A Hundred and fifty years of Transport

 

In 1977 a hundred years of transport in the Portsmouth area spans an era which linked horse trams and stage coaches with the hovercraft and motorway? Few parts of Britain have known such a variety of public transport, to say nothing of the stillborn brainchilds of inventors.

In August 1878, the Portsmouth NEWS recorded the sale at Tatersalls of the 55 remaining horses which had speeded passengers between the coaching inn staging posts along the road to London. By then the steam engine had outpaced the horses, which had sold for an average of 45 guineas.
Railways, which had sounded the death knell of another system of transport that left its mark on Portsmouth - the Chichester and Arundel canal - were a little tardy in actually reaching the port. By 1841, the permanent way was serving Southampton, Brighton and Gosport. The Portsmouth traveller wishing to catch a train had first to cross the water to Gosport Hard, and then make his way to the railway station three quarters-of-a-mile away.

 

           Rivalry

A picture of Cosham station in 1905. This humiliating state of affairs continued for more than five years. Then direct links with the capital were established via Chichester (1847) and Eastleigh (1848). Not for another eleven years did Portsmouth get its own direct line via Guildford in 1859. And such was the rivalry of the two companies, London South Western and Brighton and South Coast, that there were scenes of physical violence at the Havant junction before the line was completed. Engineers had ambitious plans to drive a tunnel under Spithead to link with Island railways, but failed to get the backing.
An Ill-fated mile-and-a-half extension from Fratton to Southsea, running under Goldsmith Avenue and Albert Road, opened in 1885, but brought little joy to its promoters as it closed in 1914. A Gosport extension to Stokes Bay fared better. It provided the most direct link to the Isle of Wight, andf Queen Victoria travelled that way to Osborne House. The line closed at the outbreak of World War I. One to Lee-on-the-Solent limped on until 1930.
The architecturally magnificent Gosport station, damaged by bombing in World War II, closed in 1953, making the town an early victim of railway retrenchment. Fareham retained the often-threatened links with Portsmouth and Southampton, but the popular holiday line from Havant to Hayling was abandoned in 1963. The Meon Valley and Petersfield-Midhurst lines suffered similar fates, though enthusiastic amateurs strove to protect a section of the former line. Apart from a short stretch to the southern resorts from Ryde Pierhead, the Island railway network disappeared.

 

      Tramways

A much more profitable venture for most of its lifetime was the Portsmouth and district tramways system. The picture here is of a decorated tram in 1905 to celebrate a French link-up with Vive la France on its side.  Horse-drawn trams had been operating for 12 years but but not everyone liked them. When an extension was proposed in Osborne Road it was objected by residents that they would be subjected to the rude staring of passengers occupying the cheap seats on the top deck.
Pulling the trams was hard work for the horses and in Portsmouth in 1893 there were 14 miles of tramway track, 58 trams and 249 horses. Cars on each route were pained in distinctive colours, and the trams, with two luggage trucks towed behind, were pulled by two horses.
By 1895 thoughts were turning to electric traction. The private operators were taken over by the Corporation in 1901, and a separate power station buit to serve the 80 trams running on 23½ miles of track. At Cosham (then a separate parish) horse trams continued until 1903.

 

         Aprons

It was found that trams with covered top decks took only £4 more a year than the open vehicle, a tribute either to Portsmuthians’ love of fresh air, or to the balmy climate. It was, however, proposed that outside passengers should be provided with waterproof aprons to give some protection from the elements.

Hayling residents may ponder how their island would have fared if proposals by both the railway and tramway men had come to fruition. The former wanted to build a road and rail bridge across Langstone Harbout to link the Southsea and Hayling lines. The tramway idea was for a suspension bridge between the Fort Cumberland peninsular and Hayling. Commercial shipping facilities at Sinah Lake were also considered. Both ideas came to naught.
The tramway era lasted until 1936 in Portsmouth, when trolley buses, which first operated from South Parade Pier two years earlier, took over. Besides providing a cheap form of transport, the trams contributed substantially to the Corporation budget. In 1914, the Tramways Department handed over the princely sum of £47,000 to peg the rate at the 2s 6d limit fixed 50 years before.
Trolley buses served the city for 25 years, bowing out in 1961, after one of the fiercest and longest debates ever indulged in by city councillors. Portsmouth has always had a love-hate relationship with its public transport, but the affection usually manifests itself only at the graveside.

 

       Bridges

From 1903 until 1935 the Portsdown and Horndean Light Railway carried passengers and mails over the hill as the picture shows.. In the early days three horses pulled the trams up the steep slope and on as far as Waterlooville. The electric cars ran from a point near the Portsbridge Hotel, Cosham, to the top of Horndean Hill. Three bridges carried the track over the railway at Cosham, and across Southwick Hill Road, and a lane to the fairground on Portsdown Hill.

Gosport and Fareham had horse trams from 1882 to 1905 when electric power took over until 1929. From Gosport Hard to Fareham was 6d. return and apart from the inflationary period after World War I, the fares did not vary over all those years.
Surrounding villages were served by horse and motor buses, run  for many years by small private operators, who would pick up the pampered passenger up at his door, or give him a call if he had overslept. The big companies gradually took over, and have themselves been absorbed by the National Bus Company. In the city, the Corporation is engaged in a constant battle to avoid heavy losses on its buses.

 

       On the water

Portsmouth’s peculiar geographical position, which necessitates preserving links with Gosport and Hayling Island across narrow stretches of water to the 15th century, and a longer one with the Isle of Wight, lends special interest to transport arrangements.

