From Hulks to ‘Stone Frigates’
In 1853 the Royal Navy introduced continuous service. Before that the Navy recruited sailors as it needed them. Men would join a ship’s company and prepare the ship for sea. While they did this the men lived in hulks - stripped out ships no longer in service.
The conditions were poor. The hulks were cold, dark and smelly with little or no washing facilities on board. The Royal Navy recognised that the hulks were a problem but regarded shore barracks as a waste of money and harmful to discipline and training. The Admiralty decided to improve living conditions in the hulks rather than build shore based barracks.
This practice began to change and by 1890 the builders completed construction of HMS Vivid, shore barracks at Devonport. In 1891 Portsmouth Gunnery School HMS Excellent became the Navy’s first shore based training facility. The Royal Navy commissioned the buildings as ships, calling them ‘stone frigates’.
The Navy built ‘shore establishments’ around the country to meet its needs. The century’s first new base was Rosyth, in Scotland, founded in 1909 to deter the emerging German Navy. Establishments might even be far from the sea. In 1960 the Home Fleet Command moved away from Portsmouth to Northwood, Middlesex.
The Navy also opened bases abroad in the colonies. Enemy action sometimes forced them to move. When Japan drove the Eastern Fleet out of Singapore in 1942, the Navy located its new fleet headquarters in Kenya.
Since 1945 the Navy has shrunk in size. The empire ended and many newly independent Commonwealth countries received the bases on their land. Several UK establishments have closed down and are now used for commercial business.