PORTSMOUTH, HAMPSHIRE, a municipal, county and parliamentary borough, and seaport of Hampshire, England, 74 m. S.W. from London, on the London & South-Western and the London, Brighton & South Coast railways. Pop. (1891), 159,278; (1901), 188,133. This great naval station and arsenal is an aggregate of four towns, Portsmouth, Portsea, Landport and Southsea, and occupies the south-western part of Portsea Island, which lies between Portsmouth Harbour and Langstone Harbour, two inlets of the English Channel. Portsmouth Harbour opens into Spithead, one of the arms of the Channel separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland. The harbour widens inwards in bottle form, Portsmouth lying on the east shore of the neck, with Gosport opposite to it on the west side. Portsmouth proper may be distinguished as the garrison town; Portsea as the naval station with the dockyards; Landport is occupied chiefly by the houses of artisans; and Southsea is a residential quarter and a favourite watering-place. Besides a number of handsome modern churches, among which is a Roman Catholic cathedral, Portsmouth possesses, in the church of St Thomas a Becket, a fine cruciform building dating from the second half of the 12th century, in which the chancel and transepts are original, but the nave and tower date from 1698, and the whole was extensively restored in 1904. The garrison chapel originally belonged to the hospital of St Nicholas, a foundation of the 13th century. Among other buildings worthy of mention (apart from those having naval or military connexion) the principal is the town-hall (1890), a fine classic building standing alone in a square, and surmounted by a handsome clock tower. Among educational institutions there are a large grammar school (1879), on a foundation of 1732, Roman Catholic schools adjoining the cathedral, schools for engineering students and dockyard apprentices, and seamen and marines' orphan school. Aria College in Portsea was opened in 1874 for the training of Jewish ministers. Victoria Park, in the heart of the town, contains a monument to Admiral Napier. There are recreation grounds for the naval and military forces in the vicinity. There is a railway station (Portsmouth Harbour) on the Hard, from which passenger steamers serve Ryde in the Isle of Wight. A ferry and a floating bridge connect with Gosport. The port has a considerable trade in coal, timber, fruits and agricultural produce. The parliamentary borough returns two members. The county borough was created in 1888. The municipal borough is under a mayor, 14 aldermen and 42 councillors. Area, 5010 acres.
The dockyard seems to have been regularly established about 1540, but long before that date the town was of importance as a naval station and was used for the accommodation of the king's ships. In 1540 it covered 8 acres of ground, abutting on the harbour near the " King's Stairs." Cromwell added 2 acres in 1658, and Charles II. added 8 in 1663 and 10 more in 1667. By 1710 30 acres more had been reclaimed or bought, and by the end of the 18th century the total area was 90 acres. In 1848 a steam basin, covering 7 acres, and four new docks were opened, the dockyard ground being extended to 115 acres in all. In 1865 large extension works were decided upon, increasing the area to 293 acres. These included a tidal basin and, opening out of it, a deep dock and two locks in themselves serving as large docks, which lead to three basin and four docks. An entrance was also formed between the ne\ tidal basin and the steam basin of 1848, and large additions wer made to the wharfage accommodation as well as to th storehouses and factories. Subsequent improvements included the formation of two new dry docks (1896) with a floor-length of 557 ft. and a depth of 33^ ft. over the sill at high water of spring tides; the construction of new jetties at the entrance to the tidal basin and at the north wall; the establishment of a coal wharf with hydraulic appliances; a torpedo range in the harbour; the erection of various buildings such as torpedo and gun-mounting stores, electrical shops and numerous subsidiary works; and extensive dredging of the harbour to increase the berthing accommodation for the fleet. Altogether the dockyard comprises 15 dry docks, 60 acres of enclosed basins, 18,400 ft. of wharfage and about 10 m. of railway. There is a gunnery establishment in the harbour on Whale Island, the area of which has been increased to nearly 90 acres by the accretion of material excavated from the dockyard extension works, and various barracks including those of the royal marine artillery at Eastney, beyond Southsea.
Portsmouth (Portsmue, Portesmuth) owes its origin to the retreat of the sea from Porchester, and its importance to its favourable position for a naval station. Though probably the site had long been recognized as a convenient landing-place, no town existed there until the 12th century, when the strategical adva tage it offered induced Richard I. to build one. He granted a charter in 1194 declaring that he retained the borough in hand, and granting a yearly fair and weekly market, freedon from certain tolls, from shire and hundred court and sheriffs' aids. In October 1200 King John repeated the grants, and Henry III. in 1229 gave the " men of Portsmouth " the toy in fee farm and granted a merchant gild. Confirmations were made by successive kings, and a charter of incorporation was given by Elizabeth in 1599-1600. A new and enlarged charter was granted by Charles I. in 1627, by which the borough is now governed subject to changes by the municipal acts of the 19th century. Portsmouth has returned two members to parliament since 1295. A fair on the 1st of August and fourteen following days was granted by Richard I. The first day was afterwards changed to the 2gth of June and later to the nth of July. It was important as a trading fair for cutlery, earthenware, cloth and Dutch metal, and was abolished in 1846. The market, dating from 1194 and originally held on Thursday only, is now held on Tuesday and Saturday in addition. Portsmouth was important in the middle ages not only as a naval station but a trading centre. There was a considerable trade in wool and wine, and the building of the dockyards by Henry VII. further increased its prosperity.
See Victoria County History: Hampshire, iii. 172 seq.; R. East, Extracts from the Portsmouth Records.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)