19th Century Portsmouth

By Tim Lambert

The Growth of Portsmouth

In the 18th century, Portsmouth was limited to the southwest corner of Portsea Island. During the 19th century, it spread across the whole island. By the 1790s a new suburb was growing up around Commercial Road and Charlotte Street It became known as Landport after the Landport gate.

As Portsmouth grew it reached the village of Buckland By the 1860s this village had been ‘swallowed up’. By 1871 the population of Portsmouth had grown to 100,000. In the late 1870s and 1880s, Stamshaw was built. At the same time, the village of Fratton was also ‘swallowed up’ by the growing city.

In 1809 a new suburb began to grow. It became known as Southsea after the castle. The first houses were built for skilled workers in the ‘mineral’ streets (Silver Street, Nickel Street, etc). Slightly later middle-class houses were built in Kings Terrace and Hampshire Terrace.

But the new suburb remained small until 1835. Then it surged eastwards. By the 1860s the suburb of Southsea had grown along Clarendon Road as far as Granada Road. In 1857 Southsea gained its own Improvement Commissioners responsible for paving, cleaning, and lighting the streets.

Meanwhile, another suburb was growing, this one working class. About 1820 some houses were built west of Green Road on land belonging to Mr. Somers. The new suburb was named Somerstown. By the late 1880s growth had spread to Fawcett Road and Lawrence Road. Meanwhile, further south in the 1860s and 1870s growth spread along Albert Road. The roads around Festing Road were built in the 1880s.

South of Southsea were two marshes. One of them, the Little Morass stood near Old Portsmouth. It was drained in 1820-23. Another larger marsh, the Great Morass, existed south of Albert Road. It was not drained till the late 19th century. Clarence Esplanade was built by convict labour in 1848. Clarence Pier opened in 1861. Both are named after Lord FitzClarence who was once military governor of Portsmouth.

Eastney was built between 1890-1905. North End began to grow after 1881 when a horse-drawn tram began to operate between Portsmouth and the village of Cosham, north of Portsea Island. By 1910 the area was built up. Stamshaw was also built up in the late 19th century.By 1900 the population of Portsmouth was 190,000 about the same as it is today.

Like all cities in the 19th century, Portsmouth was dirty and unhealthy. In 1848-49 more than 800 people died in a cholera epidemic. However, things improved later in the century. In 1865-70 the council built sewers. In 1875 a bylaw stated that any house within 100 feet of the main sewer must be connected to it. Portsmouth had a water supply as early as 1811. In 1858 the council purchased the company and improved the supply. Despite these improvements in public health, 514 people died in a smallpox epidemic in 1872.

There were other improvements in amenities in Portsmouth. In 1836 Portsmouth gained its first modern police force. In 1878 the first public park, Victoria Park, opened. In 1883 Portsmouth gained its first public library. In 1885 the first telephone exchange opened. In 1894-96 streetlights in Portsmouth were converted from gas to electricity.

In 1849 Portsmouth gained its first modern hospital. It was demolished in 1977. In 1879 St James Hospital, a lunatic asylum opened near the village of Milton in the South East of Portsea Island. In 1884 an infectious diseases hospital opened near the village. St Mary’s Hospital opened at Milton in 1898.

There were also improvements in transport. In 1840 the first horse-drawn buses began running in Portsmouth. They were followed, in 1865 by horse-drawn trams. In 1847 the railway reached Portsmouth.

The fortifications around Portsmouth were rebuilt. The old walls around the town were now obsolete. They were demolished in the 1860s. The millpond between Old Portsmouth and Portsea was filled in the year 1876. In 1862-68 a chain of forts was built along Portsdown Hill which overlooks the town. Since the 18th century, there had been an earth rampart across the north of Portsea Island manned by marines. This was rebuilt in the 1860s. In 1867 a Marine Barracks was built in the hamlet of Eastney.