Place:Portsmouth, Hampshire, England

Alt namesPortsmouth Districtsource: the post-1974 district municipality
TypeParish (ancient), Borough (county), District municipality, Unitary authority
Coordinates50.8°N 1.083°W
Located inHampshire, England     (900 - )
See alsoPortsdown Hundred, Hampshire, Englandancient county division in which it was located until 1835
Portsmouth and Portsea Island Liberty, Hampshire, Englandancient county division in which it was located after 1835
source: Family History Library Catalog
source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names

the text in this section is copied from an article in Wikipedia

Portsmouth is the second largest city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Located mainly on Portsea Island, it is the United Kingdom's only island city. Portsmouth is south west of London and south east of Southampton. The city has a population of 209,166 and is the only city in the United Kingdom with a greater population density than London. The City of Portsmouth and Portsmouth Football Club are both nicknamed "Pompey".

As a significant naval port for centuries, Portsmouth has the world's oldest dry dock and is home to some famous ships, including HMS Warrior, the Tudor carrack Mary Rose and Lord Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory (the world's oldest naval ship still in commission). Although smaller than in its heyday, the naval base remains a major dockyard with the headquarters of the Royal Marine Commandos. There is also a thriving commercial cruise ship and ferry port serving destinations on the continent for freight and passenger traffic.

Portsmouth forms part of the South Hampshire built-up area which also covers Southampton, Havant, Waterlooville, Eastleigh, Fareham and Gosport. With an estimated 860,000 residents, it is the 6th 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 with a population in excess of one million.

The Spinnaker Tower, a striking recent addition to the city's skyline, is located in the former Vernon naval shore establishment, now redeveloped as an area of retail outlets, restaurants, clubs and bars known as Gunwharf Quays.


the text in this section is based on an article in Wikipedia

Since 1997 the city is administered by Portsmouth City Council, a unitary authority. Portsmouth was granted its first charter in 1194. In 1904 the boundaries were extended to finally include the whole of Portsea Island. The boundaries were further extended in 1920 and 1932, taking in areas of the mainland. Between 1 April 1974 and 1 April 1997 it formed the second tier of local government below Hampshire County Council. Portsmouth remains part of the ceremonial county of Hampshire for purposes such as lieutenancy and shrievalty.

In 1932 the inland areas absorbed into Portsmouth were a small part of Portchester civil parish and a larger part of Farlington civil parish. Portsea (including Great Salterns) remains as a distinct parish since 1900. (Source: A Vision of Britain through Time)

NOTE: To match with the rest of Hampshire (and other counties throughout England) Portsmouth since 1974 could be referred to in WeRelate as Portsmouth District. However, since there was little change in the geographic structure at that time, the term Portsmouth District has been redirected here to Portsmouth.


the text in this section is copied from an article in Wikipedia

There have been settlements in the area since before Roman times, mostly being offshoots of Portchester, which was a Roman base (Portus Adurni) and possible home port of the Classis Britannica. Some sources maintain the town was founded in 1180 by the Anglo-Norman merchant Jean de Gisors. Most early records of Portsmouth are thought to have been destroyed by Norman invaders following the Norman conquest of England. The earliest detailed references to Portsmouth can be found in the Southwick Cartularies. However, there are records of "Portesmūða" from the late 9th century, meaning "mouth of the Portus harbour". The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 501 claims that "Portesmuða" was founded by a Saxon warrior called Port,. Although Winston Churchill in his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples also states that Portsmouth was founded in 501 by Port, the pirate, most historians do not accept that origin of the name. The Chronicle states that:

Her cwom Port on Bretene ⁊ his .ii. suna Bieda ⁊ Mægla mid .ii. scipum on þære stowe þe is gecueden Portesmuþa ⁊ ofslogon anne giongne brettiscmonnan, swiþe æþelne monnan. (Here Port and his 2 sons Bieda and Mægla came to Britain with 2 ships to the place which is called Portsmouth and slew a young British man, a very noble man.)

