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Gosport Today

Gosport is a town steeped in military history, situated on a Hampshire peninsular located across the harbour from the city of Portsmouth. The name is believed to derive from the old sea-faring and home-coming slogan; 'God's Port...Our Haven'. There are however, many arguable variations.

Once home to many sailors and submariners of the Royal Navy and to officers of the Army and the Royal Air Force, the town is these days becoming more of a cultural area with new and old attractions, historical places of interest and education ...along with new business opportunities. Gosport offers incomparable views across the Solent towards the Isle of Wight, and to the 4 mid-sea forts known as Palmerston's Follies, built in the 19th century by Lord Palmerston to protect us against a French invasion...which never came!

No Man's Land. Palmerston Fort

Gosport attracts sightseers, ramblers and historians. With superb professional sailing facilities at Stokes Bay, the marina at Haslar, boat building and maintenance skills continuing in tradition, quaint village cottages around Alverstoke, historical residences, parks and lakes, sports and golf club, excellent town and waterside pubs and restaurants, museums and military forts open to the public, interactive exhibition centres, ice skating and many more planned facilities under construction, Gosport is already living up to its image as The Millennium Town!

Access is easy via the M3 towards Southampton and the M27 east towards Fareham and Portsmouth. The A3 (M) is an alternative route through Guildford towards Portsmouth, continuing along the M 27 and taking the Fareham central exit and following the Gosport signs along the A 32. Postcodes: PO12 and PO13.

GosportOnLine.com and local historian Tim Lambert give an insight into the history of The Borough of Gosport.

Gosport in the Middle Ages

Gosport was founded early in the 13th century.

In the Middle Ages Gosport was only a small market town and port. It only had a few hundred inhabitants. Many of the men in Gosport were fishermen. In the 15th century a tower called the Blockhouse was built on the site of Fort Blockhouse, to defend the entrance of the harbour.

Gosport in the 16th & 17th Centuries

Haselford Castle was built around 1545, south of Gosport, on the site of Fort Gilkicker. This castle lasted only until around 1560.

In the 16th century a writer described Gosport as a fishermen's village. Shipbuilding and sail making were other industries in Gosport. However Gosport remained a small market town and port until the 17th century.

In 1642 came civil war between King and Parliament. Gosport supported Parliament, while Portsmouth supported the king. Parliamentary soldiers laid siege to Portsmouth. They set up guns at Gosport roughly where the bus station is today, behind a protective screen of logs and bombarded Portsmouth, which soon surrendered. However Gosport was sacked in the year 1645 by the King's Army. However Gosport soon recovered.

St. Mary's of Alverstoke

In the late 17th and 18th centuries Portsmouth grew rapidly. The Royal Navy created a huge demand for beer, meat, bread, and other goods. Tradesmen in Gosport supplied some of Portsmouth's needs. Gosport grew rapidly, partly because of a huge market for its goods on the other side of the harbour.

In 1627 it was suggested that the dockyard at Portsmouth should be transferred to Gosport. This suggestion was rejected but they did build storehouses for the dockyard at Gosport, as well as timber yards and ropewalks (where rope was made). In the early 18th century a brewery and storehouses for the navy were built in Gosport. There was also an iron industry in Gosport in the 18th century, supplying artefacts for the dockyard.

In 1677 King Charles II decided that Gosport should be fortified. An earth rampart was erected around Gosport with a dry moat outside it. About 1680 Charles II also built a fort on Burrow Island. It was demolished in the early 19th century. Another fort was built roughly where the Falklands Gardens are today. In 1782 it was sold and turned into a pub.

Gosport was part of the Parish of Alverstoke until 1694 when the church of the Holy Trinity was consecrated.

In 1693 a rich inhabitant of Gosport built some almshouses in Bemisters Lane, (off Middle Street) for elderly people.

Gosport in the 18th Century

I
n the 18th century Gosport had 3 main streets, North Street, Middle Street (High Street) and South Street), with minor streets running across them. In Middle Street was Market House. This building was on stilts. The council met in the building and a market was held underneath. A cobbled slipway called The Hard jutted into the sea where the Ferry Gardens are today.

After 1717 Gosport had 3 weekly markets and 2 fairs. (A fair was similar to a market, but was held only once a year and attracted people from all over Hampshire). The 2 fairs were held in May and October. They both closed in 1900.

In 1725 a workhouse was built in South Street where the destitute lived. In 1801 a new workhouse was built in Alverstoke. Workhouse Lake is named after it.

In 1750 the Government bought land north of Gosport from Jane Priddy. By 1759 a fort was built there. Later a gunpowder magazine was built there. Until 1768 gunpowder was stored in the square tower in Old Portsmouth. In 1768 the citizens petitioned the King, saying it was not safe to store the gunpowder there. So it was moved to a new location near Priddys Hard fort. The new gunpowder magazine was built between 1771 and 1778. Later gunpowder was manufactured there as well as cannonballs. Priddys Hard had its own cooperage where barrels were made for storing powder.

