powered by FreeFind





Portsmouth in 1840

PORTSMOUTH, a corporate town in Hampshire, on the coast of the English Channel, and the principal station of the English navy ; it is 66 miles in a direct line south-west of St. Paul’s, London, or 73 from the General Post-Office by the mail-road through Kingston, Guildford, Godalming, and Petersfield.

The harbour of Portsmouth is formed by the western end of an inlet of the British Channel, which, with its various creeks, extends nearly sixteen miles from west to east, from Fareham, in Hampshire, to Fishbourn, a village close to Chichester in Sussex, and about four miles, on an average: from the open sea, inland. Two large alluvial islands; Portsea island on the west and Hayling island on the east, divide this inlet into three parts : the westernmost and smallest part forms Portsmouth harbour, between Portsea island and the main ; the middle portion, between Portsea island and Hayling island, forms Langston harbour ; and the eastern part, between Hayling island and the main, is divided by a smaller island (Thorney Island) into Emsworth channel and Chichester harbour. Each of these divisions presents, when the tide is up, a noble sheet of water ; but when the tide is out, they are chiefly occupied by mud-banks, separated by channels of greater or less width. The greater depth of the channel, the narrowness of the entrance, and the consequent facility of defending it, render Portsmouth harbour by far the best of the three. The roadstead between the mouth of Portsmouth harbour and the Isle of Wight forms an anchorage, part of which is well known under the name of Spithead. Adjacent to Spithead, on the coast of the Isle of Wight, near the eastern extremity of the island, is the bay of St. Helen’s, a place of rendezvous for the navy ; and near the coast of the Isle of Wight, between Cowes and Ryde, is the Motherbank, an anchorage for smaller vessels.

The excellence of the port attracted the notice of the Romans, who established a station at Porchester on its northern shore; this was probably the Portus Adurni, or perhaps the ‘Portus Magnus’ of the Notitia ; and the element of the Roman name Port-us has been transmitted directly or mediately to the modern Port-chester, Portsea (Port’s-ey, the island of the port’), Ports-mouth, Ports-down, and Gos-port. The decline of Port-chester, where there are still some Roman remains, is ascribed to the retiring of the sea, in consequence of which the inhabitants removed and built Portsmouth, which is first noticed in the ‘Saxon Chronicle’ on occasion of the landing (A.D. 501) of a body of Saxons, allies of Cerdic, founder of the West-Saxon kingdom. The leader of this body is said to have been called Porta, and some have supposed the name of Portsmouth to have been derived from this circumstance ; but the etymology given above appears much more probable.

Portsmouth was a place of importance in the time of Henry I. Robert of Normandie landed here with a strong force (A.D. 1101), when he came to dispute the crown with Henry I ; and the empress Maud, with her supporter the Earl of Gloucester, landed here (A.D. 1139 or 1140) to dispute the crown with Stephen. Richard I granted to the town a charter, with the privilege of a weekly market and a yearly fair of fifteen days ; and from some ancient records it has lately been ascertained that there was a naval station at Portsmouth in the reign of John. In the time of Richard II (A.D. 1377), Portsmouth was burned by the French. Edward IV and Richard III secured it by fortifications ; which were completed by Henry VII. In the reign of Henry VIII, it became the principal if not the only station of the English navy, and in A.D. 1544 an indecisive engagement between the English and French fleets took place off Spithead. In the time of Charles I (A.D. 1628), the duke of Buckingham, who had come down to hasten the equipment of the armament for the relief of Rochelle, was assassinated here. In the great civil war, the town was garrisoned for the parliament. The marriage of Charles II with Catherine of Braganza was celebrated here (A.D. 1662). Since the time of Henry VIII the fortifications have been so far extended (especially in the reigns of Charles II, William III, and George III) as to be now impregnable. It is said to require a garrison of 13,500 men to man the works and the forts, in case of a siege. The moats, which are wide and deep, can be filled with water from the sea.

