Hidden Places Around Portsmouth: Blue Sky Thinking

Local resident and photographer John Callaway, gives us a glimpse into the little known history of Portsmouth and the surrounding area, alongside some of his stunning photography. In this essay, John heads to Portsdown Hill, taking in its secret history.

Standing in splendid isolation on the chalk scarp of Portsdown Hill is a small copse. Clearly visible from the A27 as you approach Portsmouth from the east, it acts as a beacon, and a tangible sign that I’m almost home.

Located between Fort Purbrook and Farlington Redoubt, it was planted in the 1930s by ‘The Men of The Trees’, now known as the International Tree Foundation. The history of the organisation is interesting, with the first annual journal (published in 1936) stating that

in our work of preservation we have endeavoured to keep a balance between the purely sentimental on the one hand and the material and economic on the other, and have shown there need be no conflict between the useful and the beautiful. Above all, the society has endeavoured to emphasise the importance of planting for those who will come after us.

I can’t find anything ‘official’ confirming the purpose of the tree planting, but there are a small number of online sources which all seem to suggest that the copse was planted to:

enable airmen to better find their way to Portsmouth Aerodrome and to Langstone Harbour which in all probability will become a great air terminus for transatlantic flying boats.

The trees remain…the airport doesn’t…

Image by John Callaway 2020

Footnote: In the 1950’s several small memorial plaques were erected in the copse, of which only three remain today. One is a memorial to a local RAF flying officer, James Kelly, killed in action over Normandy in 1944. The second was in memory of Hampshire Servicemen who died in Korea. The third is desecrated and illegible, but was dedicated to 2nd Lt. Wilfrid Hanbury Grenville-Grey, 1st Bttn. K.R.R.C. killed in action at Festubert, May 15th 1915, aged 19 years.


This article was originally published on John Callaway’s website, Ideas & images from Portsmouth and beyond. You can read more of John’s writing on his website and also see his live music photography.

Featured Image by John Callaway.

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