Her Majesty's Naval Base, Devonport (HMNB Devonport), is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy (the others being HMNB Clyde and HMNB Portsmouth). HMNB Devonport is located in Devonport, in the west of the city of Plymouth in Devon, England. Having begun as Royal Navy Dockyard in the late-17th century, it is now the largest naval base in Western Europe and is the sole nuclear repair and refuelling facility for the Royal Navy. Shipbuilding ceased at Devonport in the early 1970s, but ship maintenance work has continued: the now privatised maintenance facilities are operated by Babcock Marine, a division of Babcock International Group, who took over the previous owner Devonport Management Limited (DML) in 2007. From 1934 until the early 21st century the naval barracks on the site was named HMS Drake (it had previously been known as HMS Vivid after the base ship of the same name). Recently, the name HMS Drake was extended to cover the entire base; the barracks buildings are now termed the Fleet Accommodation Centre.
In 1689 Prince William of Orange became William III and almost immediately he required the building of a new dockyard west of Portsmouth. Edmund Dummer, Surveyor of the Navy, travelled the West Country searching for an area where a dockyard could be built; he sent in two estimates for sites, one in Plymouth, Cattewater and one further along the coast, on the Hamoaze, a section of the River Tamar, in the parish of Stoke Damerel. Having dismissed the Plymouth site as inadequate, he settled on the Hamoaze area which soon became known as Plymouth Dock, later renamed Devonport. On 30 December 1690, a contract was let for a dockyard to be built: the start of Plymouth (later Devonport) Royal Dockyard. Having selected the location, Dummer was given responsibility for designing and building the new yard.
At the heart of his new dockyard, Dummer placed a stone-lined basin, giving access to what proved to be the first successful stepped stone dry dock in Europe. Previously the Navy Board had relied upon timber as the major building material for dry docks, which resulted in high maintenance costs and was also a fire risk. The docks Dummer designed were stronger with more secure foundations and stepped sides that made it easier for men to work beneath the hull of a docked vessel. These innovations also allowed rapid erection of staging and greater workforce mobility. He discarded the earlier three-sectioned hinged gate, which was labour-intensive in operation, and replaced it with the simpler and more mobile two-sectioned gate.
Dummer wished to ensure that naval dockyards were efficient working units that maximised available space, as evidenced by the simplicity of his design layout at Plymouth Dock. He introduced a centralised storage area alongside the basin, and a logical positioning of other buildings around the yard. His double rope-house combined the previously separate tasks of spinning and laying while allowing the upper floor to be used for the repair of sails. On high ground overlooking the rest of the yard he built a grand terrace of houses for the senior dockyard officers (the first known example in the country of a palace-front terrace).
Most of Dummer's buildings and structures were rebuilt over ensuing years, including the basin and dry dock (today known as No. 1 Basin and No. 1 Dock). The terrace survived into the 20th century, but was largely destroyed in the Blitz along with several others of Devonport's historic buildings. Just one end section of the terrace survives; dating from 1692–96, it is the earliest surviving building in any royal dockyard.
The dockyard was established on the southern tip of the present-day site; it then expanded northwards, in stages, over the next two-and-a-half centuries. The town that grew around the dockyard was called Plymouth Dock up to 1823, when the townspeople petitioned for it to be renamed Devonport. The dockyard followed suit twenty years later, becoming Devonport Royal Dockyard. In just under three centuries over 300 vessels were built at Devonport, the last being HMS Scylla in 1971.
In 2015, Devonport Dockyard consists of fourteen dry docks (docks numbered 1 to 15, but there is no 13 Dock), four miles of waterfront, twenty-five tidal berths, five basins and an area of 650 acres. The dockyard employs 2,500 service personnel and civilians, supports circa 400 local firms and contributes approximately 10% to the income of Plymouth. It is the base for the Trafalgar-class nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines and the main refitting base for all Royal Navy nuclear submarines. Work was completed by Carillion in 2002 to build a refitting dock to support the Vanguard-class Trident missile nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Devonport serves as headquarters for the Flag Officer Sea Training, which is responsible for the training of all the ships of the Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, along with many from foreign naval services. The nuclear submarine refit base was put into special measures in 2013 by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and it could be 2020 before enhanced monitoring ceases. Safety concerns on ageing facilities, stretched resources and increasing demand are blamed for the measures.
Devonport is still nicknamed "Guzz" (or, sometimes, "Guz") by sailors and marines. One suggestion is that this originates from the word guzzle (to eat or drink greedily), which is likely to refer to the eating of cream teas, a West Country delicacy and, therefore, one with strong connections to the area around Plymouth. Another explanation advanced is that "GUZZ" was the radio call sign for the nearby Admiralty wireless station (which was GZX) at Devil's Point, though this is disputed and has recently been disproved by reference to actual wireless telegraphy callsigns in existence over the past century.
Another explanation is that the name came from the Hindi word for a yard (36 inches), "guz", (also spelled "guzz", at the time) which entered the Oxford English Dictionary, and Royal Navy usage, in the late 19th century, as sailors used to regularly abbreviate "The Dockyard" to simply "The Yard", leading to the slang use of the Hindi word for the unit of measurement of the same name. The Plymouth Herald newspaper attempted to summarise the differing theories, but no firm conclusion was reached.