Thursday, 27 April 2017

Portsmouth 2017 Portchester Castle

Our trip to Portchester was the next attraction included in this series of posts about Portsmouth Historical Dockyard. If you would like to check out the preceding posts then just follow the links below.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 2016
Portsmouth 2017 - Mary Rose
Portsmouth 2017 - Historic Dockyard

The Roman Portchester Fort is thought to have been constructed by Marcus Aurelius Carausius in the third century around 285-290 AD during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. One of several such constructions built along the English south coast as a defence against sea raiders such as the early Saxons, the fortress is also thought to have been built to protect the main Roman naval base that would have patrolled the Channel.

The earliest mention of Portchester is possibly a fourth century reference to Portus Adurni in a list of Civil and Military posts in the Roman Empire.

Today Portchester remains one of the most complete Roman Forts of its type and seems to pop up on just about any documentary about the Roman occupation of Britain.

Roman Fortress of Portchester with the north west corner at the top of the picture
Of course it wasn't just the Romans who realised the value of this fortress covering the central south coast natural harbour that is Portsmouth and the site was further developed by the Anglo-Saxons to counter Viking raids.

In 904, Edward, King of the West Saxons received 'Porceastra' from the Bishop of Winchester with the fort subsequently turned into a burgh as part of the defence structure of Wessex.

The Norman Keep and Bailey were added in the 1130's in the north west corner of the walled enclosure
The Norman, William Pont de l'Arche is thought to be the chap who added the castle and inner bailey in the 1130's as seen above with the addition of an Augustinian priory at about the same time with St Mary's church being the only surviving part of that building seen in the pictures below.

The view of the north wall
In 1154 Henry II made Portchester Castle a Royal Fortress, which it remained throughout the high middle ages being a muster and embarkation point for Royal expeditions to the disputed French possessions on the Continent.

Most famously this is the place where Henry V launched his Agincourt campaign in 1415 and where, during his stay a plot to depose him was uncovered and the conspirators executed.

My school days came flooding back as I remembered my Shakespearian studies pouring over and memorising key parts from  Henry IVth and Vth - ah happy days!

St Mary's Church, doing good business on the very wet Sunday we visited.
From the seventeenth century through to the early nineteenth, the castle served the role as Prisoner of War camp as prisoners from the Anglo-Dutch wars through to French prisoners taken in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars got to enjoy a stay behind the old Roman walls.

The view of the eastern ramparts with St Mary's Church just on the right of picture

The remains of one of the Roman round towers can be seen in the north east corner of the original wall
I was particularly interested in the original Roman parts of the fortress and the construction of the walls and round towers along its circumference were particularly impressive with the picture below showing the interior wall of one of the towers with flint stone mixed in with the Roman concrete forming the mass of this structure.

The inner wall of one of the Roman towers that provided a bit of shelter during one particularly heavy downpour

The Norman keep seen in the north west corner of the fortress walled enclosure
It was a good job that I was focused on the Roman wall as the Norman keep is going through a bit of renovation work when we visited and English Heritage had closed it to the public whilst this was happening.

The Norman keep with the inner bailey and forward ditch visible at the foot of the wall.

The eastern Roman wall facing out towards Portsmouth harbour with the round towers positioned along its length

The main gate on the eastern wall looking south out along the Solent

The south east corner of the wall facing towards the Portsmouth shore

The southern wall facing towards the mouth of the Solent and the Channel beyond
The view below looking from the wall line of Portchester Castle towards the modern naval dockyard illustrates its important position in the defence of the harbour.

Portsmouth Dockyard seen from the castle
Next up the final part of this series with a visit to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum at Gosport and the final touches to the Talavera 208 Orders of Battle and scenario plan as I take a much needed break here in Murcia in Spain and use the time to get ready for the first game in June.

History of Portchester Castle

1 comment:

  1. A sizeable pile of rocks. I must pay it a visit sometime.