Lecturer delves into past to mark ferry port’s future

Historian and University of Portsmouth politics lecturer Dr Graham Heaney has researched the history of Portsmouth’s Isle of Wight Ferry port for the opening of Wightlink’s new customer building.

Portsmouth Power Station and Camber Dock 1950 ©Historic England

The three-storey building, part of the ferry company’s  £45 million investment in the Portsmouth-Fishbourne route, opens its doors to customers for the first time today and features a display about the heritage of the site – the former Camber Dock.

Dr Heaney, below, has been delving into the archives to find out more about the area as the city grew in importance and prosperity over the centuries. He has also sourced maps and photographs to give modern travellers an idea of what today’s busy ferry port used to look like. One shows polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ship Discovery at the site. The ship had its hull refitted in Portsmouth in 1925.

He said: “Wightlink’s present car ferry port, located between Gunwharf Quays (the Royal Navy’s former HMS Vernon base), the LandRover BAR headquarters and lively Spice Island, became a dry dock in 1863, following the passage of a special Act of Parliament. Later it was used as a quay for collier ships to supply the city’s coal-fired power station which was demolished in 1977. Isle of Wight car ferries first sailed from nearby Broad Street and moved to their present berth in 1982.”

Large granite blocks that originally lined the dry dock, discovered during Wightlink’s construction works in summer 2017, have been salvaged and placed around the site as seats.

“Wightlink and our predecessor ferry companies have a history of looking to the future,” says Wightlink Chief Executive Keith Greenfield. “Our new hybrid energy ship Victoria of Wight will be the most environmentally friendly on the Solent when she arrives this summer, but we are also proud of our long history of serving the Isle of Wight and transporting millions of people across the water for holidays and business. We hope customers will enjoy discovering more about our heritage at the port.”

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  1. I have recently moved to Portsmouth into the former Wightlink HQ building, Quay House in Broad Street and recently started working at the university. I am really interested in finding out about the history of where I live and received a book on the history of Spice island / The Point for Christmas. I can see the ferries departing and arriving daily from their new port from the windows of my new home. Thank you for your article, it made for a fascinating read.

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