Records of ferrying across Spithead go back to the 15th century. Boatmen operating from Ryde Beach were obliged to maintain a regular service for the traveller. Failure to do so could be punished by a spell in the stocks or a fine of 6s. 8d. Passengers left at bus stops on wet mornings now might see some merit in this.
The railway to over an existing steam packet service in 1882, and for many years the paddle steamers were a great attraction for holiday makers. The last of the breed, the Ryde, saw honourable service in World War II, and resumed her peacetime role until 1970. Another of the Island ferries, Portsdown, struck a mine in Spithead and sank in 1941. The picture shows the Viking Victory, flagship of the Townsend Thoresen fleet opening the new Portsmouth-Ryde Ferry link.

 

Hovercraft

A car ferry service to Fishbourne was started in 1926. Barges carrying cars were towed by tugs, a hazardous trip in choppy seas. A ferry carrying 16 vehicles was introduced the following year. Car handling facilities improved steadily as the popularity of the Island with holidaying motorists increased.
In the early sixties an entirely new kind of craft was pioneered by Hovertransport, with an experimental service from Southsea beach to Ryde. Subsequently Hovertravel took over, and carried 300,000 passengers in its first year. The service cut to a few minutes, the time for the crossing, but Southsea and Ryde residents pleaded for less noisy engines. Another speedy newcomer to the Solent, linking Cowes and Southampton, was the hydrofoil.

 

Gosport links

While the cross-Solent traffic has undergone progressive development, there have been changes of a less happy kind in the through traffic. Between the wars, almost daily, the luxury transatlantic liners - British, American, German Dutch, and French - cruised majestically past the Nab, to and from Southampton. Like the big capital ships of the Royal Navy, they are now part of history.
The coming of the big jets in the post-war years steadily reduced sea crossings of the Atlantic, and the largest ships now passing along the shores of the Isle of Wight are the ungainly oil tankers bound for the Fawley refinery.
By far the greatest volume of water-borne passenger traffic is between Gosport and Portsmouth Hard. For more than 100 years, from 1840 to 1959, a primitive form of car ferry - a floating bridge operated on heavy chains - chugged backwards and forwards with its burden of vehicles, passengers and livestock. When it finally gave up the ghost there were strong pleas for a replacement, but this important link has never been restored.

 

In the air

Modern ferry boats transport thousands across the harbour, but other means of making the journey have constantly exercised men’s minds. Admiralty height requirements ruled out a bridge, but an ingenious proposal by a structural engineer, Mr E.W. Kearney, envisaged a high-speed tube, running in a tunnel on a single rail, and designed to provide a three-minute service. Over a period of half a century this, and other tunnel proposals, have had an occasional airing, but soaring costs now make such schemes little more than interesting ideas.
To preserve the sea link with Hayling Island, the Corporation bought out a private ferry operator and runs a service for the light, and unprofitable traffic. A bridge to link the golden sands of Hayling with the holiday attractions of Southsea has often been mooted. Not all Hayling residents would welcome easier access to the island.
For all who look upon air transport as a vital part of any progressive city’s communications, there have been times of high hopes and bitter disappointment. 
The inter-war Schneider Cup races - a virtual testbed for the Spitfire and Hurricane - Sir Alan Cobham’s visiting air circus, and the 1936 Portsmouth - Johannesburg are race helped to make Portsmuthians aware of the great potentialities of flight. There was intense interest, too, in the idea that Langstone Harbour could become a base for the giant flying boats which were seen as the long-distance planes of the future. Hopes were finally dashed in 1948.
In the post-war p0eriod, the ill-fated Saunders-Roe Princess flying boats, built in the Isle of Wight, were a familiar sight from Southsea beach, but it was just one more British aero-project that bit the dust. Meanwhile the city’s own airport was providing a convenient link with the Channel Island and continent. But a series of mishaps showed that, in its unimproved state, the airfield fell far short of modern requirements, and the experience of other cities which had invented heavily in airport development was not encouraging.

 

Continental

An Armstrong Whitworth Argosy, the first airliner seen at Portsmouth Airport here in 1932. After a vigorous rearguard action by air-minded citizens, the airport was closed for flying. A site which throbbed with activity when planes were built there during World War II now lies derelict. City councillors continue to argue about the best use for this land. Whether posterity will regard them as short-sighted or prudent is still and open question.

New horizons opened for Portsmouth as a commercial port in 1976 with the completion of new terminal facilities and Albert Johnson Quay. This involved the reclamation of a large area, a task achieved with commendable speed. Two car ferry companies, operating to Cherbourg and St Malo, began services in time for the summer traffic, with promising results. The cross-Channel ferry Townsend Thoresen’s Viking Victory, which, with the Amorique, opened the two services which underlined Portsmouth’s potential as a commercial port.

 

Two-wheelers

The diversion of merchant shipping from the crowded Camber to the new port, with direct access to the motorway system, gives Portsmouth great advantages over other ports, and will ultimately allow the redevelopment of the Camber.

No review of transport in Portsmouth would be complete without reference to the humble bicycle, which has for long dominated the street scene at times of the Dockyard out muster. With a big increase in private car commuting, cycling had become hazardous in the city’s busy streets. To make it easier, a scheme of cycleways was devised and the experiment attracted Government backing and national interest.
But the difficulties of Imposing on a complex street pattern clogged with parked vehicles, a safe route for cyclists proved greater that those who had fathered the scheme thought. After a short experimental period, the scheme was abandoned in the spring of 1976. It was a pity it proved it proved impracticable because, with the mounting cost of petrol after the oil crisis, many commuters were looking for a cheaper form of transport.

 

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