Old Portsmouth

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History of Old Portsmouth


Following the Norman Conquest, it was recognised that Portsmouth Harbour was ideally situated for communications and trade with France, and a small community was established around the Camber. The area flourished during the twelfth century and Richard I granted the town a charter in 1194. However, the town then started to decline and war with France resulted in attacks on the area with the largely timber buildings being burnt down, but buildings constructed of masonry survived, notably the church of St Thomas (now the Anglican Cathedral) and the Domus Dei (now the Royal Garrison Church). The war with France led to fortifications being built around the town of (Old) Portsmouth and these were strengthened and supplemented during the following centuries. The importance of Portsmouth Harbour as a naval base also became apparent, and in 1418 the Round Tower was built to protect the entrance to the harbour. Access to the town was via four gates at strategic locations through the fortifications, the Point being outside the town. With improvements in gunnery giving greater range and accuracy, the fortifications duly became largely obsolete and the landward sections were demolished in the late 19th century. The seaward fortifications were still valuable, however, and remained in use until the Second World War and beyond.

The fortifications required soldiers to man them and they in turn required accommodation in the form of barracks, but few of these old buildings remain. When the Garrison moved out in 1960, much of the land and facilities it occupied were acquired by the City Council which, in Old Portsmouth, enabled the fortifications to be accessible to the public and the large area on the seaward side of Broad Street (formerly the site of Point Barracks) to be opened up.

In the 18th century, most of the houses were given new facades in the Georgian style and many were rebuilt. Up until the Second World War and, to some extent beyond, Old Portsmouth was a thriving commercial area with many shops and business premises. Vospers ship builders (later Vosper Thorneycroft) occupied a large site on the east side of the Camber and Fraser & White's (coal merchants) brought colliers into the Camber and unloaded them by crane into large concrete bunkers built on the 'Camber Island'. A power station was sited on the land between Gunwharf Road and St George's Road, but after demolition in the 1980's this land was developed for housing and known as 'Gunwharf Gate'. Colliers for the power station docked in a dry dock which now contains the linkspan for the Isle of Wight car ferries, and the coal was transported into the power station by overhead conveyors spanning across Gunwharf Road.

Much of the area was devastated by enemy bombing during the Second World War and only a few of the old buildings now remain. Development by the Central Electricity Generating Board resulted in more of the old houses being demolished in the Lombard Street/St Thomas's Street area for the development of offices, stores etc. Their main office building has since been converted into flats known as 'Lombard Court'.

Old Portsmouth is now a largely residential area, the commerce and industry gradually moving to other parts of the City as they developed and required more space. However the road pattern has remained substantially unaltered over the centuries although road names have been changed in a number of instances.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 01 March 2007 )
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