National Gazetteer (1868) - Portsmouth


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"PORTSMOUTH, a parish and a municipal and parliamentary borough, seaport, market, and garrison town in Portsdown hundred, in the southern division of the county of Hants, 26 miles S.E. of Southampton, and 28 S. by E. of Winchester. The borough includes Portsmouth, Portsea, Landport, Southsea, and Kingston, all of which are situated on Portsea Island, between Portsmouth harbour on the W., and Langston harbour on the E. It lies in 50° 48' N. lat., and 1° 6' W. long., being 94 miles S.S.W. from London by the South-Western railway, and 70 by road. The Saxon name of the locality was Llongporth, but as early as the time of Henry I. it was known as Portesmuth.

The Saxon chief, Porta, landed here in 501, and was defeated by King Arthur. Robert, Duke of Normandy, attacked the town in the reign of Henry I., when it had already assumed some importance as a naval station, which it never lost. The fleets of both Richard I. and Henry III. met here before their invasion of France, and it became subsequently the chief station for the royal navies, being scarcely second in importance to Southampton. The return of members to parliament dates from the reign of Edward I. In 1337 the French burnt the town, but it was soon rebuilt and fortified. Edward IV. added two towers at the mouth of the harbour, with a strong chain, which could be fastened between them, to prevent the passage of ships. This was used as recently as 1779, when there was some danger of the harbour being attacked by the French and Spanish fleet.

The fortifications were continued by Richard III., by Henry VII., who founded the dockyard, and by Henry VIII., who completed them, and built Southsea, Calshot, and other castles along the S. coast. They have been since extended to meet modern requirements, and additional forts are in course of erection on Portsdown Hill and at Spithead, commanding the harbour. The celebrated ship, the Henri Grace a Dieu, was built in the dockyards, by Henry VIII.; and the Mary Rose, another of his fleet, was capsized in 1546, while preparing, with other ships, to attack the French fleet, under Viscount Annebaut. The Duke of Buckingham was stabbed at the "Spotted Dog," now 11, High-street, when on his way to the succour of Rochelle. During the civil wars Portsmouth was occupied by Waller for the parliament. Charles II. met his bride, Catharine of Braganza, and was married here in 1662.

The fortifications and dockyards have been inspected by nearly every sovereign since the time of Charles, and by the sovereigns of the Holy Alliance in 1814. Napoleon embarked here on his way to St. Helena. The principal naval events connected with Portsmouth have been Anson's voyage round the world, 1740; Byng's execution, 1756; the loss of the Royal George, 1782; Howe's return, after his victory, June 1, 1794, when George III. visited the fleet; Lord St. Vincent's return after his victory, 1799; Nelson's last embarkation, Sept. 14, 1805; and Lord Exmouth's expedition to Algiers, 1816. Portsea Island, on which Portsmouth stands, is separated from the main land by a narrow inlet at its northern extremity. Portsmouth harbour, which is on the W. side of it, is entered by a narrow creek at the S., defended by Southsea Castle and Monckton Fort. The narrowest part is at Portsmouth Point, a little higher, where the width is only 220 yards. The basin of the harbour measures about 3 miles each way, and contains three channels, leading to Porchester, Fareham, and the N. of Portsea Island. The depth is sufficient to accommodate men-of-war of all sizes, even at low tide. The jurisdiction of the town of Portsmouth extends from Southampton Water over the harbour, and also Langston harbour; Spithead, St. Helen's Bay, in the Isle of Wight, as far E. as Emsworth channel. The town of Portsmouth is quadrangular in shape, covering about 1,100 acres. Most of the streets are narrow and mean looking, but well paved and lighted, and supplied with water from Portsdown Hill. The best houses and the chief public buildings are in the High-street.

Portsea, which lies on the N. of Portsmouth, has been built within the last century on what was then called Portsmouth Common. Its present name was given to it by Act of Parliament in 1792, and the town was built entirely in consequence of the requirements of the navy during the American war. The ground on which it stands was granted by Queen Ethelfleda to Winchester College. Most of the streets are narrow, and badly built. Both towns are enclosed by fortifications, consisting of bastioned ramparts, surrounded by a deep moat, which is crossed by drawbridges. The ramparts, which are 1 mile in circumference, are planted with rows of elms, and form a pleasant walk. The Saluting Battery looks over Spithead and the Isle of Wight. The ordinary garrison consists of three infantry regiments, but a thorough defence of the fortifications would require 20,000 men.

The royal dockyard at Portsea covers a space of 120 acres, and is the largest in the kingdom. The frontage on the harbour is nearly three quarters of a mile. It contains stores of every requisite for the navy, factories for sails, ropes, and blocks, copper-sheathing foundry, anchor forge, wood and iron mills, joiners' shops, &c. A basin of 33,000 square yards, with four dry docks; a double dock for frigates; six building slips; a basin for steamers, 3,000 feet in length, opened by the Queen in 1848; a graving-dock, and one or two other smaller ones. The dockyard also includes the Royal Naval College, and school of architecture, a chapel, guard and pay-houses, offices of the ordnance and engineers' services, an observatory, and the residences of the admiral and port admiral. Beyond the Common Hard, where timber is kept for seasoning, is the gun-wharf and ordnance stores, and an armoury for small arms used in the navy. The troops in garrison are distributed between the Anglesea, the Clarence, the Cambridge, and the Colewort barracks, used for troops of the line, and those in Broad-street for the artillery. There are also two barracks, the Tipner and Hilsea at Landport, for artillery, near the Lion Gate, Portsea.

