Bones of Oak and Iron: Beneath Victory's Skin at the National Museum of the Royal Navy

By Culture24 Reporter | 19 September 2011
A photo of a stone crest from an ancient warship
Exhibition: Bones of Oak and Iron – Beneath Victory’s Skin, National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth

In 250 turbulent years on the high seas and at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, HMS Victory may never have received as much attention as she currently is.

The topmasts and rigging of one of Britain’s most revered vessels are currently down, and the planking underneath them is being pored over by experts.

As this latest phase of tender loving care continues, an exhibition over at the National Museum of the Royal Navy explains why these efforts are merely the latest in a line of painstaking maintenance procedures, regularly required since the day the ship was built in 1759.

“Visitors are intrigued to realise that ships like Victory were regularly refitted, and this is just another phase in her life,” points out the Dockyard’s Jacquie Shaw, who says punters are “always fascinated” by the “ongoing and vital” conservation campaign.

“The maintenance work becomes part of the visitor experience, and we will do our very best to ensure that disruption is kept to an absolute minimum.

“We will also interpret the work being done so visitors appreciate the considerable skill and effort which is required to keep her ship-shape.”

The world’s oldest commissioned warship used to be preserved for more combative purposes – the wooden juggernaut fought major battles, collided with iron ships and suffered attacks from bombing raids, gribbles, beetles and creeping fungus.

Its survival is illustrated through futuristic computer-generated displays, footage, tactile features and unusual facts here.

“HMS Victory is a national icon,” says Professor Dominic Tweddle, the museum’s Director General.

“We are determined that by opening this unique exhibition and keeping Victory open to the public throughout the restoration work, visitors can share in the excitement and thrills of this continuing story."

  • Open 10am-6pm (5.30pm November-March). Admission £15.80-£21.50 (family ticket £62.15, includes unlimited entry to HMS Warrior 1860, National Museum of the Royal Navy and Action Stations and single entry to HMS Victory, the Mary Rose Museum and Harbour Tours for a year). Buy tickets online.

More pictures from the display:

A photo of the inside of a museum where naval heritage items are on display
The exhibition is part of an effort by planners at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to keep the public in touch with the story of HMS Victory while the ship undergoes vital restoration work
A photo of the inside of an exhibition about a ship
Gribbles, beetles and fungus are all liable to erode the Victory, which is made entirely of wood
A photo of a case full of saws and wood inside a naval heritage exhibition
Craftsmen have spent centuries finding innovative ways to preserve the ancient ship
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