In the Domesday Book (1086) there is no mention of Portsmouth, although settlements that were later to form part of Portsmouth are included. It is estimated that the Portsmouth area at the time had a population no greater than two or three hundred. While Portsea had a small church prior to 1166, Portsmouth's first real church was built in 1181, when a chapel dedicated to Thomas Becket was erected by Augustinian monks; it was run by the monks of Southwick Priory until the Reformation. The modern Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral is built on the original location of the chapel.

In 1194 King Richard The Lionheart returned from being held captive in Austria, and set about summoning a fleet and an army to Portsmouth, which Richard had taken over from Jean de Gisors. On 2 May 1194, the King gave Portsmouth its first Royal Charter granting permission for the borough to hold a fifteen-day annual "Free Market Fair", weekly markets, and a local court to deal with minor matters. The borough was also exempted from paying the annual tax, with the result that the money could be used for local matters. King Richard later went on to build a number of houses and a hall in Portsmouth. The hall is thought to have been at the current location of the Clarence Barracks (the area was previously known as Kingshall Green). Some believe that the crescent and eight-point star found on the 13th century common seal of the borough were derived from the arms of William de Longchamp, Lord Chancellor to Richard I, at the time of the charter. It was, however, Richard himself who granted the town the arms of Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus whom he had defeated. (After Isaac had held Richard's fiancée and sister captive, the king responded by conquering Cyprus during the Third Crusade. His awarding of the arms could possibly reflect a significant involvement of Portsmouth soldiers, sailors or vessels in that operation.) The crescent and star, in gold on a blue shield, were subsequently recorded by the College of Arms as the coat of arms of the borough.

In 1200 King John reaffirmed the rights and privileges awarded by King Richard. King John's desire to invade Normandy resulted in the establishment of Portsmouth as a permanent naval base. Shortly afterwards, construction began on the first docks, and the Hospital of St Nicholas, which performed its duties as an almshouse and hospice. During the 13th century Portsmouth was commonly used by Henry III and Edward I as a base for attacks against France. By the 14th century commercial interests had grown considerably. Common imports included wool, grain, wheat, woad, wax and iron, however the port's largest trade was in wine from Bayonne and Bordeaux.

In 1338 a French fleet led by Nicholas Béhuchet raided Portsmouth, destroying much of the town, with only the local church and hospital surviving. Edward III gave the town exemption from national taxes to aid reconstruction. Only ten years later, the town was struck by the Black Death. To prevent the regrowth of Portsmouth as a threat, the French again sacked the town in 1369, 1377 and 1380. Henry V built the first permanent fortifications of Portsmouth. In 1418 he ordered a wooden Round Tower be built at the mouth of the harbour, which was completed in 1426. Henry VII rebuilt the fortifications with stone, raised a square tower, and assisted Robert Brygandine and Sir Reginald Bray in the construction of the world's first dry dock. 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 1527, with some of the money from the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII built Southsea Castle and decreed that Portsmouth should be the home of the Royal Navy he had founded. In 1545, he saw his vice-flagship Mary Rose founder off Southsea Castle, with a loss of about 500 lives, while going into action against the French fleet. Over the years, Portsmouth's fortifications were rebuilt and improved by successive monarchs.

In 1628 the unpopular favourite of Charles I George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham was stabbed to death in an Old Portsmouth pub by a veteran of Villiers' most recent military folly, John Felton. The murder took place in the "Greyhound" (popularly known as "The Spotted Dog") on High Street. Now a private building called Buckingham House, it bears a commemorative plaque marking the event.

During the English Civil War the arsenal at the Square Tower was surrendered by its royalist commander in return for safe passage out of Portsmouth for himself and the garrison. During the war, the town became a major base for the Parliamentary Navy. Under the Commonwealth, Robert Blake, the father of the Royal Navy, used Portsmouth as his main base, during both the Anglo Dutch War and the Anglo Spanish War. He died within sight of the town after his final cruise off Cádiz.

On 13 May 1787, 11 ships sailed from Portsmouth to establish the first European colony in Australia, marking the beginning of prisoner transports to that continent. It is known today as the First Fleet in Australia.

Portsmouth has a long history of supporting the Royal Navy logistically, leading to its importance in the development of the Industrial Revolution. Marc Isambard Brunel, the father of famed Portsmouth engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, established in 1802 the world's first mass production line at the Portsmouth Block Mills, producing pulley blocks for rigging on the Royal Navy's ships. At its height the dockyard was the largest industrial site in the world.

