The History of Shipbuilding in Portsmouth

23 Jun 2022

The History of Shipbuilding in Portsmouth

Shipbuilding has been a significant part of Portsmouth’s history since its founding. It’s even in the name. That rich history doesn’t solely span the private sector, however, as it’s also been associated with the armed forces through the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy.

That’s led to many service leavers staying in the area to continue working in military-adjacent roles. These are primarily in the shipbuilding industry in ship refit and mechanics roles, although engineering is also a popular choice.

SLR Recruitment has been a part of this for years, as we connect services leavers with employers and help with their career transition. If you’re looking for trades or jobs in the sector and are leaving the armed forces, we can help you find your new horizons.

Your resettlement into civilian life will be smoother than you think.

History of Shipbuilding in Portsmouth

Early Years

Portsmouth’s dockyard was created by King Richard I through a Royal Charter in 1194, but it wasn’t until over 300 years later that the dry dock was constructed at King Henry VII’s order. Built in 1495, it’s considered the oldest dry dockyard in existence. In the decades after this, multiple achievements were met, such as working on Henry VIII’s Mary Rose.

In 1660, Portsmouth gained royal status when the Royal Navy was created by Charles II. Over 60 years later, the Royal Navy Academy was established there.


Portsmouth played a major role in many events during the 1900s, such as docking 1,658 ships for repairs or retrofits during World War I. During World War II, however, it was heavily damaged and considered too dangerous to dock strategic ships. In the subsequent decades, ship and employee numbers continued to increase.

Modern Day

The modern history of shipbuilding in Portsmouth saw an acceleration of production across various areas. The first of these advancements came in 2007, when two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers were announced to be in production. BAE Systems would take control of Portsmouth’s shipyards two years later.

In the subsequent years, there would be some turmoil, as BAE pulled its shipbuilding out of the region. Following some political upheaval, stability was seemingly restored when Magma was announced as the new shipbuilder in 2015. This wouldn’t become a reality, however, with the deal eventually failing.

Despite this, investment in the region’s shipbuilding continues. A recent £4 billion country-wide investment by the government, for example, benefits the Portsmouth region tremendously. Coupled with that is the recent news of Griffon Hover’s £25 million contract win.

The announcement brings a state-of-the-art facility and over 100 new jobs to the region. As a result, there are more than a few positions for service leavers and former armed forces to find jobs with security clearance and SLR Recruitment is playing a central role in this.

As an industry leader in connecting marine employers with services leaders, we use our expertise to bring our candidates new opportunities and our clients the right people to move their projects forward.

With our tailored, hands-on, and comprehensive approach, we are proud to help our candidates and clients.