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This article is about the English city of Portsmouth. For other places with the same name, please see Portsmouth (disambiguation).

Portsmouth is a city of about 186,000 located on the southern coast of England, a major conurbation and dockyard and a major naval base for the Royal Navy. Portsmouth has a been a significant naval port for centuries, although it is less significant than it once was. Previously Portsmouth had the World's largest naval base and many famous ships were based here.

Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.

Table of contents
1 Geography
2 Name
3 History
4 Chronology
5 Government
6 Population
7 Tourist Attractions
8 Shopping
9 Education
10 Local media
11 Future developments
12 Famous residents
13 External Links


Most of the city lies on Portsea Island, located at the confuence of the Solent into the English Channel. The island is separated from the mainland on the north by a narrow creek, bridged in three places to make it (in appearance) a peninsula. A few hundred metres to the west of the southern end of the island lies another peninsula of the mainland, forming a sheltered natural harbour between the two. Portsdown hill dominates the skyline to the North, and the waters of the Solent lie to the South, with the Isle of Wight beyond.


The origin of the name Portsmouth is a matter of some dispute, popular legend holds that it comes from being the "mouth of the port" (the port originally being that at Portchester, previusly known as Portus Adurni). The other main suggestion is that the name came from a cheftain with the name Port (not an uncommon old English name) with the Saxon word mutha.


Early history of the area

Although there have been settlements in the area since before Roman times, mostly being offshoots of Portchester, Portsmouth is commonly regarded as having been founded in 1180 by John of Gisors (Jean de Gisors). Most early records of Portsmouth are thought to have been destroyed by French invaders following the Norman Conquest. The earliest detailed references to Portsmouth can be found in the Southwick Cartularies.

In the Domesday survey there is no mention of Portsmouth. However settlements that later went on to form part of Portsmouth, primarily Buckland (later Portsea), Copnor and Froddington (later Fratton) were listed. At this time it is estimated the Portsmouth area had a population not greater than two or three hundred.

While in the primary manor of Portsea there was a small church prior to 1166 (now St Mary's at Kingston) Portsmouth's first real church came into being in 1181 when John of Gisors granted an acre of land to Augustinian monks at the Southwick Priory to build a chapel dedicated to Thomas a Becket. This chapel continued to be run by the monks of Southwick Priory until the Reformation after which its possession was transferred to Winchester College. The modern Portsmouth Cathedral is built on the original location of the chapel.

Growth of the city

In 1194, after King Richard I (the Lionheart) returned from being kidnapped by Duke Leopold of Austria, Richard set about summoning a fleet and an army to Portsmouth, which Richard had taken over from John of Gisors. On May 2, 1194 King Richard I gave Portsmouth its first Royal Charter granting permission for the city to hold a fifteen day annual fair (which became known as the Free Market Fair), weekly markets (on Thursdays), to set up a local court to deal with minor matters, and exemption from paying the annual tax ("farm") of 18 a year--instead the money would be used for local matters. The actual physical charter was handed over by the Bishop William de Longchamps of Ely. The present location of the charter is currently unknown but its text survives, as when later royal charters were granted to the city reaffirming and extending its privelages large parts of the original charter were quoted verbatim.

As a crescent and an eight-point star (as appear on the city coat of arms) were to be found on both the seals of King Richard and William de Longchamps it is commonly thought that this may have been the source of them, although there is no known documentary evidence for this.

King Richard later went on to build a number of houses and a hall in Portsmouth, the hall is thought to have been at the current location of the Clarence Barracks (the area was previously known as Kingshall Green).

In 1200 King John issued another charter to Portsmouth reaffirming the rights and privileges awarded by King Richard. King John's desire to invade Normandy resulted in the establishment of Portsmouth as a permanent naval base.

In 1212 William of Wrotham (Archdeacon of Taunton, Keeper of the King's Ships) started constructing the first docks of Portsmouth. At about the same time Pierre des Roches (Bishop of Winchester) founded Domus Dei (Hospital of St Nicholas) which performed its duties as a almshouse and hospice until 1540 when like other religious buildings it was seized by King Henry VIII).

During the thirteenth century Portsmouth was commonly used King Henry III and Edward I as a base for attacks against France.

By the fourteenth century commercial interests had grown considerably, despite rivalry with the dockyard of nearby Southampton. Common imports included wool, grain, wheat, woad, wax and iron, however the ports largest trade was in wine from Bayonne and Bordeaux.

