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City of Portsmouth
City & unitary authority area
Clockwise from top: Portsmouth viewed from Portsdown Hill, HMS Victory,  Portsmouth Guildhall, Portsmouth Cathedral, the Spinnaker Tower alongside Portsmouth Harbour at night, Gunwharf Quays, Portchester Castle and an aerial view of Old Portsmouth
Clockwise from top: Portsmouth viewed from Portsdown Hill, HMS Victory, Portsmouth Guildhall, Portsmouth Cathedral, the Spinnaker Tower alongside Portsmouth Harbour at night, Gunwharf Quays, Portchester Castle and an aerial view of Old Portsmouth
Flag of Portsmouth
Heaven's Light Our Guide
Location within Hampshire
Location within Hampshire
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Constituent country England
Region South East England
Ceremonial county Hampshire
Admin HQ Portsmouth City Centre
 • Type Unitary authority, City
 • City & unitary authority area 15.54 sq mi (40.25 km2)
 • City & unitary authority area 205,100 (Ranked 76th)
 • Urban
 • Metro
1,547,000 (2007 estimate)
 • Ethnicity
(United Kingdom Census 2011 Estimate)
84% White British
4.3% White Other
6.1% Asian
1.8% Black
2.7% Mixed
1.1% Other
Time zone UTC0 (GMT)
 • Summer (DST) UTC+1 (BST)
Postal code
PO1 – PO8 Inclusive
Area code(s) 023
Website Portsmouth City Council

Portsmouth is a port city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Located mainly on Portsea Island, 70 miles (110 km) south-west of London and 19 miles (31 km) south-east of Southampton, it is the United Kingdom's only island city. It has a population of 205,400, and is the only city in the British Isles with a greater population density than London. The city forms part of the South Hampshire built-up area, which also covers Southampton and the towns of Havant, Waterlooville, Eastleigh, Fareham, and Gosport.

The city's history can be traced to Roman times. A significant naval port for centuries, Portsmouth has the world's oldest dry dock and was England's first line of defence during the French invasion in 1545. Special Palmerston Forts were built in 1859 in anticipation of another invasion from continental Europe. By the early-19th century, Portsmouth was the most heavily fortified city in the world, and was considered "the world's greatest naval port" at the height of the British Empire throughout Pax Britannica. The world's first mass production line was set up in the city, making it the most industrialised site in the world. During the Second World War, the city was a pivotal embarkation point for the D-Day landings and was bombed extensively in the Portsmouth Blitz, which resulted in the deaths of 930 people. In 1982, the city housed the entirety of the attacking forces in the Falklands War. Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia left the city to oversee the transfer of Hong Kong in 1997, which marked for many the end of the empire.

Portsmouth is one of the world's best known ports. HMNB Portsmouth is the largest dockyard for the Royal Navy and is home to two-thirds of the UK's surface fleet. The city is home to some famous ships, including HMS Warrior, the Tudor carrack Mary Rose and Horatio Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory (the world's oldest naval ship still in commission). The former HMS Vernon naval shore establishment has been redeveloped as a retail park known as Gunwharf Quays. Portsmouth is among the few British cities with two cathedrals: the Anglican Cathedral of St Thomas and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Evangelist. The waterfront and Portsmouth Harbour are dominated by the Spinnaker Tower, one of the United Kingdom's tallest structures at 560 feet (170 m). Nearby Southsea is a seaside resort with a pier amusement park and medieval castle.

Portsmouth F.C. is the city's professional association football club and play their home games at Fratton Park. The city has several mainline railway stations that connect to London Waterloo amongst other lines in southern England. Portsmouth International Port is a commercial cruise ship and ferry port for international destinations. The port is the second busiest in the United Kingdom after Dover, handling around three million passengers a year. The city formerly had its own airport, Portsmouth Airport, until its closure in 1973. The University of Portsmouth enrols 23,000 students and is ranked among the world's best modern universities. Portsmouth is also the birthplace of author Charles Dickens and engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.


Early history

The Romans built Portus Adurni, a fort, at nearby Portchester in the late third century. The city's Old English name "Portesmuða" is derived from port, meaning a haven, and muða, the mouth of a large river or estuary. It was mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for the year 501:

Her cwom Port on Bretene 7 his .ii. suna Bieda 7 Mægla mid .ii. scipum on þære stowe þe is gecueden Portesmuþa 7 ofslogon anne giongne brettiscmonnan, swiþe æþelne monnan.

This was reaffirmed in Winston Churchill's book A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which relates the story that Portsmouth was founded by Port, the pirate.

The south coast was vulnerable to Danish Viking invasions during the 8th and 9th centuries. In 787, it was assaulted and conquered by Danish pirates, and then during the reign of Æthelwulf, King of Wessex in 838, a Danish fleet landed between Portsmouth and Southampton and the surrounding area was plundered. In response, Æthelwulf sent Wulfherd and the governor of Dorsetshire to confront the Danes at Portsmouth, where most of their ships were docked. They were successful although Wulfherd was killed. In 1001, the Danes returned and pillaged Portsmouth and surrounding locations, threatening the English with extinction. The Danes were massacred by the survivors the following year and rebuilding began, although the town suffered further attacks until 1066.

Norman to Tudor

Round Tower (Portsmouth)2009
The Round Tower was built in 1418 to defend the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.

Portsmouth was not mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but Bocheland (Buckland), Copenore (Copnor), and Frodentone (Fratton) were. Some sources maintain it was founded in 1180 by the Anglo-Norman merchant Jean de Gisors.

