Portsmouth Harbour 1937 - a Hazy Morning

Wood, Frank Watson (1862-1953). Watercolour on board signed and dated 1937 (lower right).

Portsmouth Harbour 1937 - a Hazy Morning

13.5 x 5.75 inches (34 x 14.6 cms approx)

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Dated by the artist 1937 this watercolour appears to have been executed at the same time as the others he painted of events before, during and after the Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead in May 1937, several of which feature on this website and on Maritime Prints' website.

The Coronation of King George VI took place in Westminster Abbey on 12th May 1937 and representative warships of the Mediterranean Fleet were expected to be at the Spithead Fleet Review a week later though there had been discussion at the highest political levels about the wisdom of reducing the RN's presence in that theatre as the Spanish Civil War was keeping the ships very busy: over 30 were deployed in Spanish waters that summer.  But approval for a short absence was given and on 13th May the C-in-C Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound with his flag in QUEEN ELIZABETH (Captain E L S King MVO RN) brought the Med Fleet's 1st Battle Squadron home and through the Needles Passage in thick fog to their anchorage at Spithead.  Other HM Ships from all stations around the world also started arriving and by Review Day, 20th May, 140 men-of-war from the Royal and Dominion Navies - together with 18 foreign warships -  had assembled. 

This painting of Portsmouth was almost certainly executed soon after the ships had dispersed after the Review and has been annotated in pencil on the back of the watercolour (possibly by Wood himself) "QUEEN ELIZABETH and RAMILLIES".  QE is on the right lying alongside what would appear to be South Railway Jetty, an appropriate berth for a flagship, or a ship which had just hauled down the flag of the Commander-in-Chief when it had been transferred temporarily to BARHAM until WARSPITE was ready.  As she was only in Portsmouth in 1937 after the Review -when she entered the dockyard to start a long 3 year refit  - this points to the date of the painting being just post Review. 

Out in the stream with at least one dockyard tug connected is RAMILLIES (Captain R W Oldham RN) who had also been out in the lines for the Review: four of her eight 15 inch guns are pointed towards us and it was one of these guns that subsequently was to be mounted outside the Imperial War Museum in London when the old battleship was scrapped in 1948

And in the foreground is what appears to be the Southern Railway's Portsmouth - Ryde paddler,  PS SHANKLIN coming in from the Isle of Wight with a healthy load of passengers.  The Southern Railway's paddlers ran a busy service between Porstmouth Harbour and Ryde Pier on the Island and it was never busier than for such occasions as these great fleet reviews staged right across their route:  marvellous front row viewing for their passengers!  To the right of QUEEN ELIZABETH in the painting and dominating the great naval dockyard is Semaphore Tower, the control and co ordination centre for all ship movements in Portsmouth harbour, presided over by a naval officer, The King's Harbour Master, a title which exists to this day, albeit now Queen's Harbour Master.