The UK’s only island city, Portsmouth is situated on England’s South Coast in the county of Hampshire. The birthplace of Charles Dickens and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Portsmouth is also recognised for its significance as a main naval port, and HMS Victory together with the Mary Rose and HMS Warrior can be found in its dry dock, which the oldest of its kind still in use. Portsmouth is a hugely popular waterside destination and the millennium trail offers visitors a chance to explore the waterfront further, with attractions such as the D-Day Museum, Portsmouth Cathedral and the Spinnaker Tower all found in this historic and cultural city.
There are differing views regarding the origins of Portsmouth, with some believing is was founded in 1180 by Jean de Gisors and Anglo-Norman Lord, and other favouring that is dates back far earlier to 501. Portsmouth itself is not listed in the Domesday Book but settlements that were within the area are, which would later form Portsmouth as we know it.
King Richard the Lionheart awarded the first Royal Charter to Portsmouth, and in 1200 King John would be responsible for the establishment of the naval base together with docks and a hospital in his efforts to invade Normandy. Conflict with France would continue throughout the 13th Century, and as a result fortifications would be built under the instruction of Henry V which included the Round Tower initially a wooden structure which would later be rebuilt using stone, and remains in place defending the entrance to the Harbour.
The building of the dry dock, a world first, would see many ships built in Portsmouth, and in the 1500’s Henry VIII would declare Portsmouth the home of the Royal Navy. Further fortifications were built throughout the area reflecting the importance of the location. Many historical journeys would set sail from Portsmouth including in May 1787, when a fleet of 11 ships set sail for Australia on a quest to create the first European colony there, it would be known as the First Fleet. In 1872 the Challenger Expedition began its voyage from Portsmouth with the scientific exercise resulting in many discoveries and an unprecedented advancement in the knowledge we have of our oceans and planet.
Portsmouth is a historic and cultural city and as such has also been a focus in popular culture.
Films & TV
All the Fear of the Fair – was shot in Portsmouth and this low budget independent production was the creation of Chris Jupp who wrote and directed the film, with the Regal Palace in Kingston Road providing the main backdrop for the film.
Solitary was written and produced by Katherine McEwan who also plays Nora, the main character. This gritty drama follows the lives of estranged siblings and was filmed at HMP Kingston, as well as Southsea Common and Clarence Pier.
Tommy the 1975 rock opera film which was based on The Who’s album was filmed on location in and around Portsmouth. Directed by Ken Russell, scenes were shot St Andrews Church, The Kings Theatre and Hilsea Lido.
Graham Hurley has set his crime novel series which feature characters such as DI Joe Faraday and DS Jimmy Suttle in Portsmouth, with 12 books included in this gripping series including Touching Distance, Happy Days and Borrowed Light.
Lilian Harry has written several novels and set titles such as Goodbye Sweetheart in Southsea and Keep Smiling Through in Portsmouth.
The Portsmouth Book of Days by John Sadden details various interesting and quirky historical events which make for a fascinating read, details of which were selected from the Portsmouth’s Archives.
Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on 7th February 1812, one of our most famous writers his works include Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Great Expectations and a Tale of Two Cities.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born in Portsmouth on 9th April 1806, the famous engineer who revolutionised modern engineering. With countless inventions using pioneering design and technology, with the Great Western Railway, the SS Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension Bridge are just an indication of the magnitude of his work.
Peter Sellers the famous British actor and comedian was born in Southsea on the 8th September 1925, Sellers was a star of stage, screen and radio and best known for his part in The Goon Show alongside Spike Milligan and for playing Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther film comedies.
Steeped in Maritime history, Portsmouth is home to HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s famous flagship, which participated in the Battle of Trafalgar. Visitors can explore this amazing landmark which remains the oldest naval ship in commission, and learn more about its fascinating history including the Battle of Ushant and Battle of Cape St Vincent.
Opened in 2005 and part of the redevelopment of Portsmouth Harbour, the Spinnaker Tower measures 170m in height and dominates the Portsmouth Skyline. With HGP Architects responsible for the design together with Scott Wilson engineering consultants, the magnificent structure reflects the maritime history of Portsmouth with its designed inspired by a Spinnaker sail. Located in Gunwharf Quays, the Tower offers visitors beautiful views of the city and its harbours.
William Hill is the architect who designed Portsmouth Guildhall which was completed in 1890 and features neo-classical styling. Today it is the home of the City Council, as well as an historic venue used for shows and concerts. The beautiful Star Chamber features the Zodiac depicted in crystal constellations together with scenes from Portsmouth’s past in the mural on its north wall.