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Posted on Jun 15, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Explosion! The Museum of Naval Firepower

Armchair General

The Explosion! Museum is located in Priddy’s Hard in Gosport , Hampshire.

Priddy’s Hard was, until 1989, Ministry of Defence property and an historic site for the Royal Navy. From 1777 until closure 212 years later, the site was used to supply ordnance and later, some weapons for the Royal Navy and it was one of the most heavily protected sites in England .

The site is opposite the city of Portsmouth and the large Naval base, which is still home to the largest elements of the British Fleet. The powder magazines were originally housed in Portsmouth itself, but were moved as the city grew in size when it was realised how much destruction would result to the town and the Fleet if the powder exploded.

When the site was moved to Priddy’s Hard, this was considered a remote spot at the time, since the small town of Gosport was not nearly as developed as it is now. Indeed, it is only since the closure of the yard that the area surrounding the site has been used for large-scale housing development.


Royal Navy facilities have since been moved to a more modern site not far away that is more suited to supplying modern munitions.

The museum is run as a charitable concern, and all donations are gratefully received.

The following photos were taken using a Sony DSC-P12 Cyber-Shot digital camera at 5.0 Megapixels, although since reduced in size for this article.

You will find the following link of interest:

Explosion! –


The museum is housed inside one of several large brick structures, which were the original production facilities for Royal Navy ordnance.

For obvious reasons, two centuries of use as a facility in which the most volatile substances were handled on a daily basis has meant that a through cleaning and decommissioning process was called for.

Since the site was closed by the MOD, it has been thoroughly cleansed of any dangerous materials and declared safe and "uncontaminated" of anything that might cause an explosion.

In addition to having the facilities themselves open for public viewing, there are impressive displays of weapons and ammunition of all types as used by the Royal Navy down the centuries. You will also find other interesting display pieces as you travel around the museum.


As you pass from the reception area and into the museum, you are first met with an innocuous display of lockers. These are lockers that were used by the workers who would assemble the munitions. Every worker had to change clothes before entering the magazine and assembly areas and wear special overalls and "magazine shoes". The overalls were clearly marked with symbols indicating that they were contaminated pieces of clothing ? ONLY to be used inside the magazine areas and never to be taken outside since they would be impregnated with explosive material. To avoid explosion, "magazine shoes" were leather, either sewn with wooden pegs or brass tacks.

A display showing an example of cooperage. This is how barrels were assembled for containing gunpowder. Special barrels were used to prevent spillage.

Here we see some life-size facsimiles of people who worked in the depot, looking out towards a loading platform for supplying ships at sea. By 1945, the depot had expanded to cover 100 acres of land.

This is an example of some of the equipment used to assemble shells that might have been used in both World Wars. A constant hazard for those handling cordite (used in the primers for all shells) was dermatitis and the fact that it had a tendency to turn people’s hair ginger. Many workers also complained that it had a very strong peppery smell.

A selection of ammunition boxes. Of all the ordnance that left Priddy’s Hard, ten percent was tested be being set off in the Proof House on site.

This is the interior of the Grand Magazine. The Magazine had 8 foot thick brick walls and at the time it was built they were completely impregnable to bombardment. Despite this and other precautions against attack or accident, the depot would shut down during a thunderstorm if there was any chance of lighting. During the entire history of the depot, there were only ever two accidents. That works out to one accident every 106 years. From 1943 to the end of World War II, the Grand Magazine was supplemented by several other Magazines for assembly, and the number of workers at Priddy’s Hard increased from 1,700 to 4,000. Over three million bricks were used to construct the ?E’ Magazine, and during the war, floating Magazines were used.

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