SOUTHSEA CASTLE

Southsea Castle
Southsea Castle main gate

Southsea Castle was built by Henry VIII between 1544 and 1545 to protect Portsmouth against possible French invasion. Its revolutionary design provided for the most efficient use of guns in attack or defence as artillery started to dominate warfare.

John Chaderton was responsible for the construction of the castle assisted by the architect and engineer Anthony Knyvet.

The castle was built at a highly strategic point of the coast, due to the position of the sea channels at this point, no substantial ships or vessels, can approach the mouth of Portsmouth harbour without passing very close to the castle, where they could easily be fired upon by the artillery stationed there.

Henry's famous warship the Mary Rose, housed in Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard, was sunk in the waters of the Solent just in front of the castle, in 1545.

The lighthouse at Southsea Castle in Portsmouth.

The castle was extended during the reign of Charles II and it is his coat of arms that can be seen carved above the main gate. Charles employed a Dutch engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme to oversee the redevelopment work and elaborate earthworks were added as well as a glacis and a covered way. A glacis is an artificial slope of earth used in late European fortresses constructed to keep any potential assailant under the fire of the defenders until the last possible moment.

The castle had a troubled history, in 1626 it was badly damaged by fire, in panic several ships moored nearby tried to get away from the fire, fearing explosions, and ran themselves aground in the shallows. Ironically at this time the castle had not yet been equipped with guns or gunpowder, so the risk was quite minimal. The fire destroyed all of the timber built buildings within the castle, designed to house the officers and soldiers. As Charles I was in conflict with Parliament at the time, he was unable to raise funds for the repairs required. Captains of the castle were constantly pleading for funds to be made available to repair the castle and properly equipped to bring it up to strength.

Canons on the ramparts of Southsea Castle.

In March of 1640, another fire broke out at the castle causing further damage and destroying lodging rooms and store rooms for ammunition and provisions.

At the start of the Civil War the castle was still under strength and was easily taken by Parliamentary forces. Observing that most of the castles guns were positioned on the landward side, climbed the wall on the seaward side and were able to take the castle, under the command of Captain Challoner, without a single loss of life. The castle saw action during the English Civil War, being captured by Parliamentary forces, read more about the siege of Portsmouth.

Disaster again hit the castle in 1759, the Duke of Richmond and his regiment were camped on Southsea Common and had been given permission to store their ammunition and gun powder at the castle. Women were cooking in the room above the munition store and embers from the fire fell through the gaps in the floorboards causing an explosion. 17 men women and children were killed. Following this accident, ammunition was not stored at the castle again, being kept instead at a second building on the common known as the Firebarn.

Southsea Castle at Portsmouth

In 1814 the castle was modernised reflecting new ideas of fortification. At the request of the Admiralty, the lighthouse was erected near the west bastion in 1820. Additional gun batteries were added to the east and the west flanks some 40 years later, and a brick wall with loopholes was erected on the landward side to give some protection from these batteries being over run. In the 19th century a tunnel was built to defend the castle moat. Visitors can still enter the tunnel and see how the castle would have been defended against invaders. By the 1950s, modern weapons had rendered coastal artillery obsolete and Southsea Castle was subsequently purchased by the City Council in 1960. The castle was opened to the public for the first time in 1967.

The castle houses a small museum, spread over several floors of the keep and the rooftop of the keep provides excellent views across the Solent towards the Isle of Wight.

SOUTHSEA CASTLE DETAILS

Opening times:
March - October, Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 5pm,
last entry is 30 mins before closing time.
Closed on Mondays (except for Bank Holidays).
Admission is FREE

Parking: The closest car park is the D-Day Museum car park, which is just a short walk away from the castle, this is also a coach park.