An attractive location





Portsmouth was founded about 1180 when a merchant called Jean De Gisors founded a little town in South-West corner of Portsea Island. Jean De Gisors was a merchant who owned a fleet of ships. He was also a landowner who owned land on Portsea Island. In the Southwest of the island was a small inlet from the sea called the Camber. It was a sheltered place for ships to land and De Gisors decided it was an ideal place to start a town. 


De Gisors divided up the land into plots for building houses and he started a market. Craftsmen and merchants came to live in the new settlement. In 1185 a parish church was built (in the 20th century it became Portsmouth Cathedral). In 1194 the king gave Portsmouth a charter. (A document granting the townspeople certain rights).

By the early 13th century Portsmouth was described as 'one of our most important ports'. However the population of Portsmouth was probably only about 1,200 people. The main exports from Medieval Portsmouth were wool and grain. The main imports were wine, woad for dyeing, wax for candles and iron.

In 1212 a building called the Domus Dei (house of God) was built at Portsmouth. It was a hospice for pilgrims. There was also a hostel for lepers outside the town. Portsmouth was, at first, run by a man called a reeve assisted by bailiffs. By the 14th century Portsmouth had a mayor elected by the merchants. There were also constables responsible for arresting wrongdoers.

Then about 1418 a tower was erected at the entrance of Portsmouth Harbour called the Round Tower. Cannons on it could fire at any enemy ship attempting to enter the harbour. In the 16th century a giant chain was stretched across the mouth of the harbour. The winch was by the Round Tower. The chain could be lowered to let in friendly ships but raised to prevent enemy ones entering the harbour.


After World War II the city council tried to diversify industry in Portsmouth. An industrial estate was built in Fratton in 1946-48. Other industrial estates were built in the 1950s at Paulsgrove and Farlington. In the 1960's a new industrial estate began at Hilsea north of Burrfields Road. In the 1980's new industrial estates were built at Cosham and at Hilsea. The pattern of employment in Portsmouth changed rapidly. In 1951 46% of the manufacturing jobs in the city were in shipbuilding. By 1966 this had fallen to only 14%. The dockyard workforce was drastically reduced.

Traditional industries like brewing and corset making vanished but electrical and electronic engineering became a major employer. There was also a large increase in the number of jobs in service industries. In 1968 Zurich insurance moved their headquarters to Portsmouth. In 1979 IBM UK moved their headquarters to the city.

Tourism also became a major industry in Portsmouth. Mary Rose, the Tudor warship was raised from the seabed in 1982 and became a museum. The D Day museum opened in 1984 and in 1987 HMS Warrior, Britain's first iron warship, was moved to Portsmouth. Meanwhile The Cascades shopping mall opened in 1989.


In the early 21st century Portsmouth is still a thriving city. Tourism is flourishing. In 2001 a new shopping center opened at Gunwharf. Also in 2001 Millennium Promenade opened. The Pompey Centre was built in 2003. The Spinnaker Tower opened in 2005.

Today the population of Portsmouth is 205,000.