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

City of Portsmouth
Status:Unitary, City (1926)
Region:South East England
Ceremonial County:Hampshire
- Total
Ranked 319th
40.25 km²
Admin. HQ:Portsmouth
ONS code:00MR
- Total (2003 est.)
- Density
Ranked 74th
4,689 / km²
Ethnicity:94.7% White
2.4% S.Asian
Arms of Portsmouth City Council
Portsmouth City Council
Leadership:Leader & Cabinet
Executive:Liberal Democrats
MPs:Mike Hancock, Sarah McCarthy-Fry
Missing image
View over Portsmouth from Portsdown Hill.

Portsmouth is a city of about 186,000 located in the county of Hampshire on the southern coast of England. A significant naval port for centuries, previously the world's largest naval base and home to many famous ships, Portsmouth has declined in recent years but remains a major dockyard and base for the Royal Navy. Its telephone area code is (023), and was previously (01705), and before that (0705).



Most of the city lies on Portsea Island, located where the Solent joins the English Channel. The island is separated from the mainland to the north by a narrow creek, bridged in three places to make it (in appearance) a peninsula. The sheltered Portsmouth Harbour lies to the west of the island and the large tidal bay of Langstone Harbour is to the east. Portsdown Hill dominates the skyline to the north and to the south are the waters of the Solent 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, previously known as Portus Adurni). The other main suggestion is that the name came from a chieftain 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 (4,000 m²) 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 held captive by Duke Leopold V 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 of Ely William de Longchamps. 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 privileges 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 an 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 by 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.

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

20th century

Missing image
The Spinnaker Tower, as seen from Gunwharf Quays.

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

In 2003, erection was started of a 165 metre high Spinnaker Tower sited at Portsmouth Harbour, and celebrating the city's maritime tradition. Completed in 2005, the tower has twin concrete legs meeting at half height to form a single column from which steel sails are mounted; an observation deck at the top provides a view of the city and harbour for tourists.

In late 2004, Tricorn Centre, dubbed "The ugliest building in the UK" was finally demolished after years of delay and wrangling over the cost of doing so and the controversy as to whether it was worth preserving as an example of sixties Brutalist architecture.



The city is administered by the Portsmouth City Council, which is currently a unitary authority. Until April 1, 1997 it was a district of Hampshire. The legally defined borders of Hampshire, as used for local government purposes, were adjusted in 1997 by the "Hampshire (Cities of Portsmouth and Southampton) (Structural Change) Order 1995". However, for most purposes, such as postal addresses, the city is generally still regarded as being part of Hampshire.


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), HMS Victory which has been restored in the Dockyard, the remains of the Mary Rose raised from the sea-bed in recent years and HMS Warrior.

Other tourist attractions include the birthplace of Charles Dickens, Cumberland House a natural history museum, the Spinnaker Tower 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:

  • Ocean Retail Park an out of town shopping area mainly composed of shops requiring large floor space for selling consumer goods (furniture, electrical goods, computers).
  • Cascades Shopping Centre (http://www.cascadesshopping.com/) an indoor shopping centre built in the early nineties with approximately 75 shops covering a wide range of goods.
  • Commercial Road running alongside the Cascades shopping centre this area contains approximately a further 50 shops, located near Portsmouth & Southsea train station.
  • Gunwharf Quays a new shopping area which opened in 2002 in consists of 85 mainly upmarket fashion stores, restuarants and a Vue multi-screen cinema, located near Portsmouth Harbour train station and the Hard Bus Interchange, and a relatively short walk from Commercial Road.
  • Bridge Centre a 11,043 square metre shopping centre built in 1988, now dominated by the newly built Asda Walmart store.

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


The city is home to FA Premier League club Portsmouth F.C., who play their home games at Fratton Park. Locks Sailing Club at Longshore way is the city's premier dinghy sailing club.


The city has several mainline railway stations, on a direct route to London. Portsmouth's stations include: Portsmouth & Southsea, Fratton, Cosham, Hilsea, Portsmouth Harbour. Portsmouth Habour has passenger ferry links to Gosport and the Isle of Wight only minutes away from the train station. A car ferry service operates to the Isle of Wight by Wightlink from near Gunwharf.

There is an ongoing debate on the development of public transport structure, with monorails and underground trains both being considered. There are plans for a rail-link to Gosport and the Port Solent residential & commercial complex. Existing stations are also due a face-lift.


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 The City of Portsmouth Girls School, 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. Johnston Press, owner of Portsmouth Publishing & Printing, the company producing The News, also produces a free weekly "local affairs" newspaper called The Journal.

Future developments

Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.
Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.

In the last decade Portsmouth's historic dockyards have been given a much needed face-lift. The tourist attraction 'Portsmouth Historic Dockyard' which houses the ships HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and Mary Rose has been completed. Plans are afoot to build a tower called the Spinnaker Tower at Gunwharf. The much-troubled millennium project is now finally underway and due for completion in late 2004. The tower will be 165 m tall, features viewing decks at sea level, 100 m, 105 m, and 110 m. 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. At the top of the lift will be a viewing platform, to attract tourists and city dwellers alike. The Portsmouth Harbour rail & ferry terminal is also due a face-lift.

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.

Portsmouth's regeneration is being continued in the city centre with the demolition of the Tricorn Centre, a long abandoned shopping mall and car park, described as a "concrete monstrosity". Discussion is still ongoing as to what will be built in its place.

The rebuilding of Fratton Park, home to Portsmouth Football Club is set to hold 35,000 fans. The stadium will be built to allow Portsmouth to compete successfully in the English Football's Premier League. Along with the stadium, 500 houses will be built in a development called Pompey Village. This is currently at a planning stage.

Famous residents

See also

External Links

History related links



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