.[13] The advance in technology fuelled the development of the harbour. Coal ships took over from sail, and soon after powerful modern warships were run by oil. As such vessels had to refuel at short intervals and Portland, halfway up channel, with its "quick-in-and-out" facility, was an ideal place. The harbour became a coaling and later oiling depot for the Royal Navy.[3] With the coal machinery now redundant, a tidal creek named the Mere was partly filled in for a vast fuel tank farm.

During the Victorian period, England and the world's greatest vessels were regularly visitors to Portland Harbour, including HMS Warrior, Britain's first ocean-going battleship, which was fitted out with electric lighting while spending her later years as Portland's guardship.[8]

The nearby Royal Naval Hospital in Castletown served Portland's naval base from the late 19th century until 1957, when the hospital was handed over to the NHS. It featured an underground operating theatre. The development of both the torpedo and the submarine led to Portland Harbour becoming a centre for research into underwater warfare, and a torpedo factory was built on the north side of the harbour in 1891, at Wyke Regis. As part of defence works against the threat torpedo attack, work commenced on two northern breakwaters to complete the enclosed harbour. This project began in 1893 and at that time the southern breakwaters were topped with paved roads protected by 6.1 metre parapet walls. This was completed in 1906. In 1902 Upton Fort, was built north of Weymouth at Osmington to defend Weymouth and the approaches to Portland harbour. During that same year Blacknor Fort, situated on the western cliffs of Portland, was completed.[14] By 1903 the East Weares Rifle Range served the navy and other military soldiers on the eastern side of the island. In 1905, the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse was built, situated on the southern end of northeast breakwater, and continues to operate today.

Robert Whitehead's Torpedo Works at Wyke Regis ended up using the northern-most breakwater for torpedo testing and practice firing, while a purpose-built pier projecting into the harbour from the factory was also used for a similar role. The factory continued operating until its closure and demolition in 1997. The site of the factory is now a housing estate, named Whitehead Drive, and includes a memorial stone and plaque to commemorate the factory.[15]

For training purposes, in February 1862, the training ship Boscawen first arrived at Portland. The three decked sailing ship had been launched in 1844, reduced to a hulk in 1862 and then converted for the training of boy seamen. HMS Britannia had been the first training ship at Portland but the anchorage conditions had not suited her and she moved to Dartmouth where she became the forerunner of the Royal Naval College. The original Boscawen at Portland left in 1873 and was replaced by HMS Trafalgar, which took on the same name, and was removed when sold in 1906. As the Royal Navy grew in size towards the end of the 19th century, so additional accommodation was required for boys' training. Two old broadside ironclad warships were brought into service, first

  • Portland Port
  • Coxswain Edward Palmer, awarded BEM for rescue work following the sinking of HMS Foylebank in Portland Harbour, July 1940

External links

  • Dorset; The Royal Navy (illustrated): Stuart Morris, 2011. The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 978-1-904349-88-4
  • Portland, an Illustrated History: Stuart Morris, 1985-2004. The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 0-946159-34-3
  • Portland (Discover Dorset Series) Stuart Morris, 1998. The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 1-874336-49-0.
  • Isle of Portland Railways: Jackson, Brian L., 1999. ISBN 0-85361-540-3
  • Portland, Then and Now: Stuart Morris, 2006. The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 1-904349-48-X.

Further reading

  1. ^ "Portland Port - Shipping". Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b c d e
  4. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 94.  
  5. ^ Legg, D. R. G. (2000). Portland Prison Illustrated. Sprint Signs and Graphics, Weymouth. p. 5. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Portland’s Geology". Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f
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  17. ^ "Subterranea Britannica: Sites: Portland underground Naval Headquarters & Communications Centre". 1 September 2004. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b Copy of government briefing paper
  20. ^ a b c
  21. ^ Morris, Stuart (2011). Dorset - The Royal Navy. Dovecote Press. p. 91.  
  22. ^ Press report
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  24. ^ a b c  
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  29. ^ Breakwater Fort. "Dorset - History - Breakwater Fort". BBC. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  30. ^ Will Bennet (22 July 1995). "Portland's naval history ends as last warship sails - News". The Independent. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  31. ^  
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  36. ^ "The Portland Gas Trust". The Portland Gas Trust. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
  37. ^ "Visitor centre for Island (From Dorset Echo)". 21 June 2008. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
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See also

