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Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle


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Portchester Castle is a medieval castle set within the walls of a 3rd century Roman fort, the most completely preserved example in Northern Europe. Today, the castle is run by the English Heritage charity organisation.

Portchester Castle history

Built during Roman times, probably in the third century AD, Portchester Castle is the country’s only example of a Roman fort whose walls still stand complete up to around six metres.

Over the centuries, Portchester Castle has been renovated and rebuilt many times and its use has altered to suit the needs of its owners. In the 11th century, parts of Portchester Castle were rebuilt into a Norman keep and in the 14th century Richard II transformed it into a palace. Like their Roman predecessor, both of these incarnations served a defensive function.

Yet, during the Napoleonic Wars, the role of Portchester Castle changed, as it became a prison for around 7,000 French prisoners of war. This change was due in large part to the reduced importance of Portchester Castle as a defensive structure following the building of the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard by King Henry VII.

Portchester Castle today

There are few attractions you can visit today that consist of a Norman church within a Roman fort. And so, whether you are crazy about the classical era or mad for medieval history the Castle has so much to offer.

Today’s visitors can take in the exhibition within the keep, which interprets the history of the castle and of the wider Portchester village. There are also a number of items on display that were found during excavations on the site. An audio tour helps explain life in the castle over the centuries.

On warm summer days, visitors can enjoy a family picnic on the lawns within the Portchester Castle walls – surrounded by history and just a stone’s throw from the water.

The keep also hosts a number of special exhibitions, featuring a diverse range of works from notable artists. Most recent was Les Murs Sont Témoins | These Walls Bear Witness – a sound installation by Elaine Mitchener which explored the lives of prisoners of war held at Portchester during the 18th century, brought to life through findings from prisoner letters, registers and staged theatricals.

Portchester Castle also hosts an array of family-friendly events thoughout the year.

Getting to Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle is on the south side of Portchester off the A27 which can be joined by exiting the M27 at Junction 11. There is free parking located just outside the castle, less than 200 metres from entrance (contains about 100 spaces and 3 coach bays).

If travelling via public transport, Portchester train station is less than a mile away from the Castle. There are direct lines to Portchester from London Waterloo and Southampton.

The bus route 3 will drop you to within 1⁄4 mile of the Castle.


A History of Portchester

Portchester is, of course, famous for its castle. It began when the Romans built a fort in the late 3rd century (the exact date is not known). At that time fierce Saxons from Germany were attacking Eastern and Southern England and the Romans built a chain of coastal forts to stop them. It is possible there were civilians living within the walls. It may have been a trading settlement as well as a fort.

However, in the 4th-century Roman civilization broke down. The last Roman soldiers left Britain in 407 AD. The Roman fort was probably abandoned sometime before the end of Roman rule.

PORTCHESTER IN THE MIDDLE AGES

After the Romans left the Saxons invaded England. About 500 AD they landed in South-East Hampshire and conquered the area. The Saxons gave Portchester its name. They called any Roman fort a ceaster. They called this one Portus ceaster. Eventually, the name changed to Portchester. The Saxons built a village at Portchester. They also erected some buildings within the old Roman fort.

In the 9th century, King Alfred the Great created a network of forts or fortified settlements across his kingdom to fight the Danes. They were called burhs. In the event of a Danish attack, all the men in each area would gather together in the local burh. Where possible Alfred used old Roman towns or forts. In the 10th century his successor, Edward the Elder, repaired the Roman fort at Portchester and turned it into a burh.

Then about the year 1120 King Henry I built a castle within the walls of the old Roman fort. The castle stimulated the growth of Portchester as the garrison was a market for the peoples’ goods. In the 13th century, Portchester grew into a tiny town. In 1294 it was given the right to hold a market and an annual fair. (In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and they attracted buyers and sellers from a wide area).

During the Hundred Years War between England and France from the middle of the 14th century to the middle of the 15th century Portchester thrived. However medieval Portchester would seem tiny to us. It probably only had a population of a few hundred.

Around the year 1128, a church was built within the walls of the Roman fort at Portchester. It was dedicated to St Mary. In 1133 King Henry I gave it to some Augustinian monks. They were led by a prior so the church became St Mary’s Priory Church. However, in the mid-12th century, the monks moved on to Southwick.

The invention of gunpowder and cannons really made Portchester Castle obsolete. (Although in the 16th century Henry VIII used the castle as an armory and during the civil war of 1642-1646 parliamentary soldiers stayed there).

Furthermore, Portsmouth Harbour silted up and Portchester ceased to be a viable port. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Portchester declined in importance. The market ceased in the early 17th century. Portchester became a quiet farming settlement.

Cornaway Lane was once just called Corn Way because grain was taken along it to be ground to flour in a mill at Wicor.

However, in the 1660s Britain fought the Dutch, and Portchester Castle was used as a prisoner of war camp for Dutch prisoners. During the 18th century, it housed Spanish prisoners. Finally, in the long wars against the French from 1793 to 1814, it housed French prisoners.

In the 19th century, there was an industry in Portchester making clay pipes for smoking. It began in 1840 and did not end until the 1930s.

Portchester railway station was built in 1848. However, it did not lead to a growth of the village’s population. During the 19th century, Portchester remained a quiet village and the population rose only slightly.

In 1870 the state began to provide education. Castle Street School was built in 1873. n In contrast to the 19th century, in the 20th century the population of Portchester exploded. It was still less than 1,000 in 1911.

However, after the First World War, it grew rapidly. Newtown was built in 1920-1922 and Portchester Methodist Church was built in 1933.

Portchester continued to grow rapidly after the Second World War. Cornaway Estate was built in the 1950s and by 1975 the population had reached 18,000.

The Catholic Church of Our Lady of Walsingham was built in 1954 and Portchester Crematorium opened in 1958.

Wicor Primary school was built, on the present site, in 1962. Northern Primary School opened in 1963 and Red Barn School opened in 1979.

Meanwhile, Portchester Precinct was created in 1975 and a war memorial clock was erected in 1976. A new library opened in Portchester in 1984.

Meanwhile Portchester Community Centre opened in 1966.

Today Portchester is largely a dormitory town, despite the fact that Castle Trading Estate was built after World War II. Many of the people who live in Portchester go to work in Portsmouth or Southampton. Meanwhile, Portchester Parish Hall opened in 2002. Portchester Business Centre opened in 2003.

Portchester Castle


Portchester Castle - History

Portchester Castle is a well-preserved example of a mainly Roman fortification, which lies on the northern shore of Portsmouth Harbour, approximately 6 miles north west of Portsmouth city itself on the southern English coast. Though in modern times this is a relatively urban area, the fortification is the oldest building in the region, and formed the traditional hub around which the village of Portchester and surrounding area were built.

The castle in its most recent form consists of an outer bailey with gates and bastions, and an inner bailey with a moat and gatehouse, palace, tower and keep. The site was originally a simple Roman fortification, though the castle was added to in phases during the Saxon and Medieval periods, and also in the seventeenth century. The original buildings have been extended many times to provide the castle that we see today.

The castle was initially constructed for defence purposes, however it has been used for many different purposes in its 1700-year history. It has been suggested that the castle was never &ldquoentirely abandoned after the collapse of the Roman Empire&rdquo (Goodall, 2006, p.29), though this suggests that there was a significant decline in the use of the castle as a fortification during this time. The castle was used again as a fortification by the Normans, and in later periods as a royal residence, and a prison after 1665.

The Thistlethwaite family, who still own part of the nearby Southwick estate, privately owned the castle from the mid 1600&rsquos until 1984 (during which time it was seized and used as a prison by the army), however today the castle is run by English Heritage and is open as a tourist attraction and a common ground for local residents.

- The Watergate from inside the Outer Bailey. (Click to Enlarge). - Today, the English Heritage flag flies high above the top of the keep. (Click to Enlarge). - The Eastern Wall, looking north. (Click to Enlarge).

The initial date of construction is not entirely certain, though it is widely agreed that construction took place in the latter part of the 3 rd century AD. Goodall suggests a date of &ldquobetween AD285 and AD290&rdquo (2006, p.25), and Cunliffe adds that there is evidence of a smaller settlement in this area before the castle, with artefacts dating back to &ldquothe middle years of the first century, A.D.&rdquo (1975, p.9), though this was more of a &ldquotemporary settlement&rdquo, making the castle the first major development in this area at the time.

Initially called &lsquoPortus Adurni&rsquo by the Romans, the castle came to receive its current name in around 501AD. As Barron explains, &ldquoPort, a Saxon warrior, captured the castle from the British and hence gave his name to the castle (Portcestre).&rdquo (1985, p. 36). Over time the spelling of this word has changed, and it wasn&rsquot until the late 1800&rsquos that the spelling &lsquoPortchester&rsquo was officially adopted (a sign within the castle grounds spells it &lsquoPorchester&rsquo). Another traditional name is also used, &lsquoCaer Peris&rsquo, which is associated with a Saxon legend of pre-Roman occupation, though this has not as yet been confirmed. [N]


Portchester Castle: The turbulent history behind the medieval castle built within a Roman fort

Since the 3rd century, Portchester was recognized as a place of strategic importance. This Roman fort was erected by Marcus Aurelius Carausisu on the command of Emperor Diocletian, most likely between 275 and 290. Portchester was one of the several forts on the Saxon Shore built to defend from pirates raids in the late Roman Empire. Nestled in the county of Hampshire, it remains one of the best preserved Roman forts north of the Alps.

At first, it was called ‘Portus Adurni’ by the Romans, while the current name originated at the beginning of the 6th century. Allegedly, Port was a Saxon warrior who captured the castle from the British, therefore giving his name to the castle, Portcestre. The spelling of the name has changed over time, and it was adopted as Portchester around the late 1800s.

Portchester Castle, view of the inner bailey

In the early 5th-century, the Romans withdrew from Britain, but it is unlikely that the site remained entirely abandoned. The 10th-century hall and tower discovered within the fort’s realm suggest its high-status as a residence during the Saxon period. In 904, Portchester went into possession of King Edward the Elder, and the fort was used in defense against the uprising Vikings.

Historians remain uncertain when the castle on site was built, but some evidence indicates that it was there by the late 11th-Century. Most likely, the castle was built by William Maudit who was a notable associate of the first Norman King of England. The exact constellation of the early castle is uncertain too, but Maudit probably created the inner ward in the northwest corner of the fort. The castle remained in the Maudit family for several generations.

Porchester castle interior

Later, King Henry II took over Portchester, and it remained under royal administration for several centuries. English historian and author, John Goodall, has written that the king regularly visited the castle, and the site took part in his dispute with Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

At the same time, the castle also found purpose as a prison for eminent people. One of them was the Earl of Leicester to whom Henry II’s sons rebelled along, supported by other barons. King John I of England also used to stay at Portchester Castle, and it was his favored hunting lodge. The king was there when he heard about the loss of Normandy in 1204.

At the beginning of the 13th-Century, Portchester served as a departure point for missions to France, as King John attempted to recover Normandy from the French king. The king’s trips to France were not very successful however, the site continued to be a frequent departure point for troops.

During the reign of Edward II (1307 – 1327), Portchester was guarded against possible invasions from the French. At this period, the establishment invested in repairments and reinforcements some facilities were remodeled, and the gatehouses were extended. Despite that, many of the castle’s buildings were reported to decay by 1335, and the south wall of the Roman fort was damaged by the sea, too.

Edward III rarely stayed at Portchester, but he used the castle to gather an army of 15,000 and leave for France on a new campaign, which ended in victory at the Battle of Crecy. This battle was the first of the three major successes of England during the Hundred Years War. Renovations proceeded in the later part of the 14th century when the sea wall was restored and royal apartments (today ruins) were added.

Moreover, it was at Portchester Castle where King Henry V learned of the Southampton Plot, a conspiracy that tended to replace the king with Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March. The king arrested three associates at Portchester and had them expected in August 1415.

This became an impressive royal residence and an ideal departure point for military campaigns on the continent – most notably Henry V’s in 1415, which culminated in his victory at Agincourt. Although increasingly overshadowed by Portsmouth, Portchester remained occupied until the 17th century, and later served as a prisoner-of-war camp until the end of the Napoleonic Wars,” further writes the English Heritage.

In the years between 1562 and 1563, the castle found new purpose as a military hospital, for those wounded in the new conflicts with the French. Under the reign of Elizabeth I, Portchester Castle was made ready for war too, as relations with Spain worsened and a Spanish invasion was speculated. By the beginning of the 17th century, the castle was back in shape, and the queen held court.

In 1632, Charles I of England sold the property to Sir William Uvedale, an English politician who occupied a seat in the House of Commons. After this point, the castle frequently worked as a prison. In 1665, there were 500 prisoners from the Second Anglo-Dutch War held at the castle. Part of them damaged the church in the outer bailey which stood unrestored for 40 years.

Back in the day: View of Portchester Castle from “Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of England & Wales” (1786)

In the 18th century, the castle was further leased from the Uvedales to jail new prisoners, this time from the War of the Spanish Succession a large European conflict triggered by the death of the infamous Spanish king, Charles II. Today’s Portchester House is the former location of the prison hospital in those days. The dead prisoners were often buried in today’s tidal mudflats, south of the castle.

After such a turbulent past, the Portchester Castle is now a peaceful venue for recreation, school trips, and exhibitions. This beautiful place is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and a Grade I list building.


A History of Portchester

Portchester is, of course, famous for its castle. It began when the Romans built a fort in the late 3rd century (the exact date is not known). At that time fierce Saxons from Germany were attacking Eastern and Southern England and the Romans built a chain of coastal forts to stop them. It is possible there were civilians living within the walls. It may have been a trading settlement as well as a fort.

However, in the 4th-century Roman civilization broke down. The last Roman soldiers left Britain in 407 AD. The Roman fort was probably abandoned sometime before the end of Roman rule.

PORTCHESTER IN THE MIDDLE AGES

After the Romans left the Saxons invaded England. About 500 AD they landed in South-East Hampshire and conquered the area. The Saxons gave Portchester its name. They called any Roman fort a ceaster. They called this one Portus ceaster. Eventually, the name changed to Portchester. The Saxons built a village at Portchester. They also erected some buildings within the old Roman fort.

In the 9th century, King Alfred the Great created a network of forts or fortified settlements across his kingdom to fight the Danes. They were called burhs. In the event of a Danish attack, all the men in each area would gather together in the local burh. Where possible Alfred used old Roman towns or forts. In the 10th century his successor, Edward the Elder, repaired the Roman fort at Portchester and turned it into a burh.

Then about the year 1120 King Henry I built a castle within the walls of the old Roman fort. The castle stimulated the growth of Portchester as the garrison was a market for the peoples’ goods. In the 13th century, Portchester grew into a tiny town. In 1294 it was given the right to hold a market and an annual fair. (In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and they attracted buyers and sellers from a wide area).

During the Hundred Years War between England and France from the middle of the 14th century to the middle of the 15th century Portchester thrived. However medieval Portchester would seem tiny to us. It probably only had a population of a few hundred.

Around the year 1128, a church was built within the walls of the Roman fort at Portchester. It was dedicated to St Mary. In 1133 King Henry I gave it to some Augustinian monks. They were led by a prior so the church became St Mary’s Priory Church. However, in the mid-12th century, the monks moved on to Southwick.

The invention of gunpowder and cannons really made Portchester Castle obsolete. (Although in the 16th century Henry VIII used the castle as an armory and during the civil war of 1642-1646 parliamentary soldiers stayed there).

Furthermore, Portsmouth Harbour silted up and Portchester ceased to be a viable port. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Portchester declined in importance. The market ceased in the early 17th century. Portchester became a quiet farming settlement.

Cornaway Lane was once just called Corn Way because grain was taken along it to be ground to flour in a mill at Wicor.

However, in the 1660s Britain fought the Dutch, and Portchester Castle was used as a prisoner of war camp for Dutch prisoners. During the 18th century, it housed Spanish prisoners. Finally, in the long wars against the French from 1793 to 1814, it housed French prisoners.

In the 19th century, there was an industry in Portchester making clay pipes for smoking. It began in 1840 and did not end until the 1930s.

Portchester railway station was built in 1848. However, it did not lead to a growth of the village’s population. During the 19th century, Portchester remained a quiet village and the population rose only slightly.

In 1870 the state began to provide education. Castle Street School was built in 1873. n In contrast to the 19th century, in the 20th century the population of Portchester exploded. It was still less than 1,000 in 1911.

However, after the First World War, it grew rapidly. Newtown was built in 1920-1922 and Portchester Methodist Church was built in 1933.

Portchester continued to grow rapidly after the Second World War. Cornaway Estate was built in the 1950s and by 1975 the population had reached 18,000.

The Catholic Church of Our Lady of Walsingham was built in 1954 and Portchester Crematorium opened in 1958.

Wicor Primary school was built, on the present site, in 1962. Northern Primary School opened in 1963 and Red Barn School opened in 1979.

Meanwhile, Portchester Precinct was created in 1975 and a war memorial clock was erected in 1976. A new library opened in Portchester in 1984.

Meanwhile Portchester Community Centre opened in 1966.

Today Portchester is largely a dormitory town, despite the fact that Castle Trading Estate was built after World War II. Many of the people who live in Portchester go to work in Portsmouth or Southampton. Meanwhile, Portchester Parish Hall opened in 2002. Portchester Business Centre opened in 2003.

Portchester Castle


Les Murs Sont Témoins | &ldquoThese Walls Bear Witness&rdquo at Portchester Castle

Editors&rsquo Note: This is one in a series of posts about the intersection of archives and public history that will be published throughout October, or Archives Month in the United States. This series is edited by National Council on Public History (NCPH) board member Krista McCracken, [email protected] affiliate editor Kristin O&rsquoBrassill-Kulfan, and NCPH The Public Historian co-editor/Digital Media Editor Nicole Belolan.

The twelfth-century Portchester Castle on the English south coast held thousands of French prisoners of war during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic campaigns of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, most notably over 2,000 black revolutionaries and their families from the Caribbean. Internationally renowned sound artist and musician Elaine Mitchener worked with researchers from the University of Warwick to bring some of the remarkable stories of the prisoners of war to life through a sound installation housed in the castle&rsquos keep for six months in 2019. This post explores how that collaboration worked and the ways in which archival materials were brought into dialogue with the physical spaces in which the prisoners of war were held.

Many of prisoners-of-war from the Caribbean were incarcerated in Portchester Castle&rsquos twelfth-century keep. Photo credit: Katherine Astbury

Prisoners of war are considered a phenomenon of the large-scale wars of the twentieth century . B ut during the Revolutionary Wars with France (1793-1802) and the campaigns against Napoleonic France (1803-1815), Britain witnessed a surge in the numbers of prisoners of war being brought to the country. The prisoners were housed in existing prisons or purpose-built locations, such as Dartmoor, or incarcerated in repurposed buildings such as Portchester Castle.

Portchester had two main waves of prisoners, the first in 1796-97 when prisoners of war from the Caribbean arrived, and the second in 1810 when Napoleonic army conscripts captured by the Spanish were shipped to Britain. The lives, identities, and race of the prisoners received little attention before 2017 when English Heritage, who manages the site at Portchester, unveiled a new exhibition in the keep on the castle as a prisoner-of-war depot. The research for the 2017 reinterpretation was conducted by curator Abigail Coppins, whose work focused on the 2,000 black revolutionaries, and by academics from the University of Warwick, Professor Katherine Astbury and PhD student Devon Cox, who were funded by the UK&rsquos Arts and Humanities Research Council to look at the French Theatre built by Parisian prisoners on the ground floor of the keep in 1810.

The 2017 interpretation included a recreated theatre and costumes for the dressing-up box inspired by photographic prints of costumes from performances that the prisoners would have seen in Paris before they were conscripted. The space also included information panels and audio recordings of letters and reports about the conditions and daily lives of the prisoners. A performance of a three-act melodrama, Roseliska, written and performed by the prisoners of war in 1810, marked the launch of the new permanent exhibition. The melodrama was performed by a cast from Past Pleasures, the UK&rsquos oldest professional costumed interpretation company and freelance professional musicians. The melodrama manuscript had survived in papers belonging to the commander of the prison, Captain Charles Paterson, which were deposited in the Victoria & Albert Museum theatre collection in 2011.

