By Tim Lambert
Gosport was founded early in the 13th century. The name Gosport is probably a corruption of goose port, perhaps because wild geese gathered there.
In the Middle Ages Gosport was only a small market town and port. It only had a few hundred inhabitants. Many of the men in Gosport were fishermen.
In the 15th century, a tower called the blockhouse was built on the site of Fort Blockhouse to defend the entrance of the harbour.
In the 16th century, a writer described Gosport as a fishermen’s village although shipbuilding and sail making were other industries in Gosport. However, it remained a small market town and port until the 17th century.
In 1642 came civil war between King and Parliament. Gosport supported Parliament, while Portsmouth supported the king. Parliamentary soldiers laid siege to Portsmouth. They set up guns at Gosport roughly where the bus station is today, behind a protective screen of logs, and bombarded Portsmouth, which soon surrendered.
However, Gosport was sacked in the year 1645 by the king’s army. But it soon recovered.
In the late 17th century and 18th century Portsmouth grew rapidly. The navy created a huge demand for beer, meat, bread, and other goods. Tradesmen in Gosport supplied some of Portsmouth’s needs. Gosport grew rapidly, partly because a huge market for its goods existed on the other side of the harbour.
In 1627 it was suggested that the dockyard at Portsmouth should be transferred to Gosport. This suggestion was rejected but they did build storehouses for the dockyard at Gosport, as well as timber yards and rope walks (where the rope was made).
In the early 18th century a brewery and storehouses for the navy were built. There was also an iron industry in Gosport in the 18th century supplying artefacts for the dockyard.
In 1677 King Charles II decided that Gosport should be fortified. An earth rampart was erected around the town with a dry moat outside it. About 1680 Charles II also built a fort on Burrow Island. It was demolished in the early 19th century.
Another fort was built roughly where the Falkland Gardens are today. In 1782 it was sold and turned into a pub.
Meanwhile, in 1693 a rich inhabitant of Gosport built some almshouses in Bemisters Lane off Middle Street for old people.
Gosport was part of the parish of Alverstoke until 1696 when the Church of the Holy Trinity was consecrated.
GOSPORT IN THE 18th CENTURY
In the 18th century Gosport had 3 main streets, North Street, Middle Street (High Street) and South Street, with minor streets running across them. In Middle Street stood Market House. This building was on stilts. The council met in the building and a market was held underneath. A cobbled slipway called the hard jutted into the sea where the Falkland Gardens are today.
After 1717 Gosport had 3 weekly markets and 2 fairs. (A fair was like a market but was held only once a year and attracted people from all over Hampshire). The 2 fairs were held in May and October. They both closed in 1900.
In 1725 a workhouse was built in South Street where the destitute lived. In 1801 a new workhouse was built in Alverstoke. Workhouse Lake is named after it.
In 1750 the government bought land north of Gosport from Jane Priddy. By 1759 a fort was built there. Later a gunpowder magazine was built there.
Until 1768 gunpowder was stored in the square tower in Old Portsmouth. In 1768 the citizens petitioned the king saying it was not safe to store the gunpowder there. So it was moved to a new location near Priddys Hard fort. The new gunpowder magazine was built between 1771 and 1778. Later gunpowder was manufactured there as well as cannonballs. Priddys Hard had its own cooperage where barrels were made for storing powder.
In 1763 a body of men called the Improvement Commissioners was formed in Gosport. They had the power to pave the streets and remove ‘nuisances’ such as obstructions and dangerous overhanging shop and inn signs.
In 1713 Fortune (Forton) hospital was opened but it was only used as a hospital for a short time. From the 1720’s it was used to house French and later American prisoners of war. At the time of Napoleon, there were also prisoners held in hulks in Forton Creek or in the harbor. If they died they were buried on Burrow Island, which was sometimes called Rat Island.
Haslar Hospital opened in 1753 as a hospital for sick or injured sailors. Fort Monckton was built about 1785. A bridge was built across Haslar Lake in 1795 but it was so unsafe it was demolished in 1801 and people went back to using boats to ferry people to the hospital.
In 1777 a writer said ‘the town contains 5,000 inhabitants and is opposite to the sea. Except for the vicinity of the sea, Gosport can claim little that is attractive, for the town is not pleasant and the surrounding country has no peculiar charms’.
In 1796 Gosport gained its first theatre.
A less pleasant aspect of life in 18th century Gosport was the press gangs. If the navy were short of men they could, legally arrest men and force them to join the navy.
GOSPORT IN THE 19th CENTURY
In 1807 Forton barracks was built on the site of Fortune hospital (Today it is the site of the 6th form college). In 1848 it was given to the marines. New barracks (later called St Georges barracks) were built in 1859, north and south of Mumby Road.
In 1828 the navy purchased weevil brewery, which had been brewing beer for the navy for decades. It became the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard which provided beer and biscuits for the navy.
