Portsmouth is a port city in Hampshire, on the south coast of England. It is located on Portsea Island, a small island separated from the mainland (to the north) by a narrow creek, crossed by three road bridges (East to west, these are the A2030 dual carriageway bridge, the old A3 bridge, and the modern M275 motorway causeway) and a twin track rail bridge that carries the Portsmouth Direct Line from London Waterloo. The island is bounded by Langstone Harbour to the east, Portsmouth Harbour to the west. To the south lies The Solent, a tidal strait 2–3 miles wide, with the Isle of Wight at its mouth.
Portsmouth makes it the only island-city in the United Kingdom. The island itself forms the eastern edge of a fine natural harbour (Portsmouth Harbour), the advantages of which have led to Portsmouth's long history as a naval base, which continues to this day. Portsmouth was home, for many years, to the Royal Navy's flag ship, HMS Ark Royal, until she was decommissioned in January 2011. Portsmouth was one of the most heavily fortified towns in Britain in the 19th century, when Lord Palmerstone, fearing a French invasion built massive sea fortresses at strategic points in The Solent, backed up defensive lines on the Gosport peninsula and the long ridge of Portsdown Hill to protect the base against a feared French attack. However, Portsmouth had been defended long before, with the first defensive and ports structures built by the Romans in the northern reaches of the harbour. Some structures remain to this day, and the etymology of the name of this area of the harbour ("Portchester") betrays its Roman origins. Later on, the Tudors strengthened the defences of the approach to the harbour by developing Southsea Castle and the early elements of the "Hot Walls" along the islands south-western coast, by the harbour mouth. These survive today, in a much upgraded form. The Round Tower, one piece of these defences by the harbour mouth, is frequently used by well-wishers and family to send off and welcome home the ships of the Royal Navy.
During the Second World War Portsmouth suffered heavy bombing by the Luftwaffe, and was extensively redeveloped in the 1950s and 60's a result, which has resulted in the loss of much of the architectural heritage of the city centre.
Famous historic ships which can be visited in Portsmouth include HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the remains of Henry VIII's flagship Mary Rose, which sank not far off shore.
Portsmouth is a polycentric city. The original heart of the town was Old Portsmouth a Spice Island; this is separated by the naval base from the modern commercial heart at Portsea; while a third focal point is the resort area of Southsea. Other districts on Portsea Island include Fratton (where Portsmouth F.C. has its ground, Fratton Park), Eastney, Kingston, Hilsea and North End. The city boundaries have been extended to incorporate the mainland district of Cosham.
Both the city and its football team are nicknamed 'Pompey'.
As in many other cities in England, there are two cathedrals, the Anglican Cathedral Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, which are approximately one mile apart.
Portsmouth has several ferry terminals, with several services to the Gosport peninsula, the Isle of Wight, Jersey, Cherbourg and Caen in France, and Bilbao and Santander in Spain. One of the services to the Isle of Wight is operated by HoverTravel, the only commercial ferry route operated by hovercraft.
The city has three major train stations at Portsmouth Harbour, Portsmouth & Southsea and Fratton. In addition there is a small halt at Hilsea. All stations are on the Portsmouth Direct Line from London Waterloo.
Most urban, and all intercity bus routes operate to/from or through the Hard Interchange, which also houses Portsmouth Harbour station (last on the line), the Gosport ferry and FastCat ferry service to the Isle of Wight.
The city used to have an airfield at Hilsea, on the north of the island. but with the drastic scaling back of the military presence in the city following WW2, it was closed and the land sold off to be turned into an industrial estate. The nearest commercial airport now is at Southampton, just over 20 miles away, though many people also use the London airports, which are also within easy reach. Regular direct buses go to Heathrow and Gatwick airports, and the latter also has a direct train service from Portsmouth.
Portsmouth is home to the University of Portsmouth. Founded in 1869 as the Portsmouth & Gospel School of Science and the Arts, it gained its Royal Charter in 1992, and become one of the "New Universities". Unlike many similar institutions, it has rapidly gained credibility and academic strength, particularly in pharmacology, biosciences and computer sciences/electronic engineering. Its teaching of social sciences is also respected. The university is a major employer in the city, and its many innovative and striking campus buildings have given a new image to the city centre, which was previously noted mostly for its scarring by hasty post-war rebuilding.
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel b.1806
- James Callaghan b.1912
- Charles Dickens b.1812
- Christopher Hitchens b.1949
- Peter Sellers b.1925