Portchester History

A Brief History of Portchester, Hampshire, EnglandPortchester Coat of Arms

Here are interesting facts about the origins of Portchester (the port fort), Will's home town.

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Introduction: Where is Portchester Situated?

Portchester is a suburb which is approximately 10km northwest of Portsmouth, England. It is part of the borough of Fareham in Hampshire.

Once a small village, Portchester is now a busy part of the expanding conurbation between Portsmouth and Southampton, on the A27 main thoroughfare. Its population according to the 2011 Census was approximately 20,000 residents including our writer and researcher Will and his family who have lived here since 1946.

Portchester Village c1937

Portchester Village 1947

Why is Portchester Important?

A brief history
A settlement named Caer Peris existed on this site before the fort of Portus Adurni (Latin Portus Adurni – "port at the hill") was built by the Romans in the 3rd century AD. Portchester Castle Keep

The castle was built during the period 285-290 AD by Marcus Aurelius Carausius as part of what is now known as the "Saxon Shore Forts". Built of flint and limestone the walls, 6 metres high and 3.2 metres thick, enclose an area of some 36,489 square metres and it is the only Roman stronghold in Northern Europe with walls that stand to their full height. The castle is considered the best preserved Roman fort north of the Alps.

The name Portchester is of partly Roman origin, from Latin Portus (a harbour) and Old English Saxon - Ceaster (Roman fort).

The medieval Portchester Castle, with its magnificent keep, was built within the confines of the Roman fort.

As well as the castle, its parish church, St Mary's and the abundance of historic houses in Castle Street, this suburb is well placed for waterfront leisure activities, only a short distance from the UK's third largest marina at Port Solent, and from the historic city of Portsmouth and the market town of Fareham.

Portchester Castle in Hampshire is steeped in history and offers a fantastic insight into various periods of British history dating back to the Romans. Built during Roman times, probably in the third century AD, Portchester Castle is the country's only example of a Roman fort whose walls still stand complete up to around 6 metres.

Over the centuries, Portchester Castle has been renovated and rebuilt many times and its use has altered to suit the needs of its owners. In the eleventh century, parts of Portchester Castle were rebuilt into a Norman keep and in the fourteenth century Richard II transformed it into a palace. Like their Roman predecessor, both of these incarnations served a defensive function.

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Interestingly, during the Napoleonic Wars, the role of Portchester Castle changed, as it became a prison for around 7,000 French prisoners of war. This change was due in large part to the reduced importance of Portchester Castle as a defensive structure following the building of the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard by King Henry VII.

Today, Portchester Castle is run by English Heritage who offer audio tours and exhibitions about the site as well as children's activities.

Portchester: Early History Timeline

  • Late 3rd Century: The Romans built a fort at Portchester.
  • 407 AD: The Roman army leaves Britain. The fort at Portchester has probably been abandoned some time before this date.
  • c 500 AD: The Saxons land in Southeast Hampshire and they build a village at Portchester.
  • 9th Century: King Alfred the Great created a network of forts or fortified settlements across his kingdom to fight the Danes. They were called burhs. In the event of a Danish attack all the men in each area would gather together in the local burh. Where possible Alfred used existing old Roman towns or forts.
  • 10th Century: The Saxons create a network of forts called 'burhs'. Portchester castle is made a 'burh'. In the 10th century his successor, Edward the Elder, repaired the Roman fort at Portchester and turned it into a burh.
  • c 1120: King Henry I builds a castle within the walls of the old Roman fort.
  • c 1128: A church dedicated to St Mary is built within the walls of the fort. Portchester Castle Keep
  • 1133: In 1133 King Henry I gave St Mary's to some Augustinian monks. They were led by a prior so the church became St Mary's Priory Church.
  • Mid-12th century the monks moved on to Southwick, north of Portchester.
  • 1294: Portchester is given the right to hold weekly markets and an annual fair.
  • 1396 - 1399: Richard II's Palace was built. The palace forms the south and west ranges of the inner bailey, with the great hall to the south and a range of apartments to the west.

Portchester: Modern History

During the Hundred Years War between England and France from the middle of the 14th century to the middle of the 15th century Portchester thrived. However medieval Portchester would seem tiny to us. It probably only had a population of a few hundred.

The invention of gunpowder and cannons really made Portchester Castle obsolete. (Although in the 16th century Henry VIII used Portchester Castle as an armoury and during the civil war of 1642-1646 parliamentary soldiers stayed there).

  • Early 17th Century: The markets in Portchester die out.
  • 1660s: Portchester Castle is used to house Dutch prisoners of war.
  • 1793-1814: Portchester Castle is used to house French prisoners of war.
  • 1840: An industry making clay pipes begins in Portchester.
  • 1848: Portchester Railway Station was built but it did little to increase the village population.
  • 1873: Castle Street School is built; Will attended this school starting in 1954.
  • 1911: Portchester has a population of less than 1,000.
  • 1920-22: Newtown is built and the population of Portchester begins to rise rapidly.
  • 1923: Portchester Social Club in Castle Street opened.
  • 1933: Portchester Methodist Church is built.
  • 1954: The Catholic Church of Our Lady of Walsingham was built.
  • 1958: Portchester Crematorium opens.
  • 1962: Wicor Primary School is built.
  • 1963: Northern Primary School opens. Will taught there in 1964-65 before attending college.
  • 1966: Portchester Community Centre opens.
  • 1975 The population of Portchester reaches 18,000. Portchester Precinct is created.
  • 1979: Red Barn School opens.
  • 1984: A new library opens.
  • 2002: New Portchester Parish Hall opens.
  • 2003: Portchester Business Centre opens.
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Portchester Panoramic View

In this photograph, taken to from the north of the Castle, on Portsdown Hill, we can see the castle [mid picture] and in the distance the entrance to Portsmouth harbour, Britain's premier naval base, with the Isle of Wight in the far distance.

In the next photo the village of Portchester is laid at the foot of the hill. Naval warships can be seen at berth in the harbour.

Portchester Panorama

Portchester Warship View

In the next photo the village of Portchester is laid at the foot of the hill. Naval warships can be seen at berth in the harbour.

Portchester Panorama

This photo below is taken from the top of the Norman Keep and shows the modern village of Portchester at the foot of Portsdown Hill.

Portchester Panoramic View

See more about Portchester History

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English Heritage Portchester Castle Video

Footnote:
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