Portsmouth

Yesterday was an in-town day and today we are going further afield. We are starting in leisurely fashion because we cannot use the network card for cheap train tickets until 10:30 on a weekday. This gives us time to have breakfast at Giraffe in Essex Road which currently has a £5 breakfast offer.

Giraffe in Essex Road, Islington
Giraffe in Essex Road, Islington

After breakfast we crossed the road to the bus stop and took the 341 to Waterloo station. So far, it is a bright sunny day with an early morning chill which will, I hope, lift as the day proceeds.

Heavy weekday traffic
Heavy weekday traffic

We usually go on our out-of-town jaunts at weekends and it was interesting to notice the differences between weekend London and London in the week. There was more traffic in the streets, so that the bus made slower progress, but on the other hand, there were not the huge crowds at the station that sometimes make weekend travel uncomfortable. (We had of course missed the rush hour.)

Portsmouth & Southsea, an elegant old-style station
Portsmouth & Southsea, an elegant old-style station

We bought day return tickets to Portsmouth and left aboard the 10:45. As we roll south, the sky is blue, only lightly streaked with cloud, and the strong sunshine promises a warm day. Our train terminates at Portsmouth & Southsea, not at Portsmouth Harbour, as is more usual, but that suits us for what we plan to do.

Fagins Cafe
Fagins Cafe

The first thing we have in mind is lunch and so we search for somewhere suitable, i.e. cheap but not tacky. Fagins (sic) Cafe fills the bill with omelette and chips, served by an amiable and friendly waitress.

A distant view of the Spinnaker Tower
A distant view of the Spinnaker Tower

After lunch, we started walking towards our next goal. Even here, three miles away as the crow flies, the Spinnaker Tower was clearly visible. It is tempting to call the Spinnaker “Portsmouth’s Eiffel Tower” though it is only just over half the height of its French rival (170m as opposed to Eiffel’s 300.5m).

A cattle trough donated by the RSPCA
A cattle trough donated by the RSPCA

Along the way I was interested to discover this cattle trough (“collecting” these troughs has become something of a hobby of mine). This one was presented, not by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association for once, but by the RSPCA. The date is a little hard to read but I think it is 1881, or possibly 1891 – see the dedication plate below.

Trough dedication plate
Trough dedication plate

An interesting feature of this trough is that the maker’s name is given: A. Dench. As the trough, including the round-topped wheel fenders, so closely resembles the typical trough donated by the Association, I wonder whether Mr Dench supplied all of them, though he could just have been working to a supplied pattern here, I suppose.

The trough stands at the beginning of a road called Old Commercial Road, part of which, as is shown by a faded old street sign, was previously known as Mile End Terrace. Dickens fans will know that the house that was once number 1 Mile End Terrace is the birthplace of Charles Dickens, today a museum owned and run by Portsmouth Council. This was our goal.

Dickens's birthplace, 1 Mile End Terrace
Dickens’s birthplace, 1 Mile End Terrace

plaque

The Dickens family lived here only a short while before moving on. Very few items in the house are possessions of Dickens or his family. There is a bookcase and the couch on which the author died at Gads Hill Place. The rest are articles that were around at the time and were like those the Dickens family would have owned. Soft furnishings have been made to contemporary designs. The house thus gives an impression of what it might have looked like around the time of Dickens’s birth and no more than that can be expected at this late date.

Despite the almost complete lack of genuine Dickensiana, photography is not allowed so I cannot show you the interior.

Old Commercial Road today
Old Commercial Road today

The above photo shows Old Commercial Road today from near Dickens’s birthplace. Would John Dickens and his wife still recognize it? Probably not, as it will have changed over the decades. For example, the foundation stone of the Methodist chapel on the right was laid in 1884, long ago by our standards but 33 years after the death of John Dickens and 14 after the demise of the famous author (1870).

Tramlines in Old Commercial Road
Tramlines in Old Commercial Road

Looking back from the Commercial Road end, we see what appear to be old tram lines (the rail on the extreme right has disappeared, perhaps removed when that part of the road was resurfaced). I am guessing that this was a terminus and that the trams never entered Mile End Terrace.

Portsmouth Museum
Portsmouth Museum

From Dickens’s house, we walked to another museum, the main Portsmouth Museum. Once an army barracks, the museum building has turrets like a castle and is rather striking in design. It is set in pleasant gardens where one can sit and enjoy refreshments bought in the museum cafe. Entry is free but, again, photography is not allowed.

The museum is set in pleasant gardens
The museum is set in pleasant gardens

There were two exhibitions here. The first, A Study in Sherlock, subtitled Uncovering the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, gathers together a substantial collection of memorabilia related to Conan Doyle’s famous fictional character. There is also a repeating video showing in episodic form the mystery The Doctor of Portsmouth, and dotted about are clue cards, so that you can play the sleuth between episodes.