In addition to this another World War II pillbox, with a possible machine gun post, is located at Upper Osprey. It was constructed sometime between 1940–41, and built of brick and reinforced concrete. A field visit in 1996 found it to be in a good condition, and it still remains in this state as of 2014. When the scrub was cleared around the structure prior to the departure of the RN from the Naval Base, machine gun cartridges were found.[64]

As part of the defence for HMS Osprey, now demolished, a "Yarnold Sanger" pillbox is located on Incline Road, Upper Osprey, at the entrance gate to the dockyard, from the southern side. The structure was constructed during World War II, sometime between 1940–41, and built of reinforced concrete. A field visit in 1995 found the structure to be in existence, and it still remains in good condition as of 2014. The structure has had barbed wire placed on top of the structure to avoid unauthorised entry over the adjacent fencing. The term "Yarnold Sanger" is said to originate from Sqdn Ldr Yarnold of the R.A.F. Regiment, who apparently invented the idea of assembling this type of pillbox from separate concrete segments.[63]

The six pillboxes surrounding East Weare Battery include one which located close to the two coast artillery searchlights at Balaclava Bay, within close region to Incline Road.[62]

During the Second World War a number of anti-invasion structures were placed at Balaclava Bay, constructed between 1940-41. An anti boat landing obstacle was laid offshore, compromising of a line of stone boulders. A field visit in 1996 found the stones to be in a good condition, although some had been removed from their original positions.[58] On the shore a minefield was laid, using mine 'B', type 'C', forming part of the Dorset coast defences and the Isle of Portland defences. It had been cleared by 1946.[59] A little further south of the landing obstacle and minefield was a coast artillery searchlight, near the Admiralty Research Establishment. Built of brick, concrete and iron, a field visit in 1996 found the structure to be extant.[60] Another coast artillery searchlight, constructed during 1940-41, was situated further south of this, although it is unclear whether it still remains today.[61]

Aside from the East Weare Battery, and other related constructions, there are a number of defences built within the harbour's dockyard and surrounding area.

On-shore defences

At the C Pier Head Battery a World War II petroleum warfare site was constructed in 1940-41, and comprised a flame thrower. However the field visit in 1983 had found the site had been demolished.[55] On site is a World War II 29 millimetre spigot mortar emplacement (pedestal). It was constructed after May 1941 and is built of concrete and steel. The field visit in 1983 found the structure to be in a good condition.[56] Almost within the centre of the arm another 29 millimetre spigot mortar emplacement is located near Military Pier. Again it was constructed after May 1941, of concrete and steel, and remains in good condition.[57]

The Weymouth end breakwater features the C Pier Head Battery on the southern tip. The arm is an Admiralty extension to the earlier breakwater built by the Great Western Railway and known as the Bincleaves Groyne. The head is 100 ft in diameter. The battery was opened in 1901 and was armed with two 12-pounder quick-firing (QF) guns for anti-torpedo craft defence. By the First World War the 12-pounder guns had been removed and replaced with a 6-inch breech-loading (BL) Mk. VII gun. The 6-inch gun was removed in 1924 and in 1934 two 12-pounder guns were transferred across from the recently decommissioned B Pier Head. In 1944 emplacements were constructed for two 6-pounder guns, but the guns were not mounted for a number of years. During the Second World War the battery was manned by 107 Battery of 522 Coast Regiment. A field visit in 1983 found the structure to be extant.[54]

