The Victory Bar
Favorite thing: I found this the most interesting area of Spitbank Fort, probably because it is, I think, the one that had been restored with the most original features (but also possibly because it is a bar!) This was where we were first welcomed with a glass of champagne, where we started our tour with Kyle, and where we finished our day with a nightcap.
The bar has been created in part of the gun floor that once held the smaller landward-facing canons and you can still see in the stone floor the arced metal runners along which the canons would be swung to direct their fire, and the large iron hooks in the ceiling that helped to support their immense weight. Smaller hooks elsewhere in the ceiling were, Kyle told us, where the crew would sling their hammocks.
Along the inner wall are a series of smaller rooms opening off this one. Today they form part of the bar area but they would once have been fully screened off. One was the officers’ bunk room, one their washroom (now used to chill the champagne) and one their mess. Dotted around the main room and these small snugs are lots of appropriate pieces of furniture, pictures and other items. I was particularly interested in a copy of a German newspaper (we assumed a replica) dating from the time of the Normandy Landings (see photo five)
For all its history, the restoration of the fort has created here a properly cosy bar, with comfortable seating areas and windows equipped with telescopes from which you can get a close-up view of the land you’ve left behind. And being a mile out to sea, the views are one of the delights of a stay at Spitbank Fort.
- Historical Travel
Spitbank Fort – some history
Favorite thing: I had never studied the period of history during which Spitbank Fort and the other so-called “Palmerston Follies” were constructed so I had only a sketchy idea of its intended purpose, beyond the obvious general one of defence. But on Kyle’s tour I learned a lot more, and have since filled in a few gaps through my own research.
In the mid nineteenth century Britain was nervous. The Napoleonic Wars were still relatively fresh in people’s memories, and now Louis Napoleon, nephew of Bonaparte, had become President of the Second Republic. In 1852, he seized complete power and declared himself Emperor Napoleon III, showing himself to be ruthless and ambitious. It seemed very likely that he would want to expand his territory, and an invasion of Britain was feared. These fears subsided briefly as Britain joined forces with France to fight a common enemy, Russia, in the Crimean War, but soon afterwards surfaced again. Under pressure from the general public to protect our shores, the government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, commissioned a series of forts to be built. And because of advances in weaponry that meant that ships could now fire at the land while remaining out of range of coastal defences, several of these forts were built offshore in the Solent, with the particular aim of protecting Britain’s most important naval port, Portsmouth.
Work started in 1860. Spitbank Fort was the first to be completed in June 1878, and St Helen's followed shortly after. The two larger outer forts, Horse Sands and No Man’s Land, were started earlier but took longer, only being finished in spring 1880. But by this time the threat had passed. The French had been defeated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and were no longer to be feared. And even if they were, technology in weaponry had moved on, and the canons the forts were designed to accommodate were fast becoming obsolete. They became known as Palmerston’s Follies and the huge sums spent on their construction became a source of embarrassment to him and his government.
Over the years they were rearmed several times in case of need, but that need never arose. During the First World War they served as signal stations but were not used in defence, and in the Second World War they were also of limited use, unable to support heavy anti-aircraft guns for general air defence. They seem also to have under-performed in their other role as observation posts intended to limit attacks on the sea ports, since both Portsmouth and Gosport were more than 60% destroyed by enemy bombing raids. However, they were equipped in order to support the seizure of French warships anchored off Portsmouth in 1940, after the fall of France. This was the only time that their arms were trained on the target for which they had been originally built, a “French” invasion. But the seizure was accomplished with little opposition and the guns on the forts remained unfired.
After the war all the forts were deactivated and decommissioned. In the 1960s they were put up for sale, but none were sold until the 1980s (perhaps it was only in that decade that an interest in restoring historical buildings for modern use surfaced?) Since then they have all been through various incarnations, with Spithead itself serving as a private home and a venue for rave parties before being acquired by AmaZing Venues (the capital Z is part of their brand, not a typo in my part!) and turned into the luxury hotel that we visited. The same company has since purchased No Man's Land and Horse Sands Forts and is shortly to open both – the former as another, larger, hotel where the emphasis will be on partying and corporate entertaining rather than intimate luxury, and the latter as a museum, restored to something of its original appearance. I got the impression that the plans for the latter reflected not only the company’s genuine interest in the history of their properties, but also a way of ensuring a strong relationship with English Heritage and endorsement by them of the use made of the other forts and the accompanying changes to their appearance.
Those changes, at Spitbank at least, are very sympathetic to the fort’s history and architecture, with many original features retained as you will see in my following tips, starting with the bedroom accommodation.
- Historical Travel
A tour of Spitbank Fort with Kyle
Favorite thing: We were welcomed to Spitbank by Celine and Kyle, who were to look after us during our stay. Both were very friendly and helpful, and worked hard to make our visit fun and interesting, but it was Kyle who took us on our tour of the fort and who really brought the place to life.
