Page 34 - Hilsea Lines
P. 34

Hilsea Lines and Portsbridge                                                                       Solent Papers No.4

         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 parallel to the northern shore of the creek. The
         ends of the bridge rested on the bridge abutments when
         seen outside the D-Day Museum at Southsea. Preview
         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 to be opened on the first Sunday in February,
         between 2 am and 3 am, and since it was probably not
         opened at all other than to comply with this order, the  Pickett-Hamilton Pillbox moved from the airfield at
         selection of this type of bridge is understandable. At the  SU673039 to the D Day Museum at Southsea.
         end of the First World War, permission was granted by
         the Admiralty to make this a fixed bridge and all the  Hilsea Barracks
         overhead gantries and cables were removed. The        The barracks at Hilsea was constructed in 1756 and
         turntables and the ends of the old cables may still be  housed various regiments of the British Army, and the
         seen however, upon close inspection.                  Royal Marine Light Infantry, until they were removed to
                                                               Forton barracks in Gosport in 1783. In 1854, the
         The bridge was controlled by the former Portscreek    barracks were rebuilt and from then on, batteries of the
         junction signal box, which probably accounts for having  Royal Field Artillery were in residence, alternating
         the opening on the mainland side.                     between home and overseas postings. By 1921, the
                                                               barracks were empty and it was decided to turn it into a
         Pickett-Hamilton forts - (based on the research of    headquarters and depot for the newly created Royal
         Henry Wills of Salisbury).                            Army Ordnance Corps. This branch of the army was
         During the Second World War, the airfield was         created out of the Army Ordnance Corps and the Army
         defended partly by the Hilsea Lines and partly by these  Ordnance Department, with the title ‘Royal’ being
         rather unusual structures, which were sited around the  added in recognition of the invaluable work carried out
         perimeter of the site. These ‘forts’ were really pillboxes  by Ordnance services in the recent war. The depot was
         which could be raised to bring them into action, or   moved from Red barracks, Woolwich on 20th October
         lowered to prevent obstruction to the airfield. The lifting  1921.
         mechanism was either hydraulic, using hand-operated
         pumps, or counterbalanced, using arms and weights. It  The barracks consisted of troop accommodation, stables,
         seems that the latter type was used for at least two of the  hospital, manége, riding school gun and wagon sheds.
         three forts installed at Hilsea. Each fort required 70cwt  Much conversion work was required to provide decent
         of cement, 6½ yards of fine aggregate, 12½ yards of   accommodation, lecture halls dining rooms and
         coarse aggregate and some 33 cwt of steel in          cookhouses. The officers’ mess was situated in
         reinforcement, manholes and fittings. Costs were      Gatcombe House with officers’ quarters in Hilsea Lodge
         £230-250 each and each one took about eight days to   and for Field Officers, across the London Road in a
         construct. The hydraulic machinery was usually garage  separate house. Attached to the barracks was a garrison
         ramp equipment, suitably modified.                    church, which from 1888 was a corrugated iron
                                                               structure, dedicated to St Barbara, the patron saint of
         Each fort could be raised or lowered in about twelve  artillerymen. This survived until the mid-1960’s when it
         minutes and had a complement of five men each.        was demolished along with most of the barracks, to
         Recently, one of these forts was unearthed, and may be  make way for a housing estate. Gatcombe House
                                                               survives in private ownership and one of the riding
                                                               schools has been retained by Portsmouth City Council as
                                                               a temporary home for exhibits for a future transport

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