<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Hampshire Life today click here

Taking a look into the past at Gosport’s Museum of Naval Firepower

PUBLISHED: 15:06 17 July 2017 | UPDATED: 15:06 17 July 2017

Inside the missile gallery at the museum

Inside the missile gallery at the museum

Archant

Explosion! Gosport’s Museum of Naval Firepower is creating quite a noise as its historic buildings fill-up with visitors. Viv Micklefield takes a peep into the past to discover the real lives touched by this former Royal Navy armaments depot

Some pose resolutely suited and booted in front of the camera lens. While others focus their gaze on the production line. And then, unexpectedly, there’s the laughter shared during a rare tea break.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. What, then, do these grainy photos taken of the men and women once employed as munitions workers at Priddy’s Hard on the western shores of Portsmouth Harbour, tell us about their daily lives?

Such personal experiences, during times of both war and peace, had become somewhat of a mystery at Gosport’s award winning museum of naval firepower which now occupies buildings once in the heart of the Royal Navy’s principal armaments depot. Although the depot’s doors closed in the 1980s at the end of the Falklands conflict, over 200 years of restricted-access means much remains to be learnt about the workforce who although far from the front line, nonetheless was exposed to danger.

“People respond to people,” says Jo Valentine, the museum’s community outreach officer, who led a recent appeal designed to bring ‘Priddy’s People’ and their untold stories to life. She continues: “We already had material on apprenticeships and some photos but there’s such a huge story behind Priddy’s as a local employer, particularly one that empowered women. And it’s about the history of the whole Portsmouth Harbour area: the ships would be built down at the dockyard; then they were armed at Priddy’s Hard and finally everyone was fed from Gosport’s Royal Clarence Yard.

“We’ve had all sorts of weird and wonderful things come into the museum. A gentleman who owns a nearby pub had a collection of decorated shell cases; lots of local people who’d worked at Priddy’s had given him similar things too such as cases converted into a set of scales, and a large brass aspirin holder. They’ve all been donated as handling items which means that I can take them out into the community.

“Other items are so unusual, like a copy of the worker’s manual. These have gone straight into the museum’s permanent archives. There’s also a photo dating from World War One that features a huge bank of women, probably two or three hundred, in armaments uniform. We’d never seen anything like this before.”

Special clothing was supplied from the 1850s when the then all-male workforce sported overalls made of thick woollen cloth called fearnought complete with bone buttons and a tight head cap. The ongoing need to provide protection in any areas where hazardous materials was prepared, stored or handled saw 20th century munitions workers exchange their ‘dirty’ civvies for ‘clean’ clothes in special shifting rooms. Naturally, metal jewellery was strictly forbidden because of the risk of sparks.

For the 600 plus women recruited when the male workforce took up arms during WW1 it would, Jo says, have been a far cry from their previous lives. These so-called munitionettes could find themselves doing anything from cleaning, filling, painting and stacking shells to operating machinery, assembling detonators and lacquering fuses.

“Aside from doing domestic work there wasn’t a lot of other work around for women. Priddy’s provided an opportunity to earn a decent wage but it was a hard job and you’d get an extra penny an hour which was known as dirty money, for handling cordite.”

And spare a thought for those nick-named ‘canaries’ whose regular exposure to TNT saw their skin turn yellow and their hair orange.

During WW2 the site bustled with over 3,000 women and Jo has particularly enjoyed listening to their personal memories. Amongst them was Ethel Reeves who, cycling over the original Forton Bridge for the start of her 12-hour shift, recalls Canadian troops throwing tinned fruit into her basket. And, sometimes, to relieve the day’s repetitive tasks and inevitable boredom Ethel would secretly add a note with her address inside the shell box. This, Jo recounts read: “If these shells should care to roam, box them up and send them home.” Imagine the surprise when one day, a sailor travelled down from Scotland arriving on her doorstep, note in hand, only to be met by Ethel’s boyfriend on shore leave from the marines!

