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Heritage Heroes: Your Heritage in Portsmouth

Explore the local heritage of Portsmouth...

Wherever you live, there’s treasure to be discovered!  Not just gold and gems, but stories of buildings, locations and people. 

Our heritage is a great wealth… and it’s all around us. 

Sometimes standing proud in the open air, sometimes hidden behind some bushes.

To help find it, we asked for your help and to become Heritage Heroes.

Portsmouth is a historic waterfront city, with lots of interesting and fun family attractions. 

Whether you’re here for the seaside, to explore the dockyard or visit one of the many heritage museums, Portsmouth is a fantastic place to come as it offers plenty of things to see and do. 

Historic Naval Dockyards

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You can’t visit Portsmouth without getting a feel for its maritime history and that’s not surprising when you think that it’s been one of our most important military assets for over 500 years.

For much of this period, Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard was one of the principal Royal Dockyards. 

It was immensely important because, up until the late 19th century, it wasn’t just a place for warships to dock, but with ship building and other trades, it played a key role in keeping the fleet prepared and also developing new engineering. 

Today, much of Portsmouth Dockyard no longer has any military purpose.

But whether you’re exploring the old dry-docks which were specially shaped for the wooden ships or wandering the storehouses, office buildings and cobbled alleys, you can’t miss the sense of history that the yard conveys. 

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There’s majestic masts that punctuate the skyline, and cobbled pathways that lead you between the old warehouses.

The dockyard’s a blend of old and new, and really offers a unique visual and historical experience.

On your walk around the Dockyard, why not check out The Magazine which stored gunpowder. 

In 1805 it would have supplied the Trafalgar Fleet including Lord Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. 

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It’s a particularly well preserved, magnificent example of a late 18th century magazine. 

In later years, it was used for storing small arms ammunition, rockets and shells.

Another interesting building to explore is Boathouse 7. 

It was built to house masts, but has also been used for the construction, repair and storage of small boats.

It’s a good example of the timber-framed buildings once common in Naval dockyards.

The Earthen Ramparts were constructed as part of Gosport Lines to defend Portsmouth Harbour and the Royal Dockyard. 

They also served as a blast wall to protect the surrounding area from the occasional accidental explosions. 

Old Pay Office

See if you can find the Old Pay Office.

An interesting thing about this building is that it was where Charles Dickens’ father once worked as a pay clerk at the time of the Napoleonic wars.

The Mast Pond

It was constructed by Dutch prisoners of war and was used to store timbers before they were made into masts. 

Mary Rose

As well as the amazing buildings to explore, don’t forget the historic ships. 

There’s the HMS Victory and HMS Warrior but one of the most iconic ships to see is the Mary Rose – a Tudor battleship in Henry VIII’s fleet. 

It tragically sunk during the Battle of the Solent in 1545 but was rescued from the sea bottom in 1982. 

The Mary Rose is important because she was one of the first purpose built warships. 

Here’s what you told us… “What I liked about the Mary Rose is in different rooms there was different jobs for different people. The Mary Rose was launched in 1511 and served for 33 years and took part in several wars against France, Scotland and Brittany. The Mary Rose is known as a she because the ship is like a mother figure protecting the ship and her crew. I think there were carpeting and they would be like scrubbing the decks and some of them would be doing the cannons for war. There’s so many different jobs on there. I enjoyed that there was cannons and mini windows for them to pull the cannon and then the bombs would go in the other ships. I’ve learned about living here that when you go to the dockyard there would be ships but there would be something under the ships because if they didn’t have something underneath the ships then the ship would roll away.

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Southsea Castle

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It was here where poor King Henry VIII watched the Mary Rose sink. 

Henry built Southsea Castle in 1544 to protect the coast from invaders.

Barely had the work been completed when Henry stood inside only to watch the Mary Rose tragically sink at the Battle of the Solent.

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During the English Civil War, nearly a century later, the castle was captured for the only time in its history by parliamentarian forces.

Over the centuries, Southsea Castle’s defences were strengthened so that it could continue to protect Portsmouth.

In the 19th century a tunnel was built to defend the castle moat.

You can still enter the tunnel and see how the castle would have been defended against invaders.

D-Day Museum

Close to Southsea Castle is the D-Day Museum which tells the story of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, and the role that Portsmouth played. 

Here’s what you told us… “D Day was on June 6 1944 when the allied forces invaded Normandy in France by boats and by air to free France and many other countries from the German army. The D Day Museum was really interesting and quite sad to hear how many soldiers had died. There were some embroidered stories too which we didn’t expect.”

You can also explore Landing Craft Tank LCT 7074, which played a vital role in transporting men and supplies across the English Channel.

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Square Tower and the Round Tower

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The Square Tower was built in 1494 during the reign of Henry VII to defend the city and harbour. 

It’s been used for a number of things over the years, but the tower still retains a number of its original Tudor features and it’s the site of some potential explosive events!

