Row of brick cottages and a path leading to a river
England,  History,  Monday walks

A stroll around Buckler’s Hard

If the small Hampshire village of Buckler’s Hard is a little busy today, it is only so with tourists. But there was a time when it would have been a hive of activity. It was once home to a bustling and successful shipbuilding industry. Here three of the warships for Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar were built, as well as many other naval ships.

The village has dark origins. It was built initially by the 2nd Duke of Montagu, who needed a port and refinery for sugar brought in from his plantations in St Vincent and St Lucia. The Duke’s plantations would naturally have relied on the labour of his slaves. But he lost his estates there following an invasion by the French, and seems subsequently to have had a change of heart regarding slavery. He chose instead to provide educational support for his black servants. These included Ignatius Sancho, a musician, actor and writer; and Francis Williams, a Jamaican scholar. He was also involved in the liberation of a prominent enslaved African, Ayuba Suleiman Diallo.

Shipbuilding at Buckler’s Hard

Meanwhile the need to import and refine sugar had of course vanished. The village could have faded into obscurity. But a local entrepreneur, James Wyatt, established a shipyard here and won a contract to build the Navy ship HMS Surprise in 1744. More such contracts followed. The Admiralty sent Henry Adams to oversee these contracts and under him Buckler’s Hard flourished and became one of the busiest shipyards in the country, eventually building 43 naval vessels including the three that fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805: HMS Euryalus, HMS Swiftsure, and HMS Agamemnon.

Model showing part-built wooden ships by a river and small cottages beyond
Model of the village in the 18th century, on display in the museum

But when the navy turned to iron and later steel for its ships, Buckler’s Yard with its ready supply of wood from the New Forest was no longer an attractive location for their construction. Shipbuilding shifted to the industrial towns and cities of the north and the village declined into rural sleepiness. The village rediscovered its importance during World War II as a major construction and launch site for the vessels involved in the D-Day landings. Later it was where Sir Francis Chichester began and finished his solo voyage around the world in the Gipsy Moth IV.

Today the village relies on tourism and on its busy yachting marina. Join me on our recent visit for a Monday Walk with Jo.

Painting Buckler’s Hard

We arrived to a surprise; the village was hosting the filming of an episode of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year competition. We watched some of the artists in action and later returned to check out their progress. This isn’t a programme I normally watch but I will look out for it when the next series is aired, probably some time in the winter.

The museum

While there isn’t a charge to visit Buckler’s Hard (apart from parking), we did pay to go into the museum. This is both larger and more comprehensive than I’d expected from outside. There are detailed models of some of the ships built here and of the village; accounts of the Battle of Trafalgar and the role played by the Buckler’s Hard ships; and some well-executed mock-ups of village buildings as they would have been at that time. We saw Henry Adam’s office where he is shown discussing plans for the Swiftsure with the Navy’s overseer.

Full scale model of a two men with a model ship and rolls of paper
In Henry Adam’s office

We saw locals chatting over drinks and a game of cards in the village pub, the New Inn.

Full scale model of a scene in an old pub
Bar scene in the New Inn
Full scale model of a scene in an old pub
Playing cards in the New Inn

Most impressive was the reconstruction of a cramped labourer’s cottage.

Full scale model of a scene in a labourer's cottage
Cooking in the labourer’s cottage

In the village

From the museum we strolled down the wide village street. It was built this wide to accommodate markets and other village events. Today it seems incongruously so for such a quiet place.

Neat looking brick cottages
Some of the privately-owned cottages

Some of the houses are still lived in, others are holiday rentals, but there are two you can visit.

The Shipwright’s Cottage

This cottage has been reconstructed within to show how shipwright Thomas Burlace and his family would have lived in the 18th century. Shipwrights were skilled craftsmen and earned an above-average salary, so this is a relatively luxurious home in comparison to the labourer’s cottage depicted in the museum. However it still appears cramped by modern standards.

Full scale model of a scene in an 18th century cottage kitchen with figures of a woman and girl
The larger more affluent 18th century kitchen
Full scale model of a bedroom in an 18th century cottage with two children
The main bedroom with two of the Burlace children

The chapel

This was once a simple home and later became the village school, before being converted into a 40-seat chapel. It is still used for services today. Inside we saw a plaque commemorating the achievement of Sir Francis Chichester. Behind the altar is a hidden cellar, believed to have been used by 18th century smugglers. The village would have been an important landing spot for the ‘Free Traders’ (as the smugglers preferred to be known) who were active throughout the New Forest as well as all along England’s south coast.

The river

At the foot of the main street we came to the yachting marina and footpaths along the Beaulieu River. We stopped off for lunch at the popular Master Builder’s House Hotel, where we were lucky to get a table as it was busy with members of the TV film crew.