Every company catering to tourists should have a Kyle! He is clearly passionate about the fort – both its history and its current new life as a hotel. He is enthusiastic to the point of bouncing, reminding me more than a little of Tigger in the Winnie the Pooh books. Even a non-history enthusiast could not fail to take an interest when he shows the various remnants of the fort’s past, or tells the story of the ghost said to haunt the “bolt hole” – a passage that circumnavigates the fort in its lower outer wall. Although he seems to enjoy all aspects of his job, it was this tour that saw him at his best, and it was no surprise when he told us that he is hoping that when the company opens the planned museum on another of the forts it owns, nearby Horse Sands, he will be able to transfer there. I hope he gets his wish, but meanwhile he makes a very good host here on Spitbank.
And when things did go wrong (a mix-up with our breakfast order) he was quick not only to apologise but also to make what he called a “gesture” – a generous halving of our drinks bill. Yes, every company should have a Kyle.
So, fired up with Kyle’s enthusiasm, let is learn a little more about the History of Spitbank Fort
- Historical Travel
Out at sea
Fondest memory: While Spitbank Fort lies a mile out to sea, it is situated in a busy shipping lane with ferries passing to and from the Isle of Wight and naval ships into and out of Portsmouth Harbour, as well as the occasional fishing boat and others besides. So there is always something to see if you look out of a window, or from the hot tub perched on the roof. Even the sauna has a perfectly-positioned window! There are also great views to be had of the Island (as locals call the nearby Isle of Wight) and of Gosport and Portsmouth on the mainland.
We were especially lucky that our bedroom faced east and that we woke up just in time to see a wonderful sunrise over the sea. The previous day had been dull but now there were plenty of gaps in the clouds and the February sun gave us a special display as it rose.
This was a wonderful memory to take away as we left a few hours later. All too soon our visit to Spitbank was over. But if you are thinking of going, I have some suggestions as to what to take with you
Favorite thing: The Spinnaker Tower,
Well worth a visit just for the views alone, and if your about at night look at it from Gosport where you will see it lit up neon blue in all its glory.
The outside lift is glass ,so you can view while going to the top? (not for me) but it will cost you an extra 2.00.pounds.(Sadly the lift has been out of action for sometime).
There is an Internal lift ,so you don't have to walk!, and it is very quick too 29seconds.
I don't think I was imagining it ,but at the top you can feel the tower moving in the wind.
And the views from inside are fantastic.
The very top level is open at the top,so you can hear the wind whistling past.
One tip: if you know somebody who is local to Portsmouth or Gosport and they go with you ,get them to purchase the tickets,you will get a discount.
Fondest memory: The harbour area,watching the boats coming and going, and just enjoying the views from one of the benches along the waterfront.
- Family Travel
An Old Gate in Portsmouth
Favorite thing: PORTSMOUTH CITY GATE
Down here in this neck of the woods, all of the towns seem to have a Romanesque flavour, with good reason. This was part of the Roman Empire at one time. These cities were valued possessions and were walled. The only way into and out of these was through gates. These were obviously built to last.
The pictured gate is, according to a Portsmouth resident, in front of a military installation.
Just seen this site, and am amazed that you can put a picture up of the gateway
and give it a title of city gate.
The gateway you have photographed was the original gate to H.M.S. Nelson,
commonly known as Vicky barracks to all and sundry in the ROYAL NAVY. (including
perhaps you could correct your title so as not to confuse the tourists who come
to Portsmouth.... I am not sure that Portsmouth ever had a "City" Wall around
snogem (Ex R.N. 1960 - 1972)
The history of Gunwharf Quays
Favorite thing: I was quite surprised to find that there was so much fascinating history behind the Gunwharf Quays!
The Quays is now a modern waterfront shopping complex, and one doesn't equate history and nostalgia with this kind of place... but it has it in loads, going back to the 12th century!
It used to be called Richard's Docks, where royal galleys used to dock. This was in the time of Richard I, in 1194!
Back then the shoreline was a few hundred yards back, and didn't extend as far out as it does today. The building of earth embankments and a great dyke in the area increased the land mass.
It was also the first naval ordnance yard. This occurred in the 17th century when boats would collect necessary ammunition like gun powder and cannon balls, as well as much-needed supplies.. before embarking on their sea voyage.
The HMS Vistory collected her gunpowder from here (as did many other ships), for the Battle of Trafalgar.
There is SO much history here, it is fascinating. And, having read the history, and then visited the historic docks, made all the difference to my enjoyment and appreciation of what I saw :)
Today this wharf is a multi-million pound shopping and entertainment complex... a far cry from what it used to be!
- Women's Travel
- Food and Dining
- Family Travel
Favorite thing: In Gunwharf Quay there was a group of talented musicians, playing outside a busy shop (Ralph Lauren).
The instruments were a didgerydoo (sp?), bongo drums, guitars, and a saxaphone.
The didgerydoo was the main instrument, and the others complimented it... the music was jazzy and mellow.