The principal public buildings in Portsmouth are the lieutenant-governor's house in High-street, the townhall, the county court, the convict prison near the dockyard, the new market-house, the custom-house at Point, the United Service club, the theatre, and the bridge over the Camber. The chief imports of Portsmouth are coal from the N. of England, cattle and sheep from the Isle of Wight and the W., corn, &c., from Ireland, eggs from France, and timber from the Baltic, and wine. The trade of the town is chiefly connected with the government establishments. Very many hands are employed in the manufacture of naval and military outfits. There are also several large breweries.

The borough of Portsmouth is divided into six wards-St. Thomas's, St. George's, St. John's, All Saints', St. Paul's, and St. Mary's. The first charter of incorporation was granted by Henry I. The local government is now administered by a mayor, 14 aldermen, 42 councillors, a recorder, coroner, &c., with the style of the mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of the borough of Portsmouth. Two members are returned by the borough to the House of Commons. The excise district, of which Portsmouth is the head, includes Portsmouth, Petersfield, Hambledon, Farnham, Guildford, Godalming, Haslemere, Midhurst, Petworth, Chichester, Havant, Fareham, Gosport, and Tichfield. The new County Court district includes the superior registries of Fareham, Portsea, Havant, and Alverstoke. Portsmouth is the headquarters of the S.W. military district. Courts of quarter sessions and daily petty sessions are held in the sessions-room over the gaol.

Portsmouth is comprised within the deanery of Droxford, and the archdeaconry and diocese of Winchester. The livings are as follows:-St. Thomas a Becket is a vicarage* value £555, in the patronage of Winchester College. The church was built by the Prior of Southwick in 1210, but only a small part of the original building remains. Its shape is cruciform, 110 feet in length, with a cupola and lantern 120 feet high, at the W. end, on the top of which is a gilt ship, 6 feet long, for a vane. It contains the tomb of the Duke of Buckingham, who was assassinated here in the reign of Charles I.; and in the registry there is the entry of the marriage of Charles II. in 1662. St. Mary's is a curacy, value £30, in the patronage of the vicar. The chapel of the Domus Dei hospital, founded by Bishop de Rupibus in the reign of John, which stands on the Grand Parade, has been converted into a garrison chapel. St. Mary's, the parish church of Portsea, is a vicarage,* value £696, in the patronage of Winchester College. The tower dates from the time of Edward III., but the remainder was rebuilt in 1847. The burial-ground covers 8 acres, and many of the crew of the Royal George are interred there. St. George's, value £45, All Saints, value £310, and Trinity, value £300, are perpetual curacies,* in the patronage of the vicar. St. John's is a perpetual curacy,* value £300, in the patronage of the pew-holders. There is also a chapel in the dockyard. St. James's Landport, St. John's, St. Paul's, St. Luke's, St. Jude's, All Saints, St. Bartholomew's and St. James's, Milton, are perpetual curacies, varying in value from £45 to £650. Other places of worship are numerous.

The Roman Catholics have one chapel, the Baptists eight, the Independents four, the Wesleyans three, and the Bible Christians, Unitarians, and Jews, one each. There is a free grammar school at Portsmouth, founded by Dr. Smith in 1732, the Benefit Society's at Portsea, a seamen's orphan school, nine National schools, one Roman Catholic, one at the workhouse, and more than 300 other schools of various descriptions, in addition to numerous Sunday-schools. There is a theatre in Portsmouth, and rooms at Southsea, known as the King's Rooms. The old cemetery and the Portsmouth and Gosport hospital are at Mile End, Landport. There are at Portsea a dispensary, an eye and ear infirmary, a female penitentiary, and a poorhouse. The Bank of England has a branch at Portsmouth; and there is also a savings-bank in the town. The only celebrated man who was a native of Portsmouth was Jonas Hanway, founder of the marine society. The newspapers published are the Portsmouth Times, the Hampshire Telegraph, South Hants Gazette, and the Hampshire Guardian.

The duchy of Portsmouth was conferred by Charles II. on Louise de Querouaille, one of his mistresses, in 1673, but the title expired with her. The earldom was granted to John Wallop in 1743, and the same family still holds it, though under the name of Fellowes, which was assumed by the late earl in 1853. The London, Brighton, and South Coast, the Mid-Sussex, the London and South-Western, and the London direct railways, all run into Portsmouth, using the same station at Landport as their terminus. Steamers ply from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight, Plymouth, Southampton, London, and Dublin. Portsmouth is connected with Gosport by a floating steam-bridge, which crosses the harbour every half hour. Markets are held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. A -fair, called the Free Mart, was formerly held from the 10th to the 24th July, in the High-street, but it was abolished in 1848. A regatta is held in July or August. "CUMBERLAND FORT, in the parish of Portsmouth, county of Hampshire, near Portsmouth. It is situated at the mouth of Langston harbour, commanding the entrance to Spithead."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) - Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]