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1786 - South Office Block

1786 saw the completion of the yard’s first purpose built Offices which to-day is the west-wing of the South Office Block and is the earliest surviving naval office block; these specialised building were only built in the Dockyards from 1750 onwards (Chatham). It was from here the Commissioners and later the Admiral Superintendents or Naval Base Commanders performed their daily work. They are probably the oldest surviving offices in any of the old Royal Dockyards and certainly the only building in the yard still performing its original function.

Just a few feet to the East on the same line and to the same design as the South Office was built a Storehouse. Later during mid 1840’s the storehouse was refurbished and converted into offices and joined to the West–wing by a double storied linking arch-way. Although the two building appear to be identical the western half has a basement with an open alley way below ground level and fenced by wrought-iron railings.

The Door-way to the Commissioner’s Offices has a Porch that can still be seen to-day. Interestingly over the porch is a figurehead that comes from the first Victorian Royal Yacht Osborne i.e. the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert that was built in 1842-3 and re-named Osborne in 1855. When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, she inherited the 330 ton Royal George; a yacht built for the Prince Regent in 1817. It was decided that the Queen should have a new Royal Yacht and the Surveyor of the Navy Sir William Symonds was given the task of designing it. The new vessel was built at Pembroke, being laid down on the 9th November 1842 and launched 20th April 1843.The engines were built by Maudslay & Sons, the builders of the Block-making machinery in Brunel’s Block Mills. The new vessel and its designer received heavy criticism over its cost from the Select Committee set up to inquire into the expenditure and actions of the Navy, Army and the Ordnance Board. However the Queen and her family received great pleasure from the new vessel and made many trips around Great Britain, Ireland and to Europe. The longest trip was to Gibraltar calling in at Lisbon on the way. It was said the 772 mile trip to Lisbon was made in 66 hours at an average speed of 11.6 knots.

A new yacht was laid down under the name of WindsorCastle in Pembroke dockyard. Delays in bringing the vessel forward to commissioning were caused by the Crimean War and it was not until March 1855 that she was launched. In January of 1855 the first Victoria and Albert was re-named Osborne so that the new vessel could use the name of Victoria and Albert II. Osborne under took other minor trips before she was broken up, presumably at Portsmouth in 1868. The figurehead of the original V & A is the one above the South Office block porch and bears the arms of Victoria on the Starboard side and Prince Albert on the Port side. The Royal Naval College at Dartmouth has the figurehead of Osborne II, a vessel built in 1870 as a tender to the Victoria and Albert II but the College’s figurehead has only the coat of arms of, by then, the widowed Queen. (R. S. Horne 25th January 1965.)

1786 - South Office Block