The city's nickname Pompey is thought to have derived from the log entry "Pom. P." (meaning Portsmouth Point) made as ships entered Portsmouth Harbour. Navigational charts use this abbreviation. Another theory is that it is named after the harbour's guardship, Le Pompee, a 74-gun French battleship captured in 1793.

In 1818 John Pounds began teaching the working class children of Portsmouth in what became the country's first ragged school. The schools and the resulting movement aimed to provide education to all children regardless of their ability to pay. They were keenly supported by Charles Dickens who was born in Portsmouth in 1812.

Admiral Nelson left Portsmouth for the last time in 1805 to command the fleet that defeated the larger Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar. The Royal Navy's reliance on Portsmouth led to the town becoming the most fortified in Europe,[1] with a network of forts (a subset of "Palmerston's Follies") encircling the town. From 1808 the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron, who were tasked to stop the slave trade, operated out of Portsmouth. On 21 December 1872 a major scientific expedition, the Challenger Expedition, was launched from Portsmouth.

In 1926 Portsmouth was granted city status, following a long campaign by the borough council. The application was made on the grounds that Portsmouth was the "first naval port of the kingdom". Two years later the city received the further honour of a lord mayoralty. In 1929 the city council added the motto "Heaven's Light Our Guide" to the medieval coat of arms. Apart from referring to the celestial objects in the arms, the motto was that of the Star of India. This recalled that troopships bound for the colony left from the port.[2] Further changes were made to the arms in 1970, when the Portsmouth Museums Trust sponsored the grant of crest, supporters and heraldic badge. 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 latter animal. Around the unicorn is wrapped a representation of "The Mighty Chain of Iron", a Tudor defensive boom across Portsmouth Harbour.

In 1916, the town experienced its first aerial bombardment when a Zeppelin airship bombed it during the First World War. During the Second World War, the city was bombed extensively destroying many houses and the Guildhall. The air raids caused the death of 930 people and injured nearly 3,000 more, many in the dockyard and the naval and military establishments. Portsmouth's status as a major port was the key factor in the Luftwaffe's decision to bomb it so heavily. While most of the city has since been rebuilt, developers still occasionally find unexploded bombs in the area. Southsea Beach and Portsmouth Harbour were vital military embarkation points for the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. Southwick House, just to the north of Portsmouth, had been chosen as the headquarters for the Supreme Allied Commander, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After the war, much of the city's housing stock was damaged and more was cleared in an attempt to improve the quality of housing. Those affected were moved out from the centre of the city to new developments such as Paulsgrove and Leigh Park. Post-war redevelopment throughout the country was characterised by utilitarian and brutalist architecture, with Portsmouth's Tricorn Centre one of the most famous examples. More recently, a new wave of redevelopment has seen Tricorn's demolition, the renewal of derelict industrial sites, and construction of the Spinnaker Tower.

Research Tips

  • Victoria County History of Hampshire, volume 3, introductory chapter on the Liberty of Portsmouth and Portsea Island, and the following chapter.
  • [ A tourist map of modern Portsmouth designed for the cyclist, naming all the island neighbourhoods.
  • GENUKI has a list of archive holders in Hampshire including the Hampshire Record Office, various museums in Portsmouth and Southhampton, the Isle of Wight Record Office and Archives.
  • The Hampshire Online Parish Clerk project has a large collection of transcriptions from Parish Registers across Hampshire.
  • A listing of all the Registration Districts in England and Wales since their introduction in 1837 together with tables listing the parishes that were part of each district and the time period covered, along with detailed notes on changes of parish name, mergers, etc. Do respect the copyright on this material.
  • The three-storey City Museum in Winchester covers the Iron Age and Roman periods, the Middle Ages, and the Victorian period.
  • Volumes in The Victoria County History Series are available for Hampshire through British History Online. There are three volumes and the county is covered by parishes within the old divisions of "hundreds".
A collection of maps on the A Vision of Britain through Time website illustrating the English county of Hampshire over the period 1832-1932 (the last two are expandible):
  • A group of maps of the post-1974 municipal districts or boroughs of Hampshire on Wikipedia Commons]