History Of Portsmouth

By: Matt Land

Portsmouth is commonly regarded as having been founded in 1180 by John of Gisors, although there had been settlements in the area since before Roman times, mostly being offshoots of Portchester. John of Gisors purchased the manor of Buckland, whilst the protected harbour gave safe haven to his merchant ships and an ideal location to trade with Normandy.

In 1194, King Richard I returned from being held captive by Duke Leopold V of Austria and set about summoning a fleet and an army to Portsmouth, which he had taken over from John of Gisors.

On May 2 1194, King Richard I gave Portsmouth its first Royal Charter granting permission to hold an annual fifteen day market and exemption from paying the annual tax of £18 a year that could now be spent on local matters.

In 1200 another Charter was issued by King John, reaffirming the rights and privileges awarded by King Richard. Portsmouth was established as a permanent naval base as a result of King John's desire to invade Normandy. 1212 saw the start of construction on the first docks in Portsmouth.

During the 13th century Portsmouth was commonly used by Henry III and Edward I as a base for attacks on France.

In the 14th Century Portsmouth was invaded by the French four times. The first in 1338 when they sailed into the docks under English flags, no one noticing until it was to late. Ten years later the city was struck by the plague known as Black Death. The French then sacked the city in 1369,1377 and 1380 to prevent it recovering.

In 1418, Henry V was the first king to decide to build a permanent fortification in Portsmouth. He ordered a wooden Round tower to be built at the mouth of the harbour, this was finished in 1426.

It was not until Henry VIII that defence was seriously delt with. He ordered the round tower to be rebuilt of stone and a square tower built. At this time building also commenced on the first dry dock in the country. In 1527 with money from the dissolution of the monasteries Henry VIII built the fort of Southsea Castle.

In 1545, Henry VIII saw his flagship Maryrose founder off Southsea Castle whilst going into action against the French Fleet, with the loss of over 500 lives.

In the 18th century regular wars, principally with the French, meant the dockyard flourished. Homes were built outside the town walls in Portsea to house the growing population. Trade in Portsmouth quickly increased and with it the cities prosperity.

At the beginning of the 19th century Portsmouth and Portsea became increasingly overcrowded and housing spread across more of the island including the more fashionable suburbs of Southsea in the south.

In 1805 Admiral Lord Nelson left Portsmouth for the final time to command the fleet that would defeat the larger Franco - Spanish fleet at Trafalgar. From 1808 the Royal Navy's West African Squadron operated out of Portsmouth as they were tasked with stopping the slave trade.

As always, the presence of the dockyard made Portsmouth a prime target for attack and in 1916 the city experienced its first aerial bombardment when a zeppelin airship bombed it during World War 1.

During World War 2, again Portsmouth was devastated from the air, between July 1940 and July 1944 the city was attacked 67 times, 930 people killed and many wounded.

On June 6th 1944 saw the embarkation of the D-Day Landings from Southsea beach and Portsmouth Harbour. To the north, Southwick House had been chosen as the headquarters for the supreme Allied commander, US General Dwight D Eisenhower, during D-Day.

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