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Keyham Dockyard 

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Keyham Dockyard.  Photographs and History of Keyham Dockyard.

The creation of a steam factory for the Royal Navy was the necessary consequence of the introduction of steam machinery, and the Keyham Yard is, indeed closely identified with the modern fleet.  “Sailing-ships are unfit for active service,” was the official announcement made in the year 1859.  Already, in 1842, the steam frigate “Firebrand,” of 400 horse-power, had appeared, and in the next year came the first steam propelled Royal yacht, the “Victoria and Albert,” also of 400 horse-power.  The “Penelope” and the steam frigate “Retribution” followed, and in 1845 became the steam frigate “Terrible,” of 800 horsepower.  The year that followed saw the commencement of the Keyham factory, as an important addition to the Devonport Yard.  Lord Auckland was at that time first Lord of the Admiralty, and from that time forward active work went on, which has given us the Keyham Yard as it exists today.  The establishment covers some seventy-acres of land, and, lying to the north of the Devonport Yard, may be approached from it by the dockyard railway, to which allusion has already been made.  The work was carried out in excellent style, and the buildings are of solid and commodious character, while the gateway in the Saltash Road is a fine and imposing structure.  The facilities for docking and berthing ship are excellent, but will be more than doubled when the extension works, presently to be described, are brought to completion.  Then, indeed the Keyham establishment will be a truly magnificent and a vitally essential part of our Naval equipment.

           Keyham as it now exists has two large basins, of which the southern most covers thirty-six acres, and here vessels completing or under repair may always be seen.  From the south basin, three large docks are entered, of which the largest, 418-ft. long, is known as the Queen’s because the “Queen” was the first vessel to enter it.  The two other docks are mostly employed for cruisers and smaller vessels.  Around the docks and basins it had all the workshops necessary for the operations conducted at the yard.  Here a great deal of engine building is carried on, and machinery repairs are always in progress.  There are a smithery with powerful steam hammer and great furnaces, brass and iron foundries, pattern and machinery shops, plate flanging works, an erecting shop, and a turnery, and many other establishments of the greatest mechanical efficiency.  Electricity has now taken its place alongside steam, and the operations of the establishment have been extended accordingly.  It will illustrate the completeness of the mechanical equipment of the yard if I say that in the present establishment there are three pairs of huge sheer legs, tested respectively for a lifting capacity of 120, 60, and 50 tons, as well as two cranes of 40-tons, two of 30-tons, and very many smaller.  Iron caissons, each of which cost about £4,500, secure the entrances to the docks and basins and a sliding caisson for the division of a dock is illustrated with this article.  The shops and stores are built about a quadrangle, and two huge chimneystacks, each about 180-ft. high, indicate the presence of a great factory at that spot.  Amazing, indeed, is the extent and variety of the work carried on there.

           Keyham, moreover, is the headquarters of Naval Engineering, and at the Royal Naval Engineers’ College, which has been fully described in these pages, Student engineers pass four or five years, doing a great deal of instructional work in the yard.  Thus, with them, theory and practice go forward together, and excellent is the result.  The growth of the educational establishment called for recent enlargement, and a new wing of the college was begun in 1895, and completed early in 1897.

           The growing necessities of the Fleet have made Keyham Yard also, with its two basins and its three docks and all its factories, quite inadequate for the demands of the present day.  It was recognised about the year 1894 that something must be done to bring up the naval establishments to the level of the floating strength of the fleet, and a great scheme was embodied in the Naval Works Act of 1895, in which the Keyham Extension holds a large place.  For a rapid mobilisation of the fleet, the Admiralty saw that it was necessary to add to the basin accommodation and to the coaling facilities.  More docks were required, because only one first-class battle-ship could be docked in the yard, and the entrance to that dock was extremely inconvenient at certain times.  A plan was therefore laid down for taking a large area of the north side present establishment, in the direction of the Saltash Bridge across the River Tamar.  There was to be an additional basin area of forty-one acres, with three new graving docks and a coaling jetty.

           It was estimated that the cost of the work would be £1,920,000, and some contacts were entered into in 1895-96.  This original estimate was calculated upon the approximate base of the outline plan made before the borings and other data has been secured, and before the plans and sections were ready which were necessary for framing a definite estimate.  In effect, the original estimate was increased to £3,175,000, and it was stated that the works would probably be concluded in the year 1903-04.  The funds that had been made available enabled the borings and other preliminary operations to be commenced, by which the depth and nature of the rock were ascertained.

           The original plan was also somewhat modified.  There is to be a tidal basin, 1,550-ft, long by 1,000-ft. wide, with an area of 35 ½ acres, as well as a spacious closed basin and three graving docks (Nos. 4, 5, and 6), and an entrance lock admitting the docking of large ships in case of need.  In the modified plan the size both of the tidal basin and of No. 5 dock has been increased, and a greater depth of water is now provided over the sills and entrances and alongside the wharf walls.  These changes have been thought necessary owing to the increased size of ships, and they cause an addition of about £820,000, while a sum of £175,000, was devoted to lifting and other machinery of permanent character.

           When the Keyham extension is complete, the united Devonport and Keyham yard will have five principal basins of large size, and ten docks, of which four are in the older establishment.  It is impossible to exaggerate the importance and value of such a Naval base in that fine strategically situation.  The tidal basin when complete will accommodate the whole Channel Squadron, and in the immediate neighbourhood will be every requirement for the repair and refitting of the largest ships in His Majesty’s Navy.  At the present time the outer wall has been carried forward, especially towards the south end, where it is little below the level of the coping.  The east and south walls of the tidal basin and the south arm at the entrances have been completed, and the closed basin is well advanced, the east wall and a large part of the west wall being completed, while the mud has been excavated and preparation made for a caisson camber at the entrance.  The great entrance is also in an advanced state, the west wall being up to the coping for a length of 300-ft., and the remainder of the wall not much below it.  No.4 graving dock is almost ready, for the side and the end walls have been finished, the excavating work is done, and the concreting under the floor is practically out of hand.  In the case of No.5 dock the excavation is nearly complete, and the building work has begun, while No. 6 dock has made good progress in the matter of excavation.  These facts will suggest to the reader how vast is the undertaking, and how great will be the triumph when all is ready.  Indeed the completion of Keyham will be a work in every way comparable in importance to that of the extension works at Gibraltar, of which so much has been heard, and we may be quite sure that in any future war the resources of the Western port will pay a very great part indeed.  The inauguration of the Naval Works Act which provided for the Keyham Extension was one of the most important events I the administration of Lord Goschen at the Admiralty.     


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