There are very few surviving scripts from full-length POW plays of the Napoleonic period. A second, Le Philantrope révolutionnaire ou Hécatombe à Haiti [The Revolutionary philanthropist], first performed in 1807 on board one of the prison hulks out in the bay and copied in 1811, is held in the archives at the University of California, Berkeley. This manuscript script would be the catalyst for the sound installation at Portchester Castle. Written from the perspective of the white colonists, it is nevertheless unusual for an early, written eyewitness account of the slave uprising in Haiti in 1793 because it gives voice to the slaves. For instance, the leader of the rebel army in the woods, Spartacus, rallies his troops with the rejoinder: &lsquoSongez à l&rsquoétat de dégradation dans lequel vous gémissez, et ne voyez dans l&rsquoavenir que la perspective d&rsquoune indépendance qu&rsquoil ne sera plus au pouvoir des blancs de ravir&rsquo [Remember the humiliating state you are forced to endure, see nothing in your future but your independence, an independence that the whites will never be able to seize back]. The play explores the fear of change and of violence at the heart of individual responses to revolution and questions of what it means to be free. It was also a point of intersection between the exhibition panels on the black revolutionaries who were at Portchester in 1796-97 and the theatre-performing prisoners of the following decade.

Abigail Coppins and I approached acclaimed vocal artist Elaine Mitchener, whose work, SWEET TOOTH, had recently completed a UK tour. SWEET TOOTH uses sound art and live performances to explore the legacies of the slave trade of sugar between the UK and the Caribbean. It included a chapter entitled &ldquoNames&rdquo inspired by an 1813 inventory of slaves held in the Jamaica Archives in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and transcribed by Dr. Christer Petley (University of Southampton). We felt that with this experience of turning archives into art, Elaine would be the ideal artist to create a piece of art to help the castle walls bear witness to this period of historic interest and in so doing explore what slavery means in Britain today.

The installation was designed for the walls to &ldquotalk&rdquo and bring the stories of the individuals housed at Portchester more clearly into focus. The installation uses extracts from the play Le Philantrope révolutionnaire ou Hécatombe à Haiti, the entry registers of prisoners&rsquo names held in the UK National Archives, and letters from and about some of the women who were among the revolutionaries brought from St Lucia and St Vincent in 1796-97. Visitors are not bombarded with the recordings as background noise but have to seek out the recordings in nooks and crannies because Elaine wanted visitors to have to listen actively rather than passively. This did pose problems for the hard of hearing, particularly when the castle was busy and, in hindsight, it would have been good to have had a digital version available via an app so that individuals could adjust the volume themselves. Much of the archival material was recorded in the original French as well as in English translation with French Caribbean accents. It was important for visitors to have a direct experience of the sounds of the French language in a space now seen as quintessentially part of British heritage as it serves as a powerful reminder of global encounters and interactions taking place during the Age of Revolutions. In her programme notes to the installation, Elaine explained her concept for it: &ldquoI wanted to create a piece which shows that under the most challenging circumstances humankind has the ability to maintain their humanity in creative ways. This exhibition attempts to draw visitors into the physical space and, through sound, engage with it in a focussed and intimate way.&rdquo

Speakers for the sound installation hanging amongst seagulls from the permanent exhibition. Photo credit: Katherine Astbury

At the heart of the installation lay fundamental questions about human rights, discrimination, identity, and the power of culture to overcome national differences. The lives of the black prisoners allow us to move beyond traditional narratives of the enslaved as victims to celebrating black agency: they were revolutionaries who actively opposed the British, their actions paved the way for emancipation and abolition. The installation touches on issues as much of relevance today as back then and brings visitors into contact with archival material such as letters, registers, and play texts in a much more immediate way than if these documents had been reproduced in facsimile or transcribed and presented on a panel.

By using the castle keep&rsquos architecture to full advantage, the sound installation has brought visitors closer to the experiences of those held at Portchester over 200 years ago: a speaker in the internal well allows music to be heard in the theatre standing in one of the medieval fireplaces brings a speech about freedom into earshot, Gwo Ka drumming brings rhythm to the rooms. The archival material has gained relevance and an immediacy in the ways in which it reverberates around the stone walls. We are now looking to export the installation to other spaces connected to the prisoners in France where they were sent on release from Portchester and in the Caribbean to where many of them returned to continue the struggle for emancipation and political freedom. As researchers, it has led us to see the archival material in a new light. It has provided a stimulus for school pupils to create their own artistic works on the prisoners and feedback from visitors has confirmed that &ldquoit added real, immersive value, and showed a unique perspective to the castle&rsquos history.&rdquo

Katherine Astbury is Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick. Her research focuses French culture 1750-1815 and the ways in which cultural forms inflect the public sphere and shape political legitimacy.


