There follows an extract from "The Chronicles of Portsmouth" written by Henry and Julian Slight and published in 1828. Here the two brothers describe the state of the fortifications around Portsmouth and Portsea as they existed in the early 19th century, accompanying the descriptions with some historical background. It opens with an extract from Leland writing of Portsmouth in 1546.
"The town of Portesmuth is muried from the est tour a forough length withe a mudde waulle armid with tymbre whereon be great peaces both of yron and brassen ordinaunces and this peace of waulle having a diche without it runnith so far flat south south est and is the place moste apte to defende the toun there open to the hauen ther runnith a diche almost flat est for a space and wythin it is a waulle of mudde like to the other and so there goeth rounde aboute the toun to the circuite of a myle there is a gate of tymbre at the north est of the toun and bye it is cast up an hille of erth dich ed whereon be gunnes to defend entre into the toun by land I learned in the toun that the tourres in the hauen mouth were begun in King Edward iv tyme and set forwarde yn building by Richard iij King Henrie vij ended them at the procuration of Fox bishop of Winchester King Henry the vij of late tyme sette in Portesmuth capitaines and certen soldiours in garrison."
The tower here mentioned is the Round Tower at the entrance which has been of late years considerably enlarged and raised. The line of covered batteries extending from it was erected by James the Second whose initials and crown still appear on almost every key stone with the date. The ancient Sally port with its small turret has been demolished and the passage considerably enlarged and improved. In front of this line of fortification lay buried in the shingle the enormous chains used to defend the entrance of the port. A part may still be seen on Block house beach. In the American disturbance the capstans were repaired behind the round tower and on the opposite shore and the chains were raised and tightened at the time a French fleet was hovering off Plymouth.
From an old engraving in our possession it appears there was a considerable embankment on the sea side of the tower about one hundred years since. A low wall passes across the camber moat enclosing a covered way and staircase to the ancient batteries on each side the lower gateway which contain covered chambers the windows of which have been closed. Up above are platforms to which broad flights of stone steps lead on each side. The people of Portsmouth tell strange stories of the severity of one Gibson who was governor of this place in the Queen's time to his soldiers and show you a miserable dungeon near the town gate which they call Johnny Gibson's Hole where for trifling misdemeanors he used to confine his soldiers till they were almost starved to death.
The Lower or King James Gate is a structure in the Venetian stile with double Corinthian pilasters on each side the archway, an entablature supporting a circular tower and ball and ornamental spires on each side. The inscription is IACOBVS SECVNDVS A R III AN DOM 1687. On the key stone are the initials IR surmounted by an imperial crown with the date 1687 and below the Ordnance arms three cannon on a shield. A heavy drawbridge is in front. The ancient batteries near this gate have been for some time under repair. About forty five years since during a tempest the marble ball fell from the summit of the tower of the gate and split into fragments at the feet of two ladies who were passing at the time. The gateway remained in a very dilapidated state till 1826 when being under repair in March we addressed a letter to the commandant relative to the inscription which was nearly obliterated and on May the 3d it was restored. On June 29th the repairs were completed and the present immense marble ball placed on the summit.
A lofty stone wall through which is the opening called the New Sallyport or King's Stairs reaches to the ancient Government house Before the dissolution of the Priory of God's House this square building was the residence of the Governor at a later period it was converted into a powder magazine for the garrison and used as such for many years. It was probably erected in the reign of Edward III or Richard III as it appears delineated in Holbein's picture of the Wars of Henry VIII. In 1623-4 the inhabitants erected in a circular niche on the centre of the northern front a brass bust of Charles I,, richly gilt encircled by a wreath of laurel and oak and in basso relievo below the royal arms. The small slab above the bust with the name seems of modern date. The following inscription is on a square stone King CHARLES THE FIRST after his travels through all France and Spain and having passed many dangers both by sea and land he arrived here the 4th day of October 1623 there was the greatest applause of joy for his safety throughout the kingdom that ever was known or heard of. The statue was re gilt in 1814.
July 9 1779. Lieutenant Colonel Archer represented to the Board of Ordnance that certain stores intended to be built on the Quay would be in front of one of the batteries of the Garrison. Jonas Hanway Esq came to Portsmouth to ascertain the expense of converting the old Magazine into a store and the Ordnance gave consent that the Commissioners of the Victualling board should take possession of it instead of building stores on the Quay which they did on July 10 1779 making the necessary alterations and erecting a new Slaughter house on a piece of waste ground adjoining from the design of Mr Thomas Hoskins at an expense of 1382 4s 9d.
