Portsmouth and Southampton: Chalk and Cheese

Having just watched Pompey demolish the scummers 4-1 today, I could not let the day pass without talking about the massive difference between Portsmouth and Southampton. I would argue that you will not find two cities so close yet so different in every way possible. As someone who has studied the difference between the two cities in detail, I find it difficult to understand why people cannot see why we simply don’t like each other!

Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy, and has been for hundreds of years. Until the past 20 years, everyone and everything in Portsmouth has been about the Navy – menfolk either joined the Navy or worked in the Dockyard. The whole ethos of Portsmouth was built around training young men to go out into the world and fight. All this shows in Portsmouth culture – after all, only Portsmouth could have a main street called ‘The Hard’. The city is overwhelmingly working class. It has often been described as a northern working class town plonked on the south coast, and I think that is very accurate both in the city’s culture and its appearance. In a city where most if not all of the industries are controlled by the state, there have been few opportunities for private commerce and as a result no chance for a large middle class to develop. That social structure exists to this day. Also, Portsmouth is an island: and that is reflected in the sometimes insular attitude that pervades.

Southampton is the home of the British cruise liner industry, and also a signficant container port. It has always been a merchant town, principally built around the opportunies to make money. Therefore there has always been a bigger middle class. Look at the amount of and size of the shops in Southampton compared to Portsmouth. Southampton also seems that much more rural, as it is very close to the New Forest and is surrounded by Countryside. Perhaps more gentile than Portsmouth, Southampton seems more laidback and relaxed. The story about Southampton dockers crossing picket lines in the 1930’s seems to be an urban myth, it does to fit in with the mentalities of both cities. The other myth about Portsmouth smelling like fish is, to be totally frank, totally rubbish. We’ve got a tiny fishing port at the Camber – hardly Billingsgate or Grimsby!

So clearly, the cities have very little in common, apart from the fact that they are on the sea. Tension between the cities is not a new thing, for hundreds of years there has been a rivalry. To pretend otherwise is to not only ignore history, but to try and rewrite it – something I’m not very keen on. I would suggest that whether right or wrong, people in Portsmouth don’t have much time for the city up the road. This isn’t just about city rivalry, its also about Portsmouth’ place in Hampshire. Right on the cusp, I doubt few Portsmouth people think of themselves as citizens of Hampshire. Interesting how in the 1987 general election campaign Docker Hughes’s manifesto included proposals to take Portsmouth out of Hampshire.

Mind you, he also wanted to introduce duty-free on the Gosport ferry!



Filed under Local History, maritime history, social history

22 responses to “Portsmouth and Southampton: Chalk and Cheese

  1. honey pott

    very true indeed,

    Southampton is much classier and more laid back.

    IF SAINTS FANS AND POMPEY FANS FIGHT, THE SAINTS FANS START RUNNING. I think it is also has to do with the green spaces, and the fact SOuthampton has a lot of middle class housing i.e Chilworth, basset upper shirley, portswood (30 years ago) and maybe Highfield. Yet in portsmouth I cant think of one.

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