Portsmouth has had an interesting and varied history, much of it strongly linked with sea and consequently battles to defend the country. Portsmouth museums focus on a range of themes including famous literary figures associated with the area such as Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as military history in the D-Day Museum and naval history at the Historic Dockyard. There are museums dotted all over Portsmouth based in purpose built venues and historic buildings such as Southsea Castle – one of Henry VIII’s fortifications along the English coast.
The story of Portsmouth’s history is detailed at the free entry City Museum, just inland from the historic waterfront. There are recreated period rooms including a seventeenth century bedchamber, an 1871 dockyard worker’s kitchen, a Victorian parlour, a 1930s kitchen and a 1950s living room. An exhibit also looks at Southsea’s development into an archetypical family seaside resort. Artefacts include working historic amusement arcade machines, a Verrechia’s ice cream booth as well as archive film of seaside holidays, Southsea through the 1930s to the 1960s. The Museum also hosts regularly changing exhibitions including art works in the Fine Arts and Decorative Gallery and local art in the Portsmouth Picture Galley.
City Museum holds the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, and a permanent exhibition looks at the creation of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle’s life through a huge array of memorabilia collected by the world’s leading expert on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Richard Lancelyn Green. He bequeathed his collection, which he started at the age of five, to the city of Portsmouth. It comprises of 16,000 items including books, documents and objects connected to Holmes and the life of the author. An audio message from the exhibition’s patron, Stephen Fry, introduces the collection.
Natural History Museum
Portsmouth’s Natural History Museum looks at the wide range of wildlife that has survived in a range of habitats from its beginnings when it was low lying saltmarsh. Nowadays the extent of the habitats has been lost but a wide range of wildlife has hung on along riverbanks and even in the urban environment, whereas remnants of marshes, woods and grasslands harbour their own particular wildlife. The museum shows you what wildlife you can find and where, and has an Aquarium and Butterfly House which, from May-September, is filled with an array of butterfly species. The temperatures of the Butterfly House means it’s possible for exotic butterfly species to breed and thrive here. In winter you can search out caterpillars and pupae amongst the leaves.
The Museum also traces the progress of HMS Endurance, the Royal Navy’s only ice patrol ship. Every autumn it sets sail from Portsmouth to carry out a range of scientific work on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Antarctic Survey and the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office to find out more about the changes in the global environment and how that is likely to impact upon us. Portsmouth Harbour is home to a range of wildlife including flocks of Brent geese that migrate to Portsmouth from the Arctic and a range of other waders and wildfowl including wigeon, grey plover, black-tailed godwit and dunlin.
Royal Marines Museum
The Royal Marines Museum is based in Victorian buildings that were formerly the Officers’ Mess of Eastney Barracks, built in the 1860s for the Royal Marine Artillery. You can find out all about the Royal Marines history from their beginnings in 1664 all the way up to the modern day where they’ve been involved in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The D-Day Museum
The D-Day Museum was originally opened in 1984 on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. The museum tells the story of Operation Overlord that brought victory to Britain and the allies during the Second World War. It was the largest amphibious assault in history launched on the Normandy coast on 6 June 1944 to gain a foothold in Nazi occupied France. The main feature of the exhibition is the Overlord Embroidery – a modern take on the Bayeux Tapestry – created as a tribute to those who fought and who made the ultimate heroic sacrifice during World War II.