Portchester Castle
Portchester Castle is a medieval castle and former Roman fort at Portchester to the east of Fareham in the English county of Hampshire. It is located at grid reference SU624045, occupying a commanding position at the head of Portsmouth Harbour. The castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and a Grade I listed building. The castle has been in the ownership of the Southwick Estate since the 17th century but is managed by English Heritage and open to visitors throughout the year. The Norman church, St. Mary's, which stands in the south-east corner of the grounds, falls within the Anglican Diocese of Portsmouth.

The strategic importance of Portchester has been recognised since at least the 3rd century when a Roman fort was established on the site of the later castle. Though it is uncertain exactly when the fort was constructed, coin excavations suggests it was built by Marcus Aurelius Carausius on the instructions of emperor Diocletian between 285 and 290. It was one of several forts built along the British coast in the period to combat raids by pirates. Portchester was probably a base from which the Classis Britannica , the Roman navy defending Britain, operated. It is the best preserved Roman fort north of the Alps. Although the Roman army retreated from Britain in the early 5th century, it is unlikely that the fort was ever completely abandoned, although use continued on a much small scale. A 10th-century hall and tower was discovered within the fort, suggesting it was a high-status residence during the Saxon period. In 904, Portchester came into the possession of Edward the Elder and the fort became a burh to help defend the country against Vikings.

Medieval castle and palace
It is uncertain when the castle was built, although it was probably in the late 11th century. In the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, the manor of Portchester was granted to William Maudit – an associate of William the Conqueror and a powerful magnate – and it was probably he who built Portchester Castle. The form of this early castle is uncertain, although Maudit was probably responsible for creating the inner ward in the north-west corner of the fort. At this point it would probably have been defended by a wooden palisade and a moat, with the pre-existing Roman stone walls of the fort acting as the defence of the outer bailey. Maudit died in about 1100, and his property passed onto his son, Robert Maudit. He died in 1120, and a few years later the family estates came into the hands of William Pont de l'Arche through marriage to Robert Maudit's daughter. Although the castle was still unrecorded in this period, it was probably at this point that it was rebuilt in stone. The evidence for this is that the stonework of the castle is similar to that of St Mary's parish church, which was built in the 1130s in the outer bailey. By 1158, the castle had reverted to the Crown and, about 1180, the palisade was replaced with stone walls surrounded internally by domestic buildings. King John often stayed at Portchester Castle and was there when he heard of the loss of Normandy in 1204. There was major rebuilding work during the 14th century and Edward III assembled his 15,000 strong army there before leaving for France and victory at the Battle of Crecy. Richard II turned the castle into a magnificent palace, and Henry V spent the night at the castle before travelling to Southampton, thence France and the Battle of Agincourt. He undertook a Fleet Review at Portchester before leaving.

Decline to Napoleonic prison
After Henry VII founded the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth, the castle lost its importance. It was last used in the 19th century as a gaol for over 7000 French prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars. Hospital Lane (formerly Seagates Lane), which flanks the western side of the castle, was the location of the prison hospital which survives today as Portchester House, a private residence. Those that died in captivity were often buried in what are now tidal mudflats to the south of the castle, their remains occasionally disturbed by storms.

Today Portchester Castle is used mainly for recreation: the inner section of the castle accommodates displays and exhibits. The castle is a popular venue for school outings, while the sea front is frequented at high tide by anglers in pursuit of flounders and bass. Portchester Castle is rumoured to be haunted; on one occasion a member of staff claimed to see a horse appear from a wall and then disappear.


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Building Activity

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