The Middle Ages
Gosport was founded early in the 13th century. The name Gosport is
probably a corruption of goose port, perhaps because wild geese
gathered there. (In the Middle Ages goose was often spelt gose, so it
was called Goseport but later the 'e' was dropped).
Gosport was only a small market town and port. It only a few hundred
inhabitants. Many of the men in Gosport were fishermen. In the 15th
century a tower called the blockhouse was built on the site of Fort
Blockhouse to defend the entrance of the harbour.
The 16th and 17th Centuries
Haselford castle was built about 1545, south of Gosport, on the site
of fort Gilkicker. This castle lasted only till about 1560 but the
name lives on in Haseleford Drive.
In the 16th century a writer described Gosport as a fishermen's
village. Shipbuilding and sail making were other industries in Gosport.
However Gosport remained a small market town and port until the 17th
In 1642 came civil war between King and Parliament. Gosport supported
Parliament, while Portsmouth supported the king. Parliamentary
soldiers laid siege to Portsmouth. They set up guns at Gosport roughly
where the bus station is today, behind a protective screen of logs and
bombarded Portsmouth, which soon surrendered. However Gosport was
sacked in the year 1645 by the kings army. However Gosport soon
In the late 17th and 18th centuries Portsmouth grew rapidly. The navy
created a huge demand for beer, meat, bread, and other goods.
Tradesmen in Gosport supplied some of Portsmouth's needs. Gosport grew
rapidly, partly because a huge market for its goods existed on the
other side of the harbour.
In 1627 it was suggested that the dockyard at Portsmouth should be
transferred to Gosport. This suggestion was rejected but they did
build storehouses for the dockyard at Gosport, as well as timber yards
and ropewalks (where rope was made). In the early 18th century a
brewery and storehouses for the navy were built in Gosport. There was
also an iron industry in Gosport in the 18th century supplying
artefacts for the dockyard.
In 1677 King Charles II decided that Gosport should be fortified. An
earth rampart was erected around Gosport with a dry moat outside it.
About 1680 Charles II also built a fort on Burrow Island. It was
demolished in the early 19th century. Another fort was built roughly
where the Falklands gardens are today. In 1782 it was sold and turned
into a pub. Gosport was part of the parish of Alverstoke until 1694
when the church of the Holy Trinity was consecrated. In 1693 a rich
inhabitant of Gosport built some almshouses in Bemisters Lane off
Middle Street for old people.
The 18th Century
Gosport had 3 main streets, North Street, Middle Street (High Street)
and South Street). There was also north and south Cross Streets. In
Middle Street was Market House. This building was on stilts. The
council met in the building and a market was held underneath. A
cobbled slipway called the hard jutted into the sea where the ferry
gardens are today.
After 1717 Gosport had 3 weekly markets and 2 fairs. (A fair was like
a market but was held only once a year and attracted people from all
over Hamsphire). The 2 fairs were held in May and October. They both
closed in 1900.
In 1725 a workhouse was built in South Street were the destitute
lived. In 1801 a new workhouse was built in Alverstoke. Workhouse Lake
is named after it.
In 1750 the government bought land north of Gosport from Jane Priddy.
By 1759 a fort was built there. Later a gunpowder magazine was built
there. Until 1768 gunpowder was stored in the square tower in Old
Portsmouth. In 1768 the citizens petitioned the king saying it was not
safe to store the gunpowder there. So it was moved to a new location
near Priddys hard fort. The new gunpowder magazine was built between
1771 and 1778. Later gunpowder was manufactured there as well as
cannonballs. Priddys hard had its own cooperage where barrels were
made for storing powder.
In 1763 a body of men called the Improvement Commissioners was formed
in Gosport. They had power to pave the streets and remove 'nuisances'
such as obstructions and dangerous overhanging shop and inn signs.
In 1713 Fortune (Forton) hospital was opened but it was only used as a
hospital for a short time. From the 1720's it was used to house French
and later American prisoners of war. At the time of Napoleon there
were also prisoners held in hulks in Forton Creek or in the harbour.
If they died they were buried on Burrow Island which was sometimes
called Rat Island.
Haslar hospital began in 1746 as a hospital for sick or injured
sailors. Fort Monckton was built about 1785. A bridge was built across
Haslar Lake in 1795 but it was so unsafe it was demolished in 1801 and
people went back to using boats to ferry people to the hospital.
In 1777 a writer said 'the town contains 5,000 inhabitants and is
opposite to the sea. Except for the vicinity of the sea, Gosport can
claim little that is attractive, for the town is not pleasant and the
surrounding country has no peculiar charms. The town has the
narrowness and slander of a small country town without its rural
simplicity and with a full share of the vice of Portsmouth, polluted
by the fortunes of sailors and the extravagances of harlots. To these
evils are added the petty pride and sectarian bigotry of a fortified
town'. In 1796 Gosport gained its first theatre. A less pleasant
aspect of life in Gosport at this time were the press gangs. If the
navy were short of men they could, legally arrest men and force them
to join the navy.