On the far end of the North Eastern Breakwater, on the Weymouth side, is the site of B Pier Head Battery. The coastal battery opened in 1901 and was armed with two 12-pounder quick-firing (QF) guns for anti-torpedo craft defence. By 1913 the battery's armament included four 12-pounder guns and a 6-inch breech-loading (BL) Mk. VII gun. The battery was decommissioned in 1934, and after a field visit in 1983 it was reported the site had been demolished.[51] The same site featured a World War I torpedo station. It contained three 18 inch torpedo tubes and was probably operational from 1915 to 1918.[52] Additionally there is a World War I battery observation post. It is constructed of brick and concrete, and a field visit in 1983 found it to be in a good condition.[53]

On the North Eastern Breakwater, within the centre area, is a World War II coastal battery with coast artillery searchlights. The battery was constructed between 1940 and 1941 and is built of brick, concrete and iron. A field visit in 1983 found the structure to be extant. It is close to the near Distant Torpedo Range. Alongside is a World War II coast artillery searchlight, which was constructed in 1940-41 and built of concrete, brick and iron. It was also found to be extant in 1983.[48] A coast artillery searchlight battery is located close by on the same arm too.[49] Further along towards Weymouth on this arm is a World War II 29 millimetre spigot mortar emplacement (pedestal), which was built after May 1941, of concrete and steel. A field visit in 1983 found the emplacement to be in a good condition.[50]

Although the battery and station are now demolished various defensive buildings still remain on site, including a World War II battery observation post. The observation post was constructed in 1940-41 and is built of brick and concrete. A field visit in 1983 found it to be in a good condition.[47] The B Pier Head Battery is located on the far end of this breakwater, whilst C Pier Head Battery is located on the breakwater at Weymouth's end.[44]

The lighthouse site was also the location of a coastal battery, known as A Pier Head Battery, which was built as part of Portland's coastal defences. The battery opened in 1901 and was armed with two 12-pounder quick-firing (QF) guns for anti-torpedo craft defence. In 1944 emplacements were constructed to replace the 12-pounder guns with 6-pounders, which were mounted by 1954. During the Second World War it was manned by 106 Battery of 522 Coast Regiment. A field visit in 1983 found the structure had been demolished.[44] A World War I torpedo station was located on 'A' Head. During World War I it had two 18 inch torpedo tubes which were operational from 1915 until 1918. The torpedo station was also operational from 1940 until 1945 during World War II.[45] During World War II a petroleum warfare site consisting of four flame throwers was located on 'A' Head. Constructed in 1940-41, the 1983 visit found the site had also been demolished.[46]

On the northeast breakwater, at the southern end, directly opposite the fort, is the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, still active today since being established in 1905. The first Portland breakwater light was shown in 1851, and afterwards from the fort at the end of the breakwater as then completed in 1876, before the lighthouse first shone out in 1905. It was decided to supersede the navigational light on top of the fort with the lighthouse close by, as under the rules of war the enemy is forbidden to fire at a lighthouse and so the fort guns would have had an advantage during the First World War.

Further along the same breakwater arm, towards Portland, are two World War II coast artillery searchlights. The first is located not far from the fort's area, and the other is located a little further along, near Beacon 'E' light. Both searchlights were constructed in 1940-41, of brick, concrete and iron. A field visit in 1983 found the structures to be extant.[42][43]

At the Breakwater Fort is a World War II 29 millimetre spigot mortar emplacement (pedestal), which was constructed after May 1941, of concrete and steel. A field visit in 1983 found it to be in a good condition.[39] A World War II pillbox is located at the fort, which is of a Naval design, square in plan, measuring about 14 feet square with embrasures set across the forward corners. It was constructed in 1940-41 and is built of concrete. A report of 1993 found the structure to be extant.[40] A World War II battery observation post is also located at Breakwater Fort, constructed in 1940-41 and built of brick and concrete. A field visit in 1986 found the structure to be extant.[41]

Situated across Portland Harbour's four breakwater arms are various defensive structures and related monuments. Many of these are still in existence today, however are derelict and remain unopened to the public.