When King Henry II died in 1189, his son Richard I, who had spent most of his life in France, arrived in Portsmouth before he was crowned in London. When Richard returned from captivity in Austria in May 1194, he summoned a fleet of 100 ships and an army to the port. He granted the town a Royal charter, giving permission for an annual fifteen-day free market fair, weekly markets, and a local court to deal with minor matters, and exempted its inhabitants from paying an annual tax of £18. Richard granted the town the arms of Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus, whom he had defeated during the Third Crusade in 1191, reflecting a significant involvement of local soldiers, sailors, and vessels in the holy war.

King John reaffirmed the rights and privileges awarded by Richard I and established the permanent naval base. The first docks were built by William of Wrotham beginning in 1212. John summoned his earls, barons, and military advisers to the town to plan an invasion of Normandy. In 1229, after a declaration of war against France, Henry III assembled a force described as "one of the finest armies that had ever been raised in England" by historian Lake Allen. The invasion stalled and returned from France in October 1231. In 1242 Henry III summoned troops to invade Guienne, and in 1295 Edward I sent supplies for his army in France. By the following century, commercial interests had grown and its exports included wool, corn, grain, and livestock.

Edward II ordered all ports on the south coast to assemble their largest vessels at Portsmouth to carry soldiers and horses to the Duchy of Aquitaine in 1324 to strengthen defences. In 1336 a French fleet under the command of David II of Scotland attacked the English Channel, ransacked the Isle of Wight and threatened the town. Concerned, Edward III instructed all maritime towns to build vessels and raise troops to rendezvous at Portsmouth. Two years later, a French fleet led by Nicholas Béhuchet raided Portsmouth, destroying much of the town. Only the stone-built church and hospital survived. After the raid, Edward III exempted the town from national taxes to aid reconstruction. Upon Edward III's death in 1377, his grandson Richard II was crowned, and the French landed in Portsmouth in the same year. The town was plundered and burnt, but its inhabitants fought back and defeated them, which led the French to retreat and raid towns in the West Country instead.

Map of portsmouth a bit before 1540
A map of Portsmouth in around 1540.

Henry V built the first permanent fortifications of Portsmouth. In 1416, a number of French ships blockaded Portsmouth, which housed ships that were set to invade Normandy. Instead, Henry gathered a fleet at Southampton and invaded the Norman coast in August of that year. Recognising the town's growing importance, he ordered a wooden Round Tower to be built at the mouth of the harbour, which was completed in 1426. Henry VII rebuilt the fortifications with stone, assisted Robert Brygandine and Sir Reginald Bray in the construction of the world's first dry dock, and raised the Square Tower in 1494. During his reign, Henry VII made Portsmouth a Royal Dock, and was England's only dockyard to be considered "national" at the time. Although King Alfred may have used Portsmouth to build ships as early as the 9th century, the first warship recorded as constructed in the town was the Sweepstake, built in the dry dock in 1497.

In 1539, Henry VIII built Southsea Castle, financed by the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in anticipation of a French invasion. He also invested large sums of money into the town's dockyard, and expanded its boundaries to 8 acres (3.2 ha). Around this time a Tudor defensive boom stretched from the Round Tower to Fort Blockhouse in Gosport, as a protection to Portsmouth Harbour.

In 1545, from Southsea Castle, he witnessed his flagship Mary Rose sink with the loss of about 500 lives, whilst going into action against the French fleet in the Battle of the Solent. Some historians believe that the Mary Rose turned too quickly and submerged her open gun ports, whereas others argue that it sank due to its poor design. Over the years, Portsmouth's fortifications were rebuilt and improved by successive monarchs. In 1563, Portsmouth suffered from an outbreak of a plague, resulting in about 300 deaths out of the town's population of 2000.

Stuart to Georgian

Old Portsmouth
View of Old Portsmouth from the Spinnaker Tower

In 1623, Charles I (then Prince of Wales) returned to Portsmouth from his travels in France and Spain.

Most residents, including the mayor, supported the parliamentarians during the English Civil War, although its military governor, Colonel Goring, supported the royalists. The town became a major base for the parliamentarian navy and was blockaded from the sea. Parliamentarian troops were sent to raid it by land in the Siege of Portsmouth; the guns of Southsea Castle were fired at the royalist garrison in the town. Across the harbour, parliamentarians in Gosport joined in the assault, with their guns damaging St Thomas's Church. On 5 September 1642, the remaining royalists in the garrison at the Square Tower were forced to surrender after Goring threatened to blow it up with gunpowder. In return, he and his garrison were allowed safe passage.

Under the Commonwealth of England, Robert Blake used the harbour as his base during the First Anglo-Dutch War in 1652 and the Anglo Spanish War of 1654. He died within sight of the town returning from Cádiz. After the end of the Civil War in 1646, Portsmouth was among the first towns to declare Charles II as king and subsequently began to prosper. In 1650, the first ship to be built for more than 100 years, HMS Portsmouth, was launched. Between 1650 and 1660, twelve ships were built. After the restoration of Monarchy, Charles II married Catherine of Braganza in the Royal Garrison Church. During the latter half of the 17th century the town continued to grow; a new wharf was constructed in 1663 for military use, and in 1665 a mast pond was dug out. In 1684 a list of ships docked in Portsmouth gave evidence of its increasing national importance; the town was the only place of naval rendezvous in England at the time. Between 1667 and 1685 the town's fortifications were rebuilt; new walls were constructed with bastions and two moats were dug, making Portsmouth one of the most heavily fortified places in the world.

In 1759, General James Wolfe sailed from the harbour to Canada on an ill-fated expedition to capture Quebec. His body was brought back to Portsmouth in November that year and received the highest naval and military honours. Two years later, on 30 May 1775, Captain James Cook arrived on board HMS Endeavour after circumnavigating the world. On 13 May 1787, eleven ships left to establish the first European colony in Australia, marking the beginning of prisoner transportation, and in the same year, Captain William Bligh of HMS Bounty set sail from the harbour. After the mutiny on the Bounty on 28 April 1789, the HMS Pandora was dispatched from Portsmouth to bring back the mutineers for trial. The court martial opened on 12 September 1792 on board the HMS Duke in Portsmouth Harbour – of the remaining ten men, three were sentenced to death. In 1789, a chapel was erected in Prince George's Street and was dedicated to St John by the Bishop of Winchester. Around this time, a bill was passed in the House of Commons regarding the creation of a canal to link Portsmouth to Chichester, but the project was abandoned.

