This barracks has gone the way of so many military townships and become part upmarket housing, part museum. Built in the 1860s and fully operational by 1867 it passed through several designations to become the HQ for all Royal Marines Hampshire establishments in 1947 and finally Headquarters for training, reserve and special forces until its closure in 1991.
The Barracks was a classic military enclave within a civilian world, with its own church, water tower, library, gym, theatre (later cinema), school, drill hall, drill field (later a sports field) and officers mess. It was from it's dining hall that the Kaiser, who would be the leading player in the Great War, watched a mock attack staged on the sports field. His comments on British military prowess were not recorded. This dining hall was reputedly so cold in winter that the officers would wear their greatcoats to dinner.
The summer brought the officers outside and photographs show them languidly posing on the entrance steps to the Mess and their Victorian or Edwardian wives taking tea on the lawn decked out in white and using parasols against the Southsea sun. These scenes anticipated lives in the outposts of Empire in the hill stations of India or on the South African veldt.
The original church was a wooden building with a circular roof - this 'crinoline church' had originally been constructed as a temporary place of worship whilst St Bartholomews Church was being built in Outram Road and performed the same function whilst St. Simon's was being constructed. In 1869 it was moved again to the Eastney Barracks and was sited to the west of Teapot Row (the developers Redrow Homes current Marine Court). A more permanent brick church, St Andrews, was dedicated in 1905. It was closed in 1973 and used for band practice until its conversion into flats.
The public visibility of the Royal Marines was enhanced by the marching band performances at sporting and public events. The origins of this lie in the appointment by Edward VII of the RMA divisional band as the Royal Yacht band in 1904. The Portsmouth band played at the 1966 World Cup Final at Wembley. Equally the manhandling of 12-pounder guns over an obstacle course - the gun crew competition between Portsmouth and Devonport - was a popular feature of the annual Royal Tournament.
Ironically the Barracks like the new universities of the 1960s were strong examples of coherent urban design rarely found in cities themselves. The soldier's accommodation in the long range gave a fine view over the parade ground, esplanade and shore to the Solent - the departure setting for imperial points East. The Officer's Mess with its Portland stone-faced façade, sweeping entrance staircase and piano nobile was either the brash statement of an officer caste in charge or, it's rumoured, the result of the mistaken allocation of too-generous building funds.
A totem - the giant statue of a Falklands conflict 'Yomper' on the kind of scale beloved by Stalinist designers - signals the public entrance to the site from the Esplanade. The sculptor was Philip Jackson. This leads to the former Officer's mess which is now a museum and one that attempts to attract or placate different audiences - veterans and civilian tourists. Endless cabinets of medals might bring a tear to some eyes but many museumgoers are more interested in the social and personal lives of this closed military world.
The Museum grounds contain several memorials to the Marines who lost their lives in 20th Century conflicts. For further information about them go our Memorials and Monuments in Portsmouth web site
The Barracks was a good example of what Erving Goffman called total institutions where the daily round was totally prescribed and this contained world operated according to different norms and rules - mental institutions, prisons, military establishments. The Marine inmates sitting in their spartan dormitories in 1903 might be amazed to see their billet turned into desirable apartments a century later.