The Board of Admiralty erected in 1823 above the roof of the Magazine at an immense expense a Semaphore for transmission of signals which is effected between this and London in three minutes. It is of wood framed and bolted and contains several apartments and a variety of beautiful mechanism. The entrance is on the Platform and carried by an archway over the roof from the square at the summit rises the mechanism of the Semaphore and a flag staff. But few traces of the original appropriation of this old Government house can now be discovered. Previous to the repairs 1827 traces of four windows blocked up could be discerned on the sea side and a species of loop hole in the centre, three on the northern side and traces of several near the ground which afforded light to vaults. There are indications of four large windows on the east and one towards the west. Within on the ground floor is an old fashioned stone doorway with immense iron hinges for a door leading to a passage now closed up and a second appears at the eastern extremity. On the next floor are only the immense brick arches of the Magazine. The external walls are eight feet thick and on the western side seventeen. The building having been lined with brickwork no clue to the internal arrangement of the apartments can be traced.
A doorway opens through the sea wall to a wooden wharf called the Beef Stage which projects a long way into the sea to enable vessels to approach for supplies of fresh provision. It is by the staircase near this wharf that persons of rank generally enter the Garrison. During the visit of the Lord High Admiral the Semaphore was magnificently illuminated. The sea wall is now entirely restored and strengthened. Next appears the Platform Battery which commands a magnificent sea view. Here is a Sun dial and a few years since a Semaphore stood in the centre. A Signal house on this bastion was erected in the reign of Elizabeth as appeared from the date 1569 in a nook at the extremity. Adjoining was the state chamber over the door of which was a marble slab bearing this inscription CAROLVS II AN REG XXXIIII A D 1682. It was used for courts martial but sold by auction Dec 5 1827 and demolished.
At a short distance anciently stood a semicircular tower from the foot of which to the situation of the Hot wall Bastion was an arm of the sea reaching to the Governor's green and communicating with the moats which were thus filled at every tide. By the erection of the new works the extension of the Platform &c in 1733 it has been enclosed and the sea is now admitted by a sluice. This battery mounts twenty one pieces of cannon used for salutes and at one extremity are four remarkable cannon of tremendous calibre and on the King's Bastion being the next towards the last are many others of the same proportions. They were taken in L Impetueux in Lord Howe's victory of the 1st of June 1794 and are much admired. On the latter battery are many large bombs and beneath is a vast magazine. The Garrison flag is displayed on this part of the works and a cannon is daily fired at the rising and setting of the sun.
In the front towards the sea is a strong ravelin and at equal distances all round the towns these smaller outworks flank the curtains of the inner wall. At a short distance from the King's Bastion is the Spur gate leading to Southsea and after a circuit of some extent the Landport or St Thomas gateway the principal entrance to the town consisting of a fine plain archway surmounted by a tower and dome with large drawbridges across the moats, two guardhouses and a smaller gateway for foot passengers at a little distance. At this gate the interesting ceremony of delivering up the keys of the garrison by the Lieutenant Governor takes place whenever the Sovereign visits Portsmouth. During this the gates are closed until the keys being returned to the proper officers the royal command is given to throw open the gates of his Majesty's fortress that the King may enter. The crown above the inner part of this gateway was found about forty years ago in the rubbish above the arch when the earth was removed for some repairs. It formed the keystone of the ancient gate and had been removed during the Commonwealth and was recut and placed in its present situation by the late Mr James Hay of Queen street Portsea.
At the side of the small gateway was formerly a stately elm tree of noble size, it projected from the walls which had been built round it. Through this gate pass the water pipes of the different companies. The flag staff was erected October 2 1800 and the Magazine on the adjacent bastion has been rebuilt (1827). The Walls continue to encircle Portsmouth passing the gateway and elegant bridge leading to Portsea to the Quay or King George's gate a noble structure in the rustic style adorned with massive pillars and entablature of grand proportions. Above are various apartments formerly the offices of the Governor and on the inner side a large Guard house, a lofty stone wall completes the circle of defence. Before the erection of the present Quay gate sixty years since the entrance was through an open arch in the wall twelve feet southward towards the Cage traces of which are still discernible, and at the extremity of Crown street was a small wicket now closed by stonework but the shape of which may be still discovered.
Between the Quay and King James's gate is an ancient Bastion with circular portholes commanding the drawbridge. On two sides appear in bold sculpture the initials IR 1687. In the colonnade of fine elms on the Ramparts is a large rookery. The first pair settled in March 1820. On the southern side of the Bastion opposite King's terrace is inscribed in large letters W Legge 1679. He was Governor about the time Parliament granted 693l for repairs. James and William made great additions and since 1770 many others have been effected at vast expense.