The city's nickname Pompey is thought to have derived from the log entry "Pom. P." (Portsmouth Point) made as ships entered the harbour. Navigational charts use the abbreviation. However, a historian argues that the name Pompey may have been brought back from a group of Portsmouth-based sailors who visited Pompey's Pillar in Alexandria, Egypt, in around 1781. Another theory is that it is named after the harbour's guardship, Pompee, a 74-gun French battleship captured in 1793.

The borough's coat of arms is attested in the early 19th century, as Azure a crescent or, surmounted by an estoile of eight points of the last This design is apparently based on seals of the mayoralty used in the 18th century.

Industrial Revolution to Victorian

Warrior 1
HMS Warrior (launched in 1860) has been restored to its original Victorian condition.

Marc Isambard Brunel established the world's first mass production line at Portsmouth Block Mills making pulley blocks for rigging on the navy's ships. The first machines were installed in January 1803 and the final set for large blocks in March 1805. In 1808, the mills produced 130,000 blocks. By the turn of the 19th century, the town had the largest industrial site in the world with a workforce of 8000 and an annual budget of £570,000.

In 1805, Admiral Nelson left Portsmouth to command the fleet that defeated the Franco-Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar. Before departing, Nelson told the crew of the HMS Victory and workers in the dockyard that "England expects every man will do his duty". The Royal Navy's reliance on Portsmouth led to it becoming the most fortified city in the world. A network of Palmerston Forts were built around the town as part of a programme led by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston to defend British military bases from an inland attack. The forts were nicknamed "Palmerston's Follies" due to the fact that their armaments were pointed inland and not out to sea. From 1808 the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron, tasked with stopping the slave trade, operated out of Portsmouth.

In April 1811 the Portsea Island Company constructed the first piped water supply to upper and middle class houses. It supplied water to approximately 4500 of the 14,000 houses, generating an income £5000 a year. HMS Victory's active career ended in 1812, when she was moored in Portsmouth Harbour and used as a depot ship. The town of Gosport contributed £75 a year towards the ship's maintenance. In 1818, John Pounds began teaching working class children in the country's first ragged school. In 1820, the Portsea Improvement Commissioners installed gas street lighting throughout the town, followed by Old Portsmouth three years later.

During the 19th century, Portsmouth grew and expanded across Portsea Island. By the 1860s Buckland had been merged into the expanding town, and by the next decade Fratton and Stramshaw had also been incorporated. Between 1865 and 1870 the council built sewers after more than 800 people died in a cholera epidemic. A bylaw stated that any house within 100 feet (30 m) of a sewer had to be connected to it. By 1871 the population had risen to 100,000, although the national census at that time gave the population as 113,569. A working-class suburb was constructed in the 1870s when around 1,820 houses were built on land owned by a Mr Somers. The suburb became Somerstown. Despite public health improvements, 514 people died in a smallpox epidemic in 1872. That year, on 21 December, the Challenger expedition was launched from Portsmouth, embarking on a 68,890-nautical-mile (127,580 km) circumnavigation of the globe for scientific research.

Edwardian to Second World War

George VI inspecting the crew of HNoMS Draug
George VI inspecting the crew of the HNoMS Draug in Portsmouth during the Second World War

At the turn of the 20th century, Portsmouth was considered "the world's greatest naval port" when the British Empire was at its height of power, covering a quarter of Earth's total land area and 458 million people. In 1900, Portsmouth Dockyard employed 8000 men – a figure which more than doubled to 23,000 people during the First World War. On 1 October 1916, Portsmouth was bombed by a Zeppelin airship. Although the Oberste Heeresleitung (German Supreme Army Command) stated that the town was "lavishly bombarded with good results", there were no reports of any bombs being dropped in the area. Another source asserted that the bombs were mistakenly dropped into the harbour rather than the dockyard. Throughout the war, around 1200 ships were refitted in the dockyard, making it one of the most strategic ports in the empire at the time.

Portsmouth was granted city status in 1926, following a long campaign by the borough council. The application was made on the grounds that it was the "first naval port of the kingdom". In 1929, the city council added the motto "Heaven's Light Our Guide" to the medieval coat of arms. Except for the celestial objects in the arms, the motto was that of the Star of India, referring to the troopships bound for British India that left from the port. The crest and supporters are based on those of the royal arms, but altered to show the city's maritime connections: the lions and unicorn have been given fish tails, and a naval crown placed around the unicorn. Around the unicorn is wrapped a representation of the Tudor defensive boom which stretched across Portsmouth Harbour.

During the Second World War, the city, particularly the port, was bombed extensively by the Luftwaffe in the Portsmouth Blitz. Between July 1940 and May 1944, the city was hit by 67 air raids which destroyed 6625 houses and severely damaged 6549 of them. The air raids caused 930 deaths and wounded almost 3000 people, many of them in the dockyard and military establishments. On the night of the city's heaviest raid on 10 January 1941, the Luftwaffe dropped 140 tonnes of high explosive bombs, killing 171 people and leaving 3000 homeless. Many of the city's houses were damaged and areas of Landport and Old Portsmouth destroyed, with the future site of Gunwharf Quays being razed to the ground. On the same night, the Guildhall was hit by an incendiary bomb which burnt out the interior and destroyed its inner walls, although the civic plate was retrieved unharmed from the vault under the front steps. Following the heaviest raid on the city, Portsmouth's mayor, Sir Denis Daley, wrote in the Evening News:

We are bruised but we are not daunted, and we are still as determined as ever to stand side by side with other cities who have felt the blast of the enemy, and we shall, with them, persevere with an unflagging spirit towards a conclusive and decisive victory.

