WHY IS PORTSMOUTH CALLED POMPEY?

Pompey

Everyone knows that Portsmouth, both the football club and the city, is known as Pompey, but why? There are numerous theories and explanations, some more believable than others. Listed below are some of them, but which is the real explanation, make your own mind up.

Nobody seems to be able to put forward a definitive answer to this question, but we have gathered together various possible explanations of why Portsmouth is called Pompey.

POMPEY THEORIES

• Legend has it that a snoozing, drunken sailor on shore leave in Portsmouth, interrupted a lecture on the Roman Empire given by naval temperance worker, Dame Agnes Weston founder of the Royal Sailors Rests, 'aggie weston's'. When he heard that the emperor Pompey had died, the sailor shouted out 'Poor old Pompey' in a drunken slur, the name was taken up by others at the lecture and moved into common usage.

Pompey's pillar at Alexandria • It is said that a group of Portsmouth based sailors, who climbed Pompey's Pillar near Alexandria in Egypt around 1781, became known as the 'Pompey Boys' in recognition of their feat and that this term carried over into common usage to describe anyone from the City of Portsmouth.

• Pompey's pillar in Alexandria, Egypt, is a 28m high granite column, mistakenly attributed to the Roman General Pompey, but actually built as a memorial to the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The pillar is made from very smoothly worked granite, so climbing it would have been quite a challenge.

• Portsmouth has been a port ever since Roman times, the Romans having a military base at nearby Portchester. Later when the port started to be developed locals nicknamed it Pompey, likening it to Pompeii which was well known for its Roman ruins.

• The pomp and ceremony connected with the Royal Navy based at Portsmouth led to the adoption of the nickname, Pompey.

Plaque at Sally Port, Old Portsmouth, Pompey

• The City of Bombay in India was part of the wedding dowry of Catherine of Braganza, a member of the Portuguese royal family, when she married Charles II in 1662. As part of the marriage contract England received Tangier in north Africa and several islands in India, including Bombay. In return Portugal secured military and naval support from England as protection against Spain. Catherine arrived in England at Portsmouth and the wedding ceremony took place at the Domus Dei at Portsmouth. Portuguese seaman in the party saw a resemblance between the two ports and may have called Portsmouth 'Bom Bhia' which was then Anglicised becoming Pompey.

"The points of resemblance between Bombay and Portsmouth are: both are islands; both have good harbours; the two cities are flat with the exception that Bombay has a strip of high land running from Malabar Point to Mahaluxmi, and both are only a few feet above sea level" Evening News -- December 2nd 1933 p. 3, col. 3.

• Pompey is merely a drunkards slurred pronunciation of Portsmouth Point in Old Portsmouth (where in the past there were many taverns popular with sailors)

• Ships entering Portsmouth harbour make an entry in the ships log Pom. P. as a reference to Portsmouth Point (this being too long). Navigational charts also use this abbreviation.

• La Pompee was a captured French ship moored in Portsmouth harbour and used for prison accommodation, (captured 1793 and broken up 1817). The Pompee was newly built when she was captured by the Royal Navy from the French, during the Siege of Toulon in 1794. La Pompee was a Temeraire class ship of the French Navy and her capture allowed the Royal Navy to copy the design and build their own vessels using this highly successful French naval weapon. After a highly successful career in the Royal Navy, serving in many campaigns in Europe and the Caribbean, as HMS Pompee, the ship was used as a prison hulk in Portsmouth Harbour in 1816 and she was eventually broken up in 1817.

• Volunteer firemen in the eighteenth century (known as pompiers) used to exercise on Southsea Common. The word Pompier is French for fireman and as the first modern style fire services were developed in France in the early 18th century, it is likely the new French term was used for a period. The new fire brigade at Southsea are said to have used the open space available at Southsea Common to carry out training and exercise.

• Another very similar theory is that the Portsmouth Football Team were formed from the team of the Royal Artillery, who were the original Pompeys. "The name was acquired in this way: At a Queen's Birthday Review the Royal Artillery were employed to line the parade instead of marching past. They were chaffed a good deal at being relegated to a job which was, in those days, done in Paris by the Fire Brigade (les Pompiers), and the next time the team turned out they were hailed as 'Pompiers' and the name stuck."
Evening News -- October 9th 1934 p. 6, col. 7.

If you have any alternative explanations as to why Portsmouth is called Pompey, or how this term originated, we would be pleased to hear from you, contact details are shown here.