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Other stuff around Portsmouth: Family past and present

As I’ve mentioned once or twice, Portsmouth featured prominently in our itinerary because of dad’s origins. His dad was born there and lived there until late in his teens when he moved to New Zealand. My grandfather had a few sisters and as a result, dad has several English cousins who materialised only in recent decades.

During our week in and around Portsmouth we saw all and met all we could with a tie to dad’s family.

Meeting up with dad’s cousins Ray, Rosie & Helen at the Churchillian pub on Portsdown Hill in Portsmouth. We must be related – we’re (mostly) all tall!

Mum and dad with cousin Helen in the cafe with the best views in Portsmouth

Me, dad and Helen during a visit to an old family church at Farley Chamberlayne

Dad and more first cousins who we met in the gounds of Portchester Castle

The Porchester Castle meeting place was also handy to the parish church of St Mary, which held significance for dad’s cousins

Dad and his cousin David visiting his parents’ memorial plaque

My great grandfather was a Royal Marine for 18 years

He was based here at the barracks in Eastney, now home to the Royal Marines Museum and private residential apartments

One of the navy ships he worked on, the HMS Victory, one of the main attractions at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

He also worked on the HMS Illustrious.

Dad at his grandparents’ grave. Two of his aunties are also buried there

My great grandfather was only 46 when he died

My great grandma stuck around another 30 years

Dad’s dad lived in this street in Southsea when he was born

When my great grandfather died he left six children, my grandfather being the eldest and the only boy. He emigrated from England on his own as a teenager under a scheme which was to have seen his sisters and mother eventually join him. However for various reasons that never happened and he never saw his family again. Happily though he met my grandmother and they proceeded to have 10 children, who produced 24 grandchildren (voila, me!).

My grandparents. Unfortunately my grandfather died before I was born

I’m sure my grandparents would have been blown away if they could have seen this gathering of their descendents in March 2011

When we left Portsmouth for London that was the end of the family history theme of the trip. It was this theme that prompted me to travel around with my parents for a month, particularly as mum has collected so much information about who-what-where-when. Between her ancestral ties with Cornwall, dad’s with Hampshire and going to these places, have to say I’m pretty happy with my English roots and my decision to have gone on the trip.

Family portrait of sorts in the pub (how English!)

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Other stuff around Portsmouth: Portchester Castle

Our stay in Hampshire was drawing to a close and the day before we left we had arranged a couple of catch-ups with some of dad’s cousins.

One was picnic lunch at Portchester Castle. I still wasn’t bored with castles, ruins and so forth (unlike a certain male member of my family) so I was keen.

The castle is a landmark you can see for miles, situated out of Portsmouth but at the head of Portsmouth Harbour, and within the walls of a former Roman fort.

It’s a large space, with the castle in one corner, a church in the opposite corner, and loads of green space in between. Entry into the complex is free though the castle is managed by English Heritage and has an entry fee.

There was time to race through the castle/bailey before the others arrived and I excused myself a little later to continue.

The fort probably dates to the 3rd century and the castle came long in the 11th century. It was a royal residence and fortress for a few centuries and later served as a prison during several wars

The moat originally encircled the castle both inside and outside the Roman walls.

Part of the moat was remodelled in the 18th century as a swimming pool for prisoners, before being changed to its current statue in the 1920s

The inner bailey or courtyard of the castle

The tower, or keep, with ruins of another building in front

Remains of wall murals in a room inside the castle used as a theatre

Narrow winding staircase within the castle – not a big fan of confined spaces so I didn’t exactly love this

View from the top, this angle takes in the parish church of St Mary. I don’t do heights easily so I crept around the edge, juggling my firm grip on the barrier with my camera and making sure my skirt didn’t shoot up to the heavens courtesy of the strong winds

Originally there was a gate in the middle of each of the walls of the Roman fort. Shown here along the west wall, heading inland, is the appropriately named Landgate. On the opposite wall, nearest the water, is the Watergate. Simplicity eh?

That would be my father, acting up for the camera

Picnic lunch with dad’s cousins

In the grounds of St Mary’s, the church in the corner of the castle grounds

Other stuff around Portsmouth: Spinnaker Tower heebie jeebies

After our jaunt around Southsea we went downtown to Gunwharf Quay. Now a big shopping mall with viewing tower, the gunwharf began life in the 1660s and was where guns were fitted into the warships built at the adjacent dockyard. After more than 300 years service to the military it was flagged for disposal.

We were here to meet dad’s cousin and go up the Spinnaker Tower for some views over Portsmouth. It was another beautiful day so it was going to be a bit more successful than when Mike and I went to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Designed and named for the Portsmouth’s maritime heritage, the tower opened in 2005 and I think is a great asset for the city.

