‘The shrine of manly virtues’: the 1920s Restoration of HMS Victory, Sarah Westbury

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HMS Victory post-restoration. Detail from late 1920s postcard. Image: Sarah Westbury

Over the past year I’ve been researching HMS Victory, the 251 year old warship preserved in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The Victory is already the subject of dozens of publications, but these focus almost exclusively on the ship’s military career – so the famous battles it fought in, the famous admirals in command – and focussing especially on its role as the flagship of Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

But despite all of this published work, for me, the most interesting, and largely forgotten chapter of the ship’s history is actually its preservation and restoration in the 1920s. This was when an organisation called the Society for Nautical Research, who were a motley crew of antiquarians, naval architects, artists, and retired admirals persuaded the Admiralty to let them take control of the Victory’s future. By 1921 the Victory was found to be badly decayed: the First World War had seen to it that the Admiralty’s attention and resources had been distracted elsewhere.

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