Up the Creek - South Coast

Marchwood, Southampton Water

  Satellite magazine stores were built to store gunpowder dispersed from the main store at Priddy’s Hard (built 1771) and one of these was the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Marchwood.   R.N.A.D. Marchwood was built some 40 years after Priddy’s Hard came into use and was opened in 1815.   The building of this small depot at Marchwood may have appeared insignificant in the grand scale of things but its role was to prove important during its 146 year life.   Plans to build a satellite magazine on the west side of the River Test were initiated in 1812 under the instruction of the Inspector General of Ordnance.   The site at Marchwood was purchased by the Ordnance Office from Sir Charles Mills for £1,200 and three years later, staffed by a storekeeper named R.B. Ady, a Foreman and two Watchmen, a three magazine depot capable of storing 21,000 barrels of gunpowder, was opened.   Being highly dangerous it was imperative that the gunpowder was securely stored, both to minimise the risk of accident and to keep it out of the reach of would-be thieves.  Consequently each magazine had to be solidly constructed with 21 inch thick brick walls which were double skinned and had ventilation ports.  The massive roofs were of half inch thick slates laid on top of clay tiles, with the soffits finished in one inch thick elm boarding.  To avoid the obvious hazard from sparks, all metal work was non-ferrous and even the one and a half inch thick coffered floors were constructed using wooden pegs instead of nails.  Copper was used for other metal surfaces.  Outside, the magazines were surrounded by brick wails 11 feet high and 15 inches thick.  They were also separated by traverses of brick walls and blast banks of earth 21 feet high.   In addition to the three magazines, the Depot consisted of an examining laboratory with two rooms, a shifting house, a cooperage, two store rooms, a boathouse, a powder pier and a hard.  There were also barracks and offices.  It was necessary for security at Marchwood to be strict and in 1819 military sentries were introduced to the site.  During the next 72 years, while Marchwood was under the jurisdiction of the Board of Ordnance and, later, the War Office, the depot was under a 24 hour guard.   This was carried out by four military sentries and two watchmen who were labourers at the depot.  The exclusive duty of one of these watchmen would be to patrol the river bank behind the magazines.  The strength of the military presence varied over the years.  The first detachment of the Royal Artillery to be deployed at Marchwood in 1819 consisted of one sergeant with 12 N.C.0s. and men.  The detachment in 1846 had one sergeant and fourteen gunners and in 1891, there were two officers, a company of the Rifle Brigade and a surgeon with army medical staff.   The number of men posted to the depot at any particular time is probably an indication of the volume of gunpowder being stored there.