The Spinnaker Tower during our dockyard boat tour the day before

The first viewing deck with that quintessential masochistic observation tower experience: the glass floor. Solid and perfectly safe, they say, come walk on it. I don’t think so

So this is about as ‘brave’ as I get – and this was enough to give me surging pangs of anxiety in my legs

Looking down to the dockyard

Ferries run continually between the Isle of Wight, France and Spain

I mistimed seeing a hovercraft at close quarters earlier in the day, though one did zoom in while I had a grandstand view

There was a cafe and I liberated a cupcake from its fancy counter display (setting it free into my tummy)

I finished studying the views and headed back down. There were shops, many shops, and it would be rude to leave without getting better acquainted with them.

Other stuff around Portsmouth: Southsea

The day after we went to the Royal Marines Museum we returned to Southsea as there were other things that we (or I at least) wanted to go back and see…

Dad and I visited the D-Day Museum

A couple of tanks are displayed on the roadside out front – quite the head turner as you drive past

First some lunch in the cafe before mum left us to it

Flags outside the museum

The old defences blend in with seaside life today

A waterfront walkway is one of the best assets a city can have I reckon

Sea wall. Not sure if the many rows of steel ‘rungs’ were used back in the day to assist transiting between water and land, or perhaps they’re just reinforcing

One of four sea forts built in the Solent, the strait between the English mainland and the Isle of Wight. They were never used for their designed purpose. Three are now owned by a company which is developing two as luxury accommodation and one a museum

A seaside rotunda

Southsea Castle is a fortress built in the 1500s cos King Henry VIII wanted it

The castle’s dry moat

The lighthouse is a relatively recent addition

Southsea Beach, a pebbly affair, with the pier in the background

The South Parade Pier, still going strong despite three big fires over the years. It became a er ‘pleasure pier’ (as the website calls it) in the early 1900s

Further along beside Clarence Pier is this plaque and also the depot for the Isle of Wight hovercraft, though naturally none obliged to hover in onto the beach while I stood around

Swans on Canoe Lake, real ones and your classic pedal boat variety

I do love a good line up of changing sheds

We visited the Royal Marines Museum the day before but this time the Yomper was wearing a flag. Love this statue

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (& more ships than you can shake a stick at)

After finishing up at the Royal Marines Museum we made a beeline for the Historic Dockyard, located on the large Portsmouth naval base.

The dockyard is a big deal in these parts and is regarded as the home of the Royal Navy. We weren’t going to be able to see and do everything but we had a shortlist of priorities. Three of the most famous warships in history are now safely tucked up here, and we were especially keen to visit one that had been discovered to have a link with my great grandfather.

So for me the afternoon had two main highlights.

1. Harbour tour

This was excellent, not too long and plenty to see. Sitting on the outside deck we were taken alongside the dockyard and base to see many of the ships berthed there. Quite a number seemed to be either out of service or not far from it and the captain’s commentary rued the gradually diminishing naval fleet.

A collection of anchors, the HMS Warrior and the Spinnaker Tower as seen when heading down to join the queue for the harbour tour

An impressive line-up of big grey boats – and there was plenty more to come

Mum and dad enjoying the jaunt around the harbour

New aircraft carrier hull on a barge ready to leave Portsmouth

Within a day or so of our visit this enormous section of ship, part of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, left Portsmouth for Scotland where it will be assembled.

The aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, due to be retired in a couple of years

The HMS Bristol and some of her crew

2. Tour of the HMS Victory

The Victory is a bit of an old girl, having been commissioned in the 1770s. She had a long life before arriving in the dockyard in the 1920s. Of particular interest to us, my great grandfather’s time in the Royal Marines included a stint aboard the Victory. That she has been restored and opened to the public is fantastic. The ship is in dry dock and was undergoing some outer restoration at the time of our visit.

HMS Victory

Just a tad fancier than navy ships these days

Me and dad

I wondered what these are… they are fire buckets, which makes sense on a big wooden boat. I think they’d make pretty good ice buckets too!

A place for naughty sailors… and fathers

Good view down to another of the dry docks where a smaller ship is also undergoing restoration. This is M33 which amazingly was involved in the Gallipoli campaign and is one of only two British warships still around which date back to WW1

Mum and I looked through all eight decks – there didn’t seem to be enough space for a full crew of over 800 men. Maybe they were quite small

Big rope pile on one of the decks – having once worked for a rope manufacturer I feel expertly qualified to provide profound captions on such matters

There’s plenty more going on at the dockyard though we limited further explorations to general walking around and shop browsing. Plus a visit to the museum of the very very historic Mary Rose, but for me this was less interesting.

Dockyard buildings

A fair treasure trove of caps at one of the dockyard gift shops. I did contemplate the white captain’s hat for Mike, as they’ve been a source of amusement since we first saw them in Venice, but unluckily for him it was a bit too expensive

Victory Gate, the main entry into the dockyard

While mum and dad finished their wandering I waited outside the main gate where there were more views of the third famous ship, the HMS Warrior. We forewent a tour due to our time constraints but she was certainly majestic to look at from afar.

