Saturday, June 9th 2018
Portsmouth is ancient city and of first importance in Britain’s naval history but there is more to it than that. Any visit we make to Portsmouth usually combines enjoyment of the familiar with the discovery of something new. Today’s trip was no exception. This map by Geosetter shows where we wandered. For a live OpenStreetMap of the area, click here.
The train carries you right into the heart of the city at Portsmouth Harbour Station. This is right beside the historic naval dockyards and the port for the Gosport Ferry. Today, though, we directed our steps inland. Below are some of the photos I took as we went.
This handsome station is today called Portsmouth & Southsea. It was opened in 1847 as Portsmouth Station but changed its name twice to become Portsmouth & Southsea in 1925. This time, the name stuck (well, so far at any rate!). In 1999, it became a Grade II listed building.
Built in 1890, the Grade II listed Guildhall was obviously designed to impress and to stand as a symbol of the city’s pride. It served as the city’s town hall until 1926. Badly damaged by bombing in World War II, it was largely rebuilt in the 1950s and now serves as a venue for concerts, conferences and private functions such as weddings.
Above the columned entrance is a finely modelled pediment, possibly by Bristol sculptor H.T. Margetson. Although the style is Classical, the figures have a contemporary look to them. The central personage would appear to be Britannia and the theme is perhaps Britain’s importance in world trade.
The broad staircase is flanked at the top by two lions of powerful appearance and with bushy manes. Adopting the couchant position, the lions seem to be there to add prestige rather than to defend the building.
Opposite the Guildhall and facing it is a another royal figure. This one is a sculpture of Queen Victoria by Alfred Drury (1856-1944). Unveiled in 1903 it is today a Grade II listed building. (Yes, sculptures can be listed ‘buildings’.) The plaque tells us that it was financed by public subscription, testifying to the enduring popularity of Queen Victoria.
Nearby and forming part of Guildhall Square is the Cenotaph, consisting of Portsmouth’s memorials to World War I and World War II. Above is shown the memorial to the Great War, in which a semi-circular wall bears the names of the fallen. At its centre stands a column with appropriate inscriptions.
At the ends of the wall are two gunners, each firing a machine gun. They are by Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934), himself a veteran of the conflict. This death-dealing activity is somewhat at odds with the quieter figures normally shown on war memorials.
The sculpted fighters are known as the North Gunner and the South Gunner, respectively. A close-up of the South Gunner is shown above.
The memorial to the Second World War (not shown here) is similar in concept but less elaborate. It too has a semi-circular wall with the names of the fallen and an inscribed column at the centre.
Also near the Guildhall is a statue of Charles Dickens, sporting a preposterously long cape or robe. The work is by Martin Jennings and was unveiled in 2014. An inscription reads ‘BORN IN PORTSMOUTH 7th February 1812. I often wonder whether there is any major town in Britain that does not claim some connection with the author of Oliver Twist. I have yet to find one.
This noble-looking building, Grade II listed, is called the Park Building and is today part of the University of Portsmouth. Designed by G.E. Smith, it was built 1903-8 as a municipal college, later the Polytechnic of Portsmouth. The polytechnic was upgraded to a university in 1992 and the Park Building is one of its several campuses.
As with Dickens, towns like to boast some connection with Britain’s most famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It is therefore no surprise to find a pub bearing his name.
Portsmouth can at least boast of Dickens and Brunel as sons of the city, Brunel being born the earlier in 1806. The building in which the pub resides with once the headquarters of the Portsea Island Gas Light Company that began supplying gas to more affluent householders in the early 1800s. I do not know when this building was erected but a plaque informs us that it was rebuilt in 1915.
At the junction of Commercial Road and Arundel Street we came upon a fountain. The figures on it are heraldic beasts, each clutching a shield bearing a coat of arms. As far as I can tell, it does not have a name and is referred to in the local press as ‘the Commercial Road fountain’. Perhaps they should call it the Jubilee Fountain as it was created in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (1977) and was refurbished in time for her Diamond Jubilee (2012). Either way, it seems to be a popular place to meet, the wall providing places to sit.
This is one of the new discoveries that I mentioned at the beginning. We spotted this church which has in front of it a sculpture of a man with a cross and a fisherman’s net.
This gives a clue as to the name of the church which in fact, more than a simple church, is the Catholic Cathedral of St John the Evangelist. We photographed the exterior of the church and the sculpture and then went round the side. There we found an open door and the people within invited us to come in. We, of course, availed ourselves of the opportunity. Below are some of the photos I took during our visit.
So far we got when we were asked to leave as the church had to be locked up. It seemed rather unfriendly to invite us in and then send us away but, looking on the bright side, we had just about finished taking photos anyway.
The Cathedral was built in 1877-81 and was designed by John Crawley. It sustained bomb damage during the Second World War but seems to have recovered well from its injuries.
We went for a late lunch to a cafe with have visited several times before. Called Feed, it occupies a niche in the arches under the railway viaduct next to Portsmouth Harbour Station. Though small, it is roomier than it looks.
After lunch we went for a stroll down to the area called Southsea Common. Here you have a view of the sea unobstructed by the port buildings. (Click to see a larger view.)
A local landmark is the Queen’s Hotel, a handsome building in Edwardian Baroque style with terracotta embellishments, built in 1903.
When it was time to return to London, we retraced our steps to Portsmouth Harbour Station. From the station forecourt, you have a good view of one of Portsmouth’s historic floating monuments.
Alarmed by the French navy’s acquisition in 1859 of the first iron-clad warship, La Gloire, the British Navy created its response, HMS Warrior. When commissioned in 1861, Warrior was the biggest and most formidable warship in the world. Her primacy, however, was short-lived and by 1871 she was outclassed by faster and better armed and armoured ships. Briefly used as a naval school, she was converted into a floating oil pontoon. Interest in what was after all a ship of great historical importance began to revive in the 1960s and Warrior eventually passed into the ownership of the Warrior Preservation Trust in 1985. The ship can be visited and hired as a venue for weddings etc. Visiting her gives one a good impression of the conditions in which the fighting crew lived and fought.
With this last glimpse of HMS Warrior in our minds, we took the train back to London but we shall no doubt return for more explorations of Portsmouth and its history.