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Old Portsmouth Fortifications





A Brief History

In the 14th century simple defences in the form of earthworks and moats were constructed to protect the town against attacks from the French during the Hundred Years War. No vestige of these early works remains and the fortifications were improved, altered and developed through the following centuries.

Further hostilities with France in the 15th century resulted in the construction of a tower, the precursor of the Round Tower, for the protection of the harbour entrance. This tower was erected on a spit of land (known as 'Point') which was outside the town. It was rebuilt in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and increased in height in the 19th century.

The Square Tower at the top of Broad Street was built in 1494. This served as the residence for the Governor of Portsmouth but also had provision for guns to be mounted on the roof. This building was subsequently used for the storage of gunpowder and, in 1779, was converted for use as a meat store. In 1827, the tower was refaced in stone.

Henry VIII's break with Rome resulted in the threat of invasion from both France and Spain and so, as well as commissioning a series of castles to protect the south coast, of which Southsea Castle was one, the town's fortifications were strengthened. However, the town's defences were still considered inadequate and in 1665 Charles II appointed Bernard de Gomme, a Dutch engineer, to put in hand a major programme to improve the fortifications and this work resulted in the defences achieving the form they held until they became redundant.

In the 19th century advances in ordnance with the introduction of rifled guns improved their range and accuracy and resulted in the Old Portsmouth defences becoming inadequate. A ring of forts along the crest of Portsdown Hill together with sea forts in the Solent were constructed and, in the 1870's and 80's, the major part of the Old Portsmouth fortifications was demolished. However, the seaward defences were retained to protect the harbour entrance.

Further changes in the way conflicts were conducted saw the Portsmouth Garrison being dissolved in 1960 and the remaining fortifications were acquired by Portsmouth City Council.



What to See

Round Tower & Saluting Platform

Access to the Round Tower can be obtained across the open space about half way down Broad Street. Although the Tower is not generally open to the public, the adjacent steps lead to a good viewpoint at the top of the Tower. From the Round Tower the Millennium Walk proceeds along 18 Gun Battery (1680) to the Square Tower and then to 10 Gun Battery (1670) and the Saluting Platform (1568), the large area with seating above Grand Parade. Continuing along the Millennium Walk to the Spur Redoubt (1680), the moat (1680) and Long Curtain (the grass embankment, 1730) are on the left.

Long Curtain & The Moat
From Spur Redoubt, there is a tunnel which passes through Long Curtain and is reputed to be part of Nelson's route when he embarked to board H.M.S. Victory prior the Battle of Trafalgar. Passing through the tunnel there is a ramp to the left leading to the top of Long Curtain and King's Bastion or the path on the right runs through to Pembroke Road. By the end of this path, the cottage named Williamsgate was originally the guard house to King William's Gate (1833) which stood at this point on the south-eastern side of the fortified town.
In St George's Road, opposite the end of Warblington Street stands the Landport Gate which was the main entrance to Portsmouth from London and is at the north-east limit of the old town. This gate was erected in 1760 and is the only gate remaining on its original site.

Keith Feltham (24 September 2006)

Last Updated ( Thursday, 01 March 2007 )
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