Portsmouth

History

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One of the Portsmouth’s destination marketing taglines is: ‘Miles of coastline, centuries of history’. There are many notable events and individuals on which to report.

Though the Portsmouth name doesn’t appear in the Domesday Book of 1086, many of its smaller areas are present – including Buckland, Copnor, Cosham, Drayton, Fratton, Portchester and Wymering. The Domesday Book also references the city’s oldest building – Wymering Manor in Cosham. However, the manor was first recorded more than 40 years earlier – in 1042, when it was owned by Edward the Confessor, before changing hands to William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings.

Another King of England with strong ties to Portsmouth is Henry VIII. The infamous royal helped design Southsea Castle, as he was a notable scholar of military fortifications. The castle itself has a somewhat geometric design, seen more frequently at that time on the continent. This allowed soldiers stationed within the castle better views out, to see enemies coming from all angles.

It was from Southsea Castle that King Henry VIII watched his beloved flagship, the Mary Rose, sink during battle. Though she lay at the bottom of the Solent for 437 years, the Mary Rose was raised in 1982 and now resides in her very own museum, situated within Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Just over 100 years later and another royal was in Portsmouth, Charles II, who married Catherine of Braganza at the Royal Garrison Church in 1662. The church, which dates back to 1212, has in its time been a hostel for pilgrims, a hospital and an ammunition store. It’s now best known for its roofless nave – which was destroyed during a firebomb raid of 1941. The nave ruins today stand alongside the chancel, which remains intact.

Portsmouth was given a Royal Charter on 2 May 1194, officially confirming its city status. This granted Portsmouth permission to hold weekly markets, host a fifteen-day annual fair, the power to set up a local court to deal with minor matters, and exemption from paying the annual tax of £18 a year – the money could instead be used for local matters.

More recent history comes on the site of Gunwharf Quays. Though it’s now a premier shopping destination, Gunwharf was, as its name suggests, an ordnance yard. From the late 17th century it was used to house armament and ammunition for ships and land defences alike. In the 1920s, the site became HMS Vernon – a military training establishment. The old HMS Vernon figurehead remains on site, as an attraction at the modern Gunwharf Quays.