Buckler’s Hard is a unique village with an interesting history where 18th and 19th century cottages almost unaltered, line either side of a wide central street leading down towards Beaulieu River.
The east terrace is made up of a series of linked buildings dating from the 18th century and very early 19th century. There were originally two inns, Ship Inn and New Inn. The western terrace of buildings is also a series of linked buildings, dating mainly from the 19th century. All the buildings are constructed of local handmade red brick with clay tiled roofs.
The settlement dates from the 1720s when it was laid out as a planned town by John, 2nd Duke of Montagu.
He intended it to be a free port for the import and export of sugar from the West Indies where he was intending to develop colonies and sugar plantations. The settlement was to be called Montagu Town and was laid out in symmetrical blocks of land, either side of the 80 foot wide street designed to be used for fairs and markets. A prospectus was issued offering plots of land on a 99 year lease for 6/8d. However, the Duke’s colonising enterprises failed and by 1731 only seven houses had been built.
In the 1740s the Navy Board were looking for suitable sites for the construction of fighting ships and the settlement became a civilian shipyard. In 1744 Henry Adams was sent by the Navy Board as the resident overseer seconded to supervise the building of the 24 gun ‘Surprise’. He married a local girl and took on the tenancy of the ship yard. He built several war ships for the seven years war which lasted from 1756 to 1763.
In 1771, Adams constructed longer launch ways so that 64 and 74 gun war ships could be built. The Adams family continued building war ships until 1814 and then turned to the construction of small cutters and merchant ships until 1847 when the family gave up the tenancy of the shipyard.
Henry Adams built himself a large house, now The Master Builder’s House Hotel, at the end of street, over looking the slipways. Most of the other houses in the street were constructed in the mid and late 18th century when ship building was at its height. By the 1851 census, only one elder shipwright lived at Buckler’s Hard and the village went into decline becoming a small agricultural community supporting the activities of the Beaulieu Estate.
At its height in the early 19th century the settlement contained nearly 40 houses, but in the second half of the century, many houses were demolished.
Beaulieu River became a magnet for yachtsmen and pleasure boats in the early 20th century. In 1866, the river came into the ownership of Lord Montagu and in 1927, the first official Harbour Master was appointed to regulate river traffic and collect mooring fees.
During World War II, Beaulieu River was closed to private yachts and Buckler’s Hard became a repair facility for the Navy. To start with, it specialised in fitting out wooden mine sweepers and repairing the wooden motor torpedo boats. Houses in the village were requisitioned for Navy personnel and it became a base for the construction of dummy landing crafts for the secret ‘Operation Quicksilver’.
Later in the war, in support of the D-Day landings, over 50 concrete pontoons for the Mulberry Harbour were built on a site just downstream of the village. A concrete floating dock was also constructed; this was large enough to hold a tank landing craft. Beaulieu River and Buckler’s Hard played a big part in the build up to the D-Day landings with many craft and thousands of Army and Navy personnel gathered in the area.
After the war, the area once again became popular with yachtsmen. The Agamemnon Boat Yard was opened in 1947 as a repair facility for private yachts and 150 moorings were laid in the river. In 1963, Buckler’s Hard Maritime Museum was opened in what had been the New Inn. Visitor numbers grew rapidly to 250,000 a year and the Estate became very concerned about the effects of visitor pressure on the historic environment.
In the late 1960s, a conservation plan was commissioned for the area to address this visitor pressure. As part of the plan, a new 76 berth marina was constructed just up river and in 1971 the street itself was closed to traffic and larger car parks developed to cope with visitor parking.