In 1763 a body of men called the Improvement Commissioners was formed in Gosport. They had power to pave the streets and remove 'nuisances' such as obstructions and dangerous overhanging shop and inn signs.

In 1713 Fortune (Forton) Hospital was opened, but it was only used as a hospital for a short time. From the 1720's it was used to house French, and later, American prisoners of war. At the time of Napoleon there were also prisoners held in hulks in Forton Creek or in the harbour. If they died they were buried on Burrow Island, which was sometimes called Rat Island, within the harbour.

Haslar Hospital began in 1746 as a hospital for sick or injured sailors. Fort Monckton was built about 1785. A bridge was built across Haslar Lake in 1795 but it was so unsafe it was demolished in 1801 and people went back to using boats to ferry people to the hospital.

In 1796 Gosport gained its first theatre.

A less pleasant aspect of life in Gosport at this time was the press gangs. If the navy were short of men they could, legally arrest men and force them to join the navy.

Gosport in the 19th Century

In 1807 Forton barracks was built on the site of Fortune Hospital (Today it is the site of the 6th form college). In 1848 it was given to the Royal Marines. New barracks (later called St. George's Barracks) was built in 1859, north and south of Mumby Road.

St. George's Barracks South


In 1828 the Royal Navy purchased Weevil Brewery, which had been brewing beer for the navy for decades. It became the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard which provided beer and biscuits for the navy.

Until 1812 there was a market house on stilts in High Street. In that year a new building was built near the site of the ferry. In 1834 Gosport obtained gas street lighting for the first time. In 1870 a drinking fountain was erected in the High Street. It was moved to Falklands Gardens in the 1920's but now stands at the entrance to the pedestrianised High Street.

A bridge was erected over Haslar Lake in 1795 but it was so unsafe it was destroyed in 1801 and anyone wishing to go cross had to go by rowing boat. In 1835 a more permanent bridge was built.

In 1842 a pier was built at Stokes Bay for the convenience of Queen Victoria when she travelled to the Isle of Wight.

In the 1850s a ring of forts was built from Portsdown Hill to Fareham to Gosport in case the French landed somewhere along the coast of Southern England and tried to attack Portsmouth overland. Two forts, Gilkicker and Elson were built in 1858. Fort Gomer (now demolished) and forts Rowner, Brockhurst and Grange were built in 1862. Fort Blockhouse was rebuilt. In the 1850s gunboat sheds were built by Blockhouse.

At the time of the first census in 1801 Gosport had a population of over 7,000. By 1821 the population of Gosport had reached 10,342 and by 1851 it was 16,908. Nearly all of the inhabitants lived within the old walls and Gosport was becoming very overcrowded. By the 1830s new houses were built in Newtown (which was, at first, called Bingham Town after the man who built it). In 1837 a writer mentioned 'a large hamlet called Bingham Town to the west of the town of Gosport'.

In the 1820s a man named Robert Cruikshank attempted to build a new seaside resort at Angelesey. (It got its name from the Marquis of Angelesey who laid the first stone). It consisted of a hotel, baths, reading rooms and a crescent of houses. However the resort failed.

In 1855, Gosport was written that: 'Gosport is a well built, handsome town but appears to most advantage in the approach by water as its finest buildings line the coast. Beside this, it has a principal street, extending eastward from the ferry, other parallel streets and several intersecting them. There are several breweries, shipyards and a considerable trade, chiefly in articles for the supply of the army and navy.'

By 1851 the population of Gosport had passed 16,000 but over 7,000 of them still lived inside the walls. Nevertheless by the 1850s the settlement of Forton was growing. Camden Town grew in the 1860s and was named after an area of London. In the late 19th century Alverstoke became completely built up and the fields separating it from Gosport disappeared.

Gosport Park was laid out in 1891 on the site of Ewer Common. Around the same time Walpole Park was laid out on a piece of land called the Horsefield. It was named after Thomas Walpole, rector of St. Mary's Church, Alverstoke. In 1894 the main gate was demolished with parts of the ramparts.

Gosport and Alverstoke Urban District Council was formed in 1894.

In 1859 the naval cemetery at Haslar was opened. Gosport gained its first volunteer fire brigade in 1867. It was taken over by the council in 1897.

For centuries, rowing boats had carried people and goods across the harbour. In 1841 Gosport was connected by railway to Southampton via Fareham. In 1863 an extension was built to Stokes Bay. In 1894 an extension was made to Lee on Solent. In 1870 horse drawn trams began running in Gosport. They were replaced by electric trams in 1903-06.

Gosport obtained its first public library in 1891. In 1901 it moved to a building in Walpole Road, which is now the museum. In 1889 a man named Blake opened an isolation hospital for people with infectious diseases. It later became Blake Maternity Hospital, then a maternity home.

Rope Quay. Gosport Harbour

Famous people from Gosport include: Nat Gonella, Trevor Jesty, Joe Jackson and Matt Ritchie.

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