1759 April 10. For compensation to the proprietors of land near Portsmouth purchased for securing the Dock 6937 13s 7 d. Interest of ditto 41 59 4s 8jd. The whole of the moats some miles in extent can be readily filled with water up to the bridges. A spacious glacis and covert way surrounds the Fortifications on the land side forming with them nearly a quadrangle. From the bottom of the moat rises a perpendicular stone wall fifteen feet in height with a double parapet for small arms upon the mound planned in bastions and curtains. The bastions regularly flank each other and in the angles project the ravelins and spurs in all directions. These have been of late years planted with elms and the esplanade with walnut trees and quickset hedges. The moats were in 1820 repaired and improved by narrowing and deepening the trenches. The waters abound with eels as they formerly did with mullet and in one part is a remarkable spring of water of the purest quality.
In the Rampart walls of Portsmouth where the Portland stone is kept soft by the earth behind, the fragments which fall by the action of the atmosphere exactly resemble those of chalk. The mortar used in the erection is that from Butser's hill near Petersfield. Under the direction of the late General Fisher the works were much improved and new sluices and towers erected in the moats. A deep and wide fosse was cut from the Portsmouth works along the edge of the London road to the Mill dam, a large sheet of water of many acres in extent. By this fosse the New Fortifications round Portsea are united with the old works. These gigantic Ramparts which encircle the town in a semicircular form and extend for nearly two miles in all the strength of modern improvement were commenced in 1770 under the direction and at the suggestion of the Duke of Richmond who received many valuable hints from the celebrated Major Cartwright.
The first regiment employed was the 33d. The walls are of great height and the ditches and ravelins of vast extent with covered ways and lines in all directions. The various bastions are much larger than those of Portsmouth and in the internal angles are extensive paddocks of pasture land and a parade ground. The whole are thickly studded with thriving timber which adds by the luxuriance of its foliage to the beauty of the place. In the lines are two magnificent gates called the Lion and Unicorn gates from the respective figures in the entablature. The architecture both on the internal and external part is bold, grand and effective. These Ramparts pass close to the inner part of the harbour and completely defend the arsenal. One of the bastions in the mill dam presents a beautiful appearance at the time of high water and the lake which was formerly of at least double the extent reaching to Lake lane at Half way Houses, adds much to the strength of the garrison. A new stone Bridge has within these five years been thrown across a part of this lake communicating with Portsea from the London turnpike road and the bridges before the principal gates are of cast iron erected in 1827-8.
The external glacis of many acres in circumference was formerly pasture land belonging to Sir Thomas Ridge whose house is at this time the residence of the Commandant of the Artillery opposite Ridge's Pond. At the corner of the lake close to the London road about four hundred yards from the Land port, formerly stood a small chapel called Magdalen Chapel, not many years since some visible traces remained. Where the Mill dam reaches the Gun wharf is a large Bastion with gateways leading to Portsea. This may be rather considered an outwork of the Portsmouth Lines. It is strong and defends the King's mill and the Canal of the Gun wharf. The Ordnance are now erecting a broad roadway from near the Bastion to the new offices on the Mill dam Parade using the materials of the old Government house and it is supposed that in a short time the site of the King's mill will be added to the Gun wharf.
With regard to the defences on the Portsea coast we may enumerate Southsea Castle of which we shall give a more detailed account and Cumberland Fort situate at the mouth of Langstone Harbour three miles from Portsmouth. This extensive fortification which cost many hundred thousand pounds was erected by convicts from bricks manufactured on the spot and faced with Portland stone It covers a great extent of ground, has secret communications, mounts one hundred pieces of cannon, is capable of containing four thousand troops and is perfectly useless from its situation. It was commenced in 1746 Lord Tyrawley being the projector but was very small. The principal part was formed under the direction of the Duke of Richmond and from 1794 till 1820 was much improved and enlarged by employing the convicts It is named in honour of William Duke of Cumberland. On the beach are two small forts for six cannon called Eastney and Lump Forts. They are however in a very dilapidated state from the violence of the sea. At the latter more than three acres of land have been lost since its first erection. Southsea Castle situate three quarters of a mile south of Portsmouth on the beach of the Common close to the water's edge was built by Henry the Eighth in 1539, "a ryght goodlie and warlyke castill". A good view of it is found in Holbein's pictures. The original castle consisted of a blockhouse with a domelike top. In the reign of Charles the Second it was surrounded with a star fort as appeared from a small square tablet on the south side of the blockhouse near a flight of steps and an internal archway CAROLVS II REX A REG XXXIII. On the accession of the House of Hanover it was repaired and enlarged.