—Sir Denis Daley, January 1941

Portsmouth Harbour was a vital military embarkation point for the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. Southwick House, just to the north of the city, was the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower. On 15 July 1944 an experimental V-1 flying bomb hit Newcomen Road, killing 15 people.


Much of the city's housing stock was damaged during the war. The wreckage was cleared in an attempt to improve the quality of dwellings after the war, though before permanent accommodation could be built, Portsmouth City Council built prefabs for those who had lost their homes. Between 1945 and 1947, more than 700 prefab houses were constructed – some were erected over bomb sites. The first permanent houses were built away from the city centre to new developments such as Paulsgrove and Leigh Park, with construction of council estates in Paulsgrove being completed in 1953. In Leigh Park, the first housing estates were completed in 1949, though building work in the area continued until 1974. Developers still occasionally find unexploded bombs in the area, such as on the site of the destroyed Hippodrome theatre in 1984. Despite improvements made by the city council to build new accommodation, a survey made in 1955 concluded that 7000 houses in Portsmouth were unfit for human habitation. Following a controversial decision, a whole section of central Portsmouth, including Landport, Somerstown and Buckland, was demolished and replaced by council housing during the 1960s and early 1970s. The success of the project and the quality of the 70s homes are debatable.

The Royal Yacht Britannia in Portsmouth - - 1702549
Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia in Portsmouth Harbour during the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in 1994. The masts of HMS Victory can be seen in the background.

Portsmouth was affected by the British Empire's decline in the latter half of the 20th century. Shipbuilding jobs fell from 46% of workforce in 1951 to 14% in 1966, drastically reducing the manpower in the dockyard. The city council attempted to create new work; an industrial estate was built in Fratton in 1948, and others were built at Paulsgrove and Farlington in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively. Traditional industries such as brewing and corset making disappeared during this time, though electrical engineering became a major employer. Despite the cutbacks made to traditional sectors, Portsmouth still remained an attractive place for industry. In 1968, Zurich Insurance Group moved their UK headquarters to the city, with IBM relocating their European headquarters in 1979. The population of the city had dropped from approximately 200,000 to 177,142 by the end of the 1960s. In the early 1980s, then Defence Secretary John Nott concluded that of the four home dockyards, both Portsmouth and Chatham would be closed. However, Portsmouth City Council won a concession, and rather than face closure, the dockyard was downgraded to a naval base.

On 2 April 1982, Argentine forces invaded two British territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The British government's response was to dispatch a naval task force from Portsmouth, and on 5 April, the entirety of attacking forces left the city to engage the Argentine fleet in the Falklands War, taking over two weeks to reach the Falkland Islands, which are situated over 8,000 miles (13,000 km) away. The flagship of the task force, HMS Hermes, returned to Portsmouth carrying the survivors of HMS Sheffield on 21 July 1982, and was decommissioned shortly after. The successful outcome of the war had reaffirmed Portsmouth's significance as a naval port and importance to the defence of British interests. In January 1997, Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia embarked from the city on her final voyage to oversee the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong, which marked for many the end of the empire. She was later decommissioned on 11 December that year at Portsmouth Naval Base in the presence of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and twelve senior members of the Royal Family.

In 2001, redevelopment of the HMS Vernon naval shore establishment began as a complex of retail outlets, clubs, pubs, and a large shopping centre known as Gunwharf Quays. In 2003, construction of the 552 feet (168 m) tall Spinnaker Tower began at Gunwharf Quays with sponsorship from the National Lottery. In late 2004, the Tricorn Centre, dubbed "the ugliest building in the UK" by the BBC, was demolished after years of debate over the expense of demolition, and controversy as to whether it was worth preserving as an example of 1960s brutalist architecture. It was designed by Owen Luder as part of a project to "revitalise" Portsmouth in the 1960s, consisting of a shopping centre, market, nightclubs, and a multi-storey car park. In 2005 the city celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, with Queen Elizabeth II being present at a formal fleet review and a staged mock battle. The naval base at HMNB Portsmouth remains the largest dockyard for the Royal Navy and is home to two-thirds of the entire surface fleet.


Aerial photograph of Portsmouth Dockyard taken during a Photex, taken from 2,000 feet. MOD 45144955
Aerial view of Portsmouth and Portsmouth Harbour

By road, Portsmouth lies 73.5 miles (118.3 km) from Central London, 49.5 miles (79.7 km) west of Brighton, and 22.3 miles (35.9 km) east of Southampton. Portsmouth is situated primarily on Portsea Island and is the United Kingdom's only island city, although parts of it have expanded onto the mainland in recent years. Gosport forms a borough in its own right immediately to the west. The island is separated from the mainland by Portsbridge Creek which is crossed by three road bridges (the M275 motorway, the A3 road, and the A2030 road), a railway bridge, and two footbridges. Portsea Island, which forms part of the Hampshire Basin, is low-lying: the majority of its surface area on the island is less than 3 metres (9.8 ft) above sea level. The highest natural elevation on Portsea Island is the road junction Kingston Cross, at 21 feet (6.4 m).

