'The story of Portsmouth' is the name of those galleries which deal with the topic of what it was and is like to live in Portsmouth. These galleries are on the first floor and include 'Living in Portsmouth,' ‘No Place Like Pompey’ and ‘Portsmouth at Play.’
The first section looks back at life in the home with reconstructions of rooms typical of specific people at different periods in history.
Living in Portsmouth
In the 16th century the town was small and Portsea Island was mainly farmland which is how most people were occupied. The dockyard grew in importance after 1625 due to the necessary defence of the realm and through this prosperity, there were many new buildings by 1685. Examples of these can be seen in Lombard Street and the High Street in Old Portsmouth. The new town of Portsea was occupied by the middle classes. Our 17th-century bedchamber shows what a typical middle class bedroom of this period would have looked like.
In the 18th century, there was a great period of house building but the gap between rich and poor was widening. In the mid 19th century the dockyard was expanding and by 1861, there were 4,314 people employed there. Houses were built for workers such as the ones in Trafalgar Place. In the Victorian era, Havelock Park was built. This included Campbell Road. This was intended to be an exclusive estate but the need to profit meant that smaller ‘villas’ were built where rates were a third of the amount paid by people in older, more fashionable areas such as Grand Parade.
The architect Thomas Ellis Owen created a suburb of large fashionable houses in 1840. The difference between rich and poor dwellings can be seen in our displays of a 19th century dockyard worker's kitchen and a middle class Victorian parlour.
During the years 1800 to 1914, Portsmouth developed its present form when housing spread across almost the whole of the island of Portsea. A major impact on the city was the new International style of the 1930’s, which can be seen in our 1930's dining room.
In the Second World War Portsmouth naval dockyard made it a prime target for German bombers. The city suffered major damage and after the war much of the city had to be rebuilt. During the 1950s many older areas were cleared for new residential developments. Our 1950s kitchen and living room displays bring back memories for many visitors.
Portsmouth at Play
The 'Portsmouth at Play' gallery starts with the development of Southsea as a seaside resort, featuring posters, memorabilia of seaside holidays and working historic amusement machines from the pier arcades. Other sections cover the history of the football club, sport, pubs, theatres, cinemas, coffee bars and ice cream parlours including a booth from Verrechia's, Portsmouth's most popular ice cream parlour from the 1930's to the 1960's. The display also includes archive film of Southsea, seaside holidays, fairs, the circus and other leisure activities from the 1930's through to the 1960's. The cult of healthy living and sunbathing saw the development of the Hilsea Lido in 1935, which you can find out more about in this exhibition.
No Place like Pompey
The 'No Place Like Pompey' gallery shows what makes Portsmouth different. There are many things which give Portsmouth its unique character. It is the only island city in the UK. Throughout much of its history, Portsmouth was one of the most heavily fortified places in the country and even in Europe. The sea has always been a part of Portsmouth's everyday life, and although the dockyard was closed in 1984, the navy and naval heritage remains an important part of the local economy.
Explore the development of our city from the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in the Meon Valley, through to the growth of the Navy and Army and their role in Portsmouth's defence, and the history of Portsmouth as a tourist destination. Try on naval uniforms, watch interviews with residents and find out what Portsmouth means to all those who live here.
For all our other galleries see the exhibitions page on our main portal.