50 facts all about Portsmouth and its people

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Can you name Portsmouth’s most famous working girl? And do you know the price of one of the city’s most sought-after addresses?

From prostitutes to the room with possibly the best view in the city, a new book about Portsmouth has just about everything you could ever need to organise a pub quiz about the city.

Compiled by Portsmouth historian John Sadden, Portsmouth – A Pocket Miscellany is crammed with curious facts both historical and bang up-to-date.

For example, did you know that there are 100 different ethnic groups in the city?

Or that the average household income in the Baffins ward today is £34,700?

John, 53, who was born in the city and is also the archivist at Portsmouth Grammar School, says: ‘I compiled the book last summer and it was a fascinating exercise in Portsmouth both ancient and modern.

‘I tried to create a balance between some of the statistical stuff and the more colourful tales from the city’s past.’

The book is what it says on the tin – pocket-sized.

John, who has written several other books about local history, adds: ‘It’s aimed at both people who live here and visitors who want a quick but interesting and, I hope, fun guide to the city.’

Here are 50 fascinating facts from the book – and look out for another one in The News each day for the rest of the month from tomorrow.

· Portsmouth – A Pocket Miscellany is published by The History Press on March 5, priced £5.99.

1 Portsmouth’s motto, Heaven’s Light Our Guide, was the slogan of the Order of the Star of India and appeared on troop ships. Rifles, revolvers, scimitars and daggers engraved with the message were distributed in India.

2 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.

3 The total area of Portsmouth is 4,028 hectares, or 9,954 acres, or 15.5 square miles.

4 The area known as Milton is a corruption of Middleton, a common next to Welder (Velder) heath.

It was a small village, but now has a population of 13,800 and average household income is £34,000.

5 Portsmouth appears on the oldest surviving route map of Great Britain, the Gough Map, which dates from about 1360 and shows 600 towns and cities. Portsmouth is labelled Portis Mouth and is represented by a single red-roofed building.

6 Squeeze Gut Alley was a popular name for Messum’s Court, which ran from Prospect Row to St Mary’s Street in what is now Old Portsmouth. The eastern end of it was very narrow.

7 It is 9,366 miles from Portsmouth to Uluru, the massive sandstone rock in central Australia that used to be known as Ayer’s Rock.

It was named after Sir Henry Ayers who was born in Portsea in 1821, the son of a dockyard worker, and who was the premier of South Australia five times.

8 There are Portsmouths in Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Portland (Oregon), Rhode Island, Virginia and Michigan. A fishing village in North Carolina with the name was abandoned in 1971.

9 Q How many times a year does a vehicle pass the Sails of the South structure on the M275?

A 30,295,000

10 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.

11 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.

12 Reputedly, the narrowest occupied domestic residence in Britain is in Manor Road, Fratton. Built around 1900, the frontage is 4ft 10in (147 cm) wide.

13 The development of the IBM site on reclaimed land at North Harbour between 1967 and 1982 resulted in the largest office building in the UK at the time.

14 The first centrefold to display full-frontal nudity in a magazine is believed to have been of Portsmouth-born Marilyn Cole, who also has the distinction of becoming the only British model to be Playboy’s Playmate of the Year.

15 In 1917 Portsmouth was the first town in the country to open clinics for the free treatment of venereal disease.

16 HMS Bounty set sail from Portsmouth for Tahiti under the command of Captain Bligh on the first breadfruit voyage in 1787.

His mission was to pick up breadfruit plants and transport them to the West Indies to become a cheap source of food for slaves. It all went horribly wrong.

17 Jonas Hanway was born in Portsmouth in 1712. He inherited a fortune and began a career as a philanthropist. He is also remembered for being the first person in England to use an umbrella.

18 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.

19 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, 171 years after Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot.

He was hanged from the highest gibbet in Britain, 65ft above the dockyard gates.

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

21 ‘Seedy at times, grim in places, but colourful and tinted with the hues of history’ – cricket commentator and author John Arlott writing on Portsmouth in 1969.

