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Local History 4 Photos 2021

August 2021

Guided tour of Fort Nelson

Local History 4 August meeting was a guided tour of Fort Nelson focusing on the building and briefly on the Royal Armouries Collection. Our guide was excellent and even if we had visited the fort before we all learnt something new.

Portsmouth harbour and its valuable location has been defended since Roman times with the main focus of the possibility of invasion from the sea. However, with the rising threat from the French in the 19th century it was realised that landing from along the coast and attacking from landslide was a threat. Hence the building of Palmerstons Follies.

In 1860 a series of 5 forts was announced, with guns facing inland along Portsdown Hill. Work began the following year with well paid navvies shifting up to 20 tons of earth a day, digging ditches and creating ramparts. Building began using 4 million bricks and flint from Portchester Castle. The design of the fort is remarkable providing a low profile but with barracks, parade ground and 48 big guns. Tunnels link the ramparts to the parade ground. The brickwork is amazing.

In 1871 the fort was occupied by 7 regular officers, 171 volunteers, 2 horses, 16 wives and 24 children. Barrack rooms were shared by everyone. There was even a 10 bed hospital, campaigned for by Florence Nightingale in her bid to improve military health.

Despite all the defences in place there was no enemy engagement.

As time passed, changes in Europe forced an expensive arms race and Fort Nelson became an artillery base. In WW1 the fort was used as a transit camp for troops on their way to the Western Front. During WW11 the fort was used for storage of ammunition and armament. Fortunately missed by enemy bombing!

Today the fort houses the artillery collection of the Royal Armouries including the oldest dated gun in the world, 1464, the magnificent Great Turkish Bombard cast in bronze weighing 2,265 lb and still being used in action in 1897.

Without electricity and modern amenities life would not have been easy in Victorian times but how clever they were. Our guide told us about the lives of the people in the fort and some of the details of the armaments in place. It was a fascinating tour which barely scratched the surface, leaving us with so much more to see and explore in our own time.

June 2021


On a beautiful sunny day Local History 4 visited Gunwharf Quays to discover its origins and development.

Gunwharf today is a very different place to early days. Now a bustling, thriving, mixed development of housing, shops, entertainment, restaurants and businesses, all in a unique harbour side location. The Spinnaker Tower, now repainted white, is a spectacular landmark, visible from great distances.

Gunwharf can be traced back to the 12th century as a dockyard for royal galleys. Over 300 years ago part of the harbour was reclaimed to build facilities for all the needs of the Royal Navy. In recent times many of us will remember it as HMS Vernon. Eventually this establishment declined and became a shell of its former self and was put up for sale.

With great good fortune the site was developed keeping, and restoring some of its features and historical buildings.

We entered through the Vernon Gate which had been the original entrance. The Customs House, now a pub, was only briefly used for customs but was really storekeepers offices allowing good views of the loading operations of valuable guns and stores. The Flemish brickwork is to be admired. The Grand Storehouse (1811) known as Vulcan was the largest in any dockyard providing storage facilities for cannon, gun carriages and many small arms. This beautiful building is now converted into apartments an art gallery and a restaurant, slightly away from the bustle of the retail areas.

There are many boards around the Quays detailing some of its history. Too much to take in on a hot day but to be savoured in future (individual) visits.

An area so rich in history, the site has been sympathetically restored and developed. So much to see and discover. I shall be looking at Gunwharf with very different ‘eyes’ in future. Many thanks to Gareth and Caroline for leading and researching the information for this visit.

A book by Michael Underwood, Gunwharf Quays Portsmouth can be borrowed from the local library. Sadly only one copy is available.

Mary Shilstone

18th May 2021

Park Wood

Our first live meeting for over a year! May 18th. Just a few of us met to walk in Park Wood (Waterlooville) and learn about its history, led by John Care.

Originally part of the Forest of Bere, in the 1830’s the Hart Plain estate, including Park Wood, was no longer managed for timber production but used for pleasure grounds for the Friend family and their guests. Within the Wood a walled garden was developed which probably provided fruit, vegetables and flowers for the estate.

In 1910 Dr Beddow moved from the Sheffield area to take up a senior position in the Portsmouth Municipal College . He bought the western half of Park Wood where he built his house. When possible he bought further parcels of land within the Wood and kept the estate in very good order.

Dr Beddow became an important person, a city and county councillor, J.P. and board member of many charities. On his death in 1953, aged 92, he left most of the estate, in trust to his housekeeper, Miss Ellis. Subsequently the estate would be sold and the proceeds offered to Portsmouth City Council for construction of a public library in Waterlooville if the village had then become part of Portsmouth, otherwise in Milton!

Despite the residential development at the edge of the woodland this delightful 8.5 hectare Wood has been preserved. It is a haven for wildlife with spectacular ancient yew trees, beautiful beech trees and bluebells. There is little trace of the walled garden, brickwork has been engulfed by plant life. The Wood is now managed by the Woodland Trust.

Having lived in Waterlooville for a very considerable time Park Wood was unknown to me and I am delighted to learn even more about the local area. Mary Shilstone.