|Location||Fareham, County of Hampshire, England (Google Maps)|
|Open for Visitors||Yes|
|Owned by||Southwick Estate|
|Rooms Available||Yes (Weddings, Filming)|
Portchester Castle is strategically built in a commanding position at the north end of Portsmouth Harbour. Visitors can also enjoy a family picnic on the lawns within the castle walls, surrounded by history and a scenic environment. Portchester Castle Weddings are also famous at St Mary’s Parish Church within the castle.
Portchester Castle was built as a Roman fort, one amongst the series of coastal forts now infamous as the Forts of the Saxon Shore. These forts were built over the 3rd century to meet the threat presented by Saxon pirates raiding Roman Britain’s south coast. The fort was strategically built here because of its commanding position at a huge natural harbour’s head. Even though the date of the original fort is not known, coins recently found on the site date it back to about AD268. Evidence suggests that the fort was founded by Marcus Aurelius Carausius, the man appointed by Emperor Diocletian in about AD 285 to command the Roman fleet in the Channel.
The castle was abandoned in the early 5th century when the Romans withdrew from Britain. The Roman fort is believed to have been almost subsequently occupied till the end of Roman Britain in the early 5th century. Evidence also suggests that people continued to live in the castle, and by the 10th century, a high-status hall was established on the site. However, the site was converted into a fortified town called ‘burh’ by King Edward, the Elder, in AD 904. These sites concentrated on economic activity and ensured that it was taxable and defendable from Viking raids.
Following the Norman Conquest, Portchester Castle was granted to William Maudit, and it was he who raised the castle. When he died in 1100, the castle was passed to his son, Robert Maudit. Unfortunately, he was killed in the White Ship disaster in 1120. Later the castle was passed through marriage to William Pont de l’Arche.
Portchester Castle came under the control of the Crown in 1154 during the reign of Henry II. He gave a modest sum of money to enhance the accommodation and periodically used these facilities when travelling to and from the continent. The castle was prepared for a siege in 1173 amidst a rebellion against the King, but no action was recorded. Many upgrades were made during the reign of King John, who regularly hunted in the Forest of Bere, situated nearby.
During the Hundred Years War, Portchester Castle became a marshalling ground for troops departing to fight in France. The forces of Edward III left Porchester and went on to win at Crecy and Calais. Henry V also sailed from there on the campaign that culminated in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. While staying at Portchester Castle, the King uncovered the ‘Southampton Plot,’ an alleged attempt to kill him before leaving for France.
When the Hundred Years’ war became weaker, Portchester Castle was abandoned, and by the 1450s, it became ruinous. Several repairs were made during the reign of Henry VIII, and it reportedly also hosted a Royal visit in 1535. More repairs were made during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Queen also briefly resided at the castle in 1603.
King Charles I sold Portchester Castle to Sir William Uvedale in 1632. It was taken over and guarded by Parliamentary troops during the Civil War. It was later returned to Sir William after the war, but during the Second Dutch War (1665-67), it was requisitioned to accommodate 500 prisoners of war. The Government leased it in the 18th century for the same purpose. By 1747, approximately 2,500 men were prisoned in the castle. The last of the prisoners left the castle in May 1814, and four years later, the site was abandoned by the army. The military and prison facilities were demolished, and the site remained disregarded until it was placed under State care in 1926.
Over the many centuries of its existence, Portchester Castle has been renovated and rebuilt many times. Its use was always altered to suit the needs of its owners. Parts of the castle were rebuilt into a Norman keep in the 11th century, and later in the 14th century, Richard II transformed the castle into a palace. Like their Roman predecessor, both of these renditions served as defensive structures. Portchester remains the best-preserved Roman fort in northern Europe. It is the only one whose entire defensive structure survives little altered from when it was built. However, during the Napoleonic Wars, the role of Portchester Castle changed. It then became a prison for around 7,000 French prisoners of war. This change reduced the importance of Portchester Castle as a defensive structure. Portchester Castle Walk includes an exhibition within the keep, which interprets the castle’s history and the wider Portchester village. There are also several items on display that were discovered during excavations on the site. The audio tour helps explain life in the castle over the centuries to the visitors.
The Weaker Sex (1948)– Portchester Castle is featured in the drama movie ‘ The Weaker Sex’ about the life of a housewife Martha Dacre, who tries to keep her home running as normal as possible during World War II
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Portchester Castle?
Portchester Castle is situated south side of Portchester, off the A27, which can be joined by exiting the M27 at Junction 11. There is free parking available just outside the castle and less than 200 meters from the entrance. Portchester train station is also less than a mile away from the castle if you are traveling via public transport. There are direct lines available to Portchester from London, Waterloo, and Southampton.
How old is Portchester Castle?
Portchester Castle’s history began in the 3rd century AD when the Romans built it to serve as a fortified Naval Base.
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