22 ‘I appeared on a stage three times and died a bloody death. I could hear myself walk off the stage’ – Spike Milligan bemoaning Portsmouth on Room 101, 1999.

23 ‘If Portsmouth wasn’t there the south coast would fray around the edges. People in Southsea would just fall into the sea’ – Paul Merton defending Portsmouth against Spike Milligan on Room 101, 1999.

24 In high winds the Spinnaker Tower can flex six inches (150mm).

25 Wymering Manor is said to be the oldest building in the city, having been recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.

26 More than £375.5m was spent on trips to Portsmouth in 2008 by staying and day visitors.

27 Approximately 6,000 trees were used in the construction of HMS Victory.

The oak used in the underwater planking came from Poland and East Prussia and is two feet thick at the waterline.

28 The longest building in the world at the time was built in the dockyard in 1776. The Ropery was 1,095ft long.

29 Portsmouth is one of the largest fruit-handling ports in the country and processes: 100 per cent of the UK’s Jersey potatoes; 65-70 per cent of the UK’s bananas (Dole, Fyffes, Geest) and 100 per cent of the UK’s Moroccan citrus fruits.

30 Estimates of the number of prostitutes working in the port and garrison town at the end of the 18th century vary between 2,000 and 20,000.

31 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.

32 Wild rabbits caught on Portsea Common – enclosed within the dockyard in 1864 – were permitted to be taken home by workers.

Later, it also applied to any government material that was smuggled out. A ‘rabbit job’ was a piece of DIY carried out in work time.

33 TV dramas shot in Portsmouth include: Casualty – Give My Love to Esme (1997); Inspector Wexford – A Sleeping Life (1989); The Mouse in the Corner (1992); Kavanagh QC – The Burning Deck (1996); Silent Witness (2004); The Agatha Christie Hour – The Girl in the Train (1982); Rules of Engagement (1989); Going Out (1980)

34 Roy Horniman, who lived at Southsea and went to Portsmouth Grammar School in the 1880s, wrote the source novel for the Ealing black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets which starred Alec Guinness.

35 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.

36 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’.

37 The first league game to be played under floodlights took place on February 22, 1956, between Pompey and Newcastle. Pompey lost 2-0.

38 Pompey Lil was a well-known prostitute who worked in Portsea in the early to mid-20th century.

She was said to have no teeth and a false eye, but was ‘ever so nice’ and ‘well spoken’.

39 Musician and composer Brian Eno played clarinet in the Portsmouth Sinfonia and produced their first two albums. He became a member of Roxy Music and a pioneer of ambient music.

40 In 1899 James Higgins, 68, was charged with mutilating a copy of the Portsmouth Times at the public library ‘doing damage to the amount of one penny’.

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

42 Rat Island in Portsmouth Harbour is said to have acquired the name in the 19th century.

The rats gathered there to gorge themselves on discarded washed-up entrails from the abattoir at nearby Royal Clarence Victualling Yard.

43 A fish was landed in Portsmouth in 1870 with a champagne bottle in its stomach. Throw in some chips and you’ve got all the ingredients of a good night in.

44 In 1860 a man got out of his bath and stood at his window in Penny Street, Old Portsmouth, ‘wearing only his spectacles’.

Magistrates found him guilty of indecent exposure and sentenced him to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.

45 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.

46 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.

47 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.

48 There was a popular belief in the city that if the bust of Charles I was removed from the wall of the Square Tower, Old Portsmouth, then grave misfortune would fall upon Portsmouth. In 1937 it was taken down and loaned for a Royal Academy exhibition. Within four years much of the city was in ruins.

49 On a visit in 1729, S Martin Leake described Portsmouth Point as Gomorrah, pairing it with the notorious Gallows Point in Jamaica, which had a reputation for being like Sodom.

50 The actress Helena Bonham Carter is the great-great-grandaughter of John Bonham Carter, MP for Portsmouth from 1816-1838.