The site has enormous history! In the 12th century, Richard I first started construction in the area, developing a dock for Royal Galleys. By the 1500s, it had become the site of Portsmouth’s defenses, and by the late 17th century, its stature had grown further, when Gunwharf was established as a main ordnance yard, storing weapons for the navy and for the army to help fortify Portsmouth. The Ordnance Board was disbanded in 1855, and, as ships and armaments developed, the requirement to offload the armament diminished, and the Gunwharf fell into disuse.
The site was re-established as HMS Vernon when the site was taken over by the Navy in 1923. It continued as a naval base, specialising in mine warfare, until it was decommissioned in 1986. All mine divers were trained here, and the site was integral in D-Day preparations.
After HMS Vernon was no longer needed by the Navy, the Ministry of Defense sold off the redundant land, to release monies for reinvestment in other areas of defense expenditure. Portsmouth City Council were keen that the land was used to build and grow the prosperity of the city. Their goal being to regenerate a derelict City Centre site, to open up the waterfront for public use, to create jobs, to improve the attractiveness of the City and therefore increase visitor numbers, and to attract further inward investment.
The development was not straightforward! Funded by VF (South African company who built a shopping marina concept successfully in Cape Town) and Berkeley Homes, the area was declared a conservation area in 1992, and the site offered huge challenges above and beyond the norm due to it’s location and its previous use.
UNUSUAL AND QUIRKY FACTS
- Gunwharf Quays has its own on-site recycling centre, and over the last three years has increased its combined recycling and reuse performance from 48% to 80%.
- Gunwharf Quays has one of the largest arrays of solar panels on a shopping centre in Europe, which are used to power the car park.
- As the site is open 24 hours a day, the site is constantly manned, even on Christmas Day
- The site contains 4 Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Only 2% of listed buildings fall into this category, so to have 4 on site is exceptional.
- The canals on site are filled with salt water, and represent the last remaining piece of the marshlands from pre-1770.
- 76 unexploded ordnances were discovered when the site was being built
- 7 acres of foreshore were reclaimed to build the centre
- When it was first built, Gunwharf Quays was the largest man made marine deck in Europe
- Rumour has it that Nelson marched through Vernon Gate on his way to the Battle of Trafalgar
- The world’s largest single masted yacht has stayed in our Leisure Marina
- The site was one of several naval bases used for the D-Day preparations, with units based at Gunwharf responsible for carrying 3rd British Division to Sword Beach on D-Day.
- HMS Vernon was the centre for development and training of torpedoes and torpedo men, becoming famous for its clearance diving team and Deep-diving Trials Unit, hence the deep water and the canals on site.