Restoring HMS Victory

MHM'S Assistant Editor Calum Henderson delves into the history of HMS Victory.


Last year, we reported on the restoration of HMS Victory at her permanent home by the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.

Victory has been restored many times before, as this 1925 painting by William Lionel Wyllie depicts.

Victory was the flagship of Admiral Lord Nelson and is most famous for her role during the Battle of Trafalgar, in which the British Royal Navy, under Nelson’s command, defeated the combined force of the French and Spanish navies off the coast of Spain on 21 October 1805. 

The only first-rate ship to survive that era, Victory has been housed at Portsmouth since 1922, but even as a museum piece she continued to see drama. In 1941, she was hit by a Luftwaffe bomb, which broke her keel and required a hasty repair job as the Blitz raged in the skies above.

Some of many ‘smart’ props attached to HMS Victory. The technology within them allows the museum to track the structure’s weight and behaviour over time.

Recently, however, it became clear that Victory, now more than 250 years old, required a further, more comprehensive restoration. The 3,600-tonne ship had begun to sag under her own weight, with the hull being squeezed out of shape by an inadequate system of 11 ageing steel ‘cradles’. Additional issues, such as humidity, rot, and insect infestation, made the problem worse still.

The project, a collaboration between the museum and BAE Systems, involved extensive work around the keel and on the dock itself.

At a cost of roughly £35 million, a collaboration between the museum and BAE Systems has now removed the cradles, replacing them with a new system of more than 130 ‘smart’ props to provide better support. Gary Morrison, Deputy Chief Engineer (and project lead) within BAE Systems Maritime, explained to Military History Matters how this system worked: ‘Each prop contains something called “load cell technology”,’ he told us. ‘Each cell reads the real-time “load” transmitted through the props. These measurements are then combined with additional hull-movement measurements and fed into a “digital twin” 3D model of HMS Victory.’

The restoration has involved the installation of a new walkway under the ship, enhancing the experience for visitors.

This model allows the museum to simulate proposed and actual loads, so individual sections of the ship – such as masts and sections of planking – can be removed without risking the physical structure.

Some of the 11 cradles on which the ship had rested in its dry dock. No longer fit for purpose, they were removed during the restoration.

‘With this technology,’ Morrison added, ‘we help the museum track how the superstructure behaves over time – something that was never possible at this level of detail before. This also allows us to predict faults before they occur, reducing the cost of repair and replacement and increasing the life of the structure.’

There is one additional advantage to the restoration. Using the newly installed walkway, visitors to the ship can now see its keel, which, laid in 1759, is its oldest part.

HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship, at Portsmouth in 1900. For almost a century, she has formed part of the city’s naval museum.

‘While virtual tours and online experiences have their own advantages,’ Morrison said, ‘there’s nothing like seeing history in the flesh and the introduction of the new walkway under HMS Victory brings the tour to life more than ever before.’

For more information about HMS Victory and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, visit or call 02392 839 766.