Strange totem in the museum garden
Strange totem in the museum garden

The second exhibition is one on women’s clothing entitled Little Black Dress. We didn’t visit this (neither of us wear little black dresses) but spent time on the Sherlock displays and the picture gallery that features works both on the local area and by local artists.

Handsome lamp and bracket with a rather Art Nouveau flower motif
Handsome lamp and bracket

From the museum we took a bus to the sea front and spent some time examining and photographing the war memorial. This is huge and consists not only of a tall spire but also of a grand enclosed court, like those in funerary complexes in Ancient Egypt.

The war memorial
The war memorial
The human figures give an indication of its size

Bronze panel of naval warships
Bronze panel of naval warships

One of the guardian lions basking in the late afternoon sunlight
One of the guardian lions basking in the late afternoon sunlight

The Egyptian style funerary court
The Egyptian style funerary court

Stationed around the court are four slightly larger than life-size sculpted figures of service personnel, representing those killed in the wars. They are very striking and possess a mythic quality, suitable to the symbolic role that they play. They are human but other-worldly at the same time. The emphasis on ships and sailors reminds us that Portsmouth is an historic naval town.

One of the "mythic" figures in the court
One of the “mythic” figures in the court

As time was getting on, we set out towards the centre, looking for somewhere to have dinner. On the way we passed this impressive structure, built in 1861 as a private house, and later turned into a hotel. The Web site provides a brief history of what is now the Queen’s Hotel. Imagine having this as your own house!

Once a private house, 1861, now the Queen's Hotel
Once a private house, 1861, now the Queen’s Hotel

We eventually settled on an Indian restaurant, The Jewel in the Crown, that had a vegetarian thali on the menu. As a bonus they also served lassi. The meal was a little disappointing, though, as the food was bland and unexciting. We were fed but we will not return.

Evening docks and HMS Warrior
Evening docks and HMS Warrior

We took a bus to the curiously named Hard, once called the Common Hard. This is a road that runs along the seafront near the Historic Dockyard. Here you can see across the water to Gosport (where Tigger was born), watch the ferries coming and going, and admire HMS Warrior, permanently moored here as a museum ship.

The Spinnaker: love it or hate it, here to stay
The Spinnaker: love it or hate it here to stay

There are good views of the Spinnaker from here, of course, and of the waterside pubs.

Waterside pubs
Waterside pubs

There are plenty of these in what is, after all, an old navy town where there was good money to be made from thirsty sailors and dock workers. There are stories too of landlords betraying their drunken customers to the press gangs.

Black-headed gull: hasn't seen me yet
Black-headed gull: hasn’t seen me yet

A flock of black-headed gulls were swooping, calling, perching and squabbling as they are wont to do. They are skilful fliers and I love to watch them. I tried to photograph them which was difficult as they are suspicious of people and in the low light, fast shutter speeds were not available.

'Ere, what's your game?
‘Ere, what’s your game?

Every time the gull looked away, I took a step forward, getting closer and closer. Eventually, he spotted me, of course, and gave me the hard stare before flying away.

Mudlarks
Mudlarks

My last photos in the failing light were of this sculpture commemorating the ‘mudlarks’, children of poor families who used to scramble and dive in the mud under the bridge to the station and to the Gosport ferry for coins thrown down for them by passers-by. The practice was finally brought to an end only in the 1970s with the building of the new bus terminal.

We had spent the day in Portsmouth but had seen only part of it. The old naval town has so much to offer that you need several visits or a longer stay. You could spend the whole day in the Historic Dockyard looking at the exhibitions and visiting HMS Victory and HMS Warrior; or enjoy the shops and restaurants at Gunwharf Quay (where the Spinnaker is sited) and while there watch the Isle of Wight ferry dock in an inch-perfect manoeuvre despite a nasty turn to enter the mooring; or explore the town and visit its museums, as we did this time. It is a town to return to again and again.

Solemn door lions, Portsmouth Museum
Solemn door lions, Portsmouth Museum

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Portsmouth

  1. WOL says:

    That is a lovely “art nouveau” style lamp bracket. Is the “Spinnaker” an actual building or just for “show?” I would have loved visiting the Sherlock Holmes exhibit. The Dickens house is rather modest in size, but then people were used to living “closer together” than we do today. Looks like you had sunny weather for your outing.

    • SilverTiger says:

      The Spinnaker is a real building and you can go up inside it. Once up there, if you are brave enough you can walk on a glass floor that shows the view all the way to the ground.

      Dickens’s house is of modest size but even so it had all the amenities considered necessary at the time, including accommodation for a couple of servants who would probably have spent much of their time in the low-ceilinged kitchen in the basement.

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