Portsmouth Museums & Records Service is part of Portsmouth City Council
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The Square Tower
Broad Street, Old Portsmouth, Hampshire PO1 2JE
History of the Square Tower
Portsmouth began as a small settlement at the entrance to the natural harbour. The royal fleet regularly left from Portsmouth and from at least the 1400s simple port facilities were created to maintain these ships. Fortifications were built to protect the port. 1494 – The Square Tower was built as part of the fortifications and as the home of the governor of Portsmouth. This was only a year before the world’s first dry dock was built, near where H.M.S. Victory is sited today. Around 1584 – The Square Tower was converted to a store for gunpowder. The governor moved his residence to a building next to what is now the Garrison Church.
1642 – Parliamentarian forces besieged Portsmouth during the English Civil War. The town’s governor threatened to blow up the gunpowder in the Square Tower, which could have destroyed half the town. This forced the Parliamentarians to let the Royalist garrison surrender on favourable terms. 1779 – The Square Tower was converted to store meat for the Royal Navy’s ships. The central brick wall and brick vaulting were added at this time. Its use as a meat store continued until about 1850, when this store was moved to Gosport. 20th Century – The Square Tower was manned during the two world wars, and was also used by sea scouts and harbour pilots. The Square Tower and nearby fortifications were purchased by Portsmouth City Council in 1958-1960.
A Tour around the Square Tower
The Tower was restored to its present condition between 1979 and 1986. An archaeological examination revealed centuries-old features such as windows and fireplaces.
Outside features – A gilded lead bust of King Charles I was presented to the town in 1635, and was set into the outside wall. It commemorates his safe return to England from abroad in 1623. In 1827 the original Tudor exterior walls were refaced in stone. The pier next to the Tower (now Victoria Pier) was originally known as the Powder Bridge and then the Beef Stage, from when the Tower was used for storing first gunpowder and then meat.
Ground floor – Originally the ground floor was divided up into smaller rooms. Several fireplaces and large windows were filled in when the Tower became a gunpowder store, to make it dry and secure. Several filled-in windows can still be seen. The two Tudor fireplaces (one in each ground floor room) were uncovered during the 1980s restoration of the Tower. The central brick wall and vaulted brick ceiling were added around 1779. Larger room: The coats of arms displayed here are those of past governors of Portsmouth. Smaller room: The wooden beams and floorboards on the ceiling of this room date from 1779. The basement was originally used for storage but suffered from damp. In around 1779 it was filled in, but part has been uncovered for today’s visitors to see.
First floor room – The large window by the stairs is one of the original Tudor windows. Notice how thick the walls are! The hooks may relate to the Tower’s use as a meat store.
Roof – In 1822, a wooden semaphore tower was built on top of the Square Tower. It used flags and a moveable wooden arm to communicate with ships in the Solent. It was the first in a chain that could send a signal between Portsmouth and London in six minutes. It was removed in 1848, as the electric telegraph had made it redundant. Positions for three 8-inch guns on traversing carriages were added to the roof in about 1850. The gun positions seen today are replicas, but show the rails that enabled the gun carriages to move from side to side for a greater field of fire.
Hiring The Square Tower If you would like to get married, or hold a naming ceremony, or if you are in an amateur dramatics, dance or musical group and are looking for an amazing space to perform, or if you simply feel you need a unique place to hold a meeting, present to clients, or train your staff, the wonderful Fifteenth Century Square Tower could be the perfect venue. See the website www.squaretower.co.uk for a listing of events and forthcoming open days at the Square Tower. The Square Tower will be hosting craft, gift and art events so if you would be interested in exhibiting at one of these events of indeed host your own please contact us. We are open to suggestions so please get in touch and we look forward to hearing from you. For more information about hiring the Square Tower, please contact Steve Hender on 07519 505785 (voicemail) or 07974 932592 (mobile), or email (click here).