Portsmouth is a city on Portsea Island in Hampshire, on England’s South Coast, and is generally regarded as England’s premier maritime city.
The original town dates from the time of Alfred the Great, but it was Richard I who recognised its true strategic importance and gave the town its first charter.
The naval dockyard developed at the former walled town of Portsea. It is now an enormous tourist attraction in its own right, with the Royal Navy Museum, Nelson’s flagship “H.M.S.Victory”, Henry VIII’s favourite ship the “Mary Rose” (raised from the seabed in 1982), the Mary Rose Museum and the first ironclad warship “H.M.S.Warrior”.
The area now known as Old Portsmouth was the original town. St. Thomas’s Cathedral, in the High Street, is the former parish church, begun in the 12th century. The promontory known as Point was formerly known as Spice Island. It has a colourful history and old fortification including the Round Tower and Square Tower, and is a superb place for watching passing shipping.
Portsmouth includes its own seaside resort, Southsea. Here, in addition to the sublime Southsea Common and South Parade Pier, are Henry VIII’s Southsea Castle and the D-Day Museum, containing the Overlord Embroidery. There is also a Royal Marines Museum.
At the landward end of Portsmouth Harbour is Portchester, with a Norman castle within a Roman fort. Strung out along the top of the former sea cliffs known as Portsdown Hill is a series of 19th century forts known as Palmerston’s Follies, intended to defend Portsmouth from overland Napoleonic attack. There are also offshore forts from the same period in the Solent.
Portsmouth is separated from the mainland by the narrow Portscreek, crossed by road and rail bridges. To the West is Portsmouth Harbour, the other side of which is Gosport, and just to the West of that is Southampton Water. To the East is Langstone Harbour, on the other side of which is Hayling Island, and to the East of that island is Chichester Harbour.
To the South of Portsmouth are the Solent and Spithead, across which is the Isle of Wight.
Ships sail from Portsmouth to the North of France, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Wight, to which there is also a hovercraft service. There is also a frequent ferry to Gosport, and plenty of boat trips around Portsmouth Harbour and out into the Solent.
In the last few years, Gunwharf Quays, an attractive shopping development, has been created on the site of a former naval establishment, and this includes the iconic Spinnaker Tower.
People born at Portsmouth include the novelist Walter Besant; playwright Howard Brenton; the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel; former Prime Minister James Callaghan; novelist Charles Dickens; umbrella pioneer Jonas Hanway; the poet Christopher Logue; novelist Olivia Manning; novelist George Meredith; founder of the “Ragged Schools” John Pounds; and comedian and film star Peter Sellers.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was practising as a doctor in Portsmouth when he created Sherlock Holmes, and H.G.Wells worked here in a draper’s shop as a young man. Charles Chubb, inventor of the well known lock, had a workshop at Portsmouth.
Charles II and Catherine of Braganza were married at the Domus Dei, and the notorious George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated in Portsmouth High Street.
Portsmouth was a major embarkation point for the D-Day landings, planned just a few miles away. Earlier, the “first fleet” had set off from Portsmouth to colonise Australia. Sir Francis Chichester and Sir Alec Rose both had local associations.
Blue Badge Guide Colin Crosby lived and worked in the Portsmouth area in the mid 70s and much of the 80s.
Blue Badge Guide Colin Crosby is available to lead Guided Walks around Portsmouth for groups.
Places in Portsmouth
Action Stations, Boathouse No 6, Buckingham House, Charles Dickens Birthplace, Dockyard Apprentice Exhibition, Garrison Church, Gunwharf Quays, High Street, HMS Victory, HMS Warrior 1860, Mary Rose, Portsmouth and Southsea Station, Portsmouth Cathedral (Anglican), Portsmouth Cathedral (Catholic), Portsmouth Harbour Station, Portsmouth Point, Quebec House, Round Tower, Royal Dockyard, Royal Naval Museum, Spinnaker Tower, Square Tower, St. Agatha`s Church, The Hard