The town of Portsmouth is situated at the south-western extremity of Portsea island, and just at the entrance of the harbour. It is enclosed by fortifications forming a semi-circle to landward, and has an area of 110 acres ; it contained, in 1831, 1,195 houses (beside 6 building and 40 uninhabited), inhabited by 1,627 families ; the population was 8,033. The streets, with the exception of High-street, are narrow, and consist of houses of inferior appearance. There are some substantial houses in High-street, and on the Grand Parade, which is at the western end of the High-street. North of Portsmouth is Portsea, considerably larger than Portsmouth, extending along the harbour, and containing the dock-yard and the principal establishments connected with it. Portsea, like Portsmouth, is strongly fortified, and its defences are so united with those of Portsmouth, that the two towns may be considered as comprehended in the circuit of one fortress. The streets of Portsmouth and Portsea are well lighted and paved. Outside the fortifications of these two towns are extensive suburbs, as Southsea on the east of Portsmouth, Landport adjacent to Portsea, and Mile End and Kingston rather more remote. Some of the houses in the suburbs are handsome, especially those on Southsea Common ; others, though neatly and regularly built, are smaller and of inferior description. There are some groups of habitations less connected with Portsmouth. All these suburbs are in the parish of Portsea, which comprehends the whole of Portsea island, except the town of Portsmouth, some extra-parochial districts, chiefly belonging to government, on the east side, on the shore of Langston harbour, formerly occupied by some salterns, and the northern extremity of the island, which is in Wimmering parish.

The mouth of Portsmouth harbour is about two miles wide between Fort Monkton and Southsea Castle, two strong forts erected to command the approach. Within these points the passage narrows to about a furlong, at what may be considered the true entrance into the harbour : within this entrance the harbour widens to half a mile between the dock-yard at Portsea and the town of Gosport on the opposite side ; farther in, it expands to the width of three miles, and contains the three small low islands - Pewit Island, Hornsea Island, and Whale Island. There is sufficient depth of water for a first-rate ship to enter the harbour at almost any time of the tide. About a mile and a half from the entrance the main channel branches into three arms, leading respectively to Fareham, Porchester, and Portsbridge and the northern end of Portsea Island. The dockyard is the largest in the kingdom, covering from 115 to 120 acres ; it has a wharf-wall along the harbour of nearly three quarters of a mile, and is enclosed on the land side by a wall fourteen feet high, which completely separates it from the town. It includes a ropehouse, anchor-wharfs an anchor-forge, a copper-sheathing foundry and mills; block, mast, sail and rigging, and other store houses ; a grand basin, in which vessels are received with all their standing and running rigging to be repaired; building-slips, docks for repairing - in a word, all that is requisite for the construction, equipment, armament, and repair of vessels. There are also residences for the port admiral, the admiral superintendent and the other officers of the yard, a chapel, a school for Naval Architecture, and other buildings. The block-machinery, invented by Mr. Mark Joambard Brunel, is an admirable manifestation of mechanical skill ; it is impelled by steam. There are forty-four machines which are arranged in three sets for blocks of different sizes. They take the rough timber, cut it up, shape and bore it, and carry the process through to the completion of the blocks. The machinery is capable of producing 1,400 blocks daily, and supplies the whole of the British Navy. The number of men employed in the dockyard, in time of war, has amounted to 4,000 and even 5,000. The dockyard has three times been seriously injured by fire: in 1760, from the effect of lightning; in 1770, from an unascertained cause ; and in 1776, from the attempt of an incendiary, John Aitkin, otherwise ‘Jack the painter,’ who was executed for the crime at the dock-gates, on a gallows 64 feet high, and afterwards hung in chains on the beach, on the west side of the entrance of the harbour. Adjacent to the dock-yard is the spacious and well furnished Gun-wharf and its connected buildings. It is the grand depot for cannons, shot, and every description of ordnance stores.