The 19th Century
In 1807 Forton barracks was built on the site of Fortune hospital
(Today it is the site of the 6th form college). In 1848 it was given
to the marines. New barracks (later called St Georges barracks)was
built in 1859, north and south of Mumby Road. In 1828 the navy
purchased weevil brewery which had been brewing beer for the navy for
decades. It became the Royal Clarence Victualling yard which provided
beer and biscuits for the navy.
Until 1812 there was a market house on stilts in High Street. In that
year a new building was built near the site of the ferry. In 1834
Gosport obtained gas street lighting for the first time. In 1870 a
drinking fountain was erected in the High Street. It was moved to
Falklands Gardens in the 1920's. a bridge had been erected over Haslar
Lake in 1795 but it was so unsafe it was destroyed in 1801 and anyone
wishing go cross had to go by rowing boat. In 1835 a more permanent
bridge was built. In 1842 a pier was built at Stokes Bay for the
convenience of Queen Victoria when she traveled to the Isle of Wight.
In 1835 a new bridge was built across Haslar Lake.
In the 1850's a ring of forts was built from Portsdown Hill to Fareham
to Gosport in case the French landed somewhere along the coast of
Southern England and tried to attack Portsmouth overland. Two forts,
Gilkicker and Elson were built in 1858. Fort Gomer (now demolished)
and forts Rowner, Brockhurst and Grange were built in 1862. Fort
Blockhouse was rebuilt. In the 1850's gunboat sheds were built by
At the time of the first census in 1801 Gosport had a population of
over 7,000. By 1821 the population of Gosport had reached 10,342 and
by 1851 it was 16,908. Nearly all of the inhabitants lived within the
old walls and Gosport was becoming very overcrowded. By the 1830's new
houses were built in Newtown (which was, at first, called Bingham town
after the man who built it). In 1837 a writer mentioned 'a large
hamlet called Bingham Town to the west of the town of Gosport'. In the
1820's a man named Robert Cruikshank attempted to build a new seaside
resort at Angelesey. (It got its name from the Marquis of Angelesey
who laid the first stone). It consisted of a hotel, baths, reading
rooms and a crescent of houses. However the resort failed.
In 1855 the Gosport was described like this: 'Gosport is a well built,
handsome town but appears to most advantage in the approach by water
as its finest buildings line the coast. Beside this it has a principal
street, extending eastward from the ferry, other parallel streets and
several intersecting them. There are several breweries, shipyards and
a considerable trade chiefly in articles for the supply of the army
By 1851 the population of Gosport had passed 16,000 but over 7,000 of
them still lived inside the walls. Nevertheless by the 1850's the
settlement of Forton was growing. Camden Town grew up in the 1860's
and was named after an area of London. In the late 19th century
Alverstoke became completely built up and the fields separating it
from Gosport disappeared. Gosport Park was laid out in 1891 on the
site of Ewer Common. Around the same time Walpole Park was laid out on
a piece of land called the Horsefield. It was named after Thomas
Walpole, rector of St Marys church, Alverstoke. In 1894 the main gate
was demolished with parts of the ramparts.
In 1848 638 people died in a cholera epidemic in Gosport. The grand
sum of 200 pounds was spent clearing away filth and garbage from the
streets but no attempt was made to provide proper drains or sewers. At
the time the only drains were gulleys at the sides of roads.
Most people in the old part of Gosport used cesspits, which were often
located under buildings. In 1883 a writer said 'The cesspools are
emptied as a rule, about once every 3 or 4 years and then it has to be
carried by buckets through our dwelling houses making the rooms not
fit to live in for 24 hours after'. There was the old moat around
Gosport, which was filled with, rubbish. The stench from it was said
to be unbearable. In 1887 there was an epidemic of smallpox. There
were so many cases tents were erected on wasteland that is now Gosport
Park to provide extra accommodation for the sick. There were many
deaths. In 1898 there was an epidemic of typhoid. Gosport and
Alverstoke Urban District Council was formed in 1894 but they did not
begin to build proper drains and sewers until 1900. It was ready by
1904. Gosport did obtain a piped water supply in 1858.
In 1859 the naval cemetery at Haslar was opened. Gosport gained its
first volunteer fire brigade in 1867. It was taken over by the council
in 1897. For centuries rowing boats had carried people and goods
across the harbour. In 1841 Gosport was connected by railway to
Southampton via Fareham. In 1863 an extension was built to Stokes Bay.
In 1894 an extension was made to Lee on Solent. In 1870 horse drawn
trams began running in Gosport. They were replaced by electric trams
in 1903-06. Gosport obtained its first public library in 1891. In 1901
it moved to a building in Walpole Road which is now the museum. In
1889 a man named Blake opened an isolation hospital for people with
infectious diseases. It later became Blake Maternity hospital then a
The 20th Century
The submarine base at Gosport dates from 1905. In 1914 Grange airfield
at Rowner was occupied by the Fleet Air Arm.
