When walking along the seafront, close to Old Portsmouth, I often passed The Garrison Church without really thinking much about it. Finally, one day, seeing the doors open, I entered the building and became intrigued as to history of the site.
Research tells me that it was originally part of “Domus Dei”, a hospital founded in 1212 by Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. The chancel was the chapel and the nave was the hall of the hospital, where the sick were positioned in sight of the chapel. It was dissolved in 1540, surrendering to the Crown and became both an Ammunition Store and the Governor’s House.
It was in this last guise that two historic events took place here – the marriage celebrations of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662 and the grand receptions held in 1814 to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon, attended by the Prince Regent, the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia and his general Marshall Bluecher, the great ally of the Duke of Wellington.
In 1866, the whole 13th century fabric of the Royal Garrison Church was restored over a 10 year period by architect G E Street. A firebomb raid in 1941 destroyed the roof of the nave but the chapel itself was saved. The nave ruins now stand divided from the intact chancel by a modern screen wall – a vibrant memorial to WWII which destroyed so much of medieval Portsmouth.
If you were a fan of the 2003 Hornblower series featuring Ioan Gruffudd, the church served as the setting for Hornblower’s marriage to Maria and it has also recently been featured on Channel 4’s Time Team.
The Royal Garrison Church is open from 11 – 16.00 daily apart from Sundays and Mondays. It will close on 1st October 2014 – 29th March 2015. Entrance is free and the site is managed by English Heritage.
Contributor & photographer: Sue Lowry
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