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Portland Port, Royal Naval Cemetery and a Gun Battery

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This area covers the old Royal Naval Dockyard (now occupied by Portland Port), the Royal Naval cemetery lying up the hill ('A' on the adjacent photograph) and the East Weares Battery - a Victorian gun emplacement now overgrown with brambles ('B').

When the above aerial photograph was taken in 2002 the prison ship HMP WEARE was berthed as shown ‘C’ but was later sold and removed.

The Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment Sonar Research building was abandoned but still standing at ‘D’. This was demolished by 2009.

The official website for Portland Port can be found here.

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There is a very good and informative history of the Royal Navy at Portland which can be read here.

Below I have reproduced a some old pictures of the Royal Naval Dockyard and there are many more to be found by clicking here.










A typical bustling scene in the Royal Naval Dockyard in the early 1990s. Fleet Support boats cluster around the  jetties - almost like the old days when the MFVs chugged around the harbour during the 'Thursday War' exercises.


HMS Portland tied up alongside in Portland Port on a public ‘Open Day’ in 2002.

This bought back memories of the days when the Royal Navy was 'at home' at Portland and the ‘Open Days’ were looked forward to as a family event.

The dockyard diesel locomotive would be decorated up and giving rides around the base and many ships were open to explore.

The best job on these Open Days was to be at the bottom of the vertical steel ladder in the submarine where eager submariners would courteously help young ladies down the ladder whilst trying - not very successfully! - to avert their eyes from the stockings, suspenders and knickers in full view above their heads. In truth, the young ladies did not seem to be put off with the submarine visit because of having to display their underwear. I am sure I saw several shapely ladies doing the tour several times!



The days when the Royal Navy ships were using the dockyard and nearby Castletown was relatively prosperous.


A stone commemorating the 150th anniversary of the laying of the first stone for the breakwater project. This commemorative stone is within Portland Port and is not normally available to view by the public.


This old picture shows the Weymouth to Easton railway line passing over Incline Road by means of the girder bridge. At this time the incline road was a cable railway system where trucks loaded with stone were lowered down to Castletown using a cable system. At the top of the picture can be seen one of the drums used to control the cable.

The cluster of buildings were in an area later completely taken over by the Royal Navy and now belonging to Portland Port.


This photograph was taken in about 2002 and is looking back down Incline Road towards the point from which the previous much older picture was taken. The girder bridge has been removed. Beyond the security gate is the main building of the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment (AUWE) within the Naval Base. The southern part of the AUWE establishment was at Southwell - click here for details.


Panorama 5LR

The main building of the Sonar Research Department of AUWE is on the left. The girder railway bridge has been removed at the bottom of the Incline Road but another disused railway bridge can be seen on the right of the above picture.

By 2005 the AUWE building had been demolished.


This picture taken in the early 1990s shows the research vessel RDV CRYSTAL which was an unpowered barge bristling with experimental sonar equipment.

It was launched in 1972 and decommissioned and towed away for scrap in 1992.

Broadly speaking, the research carried out within the Naval Base in the above building was associated with developing new and more powerful sonar systems for ships and submarines. The southern establishment at Southwell was aimed at research into torpedoes, sea mines and their detection and the project activities involved in turning research into viable equipment for use by the Royal Navy.

A very informative history of the AUWE research establishments on Portland has been written by Ashley Smith and this can be read here.



There is an excellent detailed history of this prison ship here and the following is a brief summary of that website.

The ship was built in 1979 in Sweden as a floating accommodation barge for the offshore oil and gas industry.

The vessel was acquired by the British Bibby Line in 1982, renamed Bibby Resolution, and chartered to the Ministry of Defence to provide troop accommodation in the Falkland Islands.

The Bibby Resolution and her sister ship Bibby Venture served as prison ships for the New York City Department of Correction in 1988.

The UK established HMP WEARE in 1997 as a temporary measure to ease prison overcrowding, and it was docked at the disused Royal Navy dockyard. The ship went on to hold 400 prisoners in 2004.

The ship instantly created 250 jobs in the Portland area and boosted the economy by 9 million a year.

By 2006 the ship had been sold off to a Nigerian shipping company to provide accommodation to oil workers. Renamed Jascon 27, the ship left Portland under tow in 2010, bound for Onne, Nigeria.