Children were dancing to it, especially this little girl in pink :)
This kind of attraction attracts shoppers, as it makes their shopping experience all the more enjoyable.. and they werent untalneted buskers, they were very talented!
- Arts and Culture
- Family Travel
Fun for the kids!
Favorite thing: On Gunwharf Quay there are plenty of fun things for the kids to do!
Not only does this mean the kids enjoy themselves, but it also means mum and dad can relax a bit whilst their children are being entertained.
They have a bouncy castle with safety walls, and a few joyrides, like little aeroplanes for tiny tots and a little steam train for little tots too. They are well managed and are good fun!
They have musicians that are there for both mum and dad, but the little ones also seem to love them... like the little girl in pink in my photo, who was twirling around and having a ball :)
- Sailing and Boating
- Family Travel
Favorite thing: We were looking for Langstone University grounds, and we found that the signange formt eh A27 wasn't the greatest.
We were led by our noses and our memory, as we had come here before.
There are also some funny signs around, this sign being one... although it's probably more due to our silly humour that we found it funny!
All minor injuries to go one way.. and obviously if you have a major injury, please go the other way... towards the cemetary ;)
It is not a huge area to navigate around, but it big enough to get hopelessly lost if the signage is all you go by.
- Road Trip
- Adventure Travel
Favorite thing: The architecture in Portsmouth is both good and bad in my opinion.
There is plenty of old architecture from the 60s and 70s, which is purpose built and not particularly stylish, and then there are some lovely Georgian buildings too, many of which have desperare need for a coat of paint and some tender loving care though.. and then there are a few, highly polished, exquisite modern buildings!
These buildings make much use of glass and natural light, and with their position being on a busy harbour, it really lends a smart and funky vibe to the harbour.
They are currently building one that I think will look absolutely stunning when finished! This building is in my second photo.
Gunwharf Quay is a relatively new and modern shopping complex that is a waterfront area that fronts onto the harbour area. It is stylish, clean and handles tons of daily visitors! This is definately a drawcard to Portsmouth.
The rest of the photos are Spinnaker, an architectural marvel in it's own right!
It soars high above anything around and is a splendid piece of architecture.. almost like Portsmouth's own lighthouse, surveying the harbour :)
- Arts and Culture
- Museum Visits
Visit the Ships
Favorite thing: Perhaps the important activity here is to have the fortune of visiting a real combat ship. In the picture is the commanding officers cabin on board the Nigerian Flag Ship..Aradu. It is not every time a tourist have such opportunity to see the inside of the priced vessels.
So, it is imperative if you have the opportunity to see these ships as they are sometimes open to visitors.
Fondest memory: I missed the spetacles, the ceremonials, the people and the various ships and Marine helicopters from all over the world that were present here during Trafalga 200.
The Royal George
Fondest memory: A story worth repeating here is about the sinking of the Royal George in 1782.
'The Royal George was launched in 1756. Her compliment was 864 men and 104 guns. She was in turn the flagship of Admirals Anson, Boscawen and Rodney, and was the finest ship in the Navy. She sank on August 29th, 1782, while lying at Spithead. It is estimated that about 900 persons perished, including Admiral Kempenfelt: for, as was customary with Navy ships preparing for sea, the Royal George was crowded with shore folk. According to the Admiralty report at the time, some repairs to her watercock had been ordered. To raise the tap above the water the ship was canted over: her port guns were run out as far as possible and her starboard guns were brought inboard, amidships. Unfortunately the lower gun ports were left open, and the sea washing in added enormously to the overwhelming weight on the port side. The danger was realized too late: the doomed vessel heeled over, carrying hundreds of men and women to the bottom.'
An inquiry later proved that this version was untrue. Owing to the neglected condition of the ship the bottom fell out, and she sank like a stone.
See my Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Travelogue for more historic information. Just click here
Portsmouth Royal Dockyard
Favorite thing: Portsmouth is the'home of the Royal Navy', and as such is also home to many famous British ships, the most famous of which must be HMS Victory*
Fondest memory: Another famous ship that I saw here, but sadly will not return, is the former HMY Britannia.* Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia (more commonly called the Royal Yacht Britannia) was built by the Clyde (Glasgow) shipbuilders Messrs John Brown and co., and was launched by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 16th April 1953. I was fortunate enough to see her alongside the Dockyard on one of my sailing courses in Portsmouth Harbour. Britannia was decommissioned on 11th December 1997, and moved to her final destination of Leith, in Edinburgh, where she is now used by a private commercial company.
Favorite thing: The southern part of Portsmouth is called Southsea and is kind of a small city grown together with Portsmouth. This part is wonderful, maybe cause it's by the beach? ;-) The main spots are the 2 piers, South Parade Pier and Clarence Pier. Along the beach is a beachwalk which takes you past places such as the D-day museum, Southsea castle, model village, markets, historical sights, etc.
Fondest memory: I love to sit on the beach in the evening with a bag of chips (fries). Magic! ;-)
- Historical Travel
- Family Travel
- Water Sports
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