The history behind the gates of RNAD Priddy’s Hard were kept sealed since 1750 and only in 1977 was the life of the Depot allowed to be told. The site was purchased by an act from King George III in 1750 and the Board of Ordnance purchased 40 acres of agricultural land from Jane Priddy and a Fareham Vicar, Thomas Missing. The agricultural land also comprised of a boatyard–thus giving birth to Priddy’s Hard.
Hards (boatyard) were commonly known as a firm or paved beach or slope by water that is convenient for hauling boats out of the water. The term is especially used in Hampshire, southern England and many well established boatyards still use the term such as;
- Buckler’s Hard, Hampshire
- Priddy’s Hard, Gosport, Hampshire
- The Hard Interchange, Portsmouth, Hampshire, next to the Hard
- Dock (maritime)
Board of Ordnance
The Board of Ordnance was established in the Tudor period and the main responsibilities of the Govermental body were ‘to act as custodian of the lands, depots and forts required for the defence of the realm and its overseas possessions, and as the supplier of munitions and equipment to both the Army and the Navy’. The BoO (Board of Ordnance) planned to use the newly acquired land from Jane Priddy and Thomas Missing to store ammunitions for the Royal Navy. This meant building a vaired amount of special buildings where they could be stored carefully and safely.
This decision was made after a series of petitions sent to the Master General of Ordnance from the general public, the decision was made to remove the gunpowder that had been stored in Square Tower, Portsmouth. The General Public were well aware of the danger if the Square Tower had exploded as like the 1649 accident down Tower Street, London — 60 houses demolished after 37 barrels detonated in a shop– 1654, Gravelines — explosion of magazine, 3,000 killed. 1693, Dublin — detonation of 218 barrels, 100 killed. 1739, Brescia — lightning strike, 3,000 killed.
Building a defence network
Work began on the Gosport Lines in 1678 and when the circuit was completed consisted of a rampart 10-11 ft high without a parapet and a moat, partly wet and partly dry, 30 ft wide and 11 ft deep. It was unfinished at the time of Charles II’s visit in September 1683 and despite adverse comments in official reports deteriorated further during the early C 18.
In 1748 the rebuilding of the Lines began and was to continue for half a century. Between 1751 and 1752 all but the southernmost curtain had been rebuilt and enlarged and the construction of a covered way and glacis beyond was envisaged. The next phase began in 1757 with a covered way and glacis outside the moat on the southwestern side, and a new rampart and moat was constructed from the north angle of the main central bastion roughly parallel to the line of Weevil Lane down to Forton Lake. The Lines were extended beyond Forton Lake to enclose Priddy’s Hard, presumbably to prevent an enemy occupying the area and bombarding the dock. The RNAD built the Great Magazine there c 1770.
Life at RNAD Priddy's Hard
During the early years of WW1 a man shortage nearly crippled the British Army in France. Following this, more women workers were drafted in to take over from the healthy men in the British industry. These unsung heroes produced munitions for the British military across the empire fighting for our freedom in the Great War.
Between 1914 and 1918, hundreds of British factories altered their functions to make munitions. Over 890,000 women – teenagers, wives, mothers and even grandmothers – joined the two million already working in factories. This was the same story for the Second World War when over 950,000 female workers joined the fight for King and country. The Royal Naval Armament Depot (RNAD) Priddy’s Hard took in over 2,500 female workers during the course of the Second World War.
“I lived in Gosport, Hants, during the Second World War and went to work at the Royal Naval Armament Depot, Priddy’s Hard, Gosport in January 1941. I was employed as an Inspector of Naval Ordnance (INO) and I worked with Concentrated Explosive Powder (CE Powder). It was like lemonade powder and turned my skin yellow and my hair orange. I remember our air raid shelter was between two working blocks, both stocked with the CE powder and other high explosives so despite Portsmouth and Gosport suffering heavy air raids we never bothered to use it. I was able to get leave when my husband, who was in the army, came home.”
Mrs Gladys M. Harget
The legacy of Priddy's Hard
Although in 1977 the future of Priddy’s Hard looked bleak! A decade-long plan was announced, all armament support activities and facilities were to be transferred to Elson and Frater, bringing the end of Priddy’s Hard as a depot. However, a new beginning was on the horizon. This historical part of the area was opened to the public as the Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower. This new museum housed in the old buildings shows what life would have been for this period and portrays many stories and artefacts to keep the history alive!
More recently the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust has since completed restoration works on multiple buildings and more noticeably the Ramparts. Portsmouth & Gosport History has worked directly with the Trust to open the site up more regularly through open days. We have opened the Fortifcation on five occasions in 2022 and the future certainly looks bright for this historic space.