Talk given to the Society in August 2008
BUCKLERS HARD The Highs and Lows of 300 years
Michael Lees, for ten years a guide at both Beaulieu and Bucklers Hard, spoke to the Society on the maritime history of Bucklers Hard.
Although the history of the settlement can be traced back to Saxon times and beyond, the concentration of the talk was on the period since shipbuilding was established in a significant way in a small village which had previously simply been a down-river outlet of the Beaulieu estate.
The need for England to develop its naval power in the seventeenth century led to the establishment of many new shipbuilding centres around the country`s coast. One such centre was at Bucklers Hard. Others in this area were on Southampton Water and indeed in Southampton itself.
Bucklers Hard had the advantage of being near to the New Forest with its plentiful supply of timber, particularly oak and elm. The ribs and spines of ships were carved from carefully selected tree sections ensuring as few joints as possible.
It was an ancestor of the present Lord Montagu of Beaulieu who started the maritime tradition of the village. John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, became First Lord of the Admiralty and decided that one of his own villages should become a shipbuilding centre to take advantage of the boom in this business. He borrowed heavily to develop a yard and in 1745 the first ship, the Surprise, was built. Ill-advised ventures to the Americas led to huge losses for the Montagu family but the yard itself continued in business. In 1781, the Agamemnon, which became Nelson`s favourite ship, was built at Bucklers Hard.
By the end of the seventeenth century many of the nation`s most important naval vessels had been built at Bucklers Hard and this tradition continued into the period of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1803 two large frigates, Euryalus and Swiftsure, were being laid side by side at Buckers Hard (as depicted in a model of the yard now in the Bucklers Hard Museum) and two years later both were in active service at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Presiding over the assorted carpenters, joiners and general labourers at the yard was Henry Adams, Master Shipbuilder. It is his house (now a hotel) which is now the most imposing reminder of Bucklers Hard`s impressive and important past – a glorious but short-lived period of national history which ended with the decline of timber as the mainstay of shipbuilding and the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the Ages of Iron and Steam.