War with France

In 1338 a French fleet led by Nicholas Behuchet arrived at Portsmouth docks flying English flags before anyone realised that they were a hostile force. The french burnt down most of the buildings in the town and many of the population were raped and slaughtered, only the local church and Domus Dei survived. As a result of this King Edward III gave the remaining townsfolk exemption from national taxes so that they could afford to rebuild the town.

Only ten years after this devastation the town for the first time was struck by the plague known as the Black Death. In order to prevent the regrowth of Portsmouth as a threat the French again sacked the city in 1369, 1377 and 1380.

King Henry V was the first king to decide to build permanent fortification in Portsmouth. In 1418 he ordered a wooden Round Tower be built at the mouth of the harbour, which was completed in 1426. However it wasn't until the Tudor dynasty that Portsmouth's defence was seriously dealt with. Under King Henry VIII the Round Tower was rebuilt out of stone and a Square Tower was raised. It was at this time that Robert Brygandine and Sir Reginald Bray, with the support of the king, commenced the building in Portsmouth of the country's first dry dock. In 1527 with some of the money obtained from the dissolution of the monasteries Henry VIII built the fort which became known as Southsea Castle.

Over the years Portsmouth's fortification was increased by numerous monarchs including King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth I, although most of these have now fallen into disrepair or been converted into tourist attractions.

Recent history

On December 21, 1872 the Challenger expedition was launched from Portsmouth.

The city was bombed extensively during WW2, while most of the city has since been rebuilt developers still occasionally find unexploded bombs.



The city is administered by the Portsmouth City Council, which is currently a unitary authority. Until January 1, 1997 it was a district of Hampshire, but the borders of Hampshire were adjusted by the "Hampshire (Cities of Portsmouth and Southampton) (Structural Change) Order 1995".


Year Number of houses Population Source
1560 1000 (est) Portsmouth: a history by Patterson
1801 5310 32,160 1801 census
1811 6852 40,567 1811 census
1821 8627 45,048 1821 census
1831 9410 50,389 1831 census
1841 9886 53,032 1841 census
1851 12,825 72,096 1851 census
1861 15,819 94,799 1861 census
1871 19,013 112,954 1871 census
1881 22,701 127,989 1881 census
1891 29,353 159,251 1891 census
1901 36,368 188,133 1901 census
1911 231,165 1911 census
1921 247,343 1921 census
1931 249,300 1931 census
1951 233,545 1951 census
1961 68,618 215,077 1961 census
1971 197,431 1971 census
1981 175,382 1981 census
1991 177,142 1991 census
2001 186,700 (est) 2001 census (preliminary report)

Tourist Attractions

Most of Portsmouth's tourist attractions are related to its naval history, among these are the D-Day museum (which holds the Overlord embroidery), the HMS Victory which has been restored in the Dockyard, the remains of the Mary Rose raised from the sea-bed in recent years and the HMS Warrior.

Other tourist attractions include the birthplace of Charles Dickens, Cumberland House a natural history museum and Southsea castle.


In the last decade the number of shops in Portsmouth have grown dramatically due to both the growth of the local economy and improved transport links.

Shopping areas in the city include:

Other shopping areas with more than twenty shops include Palmerston Road, Elm Grove and Albert Road.


The city has one university, the University of Portsmouth, but several local colleges also have the power to award HNDs.

Local further education colleges include Highbury College which specializes in practical teaching, Portsmouth College, South Downs College and Havant College which all offer a mixture of academic and pracical courses.

Local secondary schools include Priory School, St Luke's School, Mayfield School, Portsmouth Grammar School, Admiral Lord Nelson School and Milton Cross School, the last two both being developed in the last five years in order to meet the demand of a growing young population.

Local media

Portsmouth was one of the first cities in the UK to get a local TV station, MyTV (which later rebranded to PortsmouthTV) in 2001. The TV station has had some success but it limited availability in some parts of Portsmouth has limited its growth.

The city currently has only one major daily local newspaper known as The News, PPP the company producing The News also produces a free weekly "local affairs" newspaper called The Journal,

Future developments

Plans are afoot to build a tower called the Spinnaker Tower. The much-troubled millennium project is now finally underway and due for completion in 2003. The tower will be 165m tall, features viewing decks at sea level, 100m, 105m, and 110m. A high speed internal lift runs up one leg, and a stunningly designed panoramic external glass lift runs up the outside of the opposite leg.

A light rail link to Gosport has been authorised; these two towns are presently linked by a ferry.

There is an ongoing debate on the development of public transport structure, with monorails and underground trains both being considered.

Famous residents

External Links

History related links


Live Webcams

See Also: Southsea.