From Pink Floyd to Gorillaz, tell us your memories of Portsmouth Guildhall

Watched over by the huge statue of Queen Victoria opposite, Portsmouth’s majestic Guildhall has seen rock stars, politicians, royalty and even champion body builders pass through its doors and grace its stage.

By Neil Fatkin
Friday, 26th April 2019, 5:08 pm
Updated Friday, 26th April 2019, 5:14 pm
Portsmouth Guildhall in all its glory
Portsmouth Guildhall in all its glory

And the rich, vibrant history of the iconic building is now being brought to life through the Discovering the Guildhall. 

Its defining moments will be preserved in a digital archive, two short documentary films will be created and the project will conclude with a major two-month exhibition at the Guildhall in 2020.

Originally named the Town Hall, the city centre landmark was constructed in 1890 by Leeds architect, William Hill. The building was renamed the Guildhall on April 21, 1926, after Portsmouth was awarded city status.

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The reconstruction of Portsmouth Guildhall

However, due to the vagaries of war, Hill’s Guildhall didn’t even last a century.

The night of January 10, 1941, it endured the full wrath of the German Luftwaffe. That infamous night saw 25,000 incendiaries rain down on the city resulting in the Guildhall being engulfed in a raging inferno which is said to have created a blood red glow which could be seen from France.

It is this burning image which is now synonymous with that fateful night on which 170 people lost their lives and more than 400 were injured.

The attack destroyed the building’s interior and roof, leaving only the outer walls and tower, which suffered enormous fire damage.

Bill Clinton joined the Queen for a banquet at Portsmouth Guildhall in 1994.

Malcolm Garlick, who has been interviewed as part of the project, remembers visiting the site shortly after the war ended.

‘One of my earliest memories was my dad taking me down there to see the bombed out shell of the building,’ says Malcolm. ‘Later on in my youth, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, we worked on the principal that World War Three was imminent.

‘We decided Portsmouth Guildhall would be a good aiming point and instead of suffering, we decided we’d go out with a bang and head to the Guildhall steps.’

Fellow city resident Amy Stilwell vividly recalls seeing the remains of a shot down German bomber close to the venue.

‘One of my earliest memories is of playing on the steps and trying to climb on the lions while waiting for a bus. After boarding the bus, I went upstairs where I remember seeing a crashed war plane in the goods yard which is now the civic offices,’ she explains.

The reconstruction of the Guildhall epitomises the blitz spirit. It was re-opened by Her Majesty The Queen on June 8, 1959, and has stood as a symbolic testament to the spirit and determination of the city and her people ever since.

The post-war era saw the Guildhall establish itself as a top music venue which has played host to some of the world’s most popular bands and performers.

Her roll of honour comprises a who’s who of the British music industry. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Pink Floyd have all graced the stage.

Music fan Charlie Watts recalls the eye-opening experience of seeing his first concert at the venue as a schoolboy. 

‘I’d led quite a sheltered life but then I saw Motorhead here at 15,’ he says. ‘I remember being quite nervous and then the manager came over the tannoy and said ”The management take no responsibility for loss of life”.

‘I was terrified but it was brilliant. It was the loudest concert I’ve ever seen,’ he explains.

Pink Floyd fan David Sawford saw the band perform their legendary album, Dark Side of the Moon at the Guildhall. ‘I had to plead with my parents for £1.25 for the ticket – usually shows were only 60 pence,’ he explains.

More recently the venue has played host to some of the nation’s most popular comedians including Jack Whitehall, Catherine Tate, Jimmy Carr and Lee Mack.

With such a rich cultural history and eclectic mix of performers The Guildhall Trust, which runs the Guildhall, is keen to hear more about people’s own experiences of the venue. 

As part of the heritage project, organisers are looking to put together an exhibition ‘to preserve people’s memories for future generations’.

Project manager, Nicola Peacock, explains: ‘We are delighted at the response we have had so far and the number of people who just want to get involved in this project. The Guildhall is very close to the hearts of the people of Portsmouth and beyond, many with wonderful memories created here, which we can’t wait to hear and share.’

Nicola would like to hear from anyone who has worked at, visited or even performed at the Guildhall.

‘We are looking to raid people’s memories and would love to hear from anyone who has witnessed significant moments in the venue’s 128-year history. We would like to hear from anyone who remembers the Guildhall after it was gutted during the Blitz or has seen some of the legendary performers who have graced the stage. On a more personal level it would be great to hear from people who met their partner at the Guildhall,’ says Nicola.

To be part of the Discovering the Guildhall project contact Nicola on (023) 9387 0193 or register online at


Photos and memorabilia needed

Discovering the Guildhall will have a wide reach across the city. 

There will be cultural sessions with local poets and authors and the production of two documentary videos.

‘We will also include a full schools programme in which local children can visit the Guildhall and learn about its colourful past,’ adds Nicola Peacock, the project manager. 

Partly funded by a £59,000 National Lottery grant, Nicola also hopes to use donated memorabilia to put together a permanent exhibition to chronicle the venue’s history as seen through the eyes of the city’s people.

‘We would love to obtain or borrow any old photographs, video footage, event programmes, tickets and merchandise,’ she explains.

‘The project is an important step for the Guildhall to be able to tell its own story and develop a network of volunteer supporters that will bring this to life.

‘It is intended the project will lead to a permanent exhibition valuing the history and impact of this iconic venue.’