Old Portsmouth forms the oldest part of the city in the south-west part of Portsea Island, and includes Portsmouth Point and the historic waterfront area known as Spice Island. The main channel entering Portsmouth Harbour, which lies to the west of Portsea Island, passes between Old Portsmouth and Gosport. Within Portsmouth Harbour are a series of lakes, including Fountain Lake near the harbour, Portchester Lake in the central south, Brick Kiln Lake and Tipner to the east, and Bombketch and Spider Lakes to the west. In the channel further to the northwest, around Portchester, are Wicor, Cams, and Great Cams Lakes. The large tidal bay of Langstone Harbour lies to the east of Portsea Island. In the northern part, off the coast of Farlington, is the Farlington Marshes, a 125-hectare (308-acre) grazing marsh and saline lagoon. One of the oldest local reserves in the county, built from reclaimed land in 1771, it provides an important habitat for migratory wildfowl and waders.

Portsea Island and Hayling Island

To the south of Portsmouth are the waters of the Solent, which connects Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight. The southern waterfront of the city is dominated by a series of fortifications including the Round Tower, the Square Tower, and Southsea Castle. The seaside resort of Southsea is situated to the south of Portsea Island, and to the east lies the area known as Eastney. Eastney Lake covered nearly 170 acres (69 hectares) in 1626. To the north of this is Milton Common, described as a "flat scrubby land with a series of freshwater lakes". Further north on the east coast is Great Salterns recreation ground and golf course, which forms an area around Portsmouth College.

The Hilsea Lines are a series of defunct fortifications on the north coast of the island which border Portsbridge Creek and the mainland. Portsdown Hill dominates the skyline in the northern part of the city, and contains several large Palmerston Forts, such as Fort Fareham, Fort Wallington, Fort Nelson, Fort Southwick, Fort Widley, and Fort Purbrook. Portsdown Hill is formed by a large band of chalk, while the rest of Portsea Island is composed of layers of London Clay and sand (part of the Bagshot Formation), formed principally during the late and early Eocene Epoch.

Northern areas of the city include Stamshaw, Hilsea and Copnor, Cosham, Drayton, Farlington, and Port Solent. Other districts in Portsmouth include North End and Fratton. The west of the city is mainly council estates such as Buckland, Landport, and Portsea. These were built to replace Victorian terraces destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. After the war the 2,000 acres (810 ha) estate of Leigh Park was built to solve the chronic housing shortage during the post-war reconstruction. Since the early 2000s the estate has been entirely under the jurisdiction of Havant Borough Council, but Portsmouth City Council remains the landlord of these properties, making it the biggest landowner in Havant Borough.

The city's main station, Portsmouth and Southsea railway station, is located in the city centre, close to the Guildhall and the Civic Offices. Just to the south of the Guildhall is Guildhall Walk, a nightlife area with many pubs and clubs. Edinburgh Road contains the city's Roman Catholic cathedral and Victoria Park, a 15 acres (6.1 ha) park which opened in 1878.

Panorama of Portsmouth from Portsdown Hill. To the west lies Langstone Harbour along with Hayling Island, and to the east lies Portsmouth Harbour.


Being located on the south coast of England, Portsmouth has a mild oceanic climate, receiving more sunshine than most of the British Isles. During winter, frosts are light and short-lived and snow quite rare, with temperatures rarely dropping below freezing, as the city is surrounded by water and densely populated, and Portsdown Hill protects the city from cold northerly winds. The average maximum temperature in January is 10 °C (50 °F) with the average minimum being 5 °C (41 °F). The lowest temperature recorded is −8 °C (18 °F). In summer a temperature of 30 °C (86 °F) can occasionally be attained, particularly in more sheltered spots. The average maximum temperature in July is 22 °C (72 °F), with the average minimum being 15 °C (59 °F). The highest temperature recorded is 35 °C (95 °F). As it is located on the coast in South East England, the city receives more sunshine per annum than most of the UK. The city gets around 645 millimetres (25.4 in) of rain a year, with a minimum of 1 mm (0.04 in) of rain reported on 103 days a year.

Climate data for Solent MRSC weather station, Lee-on-Solent, elevation: 9 metres (30 feet) (1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 8.2
Average low °C (°F) 3.4
Precipitation mm (inches) 68.8
Avg. precipitation days 11.6 9.6 8.3 8.3 7.1 6.9 7.0 7.3 8.7 10.5 11.2 12.2 108.6
Source: Met Office
Climate data for Southsea, Portsmouth 1976–2005
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 9.6
Average low °C (°F) 5.1
Precipitation mm (inches) 65
Avg. rainy days 11.2 9.5 8.3 7.6 6.5 7.4 5.4 6.6 8.5 10.9 10.3 11.2 103.4
Sunshine hours 67.9 89.6 132.7 200.5 240.8 247.6 261.8 240.7 172.9 121.8 82.3 60.5 1,919.1
Average sea temperature
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
9.5 °C (49.1 °F) 9.0 °C (48.2 °F) 8.6 °C (47.5 °F) 9.8 °C (49.6 °F) 11.4 °C (52.5 °F) 13.5 °C (56.3 °F) 15.3 °C (59.5 °F) 16.8 °C (62.2 °F) 17.3 °C (63.1 °F) 16.2 °C (61.2 °F) 14.4 °C (57.9 °F) 11.8 °C (53.2 °F) 12.8 °C (55.0 °F)


Portsmouth, as the most densely populated city in the United Kingdom, is the only city whose population density exceeds that of London. As of the 2011 census, the city had 205,400 residents. This equates to 5,100 people living in every square kilometre (0.4 sq. mi.), which is eleven times more than the regional average of 440 people per square kilometre and more than London, which has 4,900 people per square kilometre. The city used to be even more densely populated, with the 1951 census showing a population of 233,545. In a reversal of that decrease, the population of the city has been gradually increasing since the 1990s. With about 860,000 residents, the South Hampshire built-up area is the fifth-largest urban area in England and the largest in South East England, forming the centre of one of the United Kingdom's most populous metropolitan areas.

