The History of Portsmouth by Lake Allen has been republished after nearly 200 years by a Portsmouth publisher.
First published in 1817, the book was the first comprehensive history of Portsmouth.
Publisher Matt Wingett, who is re-issuing Portsmouth classics, believes it’s time for the gem to be put before the public again.
‘I used to deal in rare books and people would ask about this book as if it were a lost treasure,’ he says.
‘I checked the book auction records over the past 50 years and realised it had never come up for sale in the first edition at any auction house. That’s why, when I finally found one after a 10-year search, I decided to make it available to everyone.’
The book starts with the Saxon invasion of the coast at Portsmouth in 501AD as reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, then traces the development of the town through ancient documents.
‘Lake Allen was an amazing young man,’ says Matt. ‘He was born in 1799 on Portsmouth High Street, in what’s now Old Portsmouth, the son of Herbert Allen, a hatmaker.
‘His wealthy grandfather, Lake Taswell, was so angry at his daughter Mary marrying beneath her station that he cut Mary off. But when Lake Allen was born, and Lake Taswell saw that he was a sickly child, he relented and took him into his own home.’
Taswell owned the Portsmouth Theatre, which was on the site of the current Portsmouth Grammar School, and owned fields around the cricket ground, whose pavilion later became The Taswell Arms, Southsea.
As a landowner, he could afford to give his grandson the best.
So Lake Allen received a first-class education, reading the classics and learning old English.
It proved perfect for writing the History of Portsmouth, which was published when he was 18, quite an achievement for one so young.
Matt says: ‘One of the things I love about the book is the insight it gives into everyday life. The early parts have accounts of battles between the English and the Danes, then in the Middle Ages it becomes clear that Portsmouth is growing in importance as a naval dockyard.
‘There’s an interesting account of the town included in the book, written by John Leland in 1542. It’s fascinating to imagine the walled town as it was then,’ says Matt.
The book includes accounts of the explosion that wrecked Southsea Castle because of the careless storage of gunpowder, the fall of Portsmouth to Parliamentarian forces in the Civil War, the murder of the Duke of Buckingham by John Felton and the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza at what is now the Garrison Church.
As well as the big, historical events, there are also insights into the ordinary lives of people in Portsmouth. It details the make-up of High Street in the early 19th Century, and describes why Portsmouth is such a great town.
Sometimes Allen gets carried away. Extolling the virtues of the Solent as a leisure area, he makes the claim that sailors who get wet in the Solent do not catch a cold.
The book is a fascinating glimpse into the past of this city and is available from Waterstone’s, Blackwell’s, Strong Island, Portsmouth City Museum and Amazon, price £9.99.