The parish church of St. Thomas, Portsmouth, is a spacious building, including some ancient portions, but mingled with additions of various later periods. The tower is 120 feet high, and forms a good mark for seamen, but the architecture is heavy and tasteless. It is surmounted by a cupola and lantern; the whole is crowned by the model of a ship, which serves as a vane. The garrison-chapel is on the Grand Parade; it is an ancient structure which belonged to the hospital of ‘Domus Dei’ (House of God), repaired and fitted up for the officers and soldiers of the garrison. The parish church of St, Mary, Portsea, is in the suburb of Kingston ; it is an ancient building surrounded by one of the largest burial-grounds in the kingdom. The chapels of St. George and St. John, in Portsea, are commodious edifices of little architectural beauty, erected in the latter half of the last century ; the new church of St. Paul, Southsea, capable of accommodating 1,900 persons, is a quadrangular building, in the perpendicular style of Gothic architecture, with four low turrets at the angles ; the church of All Saints, Mile End, is of similar architecture, with a handsome western front, crowned with a bell-turret, and will accommodate more than 1,700 persons. A new Gothic church with a tower has been built at Portsmouth, capable of holding above 1,200 persons, and another of very pleasing architecture is in course of erection in Portsea ; making altogether nine places of worship of the establishment. Those of the Protestant Dissenters are yet more numerous ; and there are a Roman Catholic chapel and a Jews’ synagogue.

Among the other public buildings are the town-hall with a covered market-place underneath, in High Street ; the governor’s house, on the Grand Parade, originally part of the hospital of Domus Dei, but so much altered as to retain little of its monastic appearance ; the residence of the lieutenant-governor ; the theatre ; the building of the Philosophical Society ; and a national school house, with elegant concert, assembly, and card rooms above : all these are in Portsmouth. The ramparts are planted with trees, and form an agreeable promenade ; the saluting battery, at the end of the Parade, commands a fine view of the anchorage of Spithead and the Isle of Wight. On the London road, about two miles from the town, extending from the road to the harbour, is an extensive cemetery, laid out and planted with trees, and furnished with a chapel for the burial service, and an office for the officiating minister.

The population of Portsmouth has been given : that of Portsea, in 1831, was 42,306 ; of Portsmouth and Portsea together, 50,389. (Pop. Returns.) Of the inhabitants of Portsea, 14,874 were in the town, 23,325 in the suburbs. (Report of Municipal Corporation Commissioners.) The area of Portsea parish is given in the same Return at 4,980 acres , the number of inhabited houses at 8,215, beside 57 building and 327 uninhabited; and the number of families at 9,767. The trade of the place, which is considerable at all times, but especially in time of war, depends much upon the expenditure connected with or caused by the naval station and dockyard, and is of a very miscellaneous character.

The port extends from the town of Emsworth, on Emsworth channel on the east, to the entrance of Southampton Water on the west; and includes Portsmouth and Langston harbours, Emsworth channel, and the roadsteads of Spithead and the bay of St. Helen’s between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. There is considerable coasting and foreign trade carried on. The Portsmouth and Arun Canal was originally carried nearly across Portsea Island (entering it from Langston harbour, across which the canal boats are towed by steam) to its terminus in a capacious basin at Landport ; but the creek at Portsbridge has, since the last peace, been rendered navigable. Barges have thus direct access to the docks and wharfs of the harbour and the towns surrounding it, and the cut being now useless, the basin has been filled up and built upon. There is a considerable import of coal (it has increased thirty per cent. in the last ten years), and also of cattle, from the Isle of Wight and from the west of England. Fifty thousand sheep have been brought in in a single year. Corn and provisions are brought in from Ireland, eggs from France, timber from the Baltic, and wine is imported direct from the Continent. Several steam-vessels visit the port, some of which go and return several times in the day; and there are others which touch here in their passage. Communication is thus kept up with the Isle of Wight, Southampton, Plymouth, and Havre. A considerable part of the land round the town is laid out in market-gardens, from which the town is supplied with excellent vegetables. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are market-days. There is a yearly fair of fifteen days from the 10th of July ; and a holyday fair, held on Portsdown Hill, at the close of Portsmouth fair, is much frequented.

