Five Interesting Events from Portsmouth’s History

From the establishment of Portsmouth as a market-town in 1194 to the opening of Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth has a long and interesting history.

The Royal Charter of 1194

On the 2nd May 1194, Richard I granted Portsmouth a Royal Charter and market-town status because of the importance of the port on the south coast. This allowed Portsmouth to have weekly markets, a local court and allowed some tax exemptions.  This was the first step towards Portsmouth becoming the city that it is today.

The sinking of the Mary Rose

Using money gained through the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII ordered the construction of Southsea Castle in 1539 as part of preparations in case of a war with France. It was from Southsea Castle that Henry VIII witnessed one of the most famous moments from his rule: the sinking of the Mary Rose during the Battle of the Solent in 1545. This historic moment features in Spinnaker Tower’s “Sail of Solent” pre-show. Around 500 lives were lost when the warship sunk while fighting the French fleet.

The black and white lighthouse of Southsea Castle is visible from Spinnaker Tower’s viewing decks.

The Mary Rose was recovered in 1982 and you can see it at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
The Mary Rose Museum

The 1916 Zeppelin Attack

During the First World War, Portsmouth’s shipbuilding industry made it crucial to the war effort and 23,000 people were employed at the dockyard. This also made the area a target. On the 1st of October 1916, a Zeppelin appeared in the sky over the city, though there are no reports of bombs being dropped. Some sources claim the Zeppelin accidentally dropped all the bombs into the harbour.  

D-Day Preparations

In the Second World War Portsmouth once again played a crucial role in the war effort. The city was heavily targeted by air raids, which has become known as the Portsmouth Blitz, with the attacks aiming for the dockyard. The port area was particularly damaged. Hundreds were killed and thousands wounded during the bombings.

Portsmouth harbour was a significant point of embarkation for the military during D-Day operation, which meant that travel to the area was limited. In August 1943 the Southsea shoreline was declared a restricted access zone. Troops were camped out around the city and were sealed into the camps during the final briefings ahead of the operation.

D-Day was the largest invasion ever assembled and was the beginning of the push from the allied forces that would defeat Nazi Germany. 156,000 troops arrived by sea and air on five beaches on the French coast.

Portsmouth’s D-Day Story Museum explores the city’s role in the operation.

Shoreline Redevelopment

In 2001 a redevelopment of the shoreline started, with the opening of retail and hospitality outlets, including Gunwharf Quays. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is now a popular tourist attraction. Spinnaker Tower opened in this area in 2005. The tower’s design is based on a sail billowing in the wind, inspired by the city’s maritime history. While still celebrating its heritage, Portsmouth is also a modern, bustling city with plenty to see and do.

If you want to see Portsmouth’s historic sites for yourself, you can visit Spinnaker Tower and admire the astonishing view of the city and beyond from the viewing decks.  The Sky Walk even allows a unique perspective of the historic harbour.

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