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The History of Portsmouth

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There have been settlements in the Portsmouth area since well before the Roman Times . The Romans themselves built ‘Portus Adurni’ a Roman fort and port at what is now called Portchester , in the suburbs of modern Portsmouth. The establishment of the City of Portsmouth is generally credited to Jean de Gisors, a Norman nobleman who founded the city in 1180.

Portsmouth’s importance as a city has always been centred on its usefulness as a channel port. The Isle of Wight provides a sheltered stretch of water known as The Solent , effectively making the harbour in Portsmouth safe from the worst ravages of tide and weather. This has meant Portsmouth has a long and close association with seafarers of all types. In recent centuries it has been a popular spot for yachters and other smaller boat owners. In the latter part of the twentieth century it established itself as a passenger port, with regular sailings by ferry to France and Spain. It has been an important merchant port for many centuries with many kinds of freight passing through the port; as well as the catches from local fishermen.
The western coast of the city is, in fact, one long stretch of docks. From the naval dockyard and Camber docks at the southern end, to the grain and fertiliser docks at the northern end. In between the Flathouse and Albert Johnson Quay bringing in freight such as fruits from Spain and Morocco. This is all right next to the Ferryport, which is the passenger and roll on roll off freight port.

It is the Naval Dockyard of course that Portsmouth is most famous for, with Nelson’s ship HMS Victory still standing proudly in the dock. It is a fitting reminder of the importance of Portsmouth to the Royal Navy for many centuries that one of the most famous of all its ships rests there. It is joined by two other very prestigious ships who share Portsmouth as their last resting place. The magnificent iron sailing ship HMS Warrior and King Henry VIII ’s sunken pride, the Mary Rose (or at least what remains of it after being dragged up from the sea bed after nearly 500 years), are also housed in Portsmouth and open to visitors. The Dockyard was first created in 1495 by King Henry VII and in 1670 King Charles II created the Royal Navy and granted the dockyard in Portsmouth the status of Royal Dockyard. In 1805 Admiral
Horatio Nelson sailed out of this dockyard for the last time in HMS Victory, en route to the Battle of Trafalgar . The British Fleet was victorious, but Nelson was shot and fatally wounded in the battle while walking on the deck of HMS Victory.

The dockyard became increasingly important to the Royal Navy, partially due to Isambard Kingdom Brunel ’s method for making ship’s pulleys via an automated process that required the use only of unskilled labour. He oversaw the creation of the world’s first mass production system (though not fully automated) at Portsmouth Dockyard
in 1802. This increased the rate of production tenfold. The growing importance of the Dockyard led to Portsmouth becoming one of Europe’s most fortified cities with a ring of forts created both out at sea and on land. The forts were ordered by Lord Palmerston in the 19th century and have often been referred to as Palmerston’s follies. This is believed to be for two main reasons. One is that they have never been
needed in war; the other that they face inland, away from Portsmouth. There are two strong counter arguments in their defence, however. For one, the fact that they were never needed may simply be a sign of their effectiveness as a deterrent. As for the facing inland; this was totally deliberate. The purpose of the land-based forts is to
protect Portsmouth from enemies who have successfully landed elsewhere and are attempting to invade Portsmouth from inland. The sea based forts and ships are there to protect against a sea based attack.

In the last century and a quarter, the city’s football team Portsmouth FC has grown in importance to the city. Despite a roller coaster ride in fortunes throughout the clubs history; support has always been fiercely loyal in the city. The team was created towards the end of the 19th century and became one of the most successful teams for three decades during the early middle part of the 20th century. The club went into decline but has recently enjoyed a return to the top division and victory for a second time in the FA Cup, which the team first won in 1939.

Today Portsmouth is a thriving city although the Dockyard that has been one of the mainstays of employment in the city for about two hundred years has, in recent decades, cut back considerably on the intake of young apprentices. The island on which it is established, Portsea Island, long ago proved too small to contain the growing population and a number of sprawling suburbs have grown up around the
city on the mainland. New industry, especially those involved in electronics, computing and defence, has sprung up and prospered. This development has been greatly helped by the Portmouth’s advantageous geographic location and its ready supply of both skilled and unskilled labour.

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The Hundred Years War begins - 1337, Ashmolean Museum Opens - 1683, Westminster Bridge Opens - 1862
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