Mee’s time at Caesar’s Portchester castle

The Norman St Mary's Church in the corner of Roman Portchester Castle.

The Norman St Mary's Church in the corner of Roman Portchester Castle.

A redundant Blackpool tram in Havant goods yard between 1964 and 1966.  Picture: Barry Cox Collection

A streetcar named Hayling Billy would have run on saved line

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No doubt many of you have visited Portchester Castle on the northern shore of Portsmouth Harbour. Many years ago it was called Caesar’s Castle as the Romans built the original fort, but not the castle we see today within its walls.

Which Caesar it might have been named after I do not know.

The font of Caen stone  with a carving pattern older than Norman kings. PPP-140728-110607001

The font of Caen stone with a carving pattern older than Norman kings. PPP-140728-110607001

Arthur Mee, the writer who toured Hampshire villages in the 1930s tells us it was Carausius who made it the home and cradle of the Britannic Fleet, our first organised navy.

We do know that if the Romans returned, the walls of the fort would look little different to them. Six to 10 feet thick and 25 feet high, they are studded about the outer wall with huge bastions of which there were once 20, although only 14 remain.

King John, he of Magna Carta in 1215, often stayed in the castle and no doubt prayed in the church.

The square keep was raised from 50ft to 100ft by King John, but Richard II had other ideas and pulled down most of John’s work. He did have the Knighton Hall built and used as a banqueting room.

The Norman west door which King John must have passed through. PPP-140728-110631001

The Norman west door which King John must have passed through. PPP-140728-110631001

We can thank Henry II for St Mary’s Church in the corner alongside the Water Gate. It was for use by a priory founded in 1133.

In 1939, Mee tells us to look out for the Norman doorway surrounded by three arches above which are carved fish and the bowmen of the Zodiac. Unfortunately these have been eroded over the years, perhaps by air pollution.

The arms of Queen, Queen Anne who reigned from 1702 to 1707, hang on the north wall.

It is a lovely church to visit with a Norman font carved from Caen stone by a mason whose pattern is older than any Norman king.

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