The Queen’s bestowal of the title of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Prince William and Catherine Middleton gives us an opportunity to reflect on the last Dukes of Cambridge, and their relationship with Portsmouth, before the title fell into disuse in 1904.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Prince Adolphus, the seventh son of George III, was made the First Duke of Cambridge.
Until then, soldiers in garrison towns were largely billeted in local inns and houses, apart from those housed within fortifications.
But in 1825 ordnance warehouses in Penny Street, Old Portsmouth, were converted into the first Cambridge Barracks, named after the popular first duke who had a distinguished military career.
The buildings still exist as part of the lower junior school at Portsmouth Grammar School.
After his death in 1850, Prince George, the second duke continued the military tradition and close links with Portsmouth.
He, too, was an army officer and served as commander-in-chief for a remarkable 39 years.
He regularly visited the town to inspect the troops and fortifications.
As a result of more enlightened attitudes to soldiers’ living conditions, the new Cambridge Barracks were built in the 1850s.
Prince George visited the barracks in 1859 and as a result, nearby buildings were bought and demolished to make way for quarters for married soldiers, now the site of Portsmouth Grammar School’s state-of-the-art sports hall.
Prince George was renowned for his concern for the welfare and living conditions of the ordinary soldier.
The prince was also instrumental in making flogging a punishment for only very serious offences.
The officers’ barracks – the grand, yellow brick block that faces High Street, Old Portsmouth – was built by the Royal Engineers of the finest building materials and to a high standard of design, while the men’s red-brick block (Cambridge House) was utilitarian in design and built by the local firm of Lee and Laver. Cambridge House was bought by Portsmouth Grammar School in 2000.
In 1864, Prince George opened a road which connected High Street with (the old) Commercial Road, the War Office having agreed that a portion of the fortifications at the end of the High Street could be removed for this purpose.
This was named Cambridge Road in honour of the Duke.
Perhaps with less prestige, but with equally respectful intentions, a lowly beerhouse neighbouring the barracks was named The Duke of Cambridge, giving soldiers and local people the opportunity to toast his health and long life.
He died in 1904 at the age of 84, without a legitimate son.
The royal title then fell into disuse until its revival on the day of the royal wedding.