In 1903 Mark Edwin Pescott-Frost, Secretary to the Admiral Superintendent at Portsmouth Dockyard, began collecting artefacts and historical items relating to Portsmouth Dockyard. By 1906 the collection had grown and Pescott-Frost was able to persuade the Admiral Superintendent to allocate space at the end of the Great Ropehouse to be used for a Dockyard museum. The museum was opened in 1911. However when HMS VICTORY was brought into dry dock a new museum was created to contain items connected with her and Lord Nelson at the expense of the Dockyard museum. Some of the items were transferred to the Naval Museum and some to the National Maritime Museum but the remainder have been lost.
In 1982, following the announcement of the run-down of Portsmouth Dockyard under the terms of the 1981 Defence review, Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Society (PRDHS) was established composed chiefly of former Dockyard employees. Intensive efforts were made to collect representative samples of machinery, tools, drawings, photographs, scientific testing apparatus and other important examples of the material culture of the Dockyard before they were lost to posterity and the skills and trades they represented had disappeared. In particular it was hoped to establish a new Dockyard Museum to tell the story of the Dockyard through the ages and of the men and women who spent much of their working lives in the Dockyard through peace and war, to complement the Naval story as told by the Royal Naval Museum and the several historic ships. An oral history programme was initiated and a wide cross-section of former Dockyard employees has been interviewed with some assistance from Portsmouth University. Over 400 interviews have been recorded are currently held by Portsmouth City Museum which is undertaking the task of transcribing and digitising the recordings and compiling a website catalogue.
From its formation, members of the PRDHS continued to add to and to develop the collection, supported by the Naval Base Property Trust. During this time the PRDHS was responsible for a number of temporary exhibitions and displays in the Historic Dockyard. A permanent exhibition sponsored by the Naval Base Property Trust, The Dockyard Apprentice, was opened in Boathouse No. 7 in 1994 in which many of the artefacts of the PRDHS are displayed.
In 1994 to formalise its status, particularly in relation to other trusts in the Historic Dockyard, and to facilitate future access to grants and other sources of development funding, the original Society was converted into a charitable trust, The Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust (PRDHT). The trustees include representatives from the Naval Base Property Trust, Portsmouth City Council, Portsmouth University, the Royal Naval Museum and Fleet Services Limited.
When the PRDHT was established the Society as such ceased to exist but members formed the PRDHT Support Group which in essence continues the work previously undertaken by the Society by ensuring the safe storage and maintenance of artefacts and arranging displays for public interest and education, in support of the Trust under whose jurisdiction it operates.
Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust is registered as a charity, Charity Number 1040207, Company Number 2956399.
The objectives of the company are:
- To promote research into the history and industrial archaeology of the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth and to disseminate the results of such research.
- To promote the education of the public on matters connected with the history of the Dockyard.
- To advance the education of the public in the history and archaeology of the Dockyard by the maintenance of an accessible, comprehensive collection of artefacts and documents, and the promotion of associated public exhibitions.