And that was that. I’d definitely go back to the dockyard if I ever return to Portsmouth.

A family connection with the Royal Marines Museum

My great grandfather was a Royal Marine. I only learned of this on the trip and have to say I did a double take. I am proud that my father is an ex-serviceman and I may well have joined the army myself if not for my asthma. So to learn that there is another family association with the defence forces was a great surprise.

Frederick Grace, my dad’s dad’s dad, was based at the Royal Marines Barracks at Eastney in Portsmouth.

With the way of the world and the inevitable rationalisation of military installations, this site no longer serves its original purpose. But it does house the Royal Marines Museum which we visited.

It’s an interesting drive along the coastal road to get there, a few miles away from downtown Portsmouth. About half way there you also find the D-Day Museum which we saved for another day.

If you turn off the coastal road you go around the back where the original entry to the barracks was.

But coming in from the Esplanade to the museum entry you get an impression of the impressively large grounds where much of the original site seems to remain. The accommodation buildings have been converted into private dwellings and the museum is located in the officers’ mess.

As you’d expect, there are several outdoor exhibits but the most time was spent inside the museum (where photos weren’t allowed). I found the old film clips especially interesting.

I really enjoyed this visit. We finished off with lunch in the Quartermaster’s Kitchen cafe and then had to get cracking – the Historic Dockyards beckoned.

A hurried snap out the car window… this was the main gate to Eastney Barracks

The Eastney Barracks in 1902 (photo of a photo)

This chap stands at the museum entry

Across the road is Southsea Beach and the English Channel

Royal Marine Corps colours

The old Eastney Barracks and grounds

The museum is located in the old officers’ mess

Me, dad and cannon

The barracks have been converted to private apartments

Parade ground in front of the museum and the old barracks

A first peek at Portsmouth

Day one in Hampshire was a low key affair and after a lazy morning we had a fairly leisurely expedition into Portsmouth.

As mentioned, dad’s dad came from Portsmouth hence our reason for loitering in the area. Dad still has a few cousins in England, several of whom he hadn’t met, but the one he knows best lives locally. We picked Helen up from her place and ventured out for a late lunch.

Sunday roast for lunch (when in Rome and all that) at a pub in the Bere Forest area on our way in to Portsmouth

It was a slightly hurried affair. A gypsy fair was being staged in nearby Wickham the following day with many of them arriving that day, which prompted police to advise local establishments to close mid-afternoon on account of the trouble that may otherwise arise. That teensy observation of how cultures adapt to each other was quite interesting.

We drove on to Portsmouth, specifically the original historic part of the city known as … Old Portsmouth. (Can you see what they did there?) We parked and wandered along the waterfront.

A series of memorials for things such as the Falklands conflict and an expedition that circumnavigated our dear neighbour Australia

The Round Tower, part of Portsmouth’s first permanent defences, flanked by what was the Eighteen Gun Battery

Inside the Round Tower – me with dad and his cousin

Great walkway along the old wall defences

The lay of the land in this part of the world is a bit confusing without the context of a map, on account of the higgledy piggledy coastline and numerous waterways. A good chunk of Portsmouth is actually on an island (Portsea) and other islands take up quite a bit of the harbour. The harbour entry is quite narrow and what you assume is another part of Portsmouth across the water actually isn’t. The Isle of Wight is a short ferry ride away, though we wouldn’t be going there on this trip.

A border agency boat enters Portsmouth Harbour past part of the old naval facilities in Gosport

Old Portsmouth Beach

So far I was liking this city. Waterside location, lots of old bits, especially defences and fortifications, and some grey boats.

Peeking through Old Portsmouth to a moored naval boat

At Spice Island, one end of Old Portsmouth

After pausing in the Spice Island Inn for a fortifying red bull for me, cup of tea for the grown-ups, and warm chocolate brownie, we walked inland 15 minutes or so to where dad’s dad’s family had lived. Mum had been here before so kinda knew where we were going.

A thingy on the Portsmouth Cathedral which our route took us past

What you can do with those cannon barrels you no longer need

Street where dad’s dad lived when he left on his own for NZ as a teenager

The house was where the dark brown brick dwelling is now

A shame that the original house is no longer there but it was great to see the location all the same, and its proximity to the old city. There would be more family places of interest during the week, things that for me were worth the entire trip.

Walking back to the waterfront, we made one more stop in another area. We’d only been in Portsmouth five minutes but it was obvious and surprising how extensive the coastal defences were that once served the city. I saw church ruins nearby and like a magpie distracted by something shiny, I immediately detoured.

The Royal Garrison Church dates back to the 1200s and if not for a fire raid on the city in 1941, it may have been a bit more intact today

A good first day and I was looking forward to coming back tomorrow. Between the Royal Marines Museum and the Historic Dockyard it was going to be a busy one.

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