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Historic England Research Records

Southsea Castle

Hob Uid: 462011
Location :
City of Portsmouth
Non Civil Parish
Grid Ref : SZ6434098010
Summary : Southsea Castle was a Henrician artillery castle built between 1538 and 1544 as part of Henry VIII's network of coastal fortifications to protect England against the threat of French and Spanish invasion. It has been altered several times and has had various uses. During the English Civil War, the castle was taken by Parliamentary forces in 1642. The outer wall was reconstructed in 1670 and again around 1812. It was used as a military prison from 1814 until 1850 and in 1820 a lighthouse was built which is still in use today. The castle was refortified with the addition of coastal batteries in the 1860s and around 1902 (see associated records). In 1960 the castle was decommissioned and was acquired by Portsmouth City Council which has restored it to its 19th century appearance.Southsea castle originally consisted of a small internal square keep within a cruciform-planned walled enclosure with north and south bastions. Although it still retains this basic shape, a number of alterations have taken place. The castle was surrounded by a dry moat. The outer wall was reconstructed by de Gomme in 1670 and then again in 1812. In this later work a counterscarp gallery was added around the moat, which had a passage running around itwith loopholes to provide flanking fire for the moat. There was also a caponier or covered passage, which led from inside the castle to the counterscarp gallery. It is said that Southsea castle was designed by Henry VIII himself, who introduced the latest in fortification design from the continent. Not long after the castle had been completed, the king was there in person on 18 July 1545, when a French Fleet approached Portsmouth and landed on the Isle of Wight. The next day he also witnessed from Southsea Castle the sinking of his flagship, the Mary Rose.
More information : (Centred at SZ 64349801) Southsea Castle. (1)

The building of Southsea Castle may have begun in 1538: it was reported complete in 1544. A plan of 1577 shows a central tower, 50' square, flanked by platforms and enclosed within a moat. In 1759 the east wing was accidentally blown up. The castle was left in ruins until 1814 when it was repaired and used as a military prison, which function it performed until 1850. (2)

The general plan of Southsea Castle is very similar to its plan in 1577 (2), but in its present state it is almost entirely as "Reformed AD MDCCCXIV Major General Fisher Commanding Royal Engineers" (wall plaque)

The square central tower stands intact, 3 storeys high. It is almost entirely original 16th cent stonework (Quarr stone), but patched, the parapet added and windows inserted in 1814. The curtain and the outer wall of the now dry moat follow the lines of the old work (except to seaward where they are now curved) but they are entirely of 19th cent brickwork faced with ashlar. Entry to the castle is through an arch at the point where a bridge is shown on the 1577 plan. The platforms flanking the tower have been replaced by ranges of rooms roofed with gun platforms. (3)

Southsea Castle, now the museum of the City of Portsmouth, in excellent condition. There are 19th c defences to E and W of the castle. (4)

The design of the castle, and its remodelling in 1545 are important in that it was probably the first English fort to be fully flanked. The central square keep was surrounded by a curtain wall and moat effectively forming a large rectangle from North-West to South-East supporting gun platforms at both ends, and large bastions on the other sides, making the whole fort compact. Recent examinations at the re-entrant angle between the North-West bastion and South-East platform uncovered an inverted flanker to cover the South-West face of the North-West bastion. These were probably inverted shortly after completion and would be the earliest datable instances in English fortifications. (See Illus 3, A). At the same time 4 traverses of timber and planks were constructed from each corner of the keep to the curtain wall (Illus 3 C) and 2 long traverses of timber complemented these `to beat the entry to the platforms', (Illus 3 B). The long traverses effectively turned each platform into a caponier, again the first instance of such a feature in England, and probably dates to 1545/6. (5)

The only improvement made by de Gomme at the end of the C17th was to add a glacis and covered-way. Following the magazine explosion of 1759 and a period of neglect, the fort was extensively altered by General Fisher in 1814, being extended to the North-East and having the South-West side of the Keep joined to the South-Western range of buildings, decreasing the open yard area within the curtain. More interestingly, a counterscarp gallery joined to the South-West bastion's salient by a bomb-proof caponier, was built around the outside of the moat to enable defenders to cut down attackers from the rear. (Illus 5) (6)

Following the 1859 Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, it was recommended that open batteries be added to each flank, with a gorge wall on the landward side loopholed for marketry. This allowed for 22 rifled 9" or 10" on the seaward face, 9 Armstrong guns for flank defence, 4 mortars, and on the East flank, a 13.3" RML gun, but the latter was never built. The eventual armament comprised 7" 7 ton and 9" 12 ton RML guns installed in 1870, and shortly after that at 12.5" 38 ton gun on a barbette platform where the 13.3" had been installed. Towards the end of the century, it was rearmed with 9.2" BL guns on barbette mountings, 6" on central pivot mountings and some 4.7" quick-firing guns. These remained until after WWII and a coast artillery maintenance battery was stationed there until 1956 (See Illus card 6 for plan in 1869). (7)

