In 1750 the Board of Ordnance purchased 40 acres of agricultural land from Jane Priddy (hence Priddy’s Hard) and others to construct an earth rampart as part of the defences of Portsmouth Harbour and the Dockyard. The defences, which included two demi-bastions, a moat and a covered way, were completed in 1756. Soon afterwards, the Board decided to relocate the gunpowder stores from Portsmouth to Priddy’s Hard for safety reasons and in 1771 a magazine, office and cooperage were constructed with an adjoining camber basin on land within the ramparts. Officer’s houses and large gardens were added in 1777.
As the Navy grew in size and importance, Priddy’s Hard Royal Naval Armaments Depot was one of a network of ordnance yards and gunwharfs established close to the Royal Dockyards to supply war ships with their guns, ammunition and associated services. Historically, the depots were the responsibility of a Board of Ordnance.
In 1805 the Grand Magazine on the site was used to store Gunpowder that was delivered to Priddy’s Hard from Waltham Abbey. Gunpowder was transported from this Magazine to the Trafalgar Fleet via a Camber Dock, the Fleet included Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory.
Later in the century an office building and houses for the officers, workers cottages, a cooperage and stables were added. During the Napoleonic Wars the magazine complex was extended and in 1848 a laboratory complex was built to the south of the office block specifically for testing the quality and condition of gunpowder.
Between 1850 and 1860 as a result of the technological advances of the industrial revolution, breech loading guns and iron-clad warships were developed. In 1860 HMS Warrior and HMS Black Prince were launched, iron ships armed with Sir William Armstrong’s breech loading guns. These ships rendered all wooden warships obsolete within a year. To service the new type of ammunition purpose-built shell filling rooms were built along Forton Lake.
In 1861 “C” Magazine was built and in 1879 the largest magazine, “E” Magazine was built. During the 1860s the fortifications were strengthened incorporating brick gateways, carponniers and or covered firing positions to cover the moats, Armstrong guns were fitted to the two demi-bastions.
By 1886, further magazines and buildings were added following the adoption of cordite as the main propellant and the need to separate the most dangerous testing and filling operations from the storage areas. This also required the installation of a narrow gauge railway system across the whole site to transport ordnance. The new Powder and Shell Piers on the Harbour superseded the camber and Rolling Way to the magazines.
The site was altered continuously during the early twentieth century to meet the evolving needs of naval ordnance technology and to improve the security of the site from both landward and seaward attack. The site was fully utilised during the Second World War with the introduction of 2,500 women workers who filled jobs vacated by men on active service. The site was last used for significant naval activity during the Falklands Conflict in 1982, and was vacated by RNAD Gosport in 1988 when it relocated to Frater further north on the Harbour.
Now the Priddy’s Hard site is home to a Museum which opened in March of 2001. Explosion is an award winning, hands on, interactive museum set in the historic setting of a former Royal Navy gunpowder and munitions depot at Priddy’s Hard, on the Gosport side of Portsmouth Harbour. Telling the story of naval warfare from the days of gunpowder to modern missiles, the museum includes a nationally significant collection of guns and naval ordnance, an original 18th century gunpowder vault and social history about the people who supplied the Navy from the days of Trafalgar to the Gulf War.