History of Royal Garrison Church, Portsmouth

Medieval hospital, Tudor ammunition store and church for the forces since the 1580s, the Royal Garrison Church has stood in Portsmouth for over 800 years.

The Royal Garrison Church seen from the south-west

The Royal Garrison Church seen from the south-west

Hostel and Hospital

The church was founded in about 1212 by Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, as part of a complex of buildings serving as a hostel for pilgrims and a hospital for the sick and elderly.

It consisted of an aisled hall (now the ruined nave) and a chapel behind a wall in the east end (the surviving chancel). Medieval hospitals placed the beds in bays in the aisles within sight of the chapel.

 

The 16th Century 

In 1540, after the Reformation, the building was used as an ammunition store, and it started to decay.

In 1559 the great Elizabethan project to build up the defences at Portsmouth began. The medieval hospital became part of the governor’s house, where two significant events in the history of the site took place.

These were the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662 and the grand receptions held in June 1814 to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig and his subsequent abdication. The receptions were attended by the Prince Regent, the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia and his general, Field-Marshal Blücher, the great ally of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.

 

Later History 

In the 19th century the architect GE Street was responsible for a ten-year refurbishment and repair programme of the church, including a new south porch and vestry, new flooring, and specially designed furnishings and memorial windows.

This was completed by 1871, and the church took on a 13th-century appearance that it had not presented for many centuries. 

In 1933 the church came into the care of the Office of Works, but a firebomb raid in 1941 destroyed the nave. The nave ruins now stand divided from the intact chancel by a modern screen wall.

Detail of 20th-century stained glass at the Royal Garrison Church, Portsmouth, a soldier with rifle and bayonet alongside a tank

Detail of a late 20th-century stained-glass window at the Royal Garrison Church, Portsmouth, depicting a soldier and tank of the 8th Army in the Second World War

Description

In plan the church consists of a nave with north and south aisles, and the south porch. The chancel consists of the choir and sanctuary. The choir has two south doors, one of which leads to the stairs up to the bell turret, and the other to the exterior. To the north is the vestry. 

The thick lower section of the south wall is part of the original construction. Above this there are three restored lancet windows and a series of corbels serving as beam supports. The south porch and the west wall were both built in the 1860s, as the church had been shortened by one bay in the 1580s.  

The chancel features an elaborate vaulted roof with decorative bosses. The east window of three lancets with a trefoiled head is an original feature and inspired Street’s restoration of the other windows.  

The oak stalls of the 1870s are dedicated as memorials to the nation’s most famous sailors and soldiers, beginning with Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. 

  

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Note

The text on this page is derived from the Heritage Unlocked series of guidebooks, published in 2002–6. We intend to update and enhance the content as soon as possible to provide more information on the property and its history.

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