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about Portsmouth

Portsmouth is a city of about 186,000 located in the county of Hampshire on the southern coast of England. A significant naval port for centuries, previously the world's largest naval base and home to many famous ships, Portsmouth has declined in recent years but remains a major dockyard and base for the Royal Navy. Its telephone area code is 023 92, and was previously 01705, and before that 0705.

Portsmouth geography

Most of the city lies on Portsea Island, located at the confluence of the Solent and the English Channel. The island is separated from the mainland to the north by a narrow creek, bridged in three places to make it (in appearance) a peninsula. The sheltered Portsmouth Harbour lies to the west of the island and the large tidal bay of Langstone Harbour is to the east. Portsdown Hill dominates the skyline to the north and to the south are the waters of the Solent with the Isle of Wight beyond.

Portsmouth history

Early history of the area

Although there have been settlements in the area since before Roman times, mostly being offshoots of Portchester, Portsmouth is commonly regarded as having been founded in 1180 by John of Gisors (Jean de Gisors). Most early records of Portsmouth are thought to have been destroyed by French invaders following the Norman Conquest. The earliest detailed references to Portsmouth can be found in the Southwick Cartularies.

In the Domesday survey there is no mention of Portsmouth. However settlements that later went on to form part of Portsmouth, primarily Buckland (later Portsea), Copnor and Froddington (later Fratton) were listed. At this time it is estimated the Portsmouth area had a population not greater than two or three hundred.

While in the primary manor of Portsea there was a small church prior to 1166 (now St Mary's at Kingston) Portsmouth's first real church came into being in 1181 when John of Gisors granted an acre of land to Augustinian monks at the Southwick Priory to build a chapel dedicated to Thomas a Becket. This chapel continued to be run by the monks of Southwick Priory until the Reformation after which its possession was transferred to Winchester College. The modern Portsmouth Cathedral is built on the original location of the chapel.

Growth of the city

In 1194, after King Richard I (the Lionheart) returned from being kidnapped by Duke Leopold of Austria, Richard set about summoning a fleet and an army to Portsmouth, which Richard had taken over from John of Gisors. On May 2, 1194 King Richard I gave Portsmouth its first Royal Charter granting permission for the city to hold a fifteen day annual fair (which became known as the Free Market Fair), weekly markets (on Thursdays), to set up a local court to deal with minor matters, and exemption from paying the annual tax ("farm") of £18 a year--instead the money would be used for local matters. The actual physical charter was handed over by the Bishop of Ely William de Longchamps. The present location of the charter is currently unknown but its text survives, as when later royal charters were granted to the city reaffirming and extending its privileges large parts of the original charter were quoted verbatim.

As a crescent and an eight-point star (as appear on the city coat of arms) were to be found on both the seals of King Richard and William de Longchamps it is commonly thought that this may have been the source of them, although there is no known documentary evidence for this.

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).

In 1200 King John issued another charter to Portsmouth reaffirming 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.

In 1212 William of Wrotham (Archdeacon of Taunton, Keeper of the King's Ships) started constructing the first docks of Portsmouth. At about the same time Pierre des Roches (Bishop of Winchester) founded Domus Dei (Hospital of St Nicholas) which performed its duties as a almshouse and hospice until 1540 when like other religious buildings it was seized by King Henry VIII).

During the thirteenth century Portsmouth was commonly used by King Henry III and Edward I as a base for attacks against France.

By the fourteenth century commercial interests had grown considerably, despite rivalry with the dockyard of nearby Southampton. Common imports included wool, grain, wheat, woad, wax and iron, however the ports largest trade was in wine from Bayonne and Bordeaux.

War with France

In 1338 a French fleet led by Nicholas Behuchet arrived at Portsmouth docks flying English flags before anyone realised that they were a hostile force. The French burnt down most of the buildings in the town and many of the population were raped and slaughtered, only the local church and Domus Dei survived. As a result of this King Edward III gave the remaining townsfolk exemption from national taxes so that they could afford to rebuild the town.

Only ten years after this devastation the town for the first time was struck by the plague known as the Black Death. In order to prevent the regrowth of Portsmouth as a threat the French again sacked the city in 1369, 1377 and 1380.

King Henry V was the first king to decide to build permanent fortification in Portsmouth. In 1418 he ordered a wooden Round Tower be built at the mouth of the harbour, which was completed in 1426. However it wasn't until the Tudor dynasty that Portsmouth's defence was seriously dealt with. Under King Henry VIII the Round Tower was rebuilt out of stone and a Square Tower was raised. It was at this time that Robert Brygandine and Sir Reginald Bray, with the support of the king, commenced the building in Portsmouth of the country's first dry dock. In 1527 with some of the money obtained from the dissolution of the monasteries Henry VIII built the fort which became known as Southsea Castle.

Over the years Portsmouth's fortification was increased by numerous monarchs including King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth I, although most of these have now fallen into disrepair or been converted into tourist attractions.

Recent history

On December 21, 1872 the Challenger expedition was launched from Portsmouth.

The city was bombed extensively during WW2, while most of the city has since been rebuilt developers still occasionally find unexploded bombs.

In 2003, erection was sterted of a 165 metre high Spinnaker Tower sited at Portsmouth Harbour, and celebrating the city's maritime tradition. The tower has twin concrete legs meeting at half height to form a single column from which steel sails will be mounted. An observation deck at the top will provide a view of the city and harbour for tourists.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Portsmouth, England".

This city is also known as: Portsmouth.

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