River with lots of moored yachts
The Beaulieu River and marina
River with lots of moored yachts
Yachts moored in the Beaulieu River

It was low tide so we could see the still-visible remains of the 18th century wooden launch-ways where the naval ships, including Nelson’s were launched after completion. We could have taken a short cruise on the river but opted instead to walk a little way along the path to Beaulieu. But when this deviated from the water we retraced our steps and checked out the nearby replica 18th century shipwright workshop with its scene of wood-chopping and exhibition about the HMS Agamemnon.

Our final stop in the village, after revisiting the filming area to check the artists’ progress, was at the café near the entrance where we enjoyed local New Forest ice creams on a rather windy lawn. Sorry Jo, no cake, and no photos of what we did eat, but I hope you enjoyed the walk nevertheless.

I visited Buckler’s Hard in July 2023

57 Comments

  • ThingsHelenLoves

    I’ve been meaning to get to Bucklers Hard for a while, this post is my sign to get there. It’s not so far from me, so no excuses to miss it. Just had orders to relocate to Northern Ireland next year so I’m pulling together a bucket list of all the places I want to get to before we leave- including this place!

  • VT starship

    Sarah, being a lover of history, I really enjoyed reading about your visit to Buckler’s Hard and what you saw there. I, too, would have found the town itself and the museum exhibits interesting, enjoyed the Beaulieu riverfront, and the nice lunch. I love visiting historic towns. But, I keep returning to your photos of the Sky Arts Landscape Artists (contestants?) and their individual renderings!! Each artist’s style is quite different, but obviously each very accomplished in their own media. I hope here in the States were are also treated to this TV series as I struggle to work on painting and would find it interesting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for this lovely and thoughtful comment Sylvia. I know you would love it here! And I do hope you get to see that TV series. It’s already had a couple of seasons over here so it might be available on one of your streaming services – do you tend to get Sky series?

  • Supraja Lakshmi N

    Your article about your stroll around Bucklers Hard was very delightful and charming. Many of the displays in the museum look almost real. Thank you for sharing your experience and your tips. You have made me want to visit this village someday soon.

  • Sandy

    Do you have any idea why it’s called Buckler’s Hard? Sounds like there’s a story there 😉
    I love how British television comes up with these ideas. An entire series on painting landscapes! That’s not a spectator sport but then I remember how captivated I was with ‘The Great Pottery Throw-down’.

    • Toonsarah

      It was named after a family called Buckle, apparently. Hard just means a landing place for boats. As for the TV series, they also have one on portrait painting (which I’ve never seen) and photography (which we both enjoy watching). Oh and there’s a sewing one too, and I think jewellery-making and make-up … It was the cookery that started it, the Great British Bake Off. Now everyone is trying to apply the same formula to different crafts etc!

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    I remember taking my children to Bucklers Hard when they were little, so about 35 years ago, while on a holiday at Milford-on-Sea. This post was a good memory jerker as I’d forgotten most of the history – the memory of the day is still dominated by the kids’ joy at seeing the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car at Beaulieu! Good to get a reminder of the shipyard history.

  • Alli Templeton

    Ah, somewhere I have been! Albeit, our visit was a very long time ago, and our amateur snaps aren’t a patch on your photos. I’ve learned (and relearned) a lot from this, and it’s been a pleasure to revisit Bucklers Hard through your work. I don’t think I’d realised until now about the ships made here that fought alongside the Victory at Trafalgar, something I must tell my daughter as her hero is Nelson. We should go there again one day. Thanks for reminding me and enlightening me further. 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      We were there very many years ago too and had a few old photos and faint memories. But I don’t think the museum was there then and I don’t recall going into any of the cottages, as you can now. It would repay a return visit for you, especially with the Nelson connection. The Agamemnon in particular played a significant part in the battle and had been captained by Nelson earlier in his career.

      • Alli Templeton

        You’re right, I think they’ve enhanced the visitor experience a fair bit since we were there too. I mentioned the ships to Maddie and she knew about the Agamemnon (I didn’t!), but she hadn’t known it was built here, so I reckon a return visit is now definitely on the cards! Thank you for reminding us of Buckler’s Hard and reigniting our interest in the place, Sarah. 🙂

  • Rose

    Loved the history and the museum. It’s always intriguing to think about how people used to live. The shipwright’s cottage has such a large fireplace, compared to the labourer’s cottage. And how exciting to see filming and/of art? Artists always fascinate me, how they can draw/paint/create what they see in their mind’s eye, just impresses me.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Glad you enjoyed this Rose – I think it would be your sort of place for sure! Yes, the shipwright’s cottage was generally on a larger scale than the labourer’s and the fireplace reflects that. It had a back kitchen as well as this main room downstairs, and two bedrooms rather than just the one shared by the whole family. It was interesting to see these differences.

