Stories behind Portsmouth’s historic gates

Landport Gate, from Garth Groombridges book Portsmouth In 50 Buildings, published by Amberley at �14.99 					All pictures: Garth Groombridge
Landport Gate, from Garth Groombridges book Portsmouth In 50 Buildings, published by Amberley at �14.99 All pictures: Garth Groombridge

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According to author Garth Groombridge, Portsmouth remained ‘virtually unique’ in Britain in that it was maintained and improved as a fortified town even after the English Civil War and right up to the second half of the 19th century.

In his recently-published book Portsmouth In 50 Buildings he says only Berwick-upon-Tweed and Londonderry shared this distinction.

Buckingham House, High Street, Old Portsmouth: reputed to be one of the oldest, and perhaps most notorious, buildings in the old town. It is best known for where George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated in 1628.
As a courtier and favourite  some say lover  of James I, he was made Viscount Villiers, Knight of the Garter and Gentleman of the Bedchamber in 1616, Marquis of Buckingham in 1618 and Lord Admiral of the Fleet in 1619.
He was fatally stabbed by embittered army officer John Felton in August 1628. Felton had served in one of the dukes disastrous campaigns and was probably suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

Buckingham House, High Street, Old Portsmouth: reputed to be one of the oldest, and perhaps most notorious, buildings in the old town. It is best known for where George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated in 1628. As a courtier and favourite  some say lover  of James I, he was made Viscount Villiers, Knight of the Garter and Gentleman of the Bedchamber in 1616, Marquis of Buckingham in 1618 and Lord Admiral of the Fleet in 1619. He was fatally stabbed by embittered army officer John Felton in August 1628. Felton had served in one of the dukes disastrous campaigns and was probably suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

He says: ‘Portsmouth is almost alone in having post-medieval neoclassical town gateways, of which only the Landport remains in situ, although this might not seem obvious at first.’

In our final look at his book, which charts the history of the town and city through its architecture, we look at those entrances to the city.

King James’s Gate (1687), which once divided the town from Point, was dismantled in the mid-1860s to 1870 and rebuilt, first in St Michael’s Road in 1881, opposite the then register office, and in the early 20th century to its present site as entrance to the United Services Recreation Ground in Burnaby Road.

Unicorn Gate (1778), one of two gateways to Portsea, which stood at the northern end of York Place, was re-erected in 1865 as one of the dockyard entrances.

Brankesmere House, Queens Crescent, Southsea, 1896: built in 1895-96, apparently replacing two Thomas Ellis Owen villas. The style is a mixture of Jacobean, Tyrolean and French. 
It was built for John Brickwood, the owner of Brickwoods Brewery and pub chain, who was also the first chairman of Portsmouth Football Club from 1898. His friend Dr Arthur Conan Doyle had played in goal for the amateur club that preceded it.
The architect was another friend and fellow Freemason, AE Cogswell, also chief architect for many of the mock-Tudor style of Brickwoods pubs in the city.

Brankesmere House, Queens Crescent, Southsea, 1896: built in 1895-96, apparently replacing two Thomas Ellis Owen villas. The style is a mixture of Jacobean, Tyrolean and French. It was built for John Brickwood, the owner of Brickwoods Brewery and pub chain, who was also the first chairman of Portsmouth Football Club from 1898. His friend Dr Arthur Conan Doyle had played in goal for the amateur club that preceded it. The architect was another friend and fellow Freemason, AE Cogswell, also chief architect for many of the mock-Tudor style of Brickwoods pubs in the city.

Lion Gate (1770), formerly across Queen Street, was eventually incorporated into the structure of Sempahore Tower in the dockyard in 1926-29.

Landport Gate dates from 1760. When engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme remodelled the town’s defences in the previous century, the original Landport at the top of High Street was blocked off and a new gate built opposite the end of Warblington Street.

Then, if approaching Portsmouth from the north, one had to first breach the glacis (a bank sloping down from a fort), then a drawbridge across a moat to the Landport ravelin, then another bridge over the main moat to the gateway itself.

In 1864 the old town was ‘freed from its straitjacket of military fortifications’ and with the exception of the Saluting Battery, Hot Walls and Long Curtain and its moat, the town walls were demolished and Landport Gate languised in isolation and disuse.

Former Pearl Building, Commercial Road, now Charter House, Lord Montgomery Way, 1899:  In 1891 the Prudential Mutual Assurance Investment and Loan Association opened a branch in Commercial Road, now Guildhall Walk. 

In 1899 its rival The Pearl Assurance Co had its much bigger and grander Portsmouth branch office built at what was then the very southern end of Commercial Road, at the junction with Cambridge Road, now Lord Montgomery Way. 
It was known as Pearl Buildings.

Former Pearl Building, Commercial Road, now Charter House, Lord Montgomery Way, 1899: In 1891 the Prudential Mutual Assurance Investment and Loan Association opened a branch in Commercial Road, now Guildhall Walk. In 1899 its rival The Pearl Assurance Co had its much bigger and grander Portsmouth branch office built at what was then the very southern end of Commercial Road, at the junction with Cambridge Road, now Lord Montgomery Way. It was known as Pearl Buildings.

Garth concludes: ‘Rather sadly, this once important gateway is now just a decorative element to the United Services Recreation Ground, often obscured by rows of parked tourist coaches.’