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Bradshaw’s Guide


Harbour, Portsmouth, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress

Portsmouth, the first naval port in the British Islands, and a parliamentary borough &c., 75 miles, from London by the South Western Line or 95 by way of the Brighton and South Coast Line.

Portsmouth, Portsea, Southsea, &c., are seated on a low island, about 4 miles long, between Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours, and inside the Spithead anchorage, and the Isle of Wight, whose beautiful hills are seen about 5 miles over the water. The Dockyard is at Portsea; and on the Gosport side of the harbour are the Victualling Office, Haslar Hospital, and other establishments. Portsdown Hill is to the north.

Portsmouth is the principal rendezvous of the British navy. It is situated on the western side of the island of Portsea, at the mouth of the bay termed Portsmouth Harbour, and consists of the old town of Portsmouth, included within its fortified walls, and the new towns of Portsea and Southsea. Portsmouth Harbour ranks among the first in Great Britain, for its capaciousness, depth, and security. At its entrance it is very narrow, but soon expands to a great width. The anchorage is good in all parts, the depth sufficient for ships of any draught, the shelter complete, and the extent capable of accommodating the entire navy of England. One thousand sail can ride at anchor in the celebrated roadstead of Spithead, between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.

The power of the English navy consists in the vast collection of materials, the number of ships, the skin and experience of the officers, and the excellence of the seamen nurtured in a commercial marine which traverses every sea. Add to this the vast wealth, accumulated capital, and untold treasures of the United Kingdom, the production of previous and still sustained industry, all of which give life and energy to the other resources of the empire, and then we possess the real causes of the naval superiority of Great Britain.

Portsmouth has very little to offer in its buildings, or in the country in its neighbourhood, which is flat and uninteresting. There is no beautiful or striking scenery to please the eye; but its chief attractions consist in the fortifications, the dockyard, the men-of-war, the sailors and soldiers, and other features of a Government town — all of which are full of interest to a mere civilian, especially if fresh from the interior. The fortified lines, in particular, should be noticed, as Portsmouth (including Portsea) is a specimen rare in these islands, but common enough abroad, of a perfect English fortress, being inclosed in ramparts, bastions, ravelins, wet ditches, glacis, &c., constructed on scientific principles, and defended by batteries commanding all the most accessible points landward and seaward. The only entrances are by the four or five drawbridges and gates in the ramparts. Beyond these are the populous and increasing suburbs of Landport, Kingston, Southsea, &c. Southsea, in front of Spithead, is rising into a fashionable bathing-place; many good houses and villas and a new church have been built and though it stand low, the situation is open and healthy. Hollingworth’s Subscription Rooms are on the beach; bathing and boats at all times, and an excellent promenade, laid out by the late Lord Fitzclarence, when Lieutenant-Governor, but disfigured by two ridiculous statues of Nelson and Wellington, It was at this spot that Nelson, accompanied by Hardy, embarked for the last time on the 14th of September, 1805, to hoist his flag on board the Victory; he was attended by the tear; and blessings of the crowd – the scene was wonderfully affecting. “I had their hurrahs before,” said the poor shattered hero, “now I have their hearts!” About three months later the Victory, which now lies in the harbour, came back again with his remains on board. About¼ mile along the beach is Southsea Castle, which, like Cumberland Fort, 3 miles further, is regularly fortified. The latter has room for four regiments.

St. Thomas’s Church, in High-street, with a gilt ship over the cupola for its vane, is a venerable old cross, built in 1220, but altered and re-edified since that date. One monument is to Charles II.‘s favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, who was stabbed by Felton in an old-fashioned house at the top of the street, now marked No. 10. The Registry contains the entry of Charles II.‘s marriage, 22nd May, 1662, with Catherine of Portugal, who brought him Bombay for her dowry. On the parade, which every one should attend for the daily guard-mounting at 11 a.m., is the church of an old religious house; here the garrison musters, and many officers in both services are interred. There is a fine prospect of Spithead from the ramparts here.

In St. Mary’s-street lived John Pounds, a poor crippled cobbler, who may claim to be the founder of Ragged Schools. Working all day long at his trade he enticed the indigent children from the streets, and before his death, in 1839, had taught hundreds of them on a plan of his own.