  • grandmisadventures

    I love the row of brick houses leading down to the water. You can tell that the museum has taken a lot of time and pride in creating the exhibits with such detail. I would have loved to watch those artists paint and see how differently they each interpreted the scene before them. 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It’s not clear from my photo but there are two rows of such houses, facing each other. It creates such a pretty scene and one that is largely unchanged for centuries. No cars are allowed so it’s easier to imagine it as it once was. And the excellent museum displays help with that, especially the model 🙂

  • restlessjo

    We used to watch that series in the UK, Sarah. My husband used to paint and draw a bit (I’m wondering now why he stopped) and was always fascinated (and often critical) whereas I’m always in awe of anyone who can paint. Must have been fun to watch it taking place. Glad they left you some space in the pub. I have only a passing acquaintance with the New Forest but I liked what I saw. Funny about the trees. If we could see the future, hey? Many thanks for an interesting share. We were no strangers to boat building in the north east but times have certainly changed.

  • HeyJude

    I don’t recall the museum when I visited this place back around 2006/7 but I do remember the wide street and walking down to the river. The New Forest is a beautiful area. Thanks for taking me back to Bucklers Hard. I think we visited the Exbury Gardens on the same day. (Other side of the river)

    • Sarah Wilkie

      We didn’t remember there being a museum here on our previous visit either so I guess it’s relatively new. Exbury was on my radar as a possible stop on our way home but the weather turned nasty so we dropped the idea. Another time maybe!

  • Easymalc

    For some reason your posts seem to keep slipping under the radar Sarah. I’m here now though, and Buckler’s Hard is a great place to pick up the thread

    • Sarah Wilkie

      WordPress does some odd things like that – there are several people I follow who drop off from time to time. I suddenly realise I’ve heard nothing for a while, go to check and see they’ve been posting all along but I’ve had no notifications. Maddening 🥵 Good to see you here now anyway, and I’m glad you enjoyed this one 🙂

  • Brad M

    Very nice photo and history; I feel like I’ve been there. Ironic, with the new fiberglass boats on the water where so many were built from oak trees not all that long ago.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Brad, I’m so pleased I was able to take you there, virtually speaking! There’s a nice story about Admiral Collingwood, Nelson’s vice commander at Trafalgar. He recognised that the country was cutting down so many oak trees that he feared in the future we would no longer be able to build the ships our navy needed. So he used some of the money he was paid for the victory to buy land in his native Northumberland and plant acres of trees. He couldn’t have foreseen that by the time they were fully grown we would have moved away from wooden ships to metal ones, but nevertheless it made him a pioneer in sustainability I reckon!

      • Brad M

        Another nice bit of history. I know that the British has designs on the live oaks in the American South, as did the fledgling US Navy at the time (long story there also). I think it took something like 100 live oaks to build the USS Constitution in Boston (oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world) and her sister the USS Constellation in Baltimore, because of the very specialized joints in wooden ships of war. Keep those stories and photos coming please.

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    I thoroughly enjoyed this walk, Sarah! What an interesting and historic place to visit, and the scenery along the river is lovely. Mike and I have gotten to where we love visiting museums and this one we would love to visit. Thank you for sharing Buckler’s Hard.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Glad to have you along Kellye 🙂 My interest in museums varies depending on the subject, quality of displays and size. This one was just right on all counts!

  • wetanddustyroads

    What a lovely visit. The museum looks interesting and so does the reconstructed cottage. And ending the day with ice cream (even if it was windy), sounds right to me 😉.

  • Sue

    Ah, yes….you have reminded me of this place, visited with my car club some years ago. I don’t remember quite so much being there then.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I think they’ve added a bit recently – the museum I gather has been expanded and the replica workshop was built in 2014 as a project for university students learning about historical building techniques. But the village itself is much as we’d remembered it from a few decades ago!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I suspect I may have done, lurking behind the artists as they were filmed at work! But I won’t know until I see the episode, IF I remember to watch 😉 I think it will go out next January so a long while to wait …

  • margaret21

    Well, how about that? I lived in Portsmouth for a while, in the ’70s, but never came here. Thanks for making sure I haven’t entirely missed out.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Maybe it wasn’t so much of a visitor attraction back then? We were here some years ago and remembered it as attractive so decided on a second visit as a detour on our way to the hotel we stayed in for a few nights last week. And we were glad we did – lots of interest, and good value for the small parking charge 🙂

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!

%d bloggers like this: