Category Archives: Local History

The History of Fratton Park

English: Entrance to Fratton Park football sta...

Much as actors can become typecast, one of the inherent risks of a career as a historian is that you end up becoming typecast in the same manner. Of course, specialising in a subject is one thing, but on the other hand, pursuing some slightly diverse fields do show flexibility, and not only that, it keeps things interesting.

With that in mind, and inspired by recent developments with Pompey, I have been giving increasing attention to the feasibility of writing a comprehensive history of Fratton Park, and Pompey’s traumatic search for a new home. I’ve always been quite interested in football stadia – not just in a technological sense, but in the context of social history too. And if you’re looking to study the history of football stadia, Fratton Park probably gives as interesting a case as any.

The plot of land off Goldsmith avenue was originally purchased in 1898, soon after the clubs foundation. In the manner of most late 19th century grounds, a pavillion housed the dressing rooms and offices, and the other three stands were open terracing. The pitch was surrounded by a quaint white picket fence. The first main stand at Fratton was in the south west corner, the origins of the famous mock tudor entrance that is still there today. At the time, the ground was bounded by houses in Carisbrooke Road and Specks Lane, but was open on the north and west sides – parts of Portsmouth were still relatively open at the time, given that urban growth had not completely taken hold. The massive increase in shipbuilding in the dockyard, and the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-45, probably precipitated the building of more houses, which in turn hemmed in the ground. But this was certainly not unusual for the time.

In 1929 the present South Stand was built, by the famous architect Archibald Leitch, and is one of the few examples left of his work. The South Stand featured a small paddock, partly sunk below pitch level, and an upper tier housing the directors box. Sadly, the famous iron lattice work on the facade of the upper tier was covered over in the 1980’s. In 1934 the current North Stand was built, mainly by the income raised from the sale of defender Jimmy Allen. A tier of seating was placed on top of the North stand terracing, which was left largely uncovered. At some point a basic roof was placed over the Fratton End. And that is pretty much how the ground stayed for almost 50 years. In the so-called ‘boom years’ of English football, an unbelievable 51,000 packed into Fratton Park to watch an FA Cup Quarter Final with Derby County in 1949 – still a record attendance.

In the mid 1950’s, the club took the remarkably forward step of constructing one of the first pre-fabricated concrete structures in the country. The ‘old’ Fratton end – as we call it nowadays! – was a remarkable structure, and subject to quite a bit of interest in the architectural community. Unusually, the upper tier provided extra standing space, on top of the existing terraced banking. I actually attended my first football match at Fratton Park stood on the lower tier of this stand in about 1988. Sadly, the stand was condemmed shortly after due to concrete cancer. After a couple of years of dilapidation, the upper tier was taken down, leaving the ‘hump’ of the low tier as a small terrace.

With the rise of hooliganism in football, from the 1970’s onwards, the first winds of change began to blow through football stadia. Steel fences and segregation of fans were introduced. This had the effect of cutting capacity. But stadium disasters at Bradford in 1985 and Hillsborough in 1989, and the subsequent Popplewell and Taylor Reports, changed the face of football stadiums forever. Capacities were cut dramatically in the interests of safety after Bradford, and new fire escapes were introduced. But after the Hillsborough disaster capacities were cut yet further, and the steel fences were taken away. The biggest changes were motivated by introduction of all-seater stadia by 1994. With a lack of space, the club could not easily adapt Fratton to seating, and the only option was to bolt seats onto existing terracing – reducing the capacity to 15,000. Almost exactly 50 years before, the same ground had held 36,000 more people.

With the constraints of the Fratton site, the club looked at relocating to a new site at Farlington. Called Parkway, the proposal was for an exciting new stadium, similar in design to Huddersfield and Bolton’s new stadiums; a retain park, and a new train station. The plan was widely supported by most of Pompey’s fanbase and the city as a whole, but the local residents – presumably not football fans – campaigned vigorously against it. The planning application was turned down by the City Council’s planning committee, and then overturned by the full council. The application was referred to the Department of the Environment for a public inquiry, which eventually turned down the plan on the somewhat spurious basis that it would remove important grazing land for Geese. Is it possible that residents in the most affluent area of Portsmouth found an unlikely ally in these feathered migrants?

Stuck in an outdated, vintage stadium, and in financial problems, Portsmouth spent the 1990’s at Fratton Park. There was neither the will nor the financing for any kind of large scale redevelopment. Under the ownership of Terry Venables – whose name is still a swear word in these parts – the new Fratton End was built, a large single tier stand holding 4,500 seats. a roof was also put on the North Stand covering the lower tier, with the stadium having an overall capacity of 19,000. However, Venables did not put the necesarry finance in place, and the cost of these works almost bankrupted the club. But as a silver lining, the new Fratton End improved what was already a famous atmosphere. Famous nights such as a home match against Stockport in 1998, when the crowd sang continually for 90 minutes, cemented this reputation.

When Milan Mandaric bought the club out of administration in 1999, securing its medium term future, thoughts turned once again to the stadium. With the problems of relocation, the immediate plan was to rebuild a new stadium on the Fratton site, along with a retail development on the Fratton Goods Yard land that was being vacated by British Rail. Mandaric, however, dithered. He did not wish to build a large new stadium, that whilst Pompey were in the lower leagues would have swathes of empty seats. The retail development went on, leaving the football stadium behind. Meanwhile, Mandaric began looking at alternative sites, and practically every available open space in Portsmouth was mooted – from Hilsea Gasworks to Port Solent; from Tipner to King George V playing fields in Cosham; even Farlington (again!). Yet nothing happened.

When Pompey won promotion to the Premier League in 2003, Mandaric announced plans for Pompey Village – a 34,000 stadium, turned 90 degrees on the existing stadium, incorporating three new stands, and a retail and residential development. This development gained planning permission, and at one point Mandaric even demolished a wall ceremonially to mark the beginning of work. The wall was later rebuilt. Once again, Mandaric procrastinated. Nothing happened, whilst Pompey stayed in the Premier League for seven seasons, playing in one of the smallest and oldest grounds in the top flight.

Eventually Mandaric sold up to Sacha Gaydamak, without ever delivering on his promise of providing Pompey with a new home. Gaydamak did not like the Pompey Village plans, and forwarded an even more radical plan – constructing a landmark bowl (or bedpan) design on reclaimed land at The Hard. This plan, unsurprisingly, did not get off the ground, and attention shifted towards a new Stadium at land on Horsea Island in Portsmouth Harbour. Although Horsea is miles from a train station, it is close to the M275, and free from any constraints such as local residents or lack of land. However, with the clubs well documented recent problems, the Horsea plan is a distant memory and the club is fighting to survive.

It would be hard not to come to the conclusion that the lack of a large modern ground has cost Pompey dearly. With such a small capacity, and in poor facilities, it has been difficult to grow a fanbase. There are no lucrative corporate boxes, and very little commercial opportunities with a dearth of conferincing venues. A larger stadium would enable the club to cut prices, which would then encourage more to attend. Yet, Fratton Park is loved by the vast majority of Pompey fans. It plays a large part in making the club what it is, when other clubs have been transplanted into bland, soul-less bowl type meccano stadiums.

Complaints from visiting fans abound. Particularly when the Milton End didn’t have a roof. Historically, and socially, how did we go from dockies and sailors standing up on a saturday afternoon off, to cossetted fans whinging about getting wet and a lack of leg room? To what extend do these changing attitudes reflect wider society, and football’s commercialisation? Perhaps as ticket prices have gone up, we have expected more for our money. Whilst this is understandable, it has led to football – and fans – turning their back on the games heritage. I suspect, also, that we have gone soft. I can remember standing on the old open Fratton End, surrounded by weeds, with only rudimentary toilets and one solitary burger van for a couple of thousand people. And you know what? I preferred it.

Given the manner in which Portsmouth is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and its small size and island location, Horsea Island probably remains the only long term option for a new ground, alongside the option of redeveloping Fratton. The option of redeveloping Fratton, however, hinges on the possibility of resolving land ownership issues with Balram Chainrai (who holds a debenture on the ground) and Sacha Gaydamak (who owns much of the land around the stadium). Given its built up location, however, Fratton presents significant transport problems. Personally, I think that Horsea Island is probably the ‘ideal world’ option.

If a club such as Brighton can turn things around – witness their fantastic new Amex stadium at Falmer – then there is no reason not to dream that one day Pompey might not be walking out into a new home fit for such a famous club.

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Charles Dickens at 200

English: Detail from photographic portrait of ...

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If you’re into Charles Dickens there’s a hell of a lot going on in Portsmouth over the next week or so.

The City Museum in Portsmouth is hosting an exhibition, aptly-titled ‘A Tale of One City’, looking at Dickens and Dickensian Portsmouth, and exploring some themes that Dickens wrote about – poverty, money, crime, they’re all things that Charles Dickens wrote about in Victorian times and we are still faced with today. The exhibition also features part of the original manuscript of Nicholas Nickelby, the only Dickens novel which features the town of his birth, on loan from the British Library. The exhibition runs until November.

Tomorrow (Sunday 5th Feb) the Charles Dickens Birthplace is free entry all day. And on Tuesday 7 February, on the great man’s two hundredth birthday itself, the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth will be hosting special events throughout the day. There will be a range of activities and celebrations in Old Commercial Road, including street performers, musicians, food, craft activities and readings. At 10.45 the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth and Ian Dickens will speak outside the Museum, before laying a wreath. At 11.30am the Museum will open to the public. The birthplace itself is a small terraced house, so expect it to get very busy! For more information click here.

At 12 noon there will be a thanksgiving service at St Mary’s Church in Fratton, where Charles Dickens was baptised in 1812. Simon Callow and Sheila Hancock will both give readings, and there will be a performance of Songs from Oliver by the choir of St Johns RC Primary School. In the evening at the New Theatre Royal Simon Callow will be reading excerpts from his book ‘Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World’. Later in the year the Dickens Fellowship are planning to unveil a statue of the great man himself, appropriately outside Portsmouth Central Library Square.

I’ve always been a great fan of Dickens and his works. The funny thing is, I don’t actually enjoy reading the books that much – the manner in which they are written does not, I feel, lend itself well to reading from cover to cover. The books were initially serialised by chapters, in cheap popular magazines of the day. This is probably how they should be read – a bitesize chunk at a time. Or performed – I feel that it is a true testament to Dickens that his works translate so well onto screen and stage, when TV was invented almost a hundred years after he was born!

The themes, subjects and stories that Dickens wrote about are very much still relevant today. What would Dickens have to say about Bankers bonuses? or last summers riots? Or social media? That’s the funny thing about history – and social history in particular. Whilst on the surface life has changed immeasurably, actually, humankind hasn’t changed all that much.

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ANZAC #2 – Corporal John Craig

Australian Army Rising Sun hat badge used betw...

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Like most Australians to this day, many of the ANZAC’s were either descended from immigrants, or even immigrants themselves. Corporal John Craig was born in Glasgow in Scotland. Before leaving for Australia he attended public school in Glasgow, and was apprenticed to an ironmonger for two years. It appears that the whole family emigrated to Australia around 1913, as when he enlisted on 18 June 1915 his next of kin were his parents, Andrew and Margaret Craig, who lived at Killingworth, New South Wales. It is also known that Craig had been in Australia for around 2 years before he enlisted.

When he enlisted Craig was 18 years and 10 months old. He was 5 foot and 8 3/4 inches tall, and weighed 140lbs. He had a fresh complexion, with hazel eyes, brown hair, and not unusually for his scottish ancestry, was a Presbyterian. He was a natural born British subject, and worked as a lamplighter prior to enlisting. He had served for 2 years with the Citizen forces, and before that for 6 months in the senior cadets. On enlistment he was drafted to the 17th Battalion of the Australian Infantry, a New South Wales recruited unit in the 5th Australian Infantry Brigade.

On 9 August 1915 Craig left Australia, onboard the trooship HMAT Runic (A54), from Sydney. After arriving at the AIF’s base in Egypt, and a period of training, on 4 October 1915 he joined up with the 17th Battalion at Gallipoli. Like many of his comrades at Gallipoli, Craig was soon struck down with an unpleasant illness – Dysentery. On 1 December 1915 he was admitted to the Hospital Ship Dongola from ANZAC Beach. From there he was transported to the Greek Hospital in Alexandria. He was eventually discharged on 19 January 1916.

After a short period back with his Battalion at Ters-el-Kebir, on  17 March 1916 Craig embarked at Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force in France, disembarking at Marseilles on 23 March. On 30 January 1917, Craig was promoted to Lance Corporal. Not long after this, however, he was admitted to hospital on 14 March 1917 with Trench Foot. He rejoined his Battalion two weeks later on 28 March, before being quickly promoted to full Corporal on a Temporary basis on 19 April 1917.

After Eighteen months on the Western Front, on 1 September 1917 Craig was posted to England, for a well-earned ‘rest’ at the 5th Australian Traning Battalion in England. The 5th Battalion were based at Longbridge Deverill, on Salisbury Plain. Later in the war ANZAC recruits were trained in England prior to going over the Channel, with the ANZAC depot being based on Weymouth. After 6 months in England, during which Craig also attended a Gas Instructors course, he returned to his Battalion in France on 8 March 1918. He was not there long before being struck down with Trench Foot again. On 8 April he was admitted to the 20th Casualty Clearing Station, and from there to the 11th Stationary Hospital in Rouen. His case was obviously serious, for on 18 March he was shipped back to England, and admitted to the 2/1st Southern General Hospital in Dudley Road, Birmingham.

Craig was not fully fit for another 4 months, when on 2 July 1918 he was discharged from a convalescence depot to a training brigade, in order to prepare him for his return to the front line. A month later on 3 August he went to France, via Folkestone, before finally rejoining his Battalion on 10 August 1918.

Although the war only had several months left to run, there was still much serious fighting taking place in 1918. After the Germans last desparate attempt to break through had stalled, the Allies in turn began to push the Germans back towards their own borders. The ANZACS were obviously in the thick of this, for on 5 October 1918 Corporal Craig was seriously wounded. He was admitted to the 58th Casualty Clearing  Station with Gunshot Wounds in his left thigh, left chest, left arm and left hand. From there he was taken to the 47th General Hospital at Le Treport, before going back to England on 26 October. On 28 October he was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth, at Fawcett Road.

Sadly his wounds were serious, and his condition did not improve. Corporal Craig died at 4.15am on 17 November, in Portsmouth. The cause of death was given as a shrapnel round in his right thigh, and a compound fracture of the femur – wounds that differed somewhat from those described when he was first wounded. The First World War had ended six days earlier.

The actual report of Craig’s death is given below, verbatim:

Compound fracture left femur. Large wound outside left thigh just above knee fragments of femur can be seen. Another wk in hospital space healthy. Also wnd in upper and outer part of left upper arm no injury to deep structure. Same day haemorrhage occurred on the night of 15/11/1918 was plugged. Ch3 was given and wound opened up considerable amounts of haemorrhaging from which he did not recover and he died 4.15am 17/11/1918 as result of secondary haemorrhage.

Craig was buried in Milton Cemetery on 21 November 1918, in a full military funeral with a firing party, bugler, band and pallbearers, officiated by Reverend Gilmour Neil. The undertaker was Mr A.G. Stapleford, of Craswell Street in Portsmouth. Although there were no friends or family present, AIF HQ in London was represented.

His personal effects were received by his family in Australia in 1919 – 1 Jack Knife, 4 discs, 1 note book, 1 wrist watch, 1 photo case, 1 pipe, 1 fountain pen, 1 corkscrew, badges, 1 wallet, photos, postcards, letters, 1 L1/2d stamp, 2 prs sock, 1 coin, 1 purse. Also in 1919 a Miss P. Ward, from Rozelle in New South Wales, wrote to the Australian Army, asking for Craig’s relatives address, as he had been very kind to her eldest brother when he was killed, and had written to her describing how he was killed – a very touching personal story amongst the administrative details of a service record.

In 1920 Craig, along with the other Australians buried in Milton Cemetery, was exhumed and re-interred, in order to lie next to his countrymen. In a strange quirk of fate a very brave and very distinguished soldier found himself buried in the country that he had left seven years before, after sailing to the other side of the world to start a new life.

If anybody has any information about Corporal John Craig, or any of the other Australian soldiers buried in Portsmouth, please feel free to contact me.

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Tattoos – a quick social history

I went with someone to go and get a tattoo done the other day. And no, before you ask, it wasn’t on me! I actually found the process quite interesting, much nicer than having a blood test or an injection, no doubt because the environment is much nicer…

Anyway, while there I got talking to the tattooist. Much like taxi drivers and barmen, they see all sorts and hear all sorts. And we got onto the subject of how tattoos are perceived by society. We came to the conclusion that although tattoos have gone a lot more mainstream nowadays – thanks to people like David Beckham, Robbie Williams et al – there is still a stigma attached to them. People still assume that if you have a tattoo, then you must be either a criminal, a sailor, a biker or a prostitute.

Maybe it’s because I come from Portsmouth – the home of the Royal Navy – or that I’ve got a lot of friends into heavy metal, but I’ve never understood the fuss about tattoos. Someone once described it to me thus… some people go out and buy a painting and hang it on the wall. Some people, however, like to wear the ‘painting’ on them. It’s a form of expression, albeit a very commited and lasting one. And gone are the days when the black ink turned manky and green – you can see some really impressive tattoos now, it really is an artform.

It’s not surprising that Royal Navy sailors picked up the art of tattoing. It has been going on in some parts of the world for thousands of years, in particular some of the Pacific Islands. And on their travels, sailors picked up these kind of customs and made them their own. How else do we think that curry was eaten in Portsmouth, well before Indian restaurants? I would argue that in actual fact, tattoos have been part of the mainstream in Portsmouth society for hundreds of years. Many young men in Portsmouth would have had tattoos, in fact it was probably the norm, especially for sailors. And what Portsmouth’s families don’t have a sailor or two down the line somewhere? Ironically my great-grandfather, Thomas Daly, had more tattoos than any of his descendants, to my knowledge. According to his service record he sported a cross on his right forearm and dots on his left. George Cross winner Reg Ellingworth had tattoos on both arms. Colour Sergeant Frederick Bird of the Royal Marines had two dots on his left forearm. Chief Yeoman of Signals George Pankhurst had an interesting tattoo on his right arm – a bird on a branch. Apparently there were complex conventions about what tattoos represented what in the Navy – often where a person had served or what they had done.

A few years ago the Royal Naval Museum held an exhibition on the naval history of tattoos. Sadly I did not get to see it, but I’m sure it must have been pretty interesting. I’ve read plenty of stories about how young sailors would get taken to a tattooist by their ‘sea-daddy’ whilst on a run ashore, not having any choice in the matter. No less a person than King George V was tattooed in this manner – although these were never seen in public, the Steven Poliakoff drama the Lost Prince alludes to them.

So in conclusion, I think the stigma about tattoos is completely unwarranted. They have been a part of life on earth for thousands of years. Having a tattoo does not make anyone less of a person. If anything, I think that judging someone for something so trivial is, subconciously, a way of putting yourself on a pedestal by putting them down. Very sad, and very 19th Century.

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Back from oop North

Tinsley Towers and Meadowhall at Night

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Sorry about the lack of updates this weekend guys, I’ve just got back from a weekend visiting relatives in Sheffield. A special mention to Sam, Andrew, Thomas, William and of course baby Harry!

Sheffield’s a pretty interesting place… of course we all know about Sheffield steel. Sheffield was famous as a centre for metalworking as far back as Chaucer‘s writing in the 13th Century. At the confluence of two rivers – the Don and the Sheaf, and with abundant supplies of coal in the surrounding area, Sheffield was an ideal location for furnaces. And of course things got even busier in the Industrial Revolution, with people such as Henry Bessimer and Benjamin Hunstman developing new techniques of producing quality steel.

My brother summed it up quite accurately, I feel. Sheffield pretty much reflects the developments in Britain since the 1980’s. Once an industrial centre with an international reputation, the steelworks at Meadowhall were closed down, and replaced with a vast shopping complex. All very nice, but virtually all of the shops are selling goods made outside of the UK, and people are just consumers. Whats more, most of the profits go outside of the UK too. What do we actually DO nowadays? Industries such as Coal, Steel, Shipbuilding etc might have been in a  bit of a state in the 1970’s, but was it really wise to consign them to the scrapheap? Instead why not sort out the problems and become competitive? And in favour of what, becoming a nation of shopkeepers? It hasn’t changed much in recent years either, with the refusal to give a Government loan to the Forgemasters company in Sheffield, who make critical components for nuclear submarines, amongst other things.

Having said all of that, Sheffield does seem to have adapted to 21st Century Britain better than many places. And at least the acres of redundant steelworks have provided opportunities for redeveloment. At least meadowhall gives people jobs, and pulls in investment from outside the area. The World Student Games in 1991 also provided a catalyst, with the Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield Arena and Ponds Forge Swimming Centre. It’s not a coincidence that so many great athletes have come from Sheffield in the past few years.I guess Sheffield has carved out a bit of a new identity for itself, but it was a great mistake to demolish the iconic Tinsley cooling towers, alongside Junction 34 of the M1!

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My work at the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth

Around six months ago I was comissioned by Continuum, the operators of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, to provide some historical research about the Tower, Portsmouth and the surrounding area. The aim was twofold – one, to enhance the visitor experience, and two, to increase visitor numbers.

My work focused on two aspects. I researched as many interesting and enlightening statistics as I could about Portsmouth, the Harbour, the Solent and everything you could see from the viewing platforms. And on the viewing platforms itself, I worked on interpreting what exactly you can see and where, and putting the history of it all into some kind of context.

In all, from comission to hand-in the project took two weeks, working in my spare time, and included one site visit.

Some of the results can be seen below:

As you can see, the Tower’s designers have come up with some eye-catching triangle shaped graphics panels around the base of the tower, which are aimed at ‘pulling-in’ passing trade with facts and figures and pictures of sites you can see from the top of the tower.

It’s a great example of what can be done quickly and on a sensible budget, but professionally. I hope it helps increase visitor numbers for the Tower.

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Portsmouth and Southampton: the Geography of Commerce and Defence

Aerial view of Portsmouth

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One of the interesting things about living in South Hampshire, as I did until recently, is noticing that actually, Portsmouth and Southampton are pretty different. And nowhere do you notice this more than sat in the restaurant in IKEA at Southampton! Looking out across Southampton Water you can see some pretty gargantuan container ships and cruise liners. Yet at Portsmouth, naval vessels and passenger ferries dominate. What does history tell us about how this came about?

Portsmouth

Since Medieval times Portsmouth Harbour has been a key strategic port for the nation – first for the Romans and early Medieval kings at Portchester, and then Portsmouth itself at the mouth of the harbour. The basing of the kings ships there led to a growth in docking facilities, employment, supportive infrastructures, and had an impact on the local economy and demography as a whole. Knock on effects went even further – for example, the need to garrison and fortify the town, something that is often overlooked.

Obviously, with such a vested interest in the town, much of what happened in Portsmouth was controlled by the Crown, through the Government, and particularly the Admiralty and the War Office. This affected, in particular, land usage, and indeed ‘sea usage’. For example, Southsea Common was kept clear of development for so long as the War Office wanted to keep clear lines of fire between Southsea Castle and the old town fortifications. The Navy continues to maintain a vast sports complex in Portsmouth, on what would otherwise be prime development land.

This control of activity transgressed onto the sea too. The Admiralty was extremely unwilling to allow anything other than small scale use of the seas around Portsmouth – in particular the Solent and Portsmouth Harbour. There has long been a fear over allowing any activity that might impinge upon naval movements. This covered not only ships coming and going, but also facilities. Apart from the very small harbour at the Camber, the Navy controlled practically all of the shoreline in Portsmouth Harbour that could have been used for docks. Only in the 1970’s, with the decline of the Navy, did the Government relinquish land for Portsmouth’s Commercial Ferry Port.

That is not to say that there was no commercial shipping activity in Portsmouth at all – far from it. There was much small-scale trading taking place, but most of it seems to have been in the shape of goods and materials for use in the Dockyard – such as timber, pitch, hemp and tar from regions such as the Baltic. Coal was shipped in to heat buildings such as barracks. Food, in particular fish, was also landed. But it is noticeable that most of the commercial shipping was either directly connected to armed forces activity, or at least not very far removed from it. By and large, strict governmental controls on local industries rarely provide opportunities for private commerce.

One attempt to diversify Portsmouth’s industry came with the advent of the Airport, shortly after the First World War. Not only did it accomadate flying clubs and passenger services, but it also encouraged associated industries, such as the aircraft manufacturers Airspeed, famous for their Horsa Glider of World War Two fame. Yet the Airport had an ill-fated existence. From early in its lifetime the Admiralty opposed expansions to its activity, not wanting aircraft to overfly the Dockyard. A planned seaplane base in Langstone Harbour never came to fruition, and a planned airport on Farlington Marshes did not happen, thankfully. The final nail in the coffin for the Airport was when two planes crashed off the end of the runway on the same day in the early 1970’s. It was clear that the grass runways were too small, and there was no room for development on such a small site.

Fortunately,  as the Airport was declining, opportunities came up to develop commercial shipping. The draw down of the Royal Navy after the Second World War, hastened by the withdrawl from Empire and successive Defence cuts, losened the Admiralty’s grip on the Harbour area. Land became available near Stamshaw to develop a commercial port, which now handles both freight and passengers. It has become the second busiest passenger port after Dover, and imports a substantial amount of the countries fruit. The loss of the airport was more than offset by the development of commercial seaborne trade, which provides a good example of a local authority being on the ball and switching resources from a faltering investment to a growing one.

Southampton

Southampton, by contrast, had always been free from the controls of the state, and this encouraged more merchant activity than in Portsmouth. The ability to move shipping without interference from naval authorities provided much more freedom than Portsmouth. But, oddly enough, commercial activity in Southampton did not really start to take off until the early Nineteenth Century. Joseph Rankin Stebbing, an instrument maker from Portsmouth, moved to Southampton in the 1820’s. Interestingly, his father George was a very succesful businessman, but his customers were almost solely state bodies and naval and military officers.

Joseph Stebbing was a prominent Freemason and a leading member of the Chamber of Commerce, and it showed in his rapid attempts to pull the people of Southampton together and regenerate the city. The docks were extended, the railway companies were lobbied to make Southampton a key hub, and a succession of shipping companies were attracted to the city. Stebbing was very conscious that the city was stealing a march on cities such as Liverpool and Bristol by luring companies that never could definitely not have operated in Nineteenth Century Portsmouth. Business boomed, with cargo shipping and commercial passengers producing a knock on effect for the whole city. And as the state had no say in what happened in the town, entrepeneurs were free to seize on opportunities much more than their counterparts in Portsmouth.

Conclusion

It’s interesting how while the Navy and Army presence in Portsmouth has given the city its raison detre, much employment and a boost for the local industries. But it also provided something of a stranglehold on any development beyond that point. Whereas a city like Southampton has been almost completely free to go its own way. Having said that, Portsmouth has been relatively good at seizing opportunities that have come its way since the declined of the Royal Navy since the end of the Second World War. Compare the developments and diversification with the stagnation in Plymouth. Whenever naval base closures are mooted, there are howls of protest in Plymouth about the effect it will have on jobs. Pertinent, as there are few other significant industries there. In fact, one wonders what exactly Plymouth City Council has done since 1945. Whereas the city fathers in Portsmouth have at least developed the Ferry Port, developed land, and attracted new industries so the city is no longer reliant on the Dockyard to the extent that it was.

Often you will see or hear of people boasting about the liners that use Southampton. All very nice, but full of wealthy passengers, and profiting large shipping lines. Whereas Portsmouth is home to run of the mill passenger ferries, fruit carriers, and a sizeable proportion of the Royal Navy. I think it’s a good metaphor. Liners are all very nice, but warships, ferries and fruit cargo ships are a whole lot more useful.

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