Portsdown Hill is a long chalk hill in Hampshire, England. The hill is on the mainland, just to the north of Ports Creek, which separates the mainland from Portsea Island, and offers good views over Portsmouth, the Solent, Hayling Island and Gosport, with the Isle of Wight beyond.
The fortifications on Portsdown Hill were built as a result of the 1859 Royal Commission to defend Portsmouth and its dockyard from possible inland attack, the development of rifled gun barrels making it virtually possible for an invading army to land elsewhere, and circling around to the top of the hill and bombarding the city from there.
A series of six forts were planned along the six miles of the ridge and from west to east they are forts Fareham, Wallington, Nelson, Southwick, Widley and Purbrook.
Work began during the 1860’s on these defences and included the constuction of the four Solent Forts of Spitbank, St. Helen’s, Horse Sand and No Man’s Land being built. The main threat was perceived to be from Napoleon III of France, but this receded soon after the forts’ completion. As such they became known as “Palmerston’s Folly” The sea forts were designed to protect the eastern approaches to Portsmouth Harbour.
Despite never being needed for their original purpose the fortifications served very effectively as anti-aircraft gun emplacements during World War II.
Today though, Fort Fareham is a small industrial estate, Fort Wallington has been largely demolished to make way for an industrial estate, Fort Nelson has been extensively restored as an artillery museum run by the Royal Armouries. Fort Southwick was for many years an Admiralty Research Establishment, only to be sold in 2003 for housing, Fort Widley is owned by Portsmouth council, and hosts a stables and various community friendly and finally Fort Purbrook is open occasionally for craft fairs, Jazz Festivals, Beer Festivals and is also home to an activity centre which offers such activities as archery, rifle shooting and indoor rock-climbing.
One of the United Kingdom’s main naval bases, lies upon Portsea Island. It is the only island city in the United Kingdom and can claim the highest concentration of population of any city in Western Europe.
For centuries the city has been a significant naval port. Home to the world’s oldest dry dock still in use it also houses some some famous ships, including HMS Warrior, Henry VIII’s Mary Rose and Lord Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory.
Although smaller these days, the naval base remains a major dockyard and base for the Royal Navy and Royal Marine Commandos whose Headquarters continue to be based here.
There is also a thriving commercial ferry-port serving destinations on the continent for freight and passenger traffic.
The City of Portsmouth and Portsmouth Football Club are both nicknamed Pompey.