Page 34 - Hilsea Lines and Portsbridge
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Hilsea Lines and Portsbridge                                                                       Solent Papers No.4

         The joint London & Brighton and South Western
         Railway Committee had wanted to cross the moat with
         an embankment and the creek with a fixed bridge but
         neither the War Office nor the Admiralty would agree to
         this proposal. To meet the demands of the Admiralty,
         the bridge could be opened by swinging each half
         horizontally in opposite directions, so that each span lay
         minutes and had a complement of five men each. Preview
         parallel to the northern shore of the creek. The ends of
         the bridge rested on the bridge abutments when closed,
         on wooden dolphins in the open position but to keep the
         bridge horizontal whilst traversing, an overhead gantry
         and tensioner wires prevented the span from sagging at
         its unsupported end. By Admiralty order, the bridge had  Pickett-Hamilton Pillbox moved from the airfield at
         to be opened on the first Sunday in February, between 2  SU673039 to the D Day Museum at Southsea.
         am and 3 am, and since it was probably not opened at all  Hilsea Barracks
         other than to comply with this order, the selection of this  The barracks at Hilsea was constructed in 1756 and
         type of bridge is understandable. At the end of the First  housed various regiments of the British Army, and the
         World War, permission was granted by the Admiralty to  Royal Marine Light Infantry, until they were removed to
         make this a fixed bridge and all the overhead gantries  Forton Barracks in Gosport in 1848. In 1854, the
         and cables were removed. The turntables and the ends of  barracks was rebuilt and from then on, batteries of the
         the old cables may still be seen however, upon close  Royal Field Artillery were in residence, alternating
         inspection.                                           between home and overseas postings. By 1921, the
                                                               barracks was empty and it was decided to turn it into a
         The bridge was controlled by the former Portcreek     headquarters and depot for the newly created Royal
         junction signal box, which probably accounts for having  Army Ordnance Corps. This branch of the army was
         the opening on the mainland side.                     created out of the Army Ordnance Corps and the Army
                                                               Ordnance Department, with the title ‘Royal’ being
         Pickett-Hamilton forts - (based on the research of    added in recognition of the invaluable work carried out
         Henry Wills of Salisbury).                            by Ordnance Services in the recent war. The depot was
         During the Second World War, the airfield was         moved from Red Barracks, Woolwich on 20th October
         defended partly by the Hilsea Lines and partly by these  1921.
         rather unusual structures, which were sited around the
         perimeter of the site. These ‘forts’ were really pillboxes  The barracks consisted of troop accommodation, stables,
         which could be raised to bring them into action, or   hospital, manége, riding school, gun and wagon sheds.
         lowered to prevent obstruction to the airfield. The lifting  Much conversion work was required to provide decent
         mechanism was either hydraulic, using hand-operated   accommodation, lecture halls, dining rooms and
         pumps, or counterbalanced, using arms and weights. It  cookhouses. The officers’ mess was situated in
         seems that the latter type was used for at least two of the  Gatcombe House with officers’ quarters in Hilsea Lodge
         three forts installed at Hilsea. Each fort required 70cwt  and for Field Officers, across the London Road in a
         of cement, 6½ yards of fine aggregate, 12½ yards of   separate house. Attached to the barracks was a garrison
         coarse aggregate and some 33 cwt of steel in          church, which from 1888 was a corrugated iron
         reinforcement, manholes and fittings. Costs were      structure, dedicated to St Barbara, the patron saint of
         £230-250 each and each one took about eight days to   artillerymen. This survived until the mid-1960’s when it
         construct. The hydraulic machinery was usually garage  was demolished along with most of the barracks, to
         ramp equipment, suitably modified.                    make way for a housing estate. Gatcombe House
                                                               survives in private ownership and one of the riding
         Each fort could be raised or lowered in about twelve  schools has been retained by Portsmouth City Council as
                                                               a temporary home for exhibits for a future transport
         Recently, one of these forts was unearthed, and may be  museum. Rugby Camp, built for the Militia in 1938, has
         seen outside the D-Day Museum at Southsea.            also been demolished for yet another housing scheme.

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