Here’s what you told us… “So in the English Civil War the Royalists were trapped in the City by the Roundheads and because the Square Tower was used to hold gunpowder they threatened to blow it up unless they were allowed to surrender But luckily they didn’t.  And when they moved the gunpowder to the ships it used to spill onto the road and as the sailors might be smoking it could have started a fire so they built a jetty to take it over the water to the ships instead and it was called Powder Bridge.”

The Round Tower was built around 1418 on the orders of King Henry V. It was also used to defend the town – particularly the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour and to prevent raids by French ships. 

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Portsmouth’s Victoria Park

Portsmouth’s Victoria Park, which is in the city centre near the main railway station, is a special place that’s been around for more than 140 years.

Originally farmland, it’s a beautiful park that was created in 1878 to provide local people with open space.

It was designed by a famous landscaper named Alexander McKenzie, who also created the Albert Embankment and Alexandra Palace Park in London.

As well as a pretty fountain in the middle, the park’s home to 9 memorials honouring ships and people from Portsmouth’s history. 

There’s also a number of obelisks and even a Chinese temple-style memorial for HMS Orlando.

Memorials and Statues

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Memorials can help us learn more about the history of a place, the important events which happened and famous people who may have lived or died there.

Portsmouth is packed with memorials – like the Royal Naval War Memorial on Southsea Common. 

Most memorials have an inscription that can give you stacks of information about the person or persons, or the event being represented. 

In 1951 a monument of Horatio Nelson was presented to the city by Dr H. J. Aldous.

Here’s what you told us… “The statue is of Lord Nelson and is currently near the place on the beach where he embarked for his HMS Victory on the 14th of September in 1805. The main inscription says “Horatio Viscount Nelson, KB, Duke Brunt in Sicily, Vice Admiral of the White.” His last hours in England before leaving for the Battle of Trafalgar where at the George Hotel. The hotel was destroyed with a great part of Portsmouth in a German air raid on the city in January 1941″.

Nelson’s body was brought to Spithead on 4th December 1905 on board HMS Victory. Nelson’s not the only famous person to have a statue in Portsmouth.

Kings and Queens are quite often depicted on memorials, especially to commemorate long reigns. Portsmouth has a statue of Queen Victoria in Guildhall Square. 

It was erected by public subscription in 1903 and shows the Queen standing in contemplation, gazing forward and slightly downward. 

It’s said to be an excellent likeness.

Then there’s the Crimean Monument on Clarence Esplanade, which was erected in memory of those brave soldiers and sailors who during the Crimean war with Russia.

It’s made of Portland Stone and is obelisk in shape.

Now, you don’t have to have been a famous person or in a big battle to have a monument. 

The Aboukir Memorial, also on Clarence Esplanade, commemorates the 48 Officers and Men who died during a yellow fever epidemic on board HMS Aboukir at Jamaica in 1873.

Eastney Beach

It’s the defences that were built during the second world war to help hinder any invasion. 

On the beach you can see a line of anti-tank concrete cubes that date from 1940, and also a pillbox – a sort of look out post, which was built within the grounds of the Royal Marine swimming pool.

South Parade Pier

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It was originally built in 1874 for ferries to the Isle of Wight but soon became popular as a place to relax, and enjoy the amusements and even a show. 

The pier has had a very colourful history: it’s been destroyed by fire three times, during World War II. It was used to embark troops for the D-Day landings. 

It’s also been home to an entertainment venue, and many famous names have performed here.

After years of neglect, the much-loved pier has been restored once more.

There are some really pretty streetlights on the South Parade Pier too!

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The railway arrived in Portsmouth in 1847, and for the first-time people could easily travel to and from Portsmouth, as well as around the city for both business and pleasure. 

Streetlighting, which was introduced in Portsmouth in the 1800s – first gas and later electricity, made it easier to get around in the evenings and also helped keep streets safer. 

It really was a boom time when new innovations and engineering took industry to another level.

Arthur Conan Doyle

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Arthur Conan Doyle was the author of Sherlock Holmes and lived here in Portsmouth.

Here’s what you told us… “When he came here as a doctor, he started to write the stories and became so famous that by the time that he left, eight years later, he was no longer a doctor. Sherlock Holmes is an inspiration and viewed by many as a real detective. When the first stories were published, many were convinced that he was not make-believe and sent him letters asking for his help. They were very detailed stories and this is what made them very believable. Lots of people became very knowledgeable about Holmes, like some people are with Harry Potter.”

If you’d like to find out more about Conan Doyle, check out the Collection at Portsmouth Museum which brings together an unparalleled variety of books, documents and objects connected to Sherlock Holmes and his creator. It’s the largest public collection of Doyle material in the world – as far as we know!

Charles Dickens

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Another famous author born in Portsmouth was Charles Dickens.

His first home in Old Commercial Road is now the Charles Dicken’s Birthplace Museum to the great man, where you can see a number of his personal possessions. 

The house has been painstakingly maintained to reflect the Regency style that was popular during Dicken’s time.


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