PORTSMOUTH – ENTRANCE TO THE HARBOUR.

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ENTRANCE TO THE HARBOUR

IN the front of this view, and towards the right, a man-of-war cutter is seen
running out of the harbour; and, from her heel to leeward, and the agitated state of
the water, we may perceive that it is blowing a stiff breeze. Vessels of her class are
chiefly employed in the coast-guard service and as admirals’ tenders, or as packets
on short voyages, or in communicating between one naval depot and another. In the
distance, to leeward of her, the Dock-yard semaphore is perceived; and more to the
right, but nearer to the eye of the spectator, is seen the Round Tower, from which, in
former times, an immense chain used to extend to the Block-house at Gosport, on the
opposite side of the channel, for the purpose of protecting the entrance to the harbour,
in the event of its being assailed by the ships of an enemy. Towards the centre of the
engraving a broad-side view is presented of the Port- Admiral’s flag-ship, a first-rate,
which, from the flags at her mast-head, appears to be making a signal; ahead of her, in
the distance, the hulls are perceived of two ships of war, laid up in ordinary; and further
to the left is seen part of the Blockhouse Fort, at Gosport, with a beacon, to direct
vessels in making the harbour.

Portsmouth harbour is one of the most secure and commodious in the kingdom:
and from the depth of water, both within it and at its mouth, ships of the line can enter or
depart at all times of the tide. From the narrowness of its entrance, — which, between
the old Round Tower at Portsmouth and the Block-house Fort at Gosport, is not wider
than the Thames at London-bridge, — it is protected from the swell of the sea ; while it
is sheltered from the violence of winds blowing off the land, by the range of hills to the
northward. Immediately above its entrance the harbour begins to expand, and about
a mile and a half above the old Round Tower it is nearly two miles in breadth. It then
branches off into three principal creeks, or leats, as they are frequently called; one of
which runs up to Fareham, another to Porchester Castle, and the third to Portsbridge. In
these creeks most of the men-of-war in ordinary are moored. As those ships, when laid
up, are each covered over with a large wooden roof, to protect them from the effects
of the weather, they appear, when seen from Portsdown Hill, which commands an
excellent view of the harbour, not so much like floating castles as like immense floating

Sams — ample garners, which would contain more com than the swords and cutlasses
of their former gallant crews, beat into reaping-hooks, will ever cut down!

At Portsmouth the tide flows about seven hours and ebbs about five ; and the
velocity with which the ebb tide runs out effectually scours the channel at the mouth of
the harbour, and prevent* the accumulation of sand. It is high water in the harbour at
half-past 11 o’clock at the full and change of the moon ; and the rise of spring tides is
about eighteen feet, and of neaps about twelve. In the months of March and April the
specific gravity of the water in Portsmouth harbour becomes so much increased, that
ships lying there are observed to float about two inches lighter than at other times of
the year. The latitude of the Observatory in the Dock-yard is 50° 48′ 3″ north; longitude
1° 5′ 59″ west.

Though Portsmouth does not appear to have been a place of much consideration
as a naval station previous to the reign of Henry VIII., who may be regarded as the
first English King that established a permanent royal navy, it was yet undoubtedly a
town of some consequence long before that time. In 1194, Richard I granted a charter
to the inhabitants, wherein, after declaring that he retains the town of “Portsmue” in
his own hands, he establishes an annual fair to be held therein for fifteen days, to
which all persons of England, Normandy, Poictou, Wales, Scotland, and all others,
either foreigners or his own people, might freely resort, and enjoy the same privileges
as at the fairs of Winchester, Holland, or elsewhere in his dominions. The burgesses
of “Portsmue,” as the place was then called, were also allowed to have a weekly
market, with the same privileges and immunities as those of Winchester and Oxford;
with freedom from all tolls of portage, passage, and stallage, and exemption from suit
and service at hundred and county courts.* This charter was confirmed in 1201 by
King John, and in 1230 by Henry II. ; And in 1256 the latter monarch granted another
charter, establish in a guild of merchants at Portsmouth. The privileges of the burgesses
were at several different times confirmed by succeeding kings; and, in 1627, Charles I
granted them a charter, whereby a mayor and twelve aldermen were appointed for the
civil government of the town. This charter, which was renewed by Charles II., has since
been modified by the Municipal Reform Bill of 1835, which directs that the borough shall
be divided into six wards, which shall elect a town council of forty-two members. In 1298
the borough was summoned to send two members to Parliament, a privilege which it
continues to enjoy.

• Anderson’s History of Commerce, vol. I., p. 180, edit. 1787.

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