Breakwater defences

At the top of the nearby, private incline road is the abandoned Old Engine Shed that once served the cable-operated inclined railway that ran to Castletown through the Navy Dockyard that is now Portland Port. The Portland Gas Trust has made plans for a £1.5m project to transform the buildings into an interpretation centre, which were to be the highlight of the Trust's work for the next few years. Situated on the cliffs above Portland Gas' Dorset facility, the centre was planned to have an audio visual room, display areas and café, and will function as a visitor attraction and an educational resource. However as of 2014, work has yet to start.[36][37] The shed has been Grade II Listed since January 2001.[38]

In May 1993, the Dockyard Offices became Grade II Listed. These offices are set in two conjoined buildings, and date from the mid 19th century.[32] The inner breakwater, and its jetty and victualling store became Grade II Listed in September 1978. The store is dates from 1850 and is a long 11-bay stone structure.[33] At the end of Castletown village, closest to the point where Portland Port begins, is the former Dockyard Police Station. The MOD police station was initially a railway station, dating from around 1865. It was built to serve the naval base which was expended under Palmerston's administration in the 1860s. It has been Grade II Listed since May 1993.[34][35]

One of the most dominant of the defence structures is the Portland Breakwater Fort, located on one of the outer breakwaters. It was built to defend the harbour, and the circular sea fort was started in 1868 and the building was completed in 1875. Designed by Captain E. H. Steward of the Royal Engineers, the guns were added in 1892. It was armed and active until being reduced to care and maintenance by February 1945 before it was abandoned in 1956 and handed over to the navy. Since its closure the fort remains derelict and unseen by the public. In 1995, Dorset Sculpture Trust attempted to seek funds from the Millennium Fund to turn site into an arts centre, and in 2011 a local historical group wished to use the fort as a home for a new Weymouth Timewalk attraction and a maritime history museum. None of these materialised. As of 2005, it was estimated that it would take £10 million to repair the fort for commercial use, and that it was not a priority for the current port owners.[29] This was despite published reports in 1996 that Portland Port Ltd had made possible plans of the renovation of historic coastal fortifications in the area.[30] The fort became Grade II Listed in September 1978.[31]

East Weare Battery was built in the 1860s to protect the harbour, consisting of sections A to F, and sits below the cliff to the east of the Verne Citadel. After being active throughout both World Wars, part of it was used by the Royal Navy, along with other NATO allies, for Flag Officer Sea Training, and other forms of naval training. When the Royal Navy left Portland Harbour, and Portland Port Ltd became the new owners, the site fell into total disuse from this point and has yet to be seen by the public. It became Grade II Listed in May 1993.[26] In addition to this, the 'E' section of the battery has become a scheduled monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance.[27] East Weare Camp, a detention barracks built in 1880, originally served the East Weare Battery which lies 200 feet below. It was later converted to coastguard use in 1914. Later on it fell into disuse and remains in a derelict state, on the private land of Portland Port Ltd. It became Grade II Listed in September 1978.[28]

The outer breakwater, the next arm along from the inner breakwater, also became Grade II Listed in September 1978. Again by J.M. Rendel, the arm runs north/south, with a curve towards west at the southern end. It has a total length circa 1820 metres, terminating at the north end with the Breakwater Fort. The outer, seaward face is strewn with heavy boulders, and the inner face, towards the harbour, has some squared and coursed masonry. There are various later accretions, including buildings of Second World War period. The south end protects the South Ship Channel.[25]

At the south-west end of Prince Consort Walk is a carved commemorative stone, with the Royal Arms and inscription: "From this spot on the 25th July 1849 His Royal Highness Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria, sunk the first stone of this breakwater. Upon the same spot Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, on the 18th August 1872 laid this last stone and declared the work complete. These are imperial works and worthy (of) Kings". The north-eastern face of stone has: "James Meadow Rendel designed this work and directed its execution till his death in 1856. John Coode, the resident engineer from its commencement, then succeeded to its charge and completed it. J.T. Leather was the contractor for the work".[24]

