Conservation team rise to the challenge of spring cleaning huge Victorian warship’s replica engines

Cleaning the replica engines of Victorian battleship HMS Warrior isn’t for the faint-hearted and this National Spring Cleaning Week (21 – 27 March) a seven-strong team of conservation experts from the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard have been busy at work getting them spick and span in time for the busy visitor period.

The replica engines with a footprint of approximately 20m2, span two decks of the Victorian warship, were installed as part of the massive refit of the ship in Hartlepool over 30 years ago. Whilst they no longer operate as working engines, they are driven by an electric motor in the prop shaft tunnel and visitors love to watch how they would have worked when she dominated the seas during the Victorian period.

The annual conservation maintenance treatment usually takes two people a full month to complete, so the additional hands to the deck were very welcome this time. All products used are conservation-grade or conservation-friendly, and as low impact as possible. All the corrosion and surface treatments are removed manually, so no power tools are used to avoid damaging the surfaces.

Morgan Creed, Conservator at the National Museum of the Royal Navy said “It’s a messy job but essential to keep the engines pristine. Because they are under the waterline, the conditions around the mechanism get humid. They also get dusty, and this can cause corrosion when dust gets trapped in the grease and coatings, which we apply to protect the engines from the high humidity and to keep them lubricated. This needs to be carefully wiped off and then reapplied. We have nearly half a million visitors who love to stop and watch the engines powered up and sometimes they drop the odd bit of rubbish, so there’s always plenty of cleaning to be done.”

Powered by steam and sail, HMS Warrior was the largest, fastest and most powerful warship of her day and had a lasting influence on naval architecture and design. Work and life on board reflected both the changes the Royal Navy experienced as it evolved into a professional service and shifts in Victorian society.

HMS Warrior is one of the historic ships available to visit at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard which also includes the Mary Rose and HMS Victory. The Ultimate Explorer is the best value way to visit the Historic Dockyard and prices start from £39 per adult and £29 per child. It is valid for multiple entries through the year, with family tickets available. Book online at 

Entry onto the 12-acre historic area of the Historic Dockyard is free with a Historic Quarter Pass, which is issued at the Visitor Centre between 10am and 4:30pm.