Until 1812 there was a market house on stilts in High Street. In that year a new building was built near the site of the ferry. In 1834 Gosport obtained gas street lighting. In 1870 a drinking fountain was erected in the High Street. It was moved to Falkland Gardens in the 1920’s.
A bridge was erected over Haslar Lake in 1795 but it was so unsafe it was destroyed in 1801 and anyone wishing to go cross had to go by rowing boat. In 1835 a new bridge was built.
In 1842 a pier was built at Stokes Bay for the convenience of Queen Victoria when she traveled to the Isle of Wight.
In the 1850s a ring of forts was built from Portsdown Hill to Fareham to Gosport in case the French landed somewhere along the coast of Southern England and tried to attack Portsmouth overland. Two forts, Gilkicker and Elson were built in 1858. Fort Gomer (now demolished) and forts Rowner, Brockhurst and Grange were built in 1862. Fort Blockhouse was rebuilt. In the 1850s gunboat, sheds were built by Blockhouse.
At the time of the first census in 1801 Gosport had a population of over 7,000. By 1821 the population had reached 10,342 and by 1851 it was 16,908. Most of the inhabitants lived within the old walls and Gosport was becoming very overcrowded.
By the 1830s new houses were built in Newtown (which was, at first, called Bingham town after the man who built it). In 1837 a writer mentioned ‘a large hamlet called Bingham Town to the west of the town of Gosport’.
In the 1820’s a man named Robert Cruikshank attempted to build a new seaside resort at Anglesey. (It got its name from the Marquis of Anglesey who laid the first stone). It consisted of a hotel, baths, reading rooms, and a crescent of houses. However, the resort failed.
In 1855 the town was described like this: ‘Gosport is a well built, handsome town but appears to most advantage in the approach by water as its finest buildings line the coast. Besides this it has a principal street, extending eastward from the ferry, other parallel streets, and several intersecting them. There are several breweries, shipyards, and a considerable trade’.
By 1851 the population of Gosport had passed 16,000 but over 7,000 of them still lived inside the walls. Nevertheless by the 1850s the settlement of Forton was growing. Camden Town grew up in the 1860s and was named after an area of London. In the late 19th century Alverstoke became completely built up and the fields separating it from Gosport disappeared.
Gosport Park was laid out in 1891 on the site of Ewer Common. Around the same time, Walpole Park was laid out on a piece of land called the Horsefield. It was named after Thomas Walpole, the rector of St Mary’s Church, Alverstoke. In 1894 the main gate was demolished with parts of the ramparts.
In 1848-1849 Gosport suffered an epidemic of cholera and 126 people died. The grand sum of 200 pounds was spent clearing away filth and garbage from the streets but no attempt was made to provide proper drains or sewers. At the time the only drains were gulleys at the sides of roads.
Most people in the old part of Gosport used cesspits, which were often located under buildings. In 1883 a writer said ‘The cesspools are emptied, as a rule, about once every 3 or 4 years and then it has to be carried by buckets through our dwelling houses making the rooms not fit to live in for 24 hours after’. There was the old moat around Gosport, which was filled with, rubbish. The stench from it was said to be unbearable.
In 1887 there was an epidemic of smallpox. There were so many cases tents were erected on wasteland that is now Gosport Park to provide extra accommodation for the sick. There were many deaths.
In 1898 there was an epidemic of typhoid. Gosport and Alverstoke Urban District Council was formed in 1894 but they did not begin to build proper drains and sewers until 1900. It was ready by 1904. Gosport did obtain a piped water supply in 1858.
In 1859 the naval cemetery at Haslar was opened. Gosport gained its first volunteer fire brigade in 1867. It was taken over by the council in 1897.
For centuries rowing boats had carried people and goods across the harbour. In 1841 Gosport was connected by railway to Southampton via Fareham. In 1863 an extension was built to Stokes Bay. In 1894 an extension was made to Lee on Solent. In 1870 horse-drawn trams began running in Gosport. They were replaced by electric trams in 1903-06.
Gosport obtained its first public library in 1891. In 1901 it moved to a building in Walpole Road, which is now the museum.
In 1889 a man named Blake opened an isolation hospital for people with infectious diseases. It later became Blake Maternity Hospital then a maternity home.
Gosport is sometimes called Turk Town. It is believed it is because in 1850-51 ships from the Turkish navy were at anchor off the town. Some Turkish sailors died during that time and they were buried in Gosport.
GOSPORT IN THE 20th CENTURY
In the 20th century Gosport continued to thrive. The submarine base at Gosport dates from 1905. In 1914 Grange airfield at Rowner was occupied by the Fleet Air Arm.
The first cinema in Gosport opened in 1910. By the 1930s there were 4 of them.
The population of Gosport reached 32,000 by 1910 and rose to about 50,000 by 1939. In 1922 Gosport became a Borough.