The victualling store was built around 1850, and is a long 11-bay stone structure in two parallel ranges to gabled ends west and east. It has a roof of corrugated iron, broken by two raised and coped 'party divisions', which do not correspond with the main bay articulation. The south side has eleven sunk panels, divided by a high band, series of segmental-headed openings near ground level, and four larger openings, in bays 3, 4, 6 and 8. There are west gables over large lunettes, and similar panelling; north front as well as south, with two staircases to upper doors. The eastern gables are in brick above the eaves line. This building is said to have been used as a railway terminal.[24]

The inner breakwater, with its jetty, former victualling store and Inner Pierhead Fort, became Grade II Listed in September 1978. It was designed by James Meadow Rendel and carried out by contractor J. T. Leather. The total length is around 750 metres inclusive of jetty, which also returns to the east in The Camber. The breakwater's southern face is strewn with large boulders, and the N face, which carries Prince Consort Walk, is in a series of casements to segmental heads on broad buttresses, brick vaulted and stone faced. A small fort is situated at the outer east end at the South Ship Channel - the Inner Pierhead Fort. The breakwater wall carries on west to the jetty retaining wall and to the south side of the victualling store in large bolstered stone blocks, to a battered face. The extent of this revetment to the east is concealed by later structures.[24]

The harbour and dockyard has various buildings and structures that are Grade Listed.

Grade listed features

  • on the inside of the harbour, against a breakwater:
    • Countess of Erme - barge 30 metres north of the Eastern Ship Channel
    • the Spaniard - barge 50 metres south-west of the Chequered Fort
    • a World War II landing craft and a Bombardon Unit, a harbour device intended for the D-Day beaches in Normandy, 50 metres north east of the curve of the south break water
  • in "open" water inside the harbour:

In addition to Hood, there are other dive wrecks around the harbour:

In October 2007 work commenced on a new marina and recreational boating facility. Some 250,000 tonnes of Portland Stone was used in creating the 875m breakwater and associated reclaimed land. This facility was open by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in April 2009 and is situated directly adjacent to the National Sailing Academy. Apart from the usual freshwater, fuel, shore power and pump-out facilities the marina also has a bar/restaurant, 15 retail/business units and 5 larger commercial units.

The harbour is a popular location for wind surfing, wreck diving and sailing. Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy which hosted sailing events in the 2012 Olympic Games, is located on the south-western shore of the harbour. The Royal Yachting Association had expressed interest in securing a suitable site locally for a number of decades, in order to make use of the harbour's natural advantages. However the opportunity did not develop until the end of the 20th century, with the removal of the navy. The academy was established as a not-for-profit company in 1999, and originally operated from various disused military buildings and facilities. In 2003 the academy was able to start redevelopment of the site. In 2005 WPNSA was selected to host the sailing events at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Additionally Osprey Quay became an 80 acres regeneration project commissioned by South West Regional Development Agency in 2001. By 2012 Osprey Quay had been transformed with huge investment, offering over 11 hectares, a total of 60,000 square metres of business space.[23]


The port also sees various cruise ship calls bringing visitors to the Dorset area. The Britannia Cruise Terminal, which was opened in July 1999 and again refurbished in 2005 has seen the likes of Royal Caribbean, Azamara, Club Cruises, Saga and Crystal Cruises use it as a start point for excursions in the wider Dorset region and beyond. In recent years the number of cruise ship calls have increased at the port.

  • Britannia Terminal Area
  • North of Coaling Pier Island
  • Camber Quay Development
  • Floating Dry Dock Development at Queen's Pier

The four identified areas for development are:

The Portland Harbour Revision Order 2010 provides for the creation of new berths and hardstand areas at the port in order to allow increased commercial activities over the next 50 years. These new facilities have been identified as part of a master plan and business strategy developed by Portland Port. The development is designed to increase berthing opportunities and provide more operational land.

Commercial activities on the water include specialist diving services for vessels and repairs & maintenance as well as a bunkering (fuelling) station. The port is used by all nature of vessels from commercial ships such as bulkers, tankers, container carriers car carriers, survey and Reefers etc. to British and foreign naval vessels. Commercial activities on the land of the dock estate include fuel storage, natural gas storage, several engineering facilities and a shell fish specialist.