Contemporary accounts paint a colourful picture of life in Portchester Castle prison

A fascinating account comes from Captain Fraboulet, a medical representative on board the captured French East Indian frigate the Astree. He reported that provisions at Porchester Castle were good, except for the small beer, which he thought very weak and liable to cause a ‘flux’ of the blood. He managed to get it strengthened but was still unhappy with parts of the prisoners diet. He wanted the provision of raw fruit and salted fish banned and withdrew the King’s Bounty (the small amount of money paid out by the French monarch to each prisoner) from the ill as he thought they were purchasing unwholesome food.

Plan of Portchester Castle 1793

He rebuked the Porchester Castle authorities for the lack of hospital accommodation, there was no hospital within the castle itself. The sick were either transported to Fareham hospital, a sorry wooden affair on the muddy foreshore of the river or to Forton, some seven miles away alongside pitted and muddy roads, many not surviving the journey.

In 1784, Portchester castle was properly set up as a war prison, the moat was cleared and filled with water and the keep divided into five stories with accommodation for 8,000 prisoners. The large tower housed 1200 to 1500 men and there were nine barracks containing 500 men a piece.

Although it was a tough prison, most records show that there was no outward brutality shown towards those captured here, although a fair share of murders and attempted murders between prisoners themselves and those guarding them took place.


A Bit About Britain

People are walking their dogs around the ancient walls of Portchester Castle. A cricket match is taking place on the green. Some scruffy kids run up and down the ditch outside, whooping. Anglers drape their lines optimistically into Portsmouth Harbour and gaze at passing ships with the old Royal Navy dockyard beyond. It’s a peaceful scene.

Take them all away and turn the clock back 1700 years. It is the 3 rd century AD and Britain, the most northerly province of the Roman Empire, is under attack. The Romans construct a fort at Portchester, most likely called Portus Adurni, possibly on the site of an earlier settlement. It has a commanding position at the head of a natural harbour, and is one of a chain of nine coastal forts strategically placed from Norfolk to Hampshire to defend the Saxon Shore from Germanic raiders. This part of the Empire was under the military command of the Count of the Saxon Shore. But, 200 years later, Roman rule had gone. And, ultimately, the ancestors of those German raiders settled this part of what is now south east England.

We don’t know what happened at Portchester during those troubled years. Probably, it was occupied by a local leader during the later Saxon period. The place has had a chequered history, at various times falling into disrepair but the impressive walls of the original fort remain as the most complete Roman walls in northern Europe. 700 years or so after the Romans, the Normans built a castle inside the fort. King John was a frequent visitor to Portchester Castle and used it as a royal pad when hunting in the nearby Forest of Bere. It was captured, briefly, by the French in 1216 and re-taken the following year. A century later, in anticipation of further French attacks, it was extensively repaired during the reign of Edward II. Richard II built a palace inside its walls. Portchester Castle was the assembly point for English military expeditions to France, including the campaigns of Edward III which led to the Battle of Crecy (1346) and Henry V’s invasion which led to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and, ultimately, the Treaty of Troyes in 1420.

The importance of Portchester declined during the 15 th century as the town of Portsmouth, 6 miles to the south east, grew into one of England’s preeminent naval bases. The Castle was subsequently used as a hospital and a prison during the wars with Holland and France.

In 1760, more than 3,000 people were held captive at Portchester. During the Napoleonic Wars, some 7,000 French prisoners of war were incarcerated inside the Castle’s keep and these poor souls have left much evidence of their experience of British hospitality – including wall paintings and graffiti. Apparently, the bones of those that died and were buried in the nearby mud-flats occasionally surface in the ebbing tide. Needless to say, the place is haunted – allegedly – but by a horse that gallops, riderless, across the castle before disappearing into the walls.

St Mary’s church stands inside the castle. Built in 1120, it was originally part of an Augustinian priory. Almost all that the monks have left to see is – and children will love this – the chutes from their lavatories, built into the Roman walls.

During the early 19 th century, part of the keep was used as a theatre and there are some interesting wall paintings from this period.

