Page 9 - Hilsea Lines and Portsbridge
P. 9

Hilsea Lines and Portsbridge                                                                       Solent Papers No.4

         The heavy guns were removed in 1903 and nothing had   During the Second World War, the Lines were occupied
         been done to update these defences. In 1909, a        by elements of the Home Guard, the remaining
         mobilization depot was created behind centre bastion,  casemates of West bastion being used as an emergency
         for the storage of tentage and mobile stores, and at the  headquarters and an odd assortment of guns mounted on
         outbreak of the First World War, the mobilization plans  the terreplein. After the fall of France, all the crossings
         called for the Lines to armed with four Maxim 0.303   into Portsmouth were prepared with demolition charges
         inch machine guns and a complement of one infantry    and had the enemy invaded, the Hilsea Lines would
         necessitated cutting through the lines at a point almost Preview
         company and three officers. Their task was to guard the  have formed the last defensible line on the landward
         road and railway bridges against raiding parties or   side. During the blitz, some of the magazines were used
         ‘disaffected persons’ and to protect the eastern      as air raid shelters by local people and Portsbridge was
         approaches to Portsmouth. Two squadrons of Imperial   hit by a bomb which fortunately failed to explode. A
         Yeomanry and cyclists were to patrol the country to the  third way out of Portsmouth was created in 1942, when
         east of a line Farlington Redoubt - Langstone harbour  the Eastern Road was linked to the mainland by a new
         and plans were also made for the construction of two  bridge. Part of the eastern end of the Line was used by
         armoured trains.                                      the Airspeed company and the old main magazine was
                                                               used to store high-octane fuel. With the run down of the
         By 1917, the needs of the Navy demanded extra space in  armed forces following the return to peacetime, the
         Portsmouth harbour and the War Department was asked   Ordnance depot and Hilsea barracks were closed down
         to vacate the Gunwharf, which they shared with the    in the 1960’s, with a small area retained by the Ministry
         Royal Navy. The Mobilization stores at Hilsea was     of Defence until 1985, when most of the remaining land
         converted to an Ordnance depot, at the Admiralty’s    was purchased by Portsmouth City Council. Today, the
         expense, with extensive railway sidings, wharfage,    Lines are heavily overgrown. The Council face a
         warehouse and workshop facilities being created at a  difficult task in trying to maintain the works in a
         cost of some £2,000,000, to store and repair all kinds of  respectable condition against the determined efforts of
         military equipment. In 1921, this was taken over by the  vandals and fly-tippers. Yet the Line is an important
         Royal Army Ordnance Corps, who also moved their       piece of Victorian military engineering, and should be
         headquarters from Red Barracks, Woolwich to Hilsea    preserved, if only to stop it becoming an eyesore for the
         barracks, which had been vacated by the Royal Field   local residents. Splendid efforts have been made by
         Artillery.                                            Manpower Services Commission  working parties and
                                                               the Elfrida  Rathbone Society in the 1980s. In 2018 a
         The rest of the Line was now surplus to military      single Ranger is making a valiant effort to keep the lines
         requirements and was gradually sold off for road      in oder, together with some volunteers, but it is hoped
         widening, housing and the creation of the Municipal   that more will be done by Portsmouth City Council to
         aerodrome in 1932. The Hilsea Arches were demolished  preserve this important piece of Portsmouth’s history.
         in 1919, together with a substantial amount of west
         curtain, the west battery of west bastion was almost  The Design of Portsea Bridge fort and the first Hilsea
         totally razed in 1933 for the construction of a bus garage  Lines
         and west demi-bastion was converted to changing rooms  The early bridgehead forts were simple structures
         for Portsmouth Grammar School. Much of the western    consisting of earthen mounts with wooden palisades and
         end became a lido in 1933 and the old Portsbridge was  gates. Guardhouses and magazines again in wood, were
         replaced in 1927. The ‘clearance land’, which was kept  the only buildings to be found within the work and the
         clear of buildings to allow the guns to sweep across the  whole fortification was usually allowed to fall into
         north of Portscreek, was sold off and neat rows of    complete disrepair in peacetime. This probably accounts
         semi-detached houses were built on the site. In 1939, it  for the reconstruction of the fort by Captain Desmaretz,
         was realised that if Portsbridge was destroyed by bombs,  in 1747. The work was entirely built of earth excepting
         Portsmouth would be cut off and a causeway was built  the breastwork, which was revetted in brick. The
         across the moat and Portscreek, in 1940. This         terreplein and parapet were protected by fraises planted
                                                               on the exterior talus of the rampart. A ditch eight feet
         exactly where the old London road had been.           wide on the landward side was crossed by a drawbridge
                                                               and two places of arms secured the gateways and

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