19 bizarre facts every local should know about Portsmouth
Portsmouth Gunwharf Quays

A new, updated version of this article can be found here

Ever dug deep into your local history? Have you wondered how many cars pass those sails just outside of Portsmouth each year or who made a name for themselves in Australia?

Tayler Willson presents 19 facts that will astound you (and provide plenty fodder for a future pub quiz).

1. It’s the second most densely populated city in the United Kingdom

It’s rare, when walking around Portsmouth in the day, that you find yourself completely alone in any PO location. Well, according to the latest consensus, the city has a mega population of just over 209,000 and is the second most densely-populated city in the country after Central London. Rumour has it it’s the thirteenth most densely-populated city in Europe!

2. Football’s first floodlit league game was played in Portsmouth

On February 22nd 1956, Portsmouth Football club’s Fratton Park played host to the first ever league match in the United Kingdom to be played under floodlights. Newcastle ran out 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Bill Curry and Vic Keeble. The late Jackie Milburn was given the Man of the Match award for Newcastle too.

3. Portsmouth is on the oldest surviving route map

The city appears on the oldest surviving route map of Britain, thought to be from around 1360. The map shows six-hundred towns and cities. Portsmouth is named as ‘Portis Mouth’ and has the image of a single red-bricked-roofed building thought to be related to near-by Fareham.

4. Fancy visiting Portsmouth?

A trip to Portsmouth isn’t expensive. But what it does cost contributes majorly to the city, totalling £375.5m from the visitors who stay here. Not bad.

5. Wymering Manor is quite old

Fratton Park may look pretty pre-historic, with its chipped paintwork, nervy stairs and paperclip floodlights, but the oldest recorded building in the entire city is actually a little further afield: Wymering Manor. The eerie-looking building was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. It was first recorded in 1042 when it was owned by King Edward the Confessor.

6. It’s forever breaking boring records

The development of the IBM site on reclaimed land at North Harbour between 1967 and 1982 resulted in the largest office building in the UK at the time.

7. H.G. Wells had his say too

Author H.G. Wells worked in Portsmouth as an apprentice between 1881-83 and admitted to despising the place. He’s said to have described it as “the most unhappy, hopeless period of my life”. Clearly H.G. hadn’t been to the Edge of the Wedge on a Friday night.

8. Those damn Americans stealing our names and stuff

Our south coastal paradise isn’t the only place in the world to be labelled ‘Portsmouth’. In fact there are said to be at least seven other cities with the same name, all can be found in the United States. Portland, Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia and Rhode Island. Oh, and an abandoned fishing village in North Carolina.

9. Sir Henry Ayers is big Down Under

A Y E R S R O C K . The dream comes true 💪🏼 ❤️ #Uluru #AyersRock #redcenter #Australia

A post shared by Héloïse (@hocquemiller) on

It is 9,366 miles from Portsmouth to Uluru, the massive sandstone rock in central Australia that used to be known as Ayer’s Rock. It was named after Sir Henry Ayers who was born in Portsea in 1821, the son of a dockyard worker, and who was the premier of South Australia five times.

10. “Wave at the sails, kids!”

You know the Sails of the South that stare you right in the face as you drive on the M275? Well, each year an estimated 31,000,000 vehicles pass the structure each year. 31,000,000. (Thirty-one-million). Crazy.

11. Portsmouth’s Playmate of the Year

The first centrefold to display full-frontal nudity in a magazine is believed to have been of Portsmouth-born Marilyn Cole, who also has the distinction of becoming the only British model to be Playboy’s Playmate of the Year. #Goals.

12. Jack the Painter was a local terrorist

Jack the Painter, one of several names given to an arsonist, has been described as the first modern terrorist. He planted an incendiary device in the dockyard rope house in 1776, 171 years after Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot. He was hanged from the highest gibbet in Britain, 65ft above the dockyard gates – a lesser known fact we don’t really want to brag about.


Nelson's HMS Victory

Approximately 6,000 trees were used in the construction of HMS Victory. The oak used in the underwater planking came from Poland and East Prussia and is two feet thick at the waterline. Still, she’s in pristine condition, so we can let them off on that one.

14. It’s home to the UK’s biggest fruit handling port

Portsmouth Harbour is the largest fruit-handling ports in the country and processes: 100% of the UK’s Jersey potatoes; 70% of the UK’s bananas and 100% of the UK’s Moroccan citrus fruits. No excuse to abandon your five-a-day rule now, aye.

15. A little Les Miserables in the Heart of Portsmouth

The recent adaptation of Les Miserables, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway had certain scenes filmed in the Portsmouth Dockyard. For those who’ve seen the film, the song ‘Look Down’ was sung there. And Hugh Jackman cried too.

16. “Have you been involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault?”

Former Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder was involved in a freak accident in Portsmouth in the 19th century. A gale blew in a window of the Queen’s Room, Portsea, and shards of glass sliced through his neck. He was alright though. Went up QA, waited for nine hours, they stuck a plaster on it and he got the bus home. Apparently.

17. “Have you been involved in another accident that wasn’t your fault?”

The Royal George was being repaired at Spithead on August 29, 1782 when a sudden breeze apparently forced her over, water poured in and she sank in an instant. About 1,000 members of the ship’s company died with up to 300 women and 60 children.

18. Bonham-Carter has Portsmouth links

The actress Helena Bonham Carter is the great-great-granddaughter of John Bonham Carter, MP for Portsmouth from 1816-1838.

19. Harry Redknapp actually has the Key to the City

No words here. Just think about that for a second.

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Main image: Pixabay