Gosport was also given a grant from the central government to provide work for the unemployed. Lawn tennis courts were built at Stokes Bay, so was a promenade. The old cockle pond was turned into Gosport Model Lake. The old cobbled hard was filled in and the esplanade Ferry gardens were built. (In 1984 they were renamed the Falklands Gardens).
In 1923 the War Memorial Hospital opened and in 1924 an open-air swimming pool opened.
In the early 1920’s the first council houses were built in Gosport, some 430 of them. Then in the 1930s Elson and Hardway became built up. Dockyard workers occupied many of the new houses because the rents were cheaper than those in Portsmouth.
Meanwhile in 1927 Forton barracks was turned into St Vincent training school for young sailors, it closed in 1967.
The last trams ran in Gosport in 1929. They were replaced by buses. Then in 1937 Privett park sports ground was laid out for cricket, hockey, and football.
During the Second World War 11,000 houses were damaged in Gosport and nearly 500 were destroyed. Furthermore, 111 civilians were killed and 289 were wounded in Gosport.
In 1945 the council began to build a new council housing estate at Bridgemary and Rowner. German POWs built the first houses. Building continued through the late 1940s and 1950s. Many of the new houses were prefabs. They were made in sections in factories and could be erected in a few days.
Between 1958 and 1963 new flats were built in the area south of South Street, which had suffered severely in wartime bombing. There were 11 story flats and 16 story flats as well as 4 and 5 story flats.
In 1964 Fort Gomer was sold and demolished to make way for new housing (the last soldiers had left the fort in 1954). In the mid-1960s a new estate of flats and houses was built on the site.
Between 1965 and 1970 a new naval estate was built at Rowner. It was planned to build a mini-town with 3,000 homes (flats and houses) for 12,000 people. It was to have its own schools and 12 shops. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a council housing estate was built at Holbrook.
A swimming pool opened at Holbrook in 1976 and Fort Brockhurst opened to the public in 1978.
Market Hall, which had been severely damaged by the World War II bombing, was demolished in 1962. A new town hall was built in 1966. The Precinct off South Street was built in 1966.
Meanwhile in 1959 Gosport was ‘twinned’ with the town of Royan in France. n HMS Dolphin Submarine museum opened in 1962. In 1972 a new bus station was built in South Street and a new central library opened in 1973. In 1975 Gosport Museum opened.
In 1956 the naval airfield at Rowner, HMS Siskin, was renamed HMS Sultan and was turned into an engineering training school. HMS Hornet was a major base of the Coastal forces (they carried out amphibious raids on German-occupied Europe e.g. blowing up U-boat bases). Later, in the 1970s, it was turned into a sailing centre.
Haslar detention centre opened in 1962 on the site of Haslar barracks. Bridgemary secondary school opened in 1955. Brune Park secondary school opened in 1965. The St Vincent training school for young seamen closed in 1967 and was replaced by St Vincent school in 1975. In 1987 St Vincent school was replaced by Gosport Sixth Form College.
In the 1930’s industry in Gosport was still dominated by ship and boat building and supplying the navy. All that changed after 1945. In the 1950s new factories were erected along Fareham Road and north of Mumby Road, in an area that had been largely destroyed in wartime bombing.
Among the new factories was a 16-acre site belonging to Cyanamid LTD, which opened in 1958 along Fareham Road. The economy of Gosport changed to making TVs and other electronic equipment, plastic products, pharmaceuticals, and wallpaper.
In the mid-1960’s Hardway industrial estate was built. Quay Lane was just a track until 1964 when it was turned into a proper road to serve the estate. In the late 1960s, another industrial estate was built on 40 acres near Fort Brockhurst
Many roads were rebuilt as the increased ownership of cars meant the old narrow roads became more and more congested. In 1957 Gosport gained its first zebra crossing. In 1967 Forton Road was made a dual carriageway. In 1979 the south relief road was built. In 1980 Haslar Bridge was rebuilt. This time it was designed for vehicles.
A marina for yachts opened in 1957 northeast of the Falkland Gardens. Haslar marina opened in 1993.
In the 1990s some defence establishments in Gosport closed. The Royal Clarence Yard in Weevil Lane closed. So did Priddy’s Hard. (Part of the site was later sold for building houses, a part is now a museum). Finally, St Georges barracks closed. HMS Dolphin was changed into a military medical college (apart from the submarine museum). Many defence jobs were lost.
Jobs were also lost in other industries in the 1990s. These included 700 jobs that went in 1992 when a TV factory closed. Nevertheless, unemployment in Gosport in the 1990s was lower than the national average.
GOSPORT IN THE 21st CENTURY
In the 21st century, Gosport continued to thrive. Gosport library reopened as Gosport Discovery Centre in 2005. Then in 2009 Haslar Hospital closed completely.
In 2020 the population of Gosport was 87,000.