“Other stories I’ve heard from fathers and sons suggest that Priddy’s was a place where you had a job for life. You started as an apprentice and then worked your way up. Through word of mouth brothers and sisters, husbands and wives often got each other jobs.

“There was a feeling that you were doing your bit and were part of something bigger by providing, for example, the armaments for the Normandy landings. The main records are kept at the Hampshire Archives in Winchester, but we do know that the majority were local people.

“And there was this great camaraderie, with quite a big social scene too. Priddy’s had a women’s football team, and there was a men’s and women’s angling club and a rifle club. Sports days were held up until the 1970s.”

A tour of the museum’s galleries gives visitors a flavour of the range of guns and missiles developed whilst Priddy’s Hard was operating. Jo, however, is keen to point out that over the decades firepower came in many shapes and forms.

“They were also making the shells used in ejector seats. And that’s also what’s nice about the recent donations as some items have been repurposed into something quite beautiful.”

The Royal Navy’s Historic Dockyard with its famous sea-faring ships is, understandably, a huge draw. However, to overlook the Museum of Naval Firepower and the men and women who played such a major role supporting Britain’s armed forces, is to miss the bigger story.


Book your tickets

A visit to Gosport’s Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower and its Royal Naval Submarine Museum via a daily waterbus from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is included in a £28 All Attraction ticket (historicdockyard.co.uk). By road take the M27 (Jct 11) following the A32 to Gosport (PO12 4LE). Open 10am-5pm. Single admission £12, concessions and family tickets available (explosion.org.uk).

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hampshire visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hampshire staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hampshire account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

10:20

10 of best photos of Hampshire shared on Instagram over the past week...

Read more
Yesterday, 16:29

Treat yourself to lunch and tea with a visit to one of these fantastic Hampshire tea rooms.

Read more
Wed, 13:01

Choose from the best in Hampshire for your wedding venue. We round up 20 of the best

Read more
Tue, 16:01

Join businesswoman, author and broadcaster Rosemary Conley CBE at Chewton Glen on Monday 5 February to learn ‘The Secrets of Staying Young’. One of the UK’s foremost diet and fitness experts, Rosemary has over 40 years of experience helping people to lose weight and get fitter

Read more
Tue, 11:16

Think you know the places and people of Hampshire? Take our quiz to find out…

Read more
Tue, 11:05

Follow Steve Davison as he heads to the western edge of the New Forest for an easy wander over the neighbouring commons of Rockford and Ibsley

Read more
Tue, 10:47

Last year this North Hampshire town rediscovered its heritage, and 2018 will see it continue to rejuvenate itself as multi-million investment forges ahead. We look at what’s to come

Read more
Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Choosing the correct footwear for your fitness activity is more than just a case of looking good, it’s a serious health decision…

Read more
Tuesday, January 9, 2018

From watercress to wine, New Alresford has an awful lot going for it. Emma Caulton considers its finer points over a cup of coffee

Read more
Monday, January 8, 2018

Got an empty calendar waiting to be filled? Whether you’re a culture vulture, a foodie or enjoy the great outdoors, Viv Micklefield handpicks 26 of Hampshire’s highlights

Read more
Monday, January 8, 2018

We round up some of the best events and things to do across Hampshire this month

Read more
Tuesday, January 2, 2018

From birds of prey to monkeys, the Isle of Wight is teeming with animal attractions, wildlife parks and zoos for lots of summer holiday fun. And don’t forget to look out for the red squirrels, says Viv Micklefield

Read more
Thursday, December 21, 2017

Is there anything more refreshing than a stroll on a crisp winter’s day? We don’t think so! Here are a few of our favourite rambles across the county to enjoy this season

Read more
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

With the New Forest, South Downs and a picturesque coastline, Hampshire is an amazing place for a walk. We round up a few of our favourites

Read more
 
Great British Holidays advert link
 
Pure Weddings advert link
 
South West Life advert link
 
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Latest Competitions & Offers

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad
Hampshire Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Hampshire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Property Search