January 31, 2020|Reports

“Portsmouth – Harlots, Dung and Glory” – Andrew Negus

Wickham History Society’s guest speaker on 28th January was the ever popular Andrew Negus. He guided sixty six members and visitors through seven hundred years with a masterly command of Portsmouth’s early history.

Portsmouth is a younger city than Southampton and grew slowly as the Royal dockyard developed. King John was the first King to build his own dockyard in 1215, roughly where the Lipstick Tower in Gunwharf is today. From then on, Portsmouth grew more rapidly with the need for materials and supplies for growing numbers of ships and dock workers. Defences like the Round Tower (1420) and Southsea Castle (1544) followed.

As today, there were periods of growth and of contraction, one of the earliest followed the loss of Normandy in the late fifteenth century. This was made even worse by the excommunication of the whole town for over fifty years following the murder of Bishop Moelyns of Chichester in 1450. He was blamed for the reverses in Normandy by angry veterans and townspeople and was dragged out of the Garrison Church and murdered on the beach. Despite setbacks like this, by the 1750s Portsmouth had the largest naval docks in the world.

There was naturally a lot of dung involved, even by the standards of the time, and there were a lot of harlots too. ‘The Point’ (or ‘Spice Island’) was Portsmouth’s Wild West with forty four pubs and there are vivid descriptions of the scenes on land and on the ships where wives and others joined the sailors in port. Both were testament to Portsmouth’s success and its transformation from a few salt pans and farms to a bustling town, dockyard and fortress.

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