Page 9 - Hilsea Lines
P. 9

Hilsea Lines and Portsbridge                                                                       Solent Papers No.4

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

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