Portland Port Group became Statutory Harbour Authority for Portland Harbour on 1 January 1998, replacing the Queen's Harbour Master. In 2004 changes led to Portland Harbour Authority Ltd becoming the Statutory and Competent Harbour Authority and Portland Port Ltd the Port Operator. The commercial port has expanded since its initial establishment; the Britannia Passenger Terminal was opened by HRH Prince Philip on 14 July 1999. In April 2000 the contract was signed for a new bunkering jetty and berth, which came into service in 2005. However despite published reports in 1996 revealing that Portland Port Ltd were interested in the renovation of historic coastal fortifications in the area, no restoration of any kind has taken place.[20]

The Harbour was sold off by the Royal Navy in 1996 allowing it to be used as both a centre for water sports and as a service facility for Channel shipping. Portland Port Ltd, formed in December 1994, took possession of the site immediately and their purchase was completed on 12 December 1996. The port's aim was of developing the ship repair, leisure and tourism potential of the harbour. One of the first arrivals at the new set up was a prison ship HM Prison Weare, which remained in use until 2006. Renamed Jascon 27, the ship left Portland under tow in 2010, bound for Nigeria, to be refurbished for use as an oil industry accommodation vessel.[3]

Modern Port

Royal Navy operations ceased on 21 July 1995 and the harbour closed as a naval base on 29 March 1996, with the training facilities being relocated to Devonport.[22] Following this the RNAS Portland HMS Osprey base also closed on 31 October 1999. The combined closure of all Portland-based establishments was believed to have cost the area 4,500 jobs, along with a loss of £40 million in the area's economy, according to a study carried out for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council in 1995.[20]

In 1984 two large accommodation blocks, totaling £25-30 million, were built as barracks/accommodation for the use of Royal Navy personnel, along with a swimming sports centre, now the Osprey Leisure Centre. The project was started after it was ensured the naval base at Portland would not close. However in November 1992, as part of defence spending cuts, the closure was announced in the House of Commons of both the naval base and the research establishments on Portland. There was not enough money in the defence budget to maintain more than a few bases so the naval facilities at Portland were dispersed and the harbour became a civilian concern.[3] There was opposition against the closure from the local economy, as well as all ranks of naval personnel, who felt Portland's surrounding coast was perfect for exercising ships.[21]

With the advent of the helicopter and its importance as an anti-submarine weapon an airfield was formed. In 1959, the Royal Naval Helicopter Station HMS Osprey was officially opened, sharing the name with the shore establishment. The site was first built in 1917 as HMS Sarepta within the confines of Portland Harbour as a seaplane base; the aircraft operating from the base's slipways. In 1919 No. 241 Squadron RAF (formed from RNAS flights operating there in 1918) was disbanded and aviation operations ceased. In 1946, Hoverfly R-4Bs moved in, the base's playing fields were taken over as a landing ground and it became the site of the modern heliport. 815 Naval Air Squadron flew its 12 Whirlwinds in from RNAS Eglinton on 14 April 1959 and the station was formally commissioned as HMS Osprey on 24 April 1959. The base was gradually improved over the years, with the addition of a (short) main runway and landing spots.

Portland's Royal Dockyard was closed in 1959, but the Naval Base on site remained open.[19] The naval base's main occupation thereafter was Flag Officer Sea Training, which had been established there in 1958. FOST was a major success, and the harbour soon became the world's premier work-up and training base. FOST was reputed to have been a world centre of excellence in the Royal Navy for naval basic and advanced operational training, all situated at Portland. Since then almost every ship in the Royal Navy had at some time taken part there in training programmes, including simulated warfare. In addition many ships of NATO countries also trained and frequented at Portland Harbour. The harbour continued to be a preferred base for ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary who carried the supplies of the fleet. Part of the Falklands task force sailed from Portland in 1982 during the Falklands War.[20]