The corporation of Portsmouth is said to have been established by Henry I, but the earliest known charter is of Richard I ; many subsequent charters were granted. The borough limits formerly included the parish and town of Portsmouth, the town of Portsea, and a considerable part of the parish of Portsea, extending along the harbour, the whole of which was in the jurisdiction of the corporation. By the Boundary Act the limits were extended, for parliamentary purposes, so as to include the whole parish of Portsea ; and by the Municipal Reform Act the parliamentary limits thus extended were adopted for municipal purposes. The enlarged borough is divided into six wards. The number of aldermen was fixed, by the Municipal Reform Act, at 14 ; the number of councillors at 42. Quarter-sessions for the borough are held. There is a Court of Record, having jurisdiction in all personal actions, and petty-sessions are held three times in the week. The prison is not well situated, nor is it sufficient for the proper classification of the prisoners. There is neither chapel nor chaplain. The place is kept clean, but the discipline is considered too lax. (Inspectors of Prisons’ Third Report.) The average number of prisoners is 50. Portsmouth first returned members to parliament 23 Edward I ; the number of voters, before the Reform Act, was very small, but is now considerable. The number on the register in 1835-36 was 1,439.

The living of Portsmouth is a vicarage, of the clear yearly value of £555, with a glebe-house. The living of Portsea is also a vicarage, of the clear yearly value of £696, with a glebe-house. The perpetual curacies of the chapels are, in clear yearly value, as follows : St. George’s, £45, with a glebe-house ; St. John’s, £141, with a glebe-house ; St. Paul’s, Southsea, £310; and All Saints, Mile End, £160. The vicar of Portsea is patron of these, except St. John’s, to which the proprietors of pews present.

There were, in 1833, in the parishes of Portsmouth and Portsea, an infant school, with 40 children, held in Portsea workhouse ; a grammar school for 20 free scholars ; a large school, called ‘The Beneficial Society School,’ with from 260 to 300 boys ; ‘The Portsea Institution,’ for 110 girls ; two Lancasterian schools, with 250 boys and 112 girls ; two national schools, with 409 boys and 160 girls; ‘the seamen’s school,’ with 210 boys and 80 girls ; a ‘national school of industry,’ with 40 boys and 40 girls ; two workhouse schools, with 70 boys and 60 girls ; and four other schools, wholly or partly supported by subscription, with 271 children of both sexes. There was a proprietary school, with 100 boys, and there were about two hundred and seventy day or boarding and day schools, most of them of a very humble description. There were Returns of the number of scholars from two hundred and seventeen of these schools, which contained 1,243 boys, 475 girls, and 2,657 children of sex not distinguished. There were, at the same time, twenty-six Sunday-schools, with 4,629 scholars of both sexes. Some of the charity and most of the Sunday-schools have lending libraries attached. There are a Portsmouth and Portsea Literary and Philosophical Society, with a tolerably extensive museum ; an institution, called ‘The Hampshire Literary Society,’ with a valuable collection of books; and a Mechanics’ Institution.

Beside the fortifications of the two towns of Portsmouth and Portsea, the island of Portsea has strong defences. On the southern extremity is Southsea Castle, built by Henry VIII, mounted with heavy cannon, and commanding the approach to the harbour from the eastward ; and on the eastern point, at the entrance to Langston harbour, which it commands, is Fort Cumberland, a large fort erected in 1746, and mounted with 100 heavy guns. The entrance to the island from the north is defended by lines, carried along the bank of the channel which separates the island from the mainland, and by other works at Hilsea, four miles from Portsmouth. Fort Monkton, which commands the approach to the harbour from the west, corresponding in situation to Southsea Castle on the east, is not on Portsea Island, nor are the fortifications of the town of Gosport, on the shore of the harbour opposite Portsmouth, but both these may be considered as part of the system of defences which protect Portsmouth harbour.