The city is predominantly white in terms of ethnicity, with 91.8% of the population belonging to this ethnic group. Portsmouth's long association with the Royal Navy means that it represents one of the most diverse cities in terms of the peoples of the British Isles. Similarly, some of the largest and most well-established non-white communities have their roots with the Royal Navy, most notably the large Chinese community, principally from British Hong Kong. Portsmouth's long industrial history in support of the Royal Navy has seen many people from across the British Isles move to Portsmouth to work in the factories and docks, the largest of these groups being Irish Catholics. According to 2011 census, the ethnic breakdown of Portsmouth's population is as follows: 84.0% White British, 3.8% Other White, 1.3% Chinese, 1.4% Indian, 0.5% Mixed-Race, 1.8% Bangladeshi, 0.5% Other ethnic group, 1.4% Black African, 0.5% White Irish, 1.3% Other Asian, 0.3% Pakistani, 0.3% Black Caribbean and 0.1% Other Black.

Population growth in Portsmouth since 1310
Year 1310 1560 1801 1851 1901 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001 2011
Population 740 (est) 1000 (est) 32,160 72,096 188,133 233,545 215,077 197,431 175,382 177,142 186,700 205,400


Gunwharf Quays Vernon Avenue
Gunwharf Quays shopping centre

Portsmouth has several theatres: the New Theatre Royal in Guildhall Walk, near the city centre, which specialises in professional drama, and the newly restored Kings Theatre in Southsea, which features amateur musicals as well a number of national tours. Another theatre is the Groundlings Theatre, which was built in 1784 and is housed in The Old Beneficial School, Portsea. New Prince's Theatre and Southsea's Kings Theatre were both designed by Victorian architect and entrepreneur Frank Matcham.

The city also has three established music venues: the Guildhall, The Wedgewood Rooms (which includes a smaller venue, Edge of the Wedge), and Portsmouth Pyramids Centre. Portsmouth Guildhall, another theatrical venue, is one of the largest events venue in South East England, with a seating capacity of 2500. For many years a series of symphony concerts has been presented at the Guildhall by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. In the 1970s the Portsmouth Sinfonia approached classical music from a different angle: the Sinfonia often recruited players that had no musical training or, if they were musicians, ones that chose to play an instrument that was entirely new to them. The Portsmouth Summer Show is held at King George's Fields. The 2016 event was held in the last weekend of April, and featured cover bands such as the Silver Beatles, the Bog Rolling Stones, and Fleetingwood Mac.

Numerous musical works are set in the city. Portsmouth Point is an overture for orchestra by the English composer William Walton in 1925. The work was inspired by Thomas Rowlandson's etching depicting Portsmouth Point, otherwise known as "Spice Island" in Old Portsmouth. The overture was used for the BBC Proms Concert in 2007. H.M.S. Pinafore is a comic opera in two acts set in Portsmouth Harbour, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. John Cranko's 1951 ballet Pineapple Poll, which features the operetta music of The Bumboat Woman's Story by Gilbert and Sullivan, is also set in Portsmouth.

Portsmouth hosts yearly remembrances of the D-Day landings, which veterans from Allied and Commonwealth nations attend. The city played a major part in the 50th D-Day anniversary in 1994; visitors included then-US President Bill Clinton, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, King Harald V of Norway, French president François Mitterrand, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. The Portsmouth International Kite Festival is organised annually by Portsmouth City Council and The Kite Society of Great Britain. It celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016.


Victorian novelist and historian Sir Walter Besant documented his childhood in the town in the 1840s in By Celia's Arbour: A Tale of Portsmouth Town. The book is notable for its precise descriptions of the town before the defensive walls were removed. Southsea features in The History of Mr Polly by H. G. Wells under the fictional name of Port Burdock, which he describes as "one of the three townships that are grouped around the Port Burdock naval dockyards". High fantasy author Neil Gaiman also sets his graphic novel The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch around Southsea, Gaiman having grown up in Portsmouth. A street along the seafront in Southsea was renamed "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by the city council in honour of his novel of the same name.

Notable crime novels set in Portsmouth and the surrounding area include Graham Hurley's D.I. Faraday/D.C. Winter novels and C. J. Sansom's Tudor crime novel Heartstone, with the latter including references to the famous warship Mary Rose and descriptions of Tudor life in the town. A collection of fantastical short stories, Portsmouth Fairy Tales for Grown Ups, was published in 2014. It uses locations around Portsmouth for the stories, and includes writing by crime novelists William Sutton, Diana Bretherick, and others.


Many of the city's former defences are now museums, or venues for hosting events. Several of the Victorian era forts on Portsdown Hill are now tourist attractions: Fort Nelson, which lies on the summit of Portsdown Hill, is home to the Royal Armouries museum. The Tudor era Southsea Castle has a small museum, and much of the seafront defences leading up to the Round Tower are open to the public. The castle was withdrawn from active service in 1960 and was subsequently purchased by Portsmouth City Council. The southern part of the Royal Marines' Eastney Barracks is now the Royal Marines Museum, and was opened to the public under the National Heritage Act 1983. The museum was awarded a £14 million grant from the National Lottery Fund, and is set to relocate to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in 2019. The birthplace of Charles Dickens at Mile End Terrace, is now the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum. The two-storey red brick building became a Grade I listed building in 1953. Other tourist attractions include the Blue Reef Aquarium, which houses an "underwater safari" of aquatic life in Britain, and Cumberland House Natural History Museum, which features a variety of wildlife featured in the area.

HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is the world's oldest naval ship still in commission and is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions.