During World War 2 a vast underground Naval Headquarters was built deep into the Portland cliffs to the south of the Royal Naval Base. Many pictures and the history of this huge construction can be seen here as well as here.

“The Urban Explorer” has kindly given me permission to show three of his copyrighted pictures below - several more can be seen  here.




The entrances to these tunnels and rooms are inside the Portland Port property.




This view of the Royal Navy Cemetery pictured in the Autumn of 2002 from the entrance to the Verne Prison. The large grey ‘ship’ in the centre of the picture was the prison ship HMP WEARE.


There is a good detailed article on the origin and development of the cemetery which can be read here.


To find the cemetery proceed up Verne Common Road from Fortuneswell until the housing estate ends. Watch out for the abandoned Merchant’s Railway which passes under the road and then look out for a Tarmac road leading down a slope. Walk down this to the Royal Naval Cemetery.

The cemetery was set up in 1876 and is still in use.


The above picture shows the northern ramparts of the Verne Citadel.




The graves of twelve German airmen are included in the cemetery along with a Canadian citizen.














Six gun batteries were built between 1862 and 1869 to protect the Royal Naval Dockyard, Portland Harbour and the eastern coastline of Portland. This was the same time that the Nothe Fort was built to also protect Weymouth and Portland Harbours - click here for the history of the companion battery at the Nothe Fort and here for archive pictures of the Nothe Fort.

There is a very informative fact sheet detailing the history, location and armament of these six East Weare batteries here.

Four of the East Weare batteries are within the secure area of Portland Port and two are outside the fence. In theory these two batteries are open to the public but, in reality, these are so overgrown and surrounded by brambles that there is no guarantee that you will be able to get to a gun battery.

Should you wish to try to get to one of these gun batteries go to the Royal Naval Cemetery as described above.

Walk on the Tarmac path past the cemetery and watch out for a difficult gap in the left-hand brambles. This is 100 metres from the eastern end of the cemetery.

If you arrive at the Portland Port secure fence without finding this gap retrace your steps. If you still cannot find the gap then it is so overgrown that you will not get to the Gun Battery without a machete, flame thrower or by blundering through wearing a suit of Mediaeval armour.

If the gap is passable (I and others do try to keep it open) follow the narrow path down and you will come to an armament storage building.


The building you reach is just glimpsed in the middle left of the above picture. I have outlined it to make it more recognizable. What appears to be a stone seat on the top of an earth mound is a ventilator for another armaments storage buildings. I have never, in twenty years been able to reach that particular building due to impenetrable brambles.

The most easily accessible building is the one shown below.


The above picture shows the armaments storage building in about 1990 and the lower pictures was taken in 2011.


Several attempts have been made to stop people getting into this building but as soon as the entrances are bricked up, those entrances are smashed open again.


I took the above picture in 2002 and the building was then in quite a good condition. It was possible to get in and explore with a good torch.

The area around the building changes from one year to the next. Sometimes the building is submerged by brambles and then it it is cleared.

In recent years it has been a meeting places for local gangs who leave behind evidence of their visits by piles of drink bottles and cans, remains of fires and even old items of bedding.

What state this building will be in when you visit is unpredictable.



This picture was taken in 2014 and shows the building returning to nature. Hidden behind the brambles in the lower right of the picture were piles of rubbish left behind from many parties held here.

In 2010 a teenager was seriously injured in an attack whilst walking in the area of this building by a gang calling themselves “The Portland Crew” - read the story here.

Although the path by the Royal Naval Cemetery is used by dog walkers, I always feel insecure down there and never go without a friend knowing where I will be.

Also, I only go to this area in school time to reduce the chance of an attack on me by young teenagers. I have no wish to end up with the injuries suffered by the young lad in the news item linked above.

Around 2010 there was a lot of gang-related vandalism on Portland - see a typical story here - but this seems to have died away now.


Deeper into the often impenetrable jungle of brambles is this gun emplacement which I have managed to reach a few times over the last twenty-five years.

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Keywords HMP WEARE Royal Navy Base Portland Port East Weare Battery Royal Naval Cemetery Portland Dorset