For a good description of the Henrician castle and its later refortifications please refer to the Hampshire HER record. (8)

The castle was built in 1544 by Henry VIII to protect the country from invasion. During the English Civil War the Castle was captured by Parliamentarian forces. The castle has been strengthened various times through its history and was completely renovated in 1814. It has had many other uses besides defence, including being used as a military prison, and a lighthouse was built in the 1820s, still in use by shipping today. In 1960 the Castle was acquired by Portsmouth City Council and it has been restored to its 19th century appearance.
Southsea Castle was said to have been designed by the King himself and incorporated the latest continental ideas on the lay-out of artillery forts. Soon after it was finished a French invasion fleet approached Portsmouth and landed on the Isle of White on 18 July 1545. The next day Henry VIII's flagship, the Mary Rose, sank in front of the Castle. (9)

The castle retains the shape it had as a Henrician coastal fort with a cruciform plan with bastions on the N and S, with an internal square keep. It has been reconstructed and adapted various times. The keep contains much early masonry and has three blocked windows or gun posts with four central heads. The keep is surrounded by a bastioned outer wall reconstructed by de Gomme 1670. It was reconstructed again in the 19th century. The counterscarp of the moat has a passage running around it with loops for providing flanking fire for the moat. This counterscarp is connected to the interior of the castle by a caponier on the south. (10)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1931-8
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Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : "Early Portsmouth Defences" 1923, 6, 11-4, 37-8 Plan Illus (Lilley).
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Source Number : 3
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 VJB 12-AUG-55
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Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F2 ASP 10-JAN-69
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Source Number : 5
Source : The history of the King's Works, volume 4 : 1485-1660 (Part 2)
Source details :
Page(s) : 557-63
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Source Number : 6
Source : The Archaeological Journal
Source details :
Page(s) : 145-6,148,155,196-8
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Vol(s) : 123, 1966
Source Number : 7
Source : Coast defences of England and Wales, 1856-1956
Source details :
Page(s) : 137-9
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Source Number : 8
Source : World Wide Web page
Source details : Heritage Gateway. 2009. Hampshire's Archaeology and Historic Buildings Record Search Southsea Castle, [Accessed 08-APR-2009]
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Source Number : 9
Source : World Wide Web page
Source details : Southsea Castle. 2009. Southsea Castle, [Accessed 08-APR-2009]
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Source Number : 10
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 19-Oct-81
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Tudor
Display Date : Built 1538-44
Monument End Date : 1544
Monument Start Date : 1538
Monument Type : Artillery Castle, Artillery Fort
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Stuart
Display Date : Captured 1642
Monument End Date : 1642
Monument Start Date : 1642
Monument Type : Artillery Castle
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Stuart
Display Date : Altered 1670
Monument End Date : 1670
Monument Start Date : 1670
Monument Type : Artillery Castle
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Georgian
Display Date : Reconstructed 1812
Monument End Date : 1812
Monument Start Date : 1812
Monument Type : Artillery Castle
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Georgian
Display Date : Change in function 1814
Monument End Date : 1814
Monument Start Date : 1814
Monument Type : Military Prison
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Georgian
Display Date : Built 1820
Monument End Date : 1820
Monument Start Date : 1820
Monument Type : Lighthouse
Evidence : Extant Structure
Monument Period Name : Victorian
Display Date : Built 1860s
Monument End Date : 1869
Monument Start Date : 1860
Monument Type : Coastal Battery
Evidence : Extant Structure
Monument Period Name : Early 20th Century
Display Date : Built 1902
Monument End Date : 1902
Monument Start Date : 1902
Monument Type : Coastal Battery
Evidence : Extant Structure
Monument Period Name : Mid 20th Century
Display Date : Decomissioned 1960
Monument End Date : 1960
Monument Start Date : 1960
Monument Type : Historical Site
Evidence : Extant Building

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : HA 259
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Hampshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 19012
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SZ 69 NW 12
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1429196
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1448351
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1522071
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SZ 69 NW 12
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1955-08-12
End Date : 1955-08-12
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SZ 69 NW 12
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1969-01-10
End Date : 1969-01-10
Associated Activities : Primary, SOUTHSEA CASTLE BANDSTAND
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2004-01-01
End Date : 2004-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LANDSCAPES OF WAR RECORDING PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 2008-01-01
End Date : 2009-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SOUTHSEA CASTLE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2011-01-01
End Date : 2011-12-31