Most of the city's landmarks and tourist attractions are related to its naval history. Among the attractions are the D-Day Museum and the adjacent Overlord embroidery in Southsea, which was awarded a grant of £4 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund to expand it in time for 2019. The museum's embroidery is 83 metres (272 ft) long, making it the longest of its kind in the world. The city is home to some famous ships: in the dry dock of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard lies Horatio Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, the world's oldest naval ship still in commission. HMS Victory was preserved for the nation and placed in permanent dry dock in 1922, when the Society for Nautical Research led a national appeal to restore her. 22 million people have visited her since. In 1971, the remains of Henry VIII's flagship, the Mary Rose, was rediscovered on the seabed. She was raised and brought into a purpose-built structure in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in 1982. Britain's first iron-hulled warship, HMS Warrior, was restored and moved to Portsmouth in June 1987 after serving as an oil fuel pier at Pembroke Dock in Pembrokeshire for fifty years. The National Museum of the Royal Navy is also in the historic dockyard, and is sponsored by an independent charity which aims to promote research into the history and archaeology of the Royal Dockyard. Every November the Historic Dockyard hosts the Victorian Festival of Christmas, which features a traditional green-coloured Father Christmas.

Portsmouth's long association with the armed forces means it has a large number of war memorials around the city, including several at the Royal Marines Museum, and a large collection of memorials related to the Royal Navy in Victoria Park. The Portsmouth Naval Memorial in Southsea Common commemorates 24,591 fallen soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War. The memorial was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer and was unveiled by George VI on 15 October 1924. In the city centre, the Guildhall Square Cenotaph displays the names of the fallen, and is guarded by stone sculptures of machine gunners carved by the sculptor Charles Jagger. On the west face, the description reads:

This memorial was erected by the people of Portsmouth in proud and loving memory of those who in the glorious morning of their days for England's sake lost all but England's praise. May light perpetual shine upon them.

Portsmouth contains three cemeteries: Kingston, Milton Road, and Highland Road. Kingston Cemetery was opened in 1856 and lies on the eastern side of Fratton. At 52 acres (21 ha), it is the largest cemetery in the city and has about 400 burials a year. In February 2014, a ceremony was held at the cemetery to celebrate the 180th anniversary of Portsmouth's Polish community. Milton Road Cemetery, of some 25 acres (10 ha), was established on 8 April 1912 and has approximately 200 burials per year. There is also a crematorium at Portchester.

Gunwharf Quays

Spinnaker Tower 2014
A view of the Spinnaker Tower from the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays.

The naval shore establishment, HMS Vernon, contained the Royal Navy's arsenal – weapons and ammunition would be taken from ships as they entered the harbour and would be resupplied as they headed out to sea. The 1919 Southsea and Portsmouth Official Guide described the establishment as "the finest collections of weapons outside the Tower of London, containing more than 25,000 rifles". In the early nineteenth century, Gunwharf Quays supplied the fleet with a "grand arsenal" consisting of cannons, mortars, bombs, and various ordinance. Gunpowder was not provided due to safety concerns; however, it could be obtained at Pridday's Hard near Gosport. An armoury existed to sell small arms to soldiers, along with blacksmith and carpenter shops for armourers. The establishment was run by three officers; a viz (storekeeper), a clerk, and a foreman. By 1817, Gunwharf purportedly housed the largest naval arsenal in the world, employing 5000 men at the time.

HMS Vernon closed on 1 April 1996 and was redeveloped by Portsmouth City Council as Gunwharf Quays, a mixed residential and retail destination with outlet stores, restaurants, pubs, and cafés. Construction of the Spinnaker Tower began in 2001 and was completed in summer 2005. The project ran overbudget and cost £36 million, of which Portsmouth City Council contributed £11 million. The 560 feet (170 m) tower is visible from 23 miles (37 km) on a clear day, and its viewing platforms provide views across the Solent towards the Isle of Wight, and north towards the harbour and Southsea Castle. The tower has the largest glass floor in Europe and weighs more than 33,000 tonnes (32,000 long tons; 36,000 short tons).


Southsea Clarence Pier
A view of Southsea Promenade, which includes the Clarence Pier amusement park

Southsea is a seaside resort and residential area that lies at the southern end of Portsea Island. The name Southsea originates from Southsea Castle, a castle on the seafront established in 1544 by Henry VIII to help defend the Solent and approaches to Portsmouth Harbour. The area was originally developed in 1809 as "Croxton Town", though by the 1860s the suburb of Southsea had expanded to provide houses for working-class people. During this time, Southsea grew as a seaside and bathing resort. A pump room and baths were erected near the present day Clarence Pier, and a large complex was developed including vapour baths, showers, and card playing and assembly rooms for holiday-goers.

Clarence Pier was officially opened in 1861 by the Prince and Princess of Wales, and was named after the once military governor of Portsmouth, Lord Frederick FitzClarence. At the time of its opening, the pier was labelled as "one of the largest amusement parks on the south coast". South Parade Pier was built in 1878 and is among the 55 remaining private piers in the United Kingdom. The pier was originally used as a terminal for ferries travelling to the Isle of Wight, but it was soon redeveloped as a centre of entertainment. It had to be rebuilt after the first fire in 1904, and rebuilt again after the second fire in 1967. The third fire struck during filming of The Who's concert in 1974, after which it was rebuilt once again. In 2015, plans were unveiled to build the "Solent Eye" at the pier, an amusement ride with 24 gondolas resembling the London Eye, at a cost of £750,000.

Southsea is dominated by Southsea Common, a grassland covering an area of 480 acres (190 ha), which was first created by draining the marshland alongside the construction of the vapour baths in 1820. The common owes its existence to the demands of the military in the early 19th century for a clear range of fire. The present day common lies parallel to the shore from Clarence Pier to Southsea Castle. Today, the common is a popular recreation ground, and also a venue for a number of annual events, which includes carnivals, Christmas markets, and Victorian festivals. The common also has a large collection of mature elm trees, believed to be the oldest and largest surviving in Hampshire, which have escaped Dutch elm disease owing to their isolation. Other plants include the Canary Island date palms Phoenix canariensis, which are some of the largest in Britain and have produced viable seed in recent years.