At the bottom of High Street is a rather picturesque brick bridge, to Point, designed by Inigo Jones. Trading vessels lie up in the Camber, near this. From the lower end of Point, the floating bridge runs to Gosport. Here a boat may be taken for the Victory; she lies a little above the Neptune flag-ship. A brass plate marks the spot on which Nelson fell, shot through the shoulder. The uniform he wore as now at Greenwich; and the shot itself was in the possession of his physician, the late Sir W. Beattie.

The dockyard covers 117 acres, with a water front of 4-5ths of a mile; it was begun by Henry VII. and his son Henry VIII., who here built the Harry Grace a Dieu, a large unwieldly hulk, the largest ship of her day. Apply at the gate for permission to go through the yard; you write your name down, and as soon as a party of about half a dozen is made up, a policeman takes you round. If you are a foreigner, you should apply to the Admiralty, through your Ambassador, for an order, or should you resemble one in appearance, it is advisable to provide yourself with an Admiralty order. Among other things you will see the Rope Home, 1,100 feet long, where liempen cables of 2,400 yarns and two feet round are twisted; anchors of all sizes up to five tons, and the forges where they are made, with Nasmyth’s wonderful steam hammer at work; Brunei’s block machinery, which will, with ease, make 140,000 blocks yearly, (1,400 are required for a 74 gun ship); the building slips and sheds, from which ships of 130 guns are launched; new factories, and basins for steamers, and the screws, storehouses of every description; a statue of William III. and models, at the Naval College. Vast quantities of timber are left to season in the Ponds and on Common Hard, as a preservative from dry-rot. There is an armoury at the gun wharf, which is a branch of the Woolwich Arsenal.

Several ships in “ordinary,” i. e., laid by for future occasion, are moored up and down the harbour; but when ready for service, their place is Spithead roadstead, outside, so called from the Spit sand which, lies to the west. There Sir Charles Napier’s fleet, including the great screw-ship, the Duke of Wellington, of 131 guns, was reviewed by the Queen, in her beautiful yacht, the Victoria and Albert,

To this anchorage, Hawke, Howe, St. Vincent, Exmouth, &c., brought their prizes after their various triumphs. One buoy marks where the “Royal George,” with Admiral Kempenfeldt and 300 seamen, besides women and landsmen, sunk at her anchors, 1782: only a few escaped, one of whom was the late Sir P. Durham. Her hull, after lying whole at the bottom of the sea, was at length blown up by electricity, in 1839; articles are still sold at Portsmouth as made from her well-seasoned timbers. The Royal William, or old Billy, flag-ship, used to lie here; when broken up she was above 100 years old. Osborne House, the seat of Her Majesty, Ryde, and other beautiful parts of the Isle of W^ght, are here easily discerned; also vessels lying at the Motherbank, close to the Island; and Stokes Bay, where the rate of steamers is tried, at which place it is contemplated to erect a floating steam bridge, so as to connect the Isle of Wight with the intended line from hence to the Gosport station.

Within a short distance from Portsmouth, excursions may be made to the Isle of Wight (see page 87) and the following places:—Porchester Castle, at the top of Portsmouth harbour, can be reached by boat (the pleasantest way, passing all the men of war), or by railway. It is the Portus Magnus of the Romans, and stands under Portsdown Hill. To the genuine walls, 8 to 12 feet thick, of the original founders, a great square keep, and other additions, some as late as Queen Elizabeth’s reign, have been added. In one corner of the space they enclose (about 620 feet square) is an ancient church. A pretty walk, through the village, ends up to the Nelson Obelisk on the Portsdown Hill. This chalk ridge is 400 to 500 feet high, and has several good points of view, embracing the port and sea to the south, and a richly wooded tract to the north, most of which belongs to the Thistlethwaytes of Southwick, where are some remains of a priory in which Henry VI. was married to Margaret of Anjou.

Near Purbrook is Merchistoun, the seat of the late Admiral Sir Charles Napier, not far off the mansion of his cousin, the late General Sir C. Napier, the conqueror of Scinde. Leigh Park, near Havant, the seat of Sir G. Staunton, Bart. From Havant, at the east end of Portsdown, looking down on Chichester Cathedral, there is a bridge to Hayling Island, a flat pasture tract like its neighbour, and separated from it by Langstone harbour. A quiet bathing place has been established at Hayling. Portsdown Fair begins July 26th.

Conveyances by railway to Southampton, Winchester, London, Dorchester, Chichester, Brighton, Hastings, Dover, &c. By steamers to Ryde, Cowes, Southampton, several times a day, from the Albert and Victoria piers; to Plymouth and Liverpool once a week.

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