  By the start of the 1850s, activity at Marchwood appears to have diminished, as between October 1850 and March 1854, the magazines were empty and depot houses were let to coast-guards and civilians.  However, Britain's entry into the Crimean War (March 1854 - February 1856) immediately led to the re-commissioning of the magazines and in 1856 four new magazines were built.  These were handed over to the War Office, which replaced the now abolished Ordnance Office, by the Royal Engineer on July 1st l857.   The establishment site now covered 7 acres and became triangular in shape.  Like the residents of Portsmouth a hundred years earlier, the people of Southampton were concerned about an armaments depot being so close to their homes.   In January 1876, when Marchwood was well stocked and fears were at their worst, the Committee for the Transport and Storage of Powder was petitioned and the removal of the depot was demanded.  The Committee's president, Colonel C.M. Younghusband reassured the people of Southampton that they were in no danger and maintained there was nothing to justify the removal of the establishment from the neighbourhood.  The Secretary of state for War agreed that under no circumstances could he consent to the removal of the armaments depot.   At about this time, the stock at Marchwood ceased to be exclusively gunpowder, and in 1877 one magazine was allocated for small arms.   In 1892 a second magazine was set aside for Q.F. ammunition.  Naval vessels brought the consignments of gunpowder along Southampton Water to Marchwood where they were delivered at the pier head.   The barrels were then, three at a time, transported on magazine barrows along the pier to the rolling stage for inspection by the cooper.   The barrels were then transferred to flat bottomed barges and ferried along the canal to the magazines.  Casual labour was sometimes employed to help convey the barrels to and from the magazines.   Throughout the depot's life, few changes were made to the unloading and storage procedures.  Every effort was made to avoid accidents and spillage’s and over the years strict regulations were enforced.   For example, no barrels were ever opened in the magazines but were taken to the Examining Rooms for investigation.   The barrels were constantly examined for faults such as slackness in the hooping and if any defective barrels were discovered, they were immediately taken to the cooper to be repaired.   The magazine floors were swept after every arrival and dispatch of gunpowder and any areas that the gunpowder had been carried over were sprinkled with water.  There were also strict rules concerning the men who worked in the depot.  The cooper and labourers for instance were frequently assembled in the shifting room where their clothing was searched for pipes and matches.   Before they were allowed to enter the magazines they had to change into jerseys and woollen drawers which they wore under 'duck' frocks and trousers.  Working parties employed from 1925 onwards were also carefully searched for anything of a dangerous nature.  They too wore prescribed clothing and special magazine shoes. At the turn of the century security was undertaken by the Dockyard Division of the Metropolitan Police.   At the outbreak of war in 1914, ammunition and the bulk of the Navy's gunpowder were stored at Marchwood, but between 1916 and 1918, all the magazines were emptied so that cordite could be stored there instead.  This period saw a huge increase in the number of staff, from 21 at the beginning of the war to 103 in 1918.   During the 1920s, due to the reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police there was yet another change in security arrangements when it was decided that they should discontinue their service at Marchwood.   Because the reorganisation was so extensive, it was introduced piecemeal, beginning with the country's arms depots then moving onto the dockyards.  Since the Royal Marines had often undertaken a security role at depots and dockyards in the past, they were a natural choice to replace the Metropolitan Police.   In 1923, the Royal Marine Police returned to Marchwood, staying there until they were absorbed into the Admiralty Civil Police Force in 1949.   During the Second World War, Marchwood again acted as a reserve unit but this time for Priddy’s Hard at Gosport and was the main depot for explosives for the reserve fleet.   On the night of 19th June 1940, however, the depot suffered an air attack and 200 incendiary bombs caused the destruction of four of Marchwood's magazines and a full storehouse.  About 229,000 rounds of Oerlikon ammunition together with 127,000 lbs of cordite were detonated and the huge explosions seriously damaged cottages a hundred yards away.  Nine thousand empty crates in the storehouse were also lost.   A second attack in December of that year destroyed yet another magazine but by January 1942 all of the buildings destroyed in the air raids had been rebuilt.   During the post war period Marchwood continued to provide storage space for the overflow of ammunition from Priddy’s Hard.  It also housed shells and small arms for coastal minesweepers and antiaircraft fire.   In the late 1950s the Navy began to cut down on the size of the Fleet, weaponry had become refined and the location of Marchwood was now considered to be geographically unsuitable and in 1964 Marchwood Sailing Club was formed.  Some of the buildings remain today and parts can be viewed with permission from the Sailing Club.

  So much for its long history.   The club itself is situated some 7½ miles up Southampton Water to King George 5th Dry Dock on the south west side and just before the Southampton Container Terminals start.  The club’s moorings for smaller vessels are on the same side opposite the Mayflower Cruise Terminal and for deep fin and larger vessels opposite the Southampton Container Terminals themselves, farther upstream.  At this end of Southampton Water very large commercial vessels turn and can get frighteningly close so beware.   Today the club have an envious clubhouse and premises for around 200 vessel owning members.   Their pontoons will moor about 30 vessels rafted and the outer pontoons are all tide moorings.  As the moorings are so far up Southampton water they are somewhat shielded from adverse weather although there can be a fetch from a north westerly.  The pontoons have shore access through a coded security gate given at the bar after paying your mooring fee currently around £10 for an overnight stay (any length vessel).  The club’s premises cant fail to impress.  One building is now the bar and restaurant and the other the Committee rooms.    The slip caters for no less than 2 boat hoists taking vessels into their own secure compound storing around 140 vessels and storage for dinghy’s in a separate area.   Masts are stepped from a mast hoist adjacent to the slip.  There is a small car park on the headland and a larger car park within the club’s premises.  The shore facilities are accessible using the same security gate code and are excellent.   The bar speaks for itself and the food once excellent, but the caterers have been taken over recently and to my surprise are now even better being quick, cheap and home made.  They serve a variable menu at the sort of quality one would expect in a good restaurant.   The dining area caters for around 30 persons with breakfasts by arrangement.   The caterers will also open on bank holidays for larger numbers (club visits) by arrangement.   Should you have an interest in shipping then this is the place to observe and get really close to all the famous ships plying their trade from Southampton.  With so much commercial activity on the north side of the waters it seems strange that there should be so much wildlife on the south side especially with Bury Marsh so close.  The club is a very friendly club welcoming visitors and is well worth  the passage and at least an overnight stay.

Marchwood Sailing Club (Extract from Chart GB50242J)

Marchwood Jetty & Pontoons

Marchwood Slipway

Container Ship turning and getting close

Marchwood Yacht Club’s Clubhouse

Marchwood Yacht Club’s Bar

© Copyright Terry Paynter