St John the Evangelist is a Roman Catholic cathedral of worship, built in 1882. It is one of the two cathedrals of the city.

Portsmouth has two cathedrals: the Anglican Cathedral of St Thomas in Old Portsmouth, and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Evangelist (the city is one of 34 British settlements with a Roman Catholic cathedral). The city's first chapel, dedicated to Thomas Becket, was built by Jean de Gisors in the second half of the 12th century. The chapel was rebuilt and developed into the parish church and then Anglican cathedral. It was damaged during the Siege of Portsmouth in 1642, but after the restoration of the monarchy the tower and nave were rebuilt. Significant changes were made when the Diocese of Portsmouth was established in 1927. It became a cathedral in 1932, and was enlarged, although construction was halted during the Second World War. The cathedral was re-consecrated in the presence of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1991.

The Royal Garrison Church was founded in 1212 by Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. After centuries of decay, it became an ammunition store in 1540. The marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza took place in the church in 1662. After the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in 1914, large receptions were held inside the church. In 1941, a firebomb fell on the roof, destroying the nave. The church's chancel was saved by servicemen shortly after the raid; however, replacing the roof was determined to be impossible due to the large amounts of salt solution the stonework had absorbed over the years.

The Cathedral of St John the Evangelist was built in 1882 to accommodate Portsmouth's increasing Roman Catholic population, replacing a chapel built in 1796 to the west. Before 1791 Roman Catholic chapels in towns with borough status were prohibited. The chapel was opened after the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791 was passed and then replaced by the cathedral. Its construction was completed in phases: in 1882 the nave was complete; in 1886 the crossing was finished, and the chancel was ready by 1893, eleven years after its opening. During the blitz, the cathedral was badly damaged when Luftwaffe bombing destroyed Bishop's House next door. It was restored in 1970, 1982, and 2001. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth was founded in 1882 by Pope Leo XIII.

Smaller places of worship in the city include St Jude's Church in Southsea, St Mary's Church in Portsea, St Ann's Chapel in the naval base, and the Portsmouth and Southsea Synagogue, which is among the oldest synagogues in Britain.

Transport and communications

A busy scene with ferries - - 1306443
Ferries, cargo and military vessels operating from Portsmouth Harbour

Portsmouth Harbour has passenger ferry links to Gosport and the Isle of Wight from the Portsmouth International Port, with a car ferry service to the Isle of Wight operated by Wightlink located nearby. Britain's longest-standing commercial hovercraft service, begun in the 1960s, still runs from near Clarence Pier to Ryde, Isle of Wight, operated by Hovertravel. Portsmouth Continental Ferry Port has links to Caen, Cherbourg-Octeville, St Malo, and Le Havre in France, Santander and Bilbao in Spain, and the Channel Islands. Ferry services from the port are operated by Brittany Ferries, Condor Ferries, and LD Lines.

Local bus services are provided by Stagecoach and First Hampshire & Dorset, serving the city of Portsmouth and its surrounding towns. Hovertravel and Stagecoach run a bus service called the Hoverbus from the city centre to Southsea Hovercraft Terminal and The Hard Interchange, near the seafront. In addition, Countryliner runs a Saturday service to Midhurst in West Sussex, and Xelabus operate a Sunday open-top seafront summer service around the city as of 2012. National Express services from Portsmouth run mainly from The Hard Interchange to London Victoria station, Cornwall, Bradford, Birkenhead and Bristol.

The city has several mainline railway stations, including Portsmouth & Southsea railway station, and Portsmouth Harbour railway station. Portsmouth lies on two different direct South West Trains routes to London Waterloo, via Guildford and Basingstoke. There is also a South West Trains stopping service to Southampton Central and a service by Great Western Railway to Cardiff Central via Southampton, Salisbury, Bath, and Bristol. Southern additionally offers service to Brighton, Gatwick Airport, Croydon, and London Victoria.

On 18 May 2006, Trasmediterranea started a service to Bilbao in competition with P&O's then-existing service. This service was criticised when the ferry Fortuny was detained in Portsmouth by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for numerous safety breaches. The faults were quickly corrected by Trasmediterránea, and the service was cleared to begin carrying passengers on 23 May 2006. In March 2007, Trasmediterránea withdrew the Bilbao service at short notice, citing the need to deploy the Fortuny elsewhere. P&O Ferries ceased their service to Bilbao on 27 September 2010, due to "unsustainable losses". The port is the second-busiest ferry port in the UK after Dover, handling around three million passengers a year.

Portsmouth Airport, an airport with a grass runway, was in operation from 1932 to 1973. After its closure, housing, industrial sites, retail stores, and a school were built on the site. Today, the nearest airport is Southampton Airport, situated in the Borough of Eastleigh, which lies 19.8 miles (31.9 km) away. The airport has an indirect South West Trains rail connection requiring a change at Southampton Central or Eastleigh. Heathrow and Gatwick are 65 miles (105 km) and 75 miles (121 km) away, respectively. Gatwick is directly linked by Southern train services to London Victoria station, while Heathrow is linked by coach to Woking, which is on both rail lines to London Waterloo, or by London Underground. Heathrow is directly linked to Portsmouth by National Express coaches.

There is an ongoing debate on the development of a new public transport structure, with monorails and light rail both being considered. A light rail link to Gosport was authorised in 2002 with completion expected in 2005, but it is unlikely that the project will be completed following the refusal of funding by the Department for Transport in November 2005. In April 2011, an article appeared in Portsmouth News suggesting a new scheme could be in the offing by running a light rapid transit system over the line to Southampton via Fareham, Bursledon, and Sholing, thus replacing the existing heavy rail services.

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