You’ll find Portchester Castle at the end of the originally named Castle Street, passing through the village of Portchester with its charming 18 th and 19 th century buildings. To get there, take the infinitely less attractive A27 between Portsmouth and Fareham and follow the sign from a small traffic roundabout. Bring a picnic, your dog, fishing rod – or cricket bat.

Finally and incidentally, neighbouring Portchester to the east is Paulsgrove, a large residential area that was developed to help solve Portsmouth’s housing crisis in the wake of World War Two bombing. There’s an unlikely local tradition that it got its name because St Paul landed there it was Palsgrove in the 19th century.


Portchester Castle - History

Only open at certain times

ortchester Castle was a significant fort in Roman times and has remained in good condition because of its continued use over the years. It stands on the shore near Portsmouth harbour and is rectangular in shape. Unlike the other Roman forts on the south coast where silting up of the surrounding land has occurred such as at Pevensey, Portchester has remained near the coastline. In around 1120 Henry I built a medieval castle within the walls of the Roman castle repairing the existing walls, building gates and constructing a large square keep in keeping with the fashion of the time. Extra walls were added in the north-west corner to create an enclosure surrounded by a small moat. In 1133 a small Augustinian Priory was built in the outer bailey and the remains of the church can still be visited.

The castle was in a convenient position for royal parties to stay at when preparing to travel across to Normandy and both Henry II and Richard II made improvements to it during their reigns. But Portchester Castle lost its status as an important Royal residence in the reign of King John when the castle was almost destroyed after being captured by the Dauphin Louis in 1217 and Portsmouth became the favoured departure point to Normandy, rather than Portchester. In more recent times the castle was used a prison during the Napoleonic Wars when French soldiers were held there.

At the heart of Portchester is the massive keep and inner bailey located in the north west corner of the castle. All of this was built by the Normans long after the castle was abandoned by the Romans. The two storey building range to the north and directly opposite you as you enter the inner bailey is the residence of the constable of the castle. When the King, Queen or Lord was not in residence, the constable was the most important person in the castle.

The two ranges of buildings attached directly to the large keep, to the west and south of the inner bailey were built by King Richard II during the last five years of the fourteenth century, just before his death. Rooms in the west range were for use by the royal party when they stayed at the castle and included a large room on the upper floor known as the Great chamber. The southern range contained a large hall for dining and kitchens. A porch on the southern range provided access to the dining hall and the royal appartments beyond.

The outer bailey has a main road that runs the length of the castle from the landgate in the west wall to the Watergate in the east wall. In Roman times the buildings within this area would have been made of wood and with all the changes that occurred over the centuries no traces of them remain. In Saxon and later medieval times other buildings were constructed and pulled down and the land used for farming.||In the south east corner of the outer bailey is the church of St. Mary. The church was part of an Augustinian monastery that existed for a short period on the site before being moved a couple of miles to the north at Southwick.

In the reconstruction below the outer bailey has been divided up into several areas showing how the area may have been used. It may have had an area for growing crops and raising animals. Being self-contained and having fresh food within a castle was a great advantage if the castle was besieged by enemy forces. Portchester Castle was a place where troops came together before being shipped over to Normandy and France in times of war. The inner bailey was too small to hold all of the troops so the outer bailey was used to house them while they waited.


Is Portchester Castle Haunted?

The most haunted area of Portchester castle has to be the church. Built in the 12th century the church would have seen countless weddings, holy ceremonies and burials, and seems to have held onto a couple of spirits from this time.

One of the most commonly encountered is that of a woman dressed all in black, who has been seen bending over one of the grave stones. The second is that of a monk, who's apparition has been witnessed walking around the outside of the castle wall on the corner where the church is. People who claimed to have seen him say he fades away if you watch him for long enough, and he is always seen at a distance, never when people are on the waterfront. Also he is said to give off a very friendly vibe, with no one claiming to have ever felt scared while gazing upon him.

The courtyard is said to have its own ghostly rider, who has been described as most probably being from the Civil war ear, who has been seen and heard trotting through the central path of the castle.

Apart from these there are a few others, with stories about the ghosts of prisoners and a few apparitions in the keep, but these are no were near as commonly reported as the above three.


Watch the video: Driving by Port Chester,New York (June 2022).


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