Saturday, 29 March 2014

12 Things You Didn't Know About Portsmouth

PGS Archivist John Sadden is the author of Portsmouth - A Pocket Miscellany, featuring many fascinating facts about the history of the city. The book iwas recently featured in an article in Portsmouth's local newspaper, The News. Here are 12 facts included in the book:

1. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, compiled in the ninth century, states that in AD 501 ‘Port and his two sons Beida and Maegla came to Britain with two ships in the place which is called Portes mutha, and killed a young British man, a very noble man.’ It is the first known appearance of the name Portsmouth in a written source.

2. The city is home to 199,100 people, according to a 2010 estimate. It is the second most densely-populated place in the UK (after central London) and the 13th most densely-populated place in Europe.

3.The top floor penthouse at Gunwharf Quay’s ‘Lipstick’ Tower, which has an area of 4,000sq ft and enjoys 360-degree views, was valued at £4m in 2009. From the penthouse you can see the Charles Dickens ward where 56.6 per cent of children live in poverty.

4. Jack the Painter, one of several names given to an arsonist, has been described as the first modern terrorist. He planted an incendiary device in the dockyard rope house in 1776. He was hanged from the highest gibbet in Britain, 65ft above the dockyard gates. See this article on Jack the Painter by James Priory.

5. The Portsmouth ball-valve is the most common type of valve used in toilet cisterns.

6. In 1825 John Johnson and Henry Andrews were caught with a large and heavy trunk about to catch the London coach.They had taken receipt of it at the Star pub near The Hard, their fifth such trunk of the month. The corpses in the trunks – much sought after for anatomical teaching in medical schools in the capital – had been ferried across the harbour from Haslar burial ground.

7. George Meredith, the Victorian novelist and poet, was born at 73, High Street in 1828, the son of a tailor. He spent a miserable childhood in the town and later took to affecting vagueness about his origins. Writer HG Wells was bored rigid during the two years he spent as an apprentice at Hide’s Drapery Store, King’s Road. He later recalled that the period 1881-1883 was ‘the most unhappy hopeless period of my life’.

8. In 2003 Tate art gallery experts discovered that two Turner paintings of Venice were actually of Portsmouth.

The Arrival of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth (1844)
- formerly listed as Festive Lagoon Scene, Venice c 1840-5. (Photo: Tate Britain)

9. The first co-operative society in Britain was set up in Portsmouth in 1796 by dockyard workers fed up with being ripped off by tradesmen. The aim was to offer an alternative by organising and controlling the production and distribution of goods and services under a system operated by and for the people.

10. Former prime minister William Pitt the Elder was involved in a freak accident in Portsmouth in the 19th century. A gale blew in a window of the Queen’s Room, Portsea, and shards of glass sliced through his neck. Mr Allsop, who owned the waxwork collection, was not best pleased.

11. In 1846 a doctor, lamenting the lack of sewers, warned that ‘the island of Portsea is one large cesspool’. Two years later an outbreak of cholera killed 152 residents, many of them children, and the following year a further 800.

12. The Royal George was being repaired at Spithead on August 29, 1782 when a sudden breeze apparently forced her over, water poured in and she sank in an instant. About 1,000 members of the ship’s company died with up to 300 women and 60 children.

Portsmouth – A Pocket Miscellany by John Sadden is published by The History Press, priced £5.99. 

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