After the war, in 1946, ten Phoenix caissons were towed back to Portland Harbour, and in 1953 eight units were given to the Netherlands to repair breaches in the dykes following a violent North Sea storm. However two of the units remain permanently moored in the harbour today. The role of the two units still situated in Portland's harbour is as a wind brake, which helps ships berth at Queen's Pier ('Q Pier') in the harbour. In the wake of the Cold War, the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment was established at Barrow Hill in Portland's southern-most village Southwell. Built between 1949–52, the establishment worked alongside the HMS Osprey establishment at East Weares. Underwater weapons research was consolidated with the transfer to Portland of the Torpedo Experimental Establishment, Greenock, in 1959.[19] It later became infamous for espionage infiltration, known as the Portland Spy Ring.

Post-war role and closure of naval base (1946-1995)

On 1 May 1944 the harbour was commissioned as USNAAB Portland-Weymouth. As part of the D-Day operations in Normandy, a number of Phoenix caissons were moored at Portland in 1944 before being towed to France. The harbour itself, along with Weymouth, was a major embarkation point for American troops during D-Day, particularly the US 1st Division who embarked for "Omaha Beach" in June 1944. The King, Prime Minister Churchill and Free French leader Gen. De Gaul came to see the great D-Day preparations at Portland, when the harbour's activity was continuous. Following the end of the war Portland's part in the D-Day landings, and the liberation of Europe, was marked by a grand ceremony on 22 August 1945, when the American Ambassador, John D. Winant, unveiled a stone in Victoria Gardens commemorating the passing by the spot of 418,585 troops and 144,093 vehicles the previous June.[18]

In 1940 it was decided that an underground headquarters and communications centre should be constructed. By 1941, the Portland Naval Communication Headquarters was completed, built into the hillside at the rear of the dockyard. It continued to be operational during the Cold War too.[17]

After the peace of the 1920s turned to anxiety in the 1930s, the king visited Portland in 1936 to see Portland's top secret research and naval manoeuvres. The strategic importance of Portland's Naval Base and Dockyard during the rise of Second World War was fundamental, and as such the harbour came under fierce German air attack. In total Portland saw 48 air attacks, in which 532 bombs were dropped. In July 1940 the anti-aircraft ship HMS Foylebank was attacked by Stuka dive-bombers and sank in the harbour. The second of only two Victoria Crosses awarded for action in the United Kingdom was posthumously bestowed on Jack Foreman Mantle, who died at his post on HMS Foylebank. Although mortally wounded he continued to fire his gun against the attackers until he died. Mantle is buried in Portland's Royal Naval Cemetery, which overlooks the harbour. Hermann Göring's nephew — Hans-Joachim Göring — was a pilot in the Luftwaffe with III Gruppe./ZG 76, flying the Messerschmitt Bf 110. Hans-Joachim was killed in action on 11 July 1940, when his Bf 110 was shot down by Hawker Hurricanes of No. 78 Squadron RAF. His aircraft crashed into Portland Harbour during an air raid. To combat the attacks various light and heavy anti-aircraft batteries were established around Portland. The Verne Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery is a remaining example of this, being situated close to the Verne High Angle Battery.

During both World War I and II the bay was filled with neutral ships at anchor waiting to be searched for materials that might be useful to the enemy. The ships were directed in by the local fleet of peacetime holiday paddle steamers requisitioned into the navy and painted grey, their crews enlisted into the RNVR.[3] The increasing conflict with Germany before the Great War erupted saw the arrival of the Dreadnoughts to Portland, while drones in Portland's skies marked the coming of the flying pioneers. King George V watched aerial displays from the royal yacht in the harbour in May 1912. This occasion saw a biplane to be the first British flight from a moving ship, and afterwards the king took the first ever royal trip in a submarine. In 1914 the Grand Fleet assembled in Portland Harbour before sailing to Scapa Flow. A further barrier against submarine attack came in 1914 when the battleship HMS Hood was scuttled across the vulnerable southern entrance to the 1849 breakwaters. Its wreck still remains, although it is now deemed too dangerous for divers.[8]

Role in both World Wars (1914-1945)


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