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HMS Northumberland

History of HMS Northumberland

The first Northumberland was a 70 gun Third Rate Ship of the line. She was slightly less than 140 feet long, measured 1,096 tons and had a complement of 460 officers and men. Launched in 1679, she saw action at the Battle of Barfleur (1692) and at Vigo (1702). She was part of the Mediterranean fleet and was one of the 13 warships lost, during the great storm of 1703. A second Northumberland was launched in 1705 and was identical to the first ship of the name. As part of the Channel Fleet, in 1744, she was overwhelmed by three enemy ships. Despite the odds, Northumberland held out for three hours before the Captain was mortally wounded and the Ship's Master ordered the colours to be struck.

A third Northumberland was built at Plymouth in 1750. Like her predecessor, she was a 70 gun third rate, but was considerably larger measuring over 1,400 tons. Despatched to Canada in 1757, she led the blockade of the French Colony of Louisburg during the winter of 1757/58 and took part in its siege and capture in June 1758. She remained in Canada to join the expedition which led to the capture of Quebec in 1759. In 1777, during the American war of Independence she was fitted out as a store's ship for service in the West Indies and renamed Leviathan. On 25th February 1780, while returning from Jamaica, the Leviathan foundered without loss of life.

The fourth Northumberland was a 74 gun ship and measured over 1,900 tons. She served with distinction throughout the French Revolutionary War. In 1801 she supported the successful Army expedition to Egypt. In June 1805, she was blockading the north coast of Spain when the French began the long cruise which was to end in the Battle of Trafalgar; she joined Admiral Nelson in the West Indies but was left in the area to mop up French ships supporting the enemy's colonies. In February 1806, the British Squadron tracked down the largest remaining group of French vessels and in the Battle of San Domingo took or destroyed five third rate ships and only two frigates escaped. On returning to European waters Northumberland had to wait until May 1812 before she re-engaged the French Navy at Groix Island. Her final wartime service was to convey Napoleon from Plymouth to St Helena. After a period in reserve, she was converted into a 'Lazaretto' (Prison Hulk) in Standgate Creek, before being finally decommissioned in 1850.

The fifth Northumberland was completed in 1868 as one of the first of the new steam 'armoured frigates' similar to HMS Warrior. She carried 12 heavy guns in each broadside, displaced 10,800 tons and was 400 feet long. She served with the Channel Fleet from 1868 until 1890, being laid up in reserve at Devonport from 1891 until 1898. She was then towed to Chatham where she was commissioned as a stoker's training and depot ship. Renamed HMS Acheron in 1904, she remained in this role until 1909, when she became a coal hulk. Finally in 1927 she was sold and removed to Dakar.

A sixth Northumberland was ordered in 1929 but she became a victim of Government economies and was cancelled in 1930 before her keel was laid down.

The current HMS Northumberland is the fifth to bear the name in British Service, and the sixth world wide. She was built at Swan Hunters on the Tyne. The keel was laid in April 1991 and the ship sponsor Lady Kerr launched her in April 1992. She entered service with the Royal Navy in May 1994, as a general purpose Type 23 Frigate optimised for anti submarine warfare.

Type 23 Frigates are the mainstay of the modern surface fleet. Originally designed for the principle task of anti-submarine warfare, they have evolved into powerful and versatile multi purpose with the capability of operating world wide. The ship's effectiveness is enhanced by their stealth design which reduces their radar signature significantly. In addition to war fighting the ship's company is trained to conduct a wide range of other tasks including boarding suspicious vessels, disaster relief and surveillance operations.

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