Gosport gained its first electricity supply in 1907. The first cinema
opened in 1910. By the 1930's there were 4 of them. Gosport's
population reached 32,000 by 1910 and rose to about 50,000 by 1939. In
1922 Gosport became a Borough. It was also given a grant from central
government to provide work for the unemployed. Lawn tennis courts were
built at Stokes Bay, so was an promenade. The old cocklepond was
turned into Gosport Model Lake. the old cobbled hard was filled in and
the esplanade, Ferry Gardens were built. (In 1984 they were renamed
the Falklands Gardens). In 1924 an open-air swimming pool opened. In
the late 1920's the remaining ramparts around Gosport were demolished.
In 1923 the war memorial hospital opened.
In the early 1920's the first council houses were built in Gosport,
some 430 of them. In the 1930's Elson and Hardway became built up.
Many of the new houses were occupied by dockyard workers, because the
rents were cheaper than those in Portsmouth. In 1927 Forton barracks
was turned into St Vincent training school for young sailors, it
closed in 1967. In 1929 the last trams ran. They were replaced by
buses. In 1937 Privett park sports ground was laid out for cricket,
hockey and football.
During world war II 11,000 houses were damaged in Gosport and nearly
500 were destroyed. Furthermore 111 civilians were killed and 289 were
wounded. In 1945 the council began to build a new council housing
estate at Bridgemary and Rowner. The first houses were built by German
POW's. Building continued through the late 1940's and 1950's. Many of
the new houses were prefabs. They were made in sections in factories
and could be erected in a few days.
Between 1958 and 1963 new flats were built in the area south of South
Street, which had suffered severely in wartime bombing. There were 11
storey flats and 16 storey flats as well as 4 and 5 storey flats. In
1964 Fort Gomer was sold and demolished to make way for new housing
(the last soldiers had left the fort in 1954). In the mid 1960's a new
estate of flats and houses was built on the site. Fort Brockhurst
opened to the public in 1978. Fort Brockhurst was also made a museum.
Between 1965 and 1970 a new naval estate was built at Rowner. It was
planned to build a mini town with 3,000 homes (flats and houses) for
12,000 people. It was to have its own schools and 12 shops. In the
late 1970's and early 1980's a council housing estate was built at
Holbrook. A swimming pool opened at Holbrook in 1976.
Market Hall, which had been severely damaged by World War II bombing,
was demolished in 1962. A new town hall was built in 1966. The
Precinct off South Street was built in 1966. In 1959 Gosport was
'twinned' with the town of Royan in France. In 1972 a new bus station
was built in South Street. A new central library opened in 1973. Also
in 1973 the museum opened. HMS Dolphin Submarine museum opened in
In 1956 the naval airfield at Rowner, HMS Siskin, was renamed HMS
Sultan and was turned into an engineering training school. HMS Hornet
was a major base of the Coastal forces (they carried out amphibious
raids on German occupied Europe e.g. blowing up U-boat bases). Later,
in the 1970's, it was turned into a sailing centre.
Haslar detention centre opened in 1962 on the site of Haslar barracks.
Bridgemary secondary school opened in 1955. Brune Park secondary
school opened in 1965. The St Vincent training school for young seamen
closed in 1967 and was replaced by St Vincent school in 1975. In 1987
St Vincent school was replaced by Gosport Sixth Form College.
In the 1930's Gosport's industry was still dominated by ship and boat
building and supplying the navy. All that changed after 1945. In the
1950s new factories were erected along Fareham Road and north of Mumby
Road, in an area that had been largely destroyed in wartime bombing.
Among the new factories was a 16-acre site belonging to Cyanamid LTD
which opened in 1958 along Fareham Road. The economy of Gosport
changed to making televisions and other electronic equipment, plastic
products, pharmaceuticals and wallpaper.
In the mid 1960's Hardway industrial estate was built. Quay Lane was
just a track until 1964 when it was turned into a proper road to serve
the estate. In the late 1960's another industrial estate was built on
40 acres near Fort Brockhurst
Many roads were rebuilt as increased ownership of cars meant the old
narrow roads became more and more congested. In 1957 Gosport gained
its first zebra crossing. In 1967 Forton Road was made a dual
carriageway. In 1979 the south relief road was built. In 1980 Haslar
Bridge was rebuilt. This time it was designed for vehicles. A marina
for yachts opened in 1957 north east of the Falklands Gardens. Halsar
marina opened in 1993.
In the 1990's some defence establishments in Gosport closed. The Royal
Clarence Yard in Weevil Lane closed. So did Priddy's Hard. (Part of
the site was later sold for building houses, part is now a museum).
Finally St Georges barracks closed. HMS Dolphin was changed into a
military medical college (apart from the submarine museum). Many
defence jobs were lost. Jobs were also lost in other industries in the
1990's. These included 700 jobs went in 1992 when Ferguson's factory
closed. Nevertheless unemployment in Gosport in the 1990's was lower
than the national average. Today the population of Gosport is over
80,000, and new developments both with Marinas and Priddy's Hard has
seen a new influx of wealth into the Borough. (By Tim Lambert)