Portsmouth's history is one of the most richest and varied in the country. As Britain’s premier naval port for several centuries, Portsmouth has been in the forefront of the nation’s history and the City today has reminders of that legacy everywhere!
It was the Romans who came here first. They discovered the natural shelter and protection offered by Portsmouth Harbour, and built a fort at Portchester.
Portsmouth was effectively founded in 1180 by a wealthy Norman landowner and merchant called Jean de Gisor. He purchased the manor of Buckland, while the protected harbour provided a safe haven for his merchant ships and an ideal location to trade with Normandy.
Portsmouth was a small town up until the 1500's when King Henry VIII built the world’s earliest known dry dock. During his reign Portsmouth saw a growth in the Navy and the new Portsmouth dockyard, however as Portsmouth was open to invasion fortifications were built and so the Round Tower, the Square Tower and Southsea Castle were born.
Later in the 18th century regular wars, principally with the French, meant that the Dockyard flourished. To house the growing population homes were built outside the town walls, in the new town of Portsea. This was still a small part of Portsea Island though, most of it was used for farming.
Trade in Portsmouth quickly increased and with it the town’s prosperity. Much trading was done with the town’s soldiers and sailors.
By the beginning of the 19th century the old fortified towns of Portsmouth and Portsea were becoming crowded, and housing spread across more of the island including to the new airier and more fashionable suburbs of Southsea to the south.
Southsea began to develop as a seaside resort. Sea bathing became increasingly popular, and more and more amenities grew up along the seafront. The rest of the island continued to be covered in housing and by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 there was almost no empty spaces left.
The presence of the Dockyard made Portsmouth a prime target for World War Two German bombers. Barely a street escaped the bombs and by the end of the war the City was devastated. Between July 1940 and July 1944 Portsmouth was attacked 67 times. 930 people were killed and many wounded.
When peace was declared the reconstruction of Portsmouth began. New housing was built in areas such as Paulsgrove and many other areas were rebuilt.
New high-tech industries were encouraged and a new kind of Portsmouth began to emerge - a Portsmouth no longer reliant on the Dockyard, yet with a navy still very much in evidence.
Portsmouth has continued to evolve and with the Renaissance of Portsmouth harbour in 2000 and the obvious regeneration work that has been undertaken in the past years Portsmouth has a future to be envied.
Past and present Portsmouth remains the - Waterfront City!