I hear the sirens calling
As the rain is gently falling

The grandaddy of British undersea power

I’ve been reading how some of the lyrics from British Sea Power’s “Carrion” have been painted on the walls of a new wing of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in London. I like BSP, I like BSP’s lyrics, I like the National Martime Museum, and I like text as a graphic element, so this seems a perfectly splendid idea to me.

Thinking about this led me to thinking about John Philip Holland, the fella with the natty bowler and the magnificent walrus moustache pictured here. Holland was the brains behind Britain’s first submarine, the artfully named Holland 1, which was launched in great secrecy in 1901. The head of the Royal Navy at the time, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, was not impressed and described the boat as “underhand, unfair and damned un-English”, but it remained in service for several years. It was decommissioned in 1913 and sank while being towed to the scrapyard. I’ve been imagining the crew giving a rousing chorus of BSP’s “Carrion” – “Oh the heavy water, how it enfolds – as the submarine settled upon the seabed in a thick cloud of silt and shells and old fish bones. Never mind that there wasn’t actually anybody on board when it went down.

Holland 1 remained at the bottom of the English Channel until it was salvaged in the 1980s, since when it has been on display at the Royal Navy’s Submarine Museum in Gosport, Hampshire. Earlier this year, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers gave it the Engineering Heritage Award, which promotes artefacts and locations of engineering importance that have altered or enhanced the way we live. Previous winners include George Stephenson’s Locomotion Number 1, the Rolls Royce RB211 engine and the Thames Barrier.

Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, incidentally, was born in my home town of Swaffham in Norfolk. That’s Nelson’s county, that is.

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2 Comments on “The grandaddy of British undersea power”

  1. Neil Mason says:

    I knew that picture would pop up again at some point! How could I have not know Sir Arthur was born in Swaffham. Jeez.

  2. ngaireruth says:

    In my quest to catch up on the last nine years – while in mummy/teacher bubble – I came across this name and wasn’t phased. Now, Push, it’s another MUST HAVE for me because you have opened up the whole story and potential for me. Good work Captain.


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