What They Said About Portsmouth

Tom Sykes has compiled quotes about Portsmouth that date back over two centuries. Some are complimentary, others not so much.

‘Portsmouth … is one of the world’s most astonishing natural harbours, rivalling even Valletta in the way that it commands the Channel approaches to the Atlantic and the North Sea, and it looms over the French coast while sheltering in the lee of the Isle of Wight, which the conquering Romans once named Vectis.’

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

‘When I used suicide as a threat to shake my mother’s opposition to my liberation, it was after a considerable amount of meditation along the Southsea sea front and Portsmouth Hard.’

HG Wells (1866-1946)

‘Portsmouth offers thousands of French restaurants… and they’re only a few hours’ sailing away.’

Portsmouth Tourist Board

‘My dear little creature, do not stay at Portsmouth to lose your pretty looks. Those vile sea-breezes are the ruin of beauty and health.’

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

‘With its imperial associations, Southsea is a glorious place; Portsmouth a town where I know nobody, and nobody knows me.’

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

‘All you got in Portsmouth was the clap.’

Spike Milligan (1918-2002)

‘Portsmouth is dirty, but it is also dull.’

Henry James (1843-1916)

‘History had not altered Portsmouth, much less enhanced it.’

Paul Theroux (1941- )

‘Too full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs.’

Boris Johnson (1964- )

‘When the ships came home (and ships were always coming home then), Portsmouth ran with liquor, riot, and revelry; and on fine summer days the grassy slopes of Portsdown Hill were all alive with the jolly Jacks engaged with great earnestness in the business of pleasure. Here, in the taverns that overlook from this breezy height the harbour, the town, and the distant mud-flats, generations of soldiers and sailors, fresh from battle and the salt sea, have caroused. Here, opposite the “George” and the Belle Vue Gardens, where “the military” and the servant-girls, the sailors and their lasses, still disport on high-days and holidays, with swings, Aunt Sallies, cocoa-nut shies, and, in short, all the fun of the fair, have the look-out men of a hundred years ago shivered in the wind while scanning the distant horizon for signs of Bonaparte and his flotilla, the inglorious Armada that never left port.’

Charles G Harper (1863-1943)

‘A mildewed lump of elephant droppings.’

Prince Charles (1948- ) on the Tricorn Centre

‘We are in danger of destroying the best of the ’60s and early-’70s architecture under the assumption it was all bad. They are buildings of their time and if we destroy them, there won’t be a record.’

Owen Luder (1928- ), architect of the Tricorn Centre on the Tricorn Centre

‘There is no lack of comfortable furnished apartments in Portsmouth, and no difficulty in finding some that are proportionate to very slender finances; but the former were too good, and the latter too bad.’

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

‘Though Mansfield Park might have some pains, Portsmouth could have no pleasures.’

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

‘Once or twice at Southsea or Portsmouth a prostitute would make an alluring gesture to me, but a shilling a week of pocket-money gives no scope for mercenary love’

HG Wells (1866-1946)

‘The latest effort of modernity is to be seen from this point in the Town Hall, of which every inhabitant of the allied towns of Portsmouth, Southsea, Gosport, and Landport is inordinately proud. And if size should count for anything, they have cause for pride in this municipal effort; for Portsmouth Town Hall is particularly immense.’

Charles G Harper (1863-1943)

‘Portsmouth’s dockyards, wharves and berths, ringed by brick and stone buildings dating back to the 17th century and beyond – threaten to become, in their assimilation into 21st-century heritage/entertainment theme park versions of themselves.’

Philip Hoare (1958- )

‘Culture in Portsmouth has always been important to me and the city, with so many famous local people involved in the creative arts and it was the creative arts that brought me here over 20 years ago, when I had the great opportunity to study this subject at the University of Portsmouth. I never imagined that I would ever go to university but Portsmouth offered me this great adventure. I have seen so many changes in the city and it is great to see that many of the people that I studied with are still practising the arts in Portsmouth. I never imagined that one day I would represent the ward of Charles Dickens, be a patron of the arts and become the Lord Mayor of the city which is now my family home. So I hope that my children will have the same opportunities and adventures I have had here and embrace its rich cultural life so that one day there may be another famous painter by the name of Wylie.’

Steven Wylie, current Lord Mayor of Portsmouth (1973- )

Oh my God we’re approaching #Dubai from the #IsleOfWight Oh it’s #Portsmouth #DubaiWithNoMoney pic.twitter.com/CCcuZe45Xd

Photography copyright Richard Williams