Read Time: 6 Minutes
Military Pride And Prejudice
We have been exploring Hampshire since the UK branch of our family moved there, and what great finds we have unearthed! Its farms have become the pantry basket for all the top restaurants in the UK. It even sports some lovely locally made sparkling wine. Its gardens and cathedrals with their celebrations in song and flowers are just the cure for what ails you. But Hampshire holds something else that is a major part of England’s history, unrelated to its estates — two very well curated museums focused on its military history. England was a military powerhouse that shaped the world in which we live today. Notwithstanding its loss to a group of indignant colonists across the pond, British military, and predominantly its naval power, garnered numerous victories globally. Their cost and history make a visit to these two very different museums worthwhile. But not without a couple of good places to eat!
While small in comparison to the naval historical park in Portsmouth, Fort Nelson deserves a visit. It was built at great expense in 1870 to ward off feared attacks by the French at the insistance of Lord Palmerston, a controversial and powerful politician. It was to be one of five forts built to protect Portsmouth from both inland and maritime attack. Ironically, France was defeated in its war against Prussia and the fort became known as “Palmerston’s Folly.” After years of neglect, it has been restored and is the home of a small but remarkable collection of artillery from the Middle Ages to Saddam’s Supergun. My grandsons enjoyed this immensely, especially when they could play with real artillery. The fort and its guns are chock full of well written historical annotations for visitors like me. You can conduct your own tour through its fascinating maze of underground rooms, where the soldiers slept, ate, and were medically treated. There is a cafe (which I skipped for lunch in the Portsmouth harbor) but better still, it boasts a wonderful book shop for history buffs of all ages.
Portsmouth is a port city and naval base on England’s south coast, which is celebrated for its maritime heritage and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The dockyard is home to the interactive National Museum of the Royal Navy, and features the majestic warship, HMS Victory, where Nelson died in the Battle of Trafalgar, and HMS Warrior 1860. A separate museum houses a remarkable conservation venture with Henry VIII’s fearsome warship, the Mary Rose, which had the first purpose-built gunports. While leading a huge fleet of ships against the French, the Mary Rose mysteriously sank in the Solent River in 1545. In a spectacular salvaging expedition in 1982, avidly watched by people worldwide, the remains of the Mary Rose were hauled out of the Solent and placed in an environmentally controlled hall. While conservation continues, she is sprayed with chilled water to prevent the timber drying out and to control further rot. The Victory and the Warrior, which you can walk through at your own pace, both provide an intimate look at how ships were built and in what manner the crews and officers lived. Docents there are wonderfully informed and can relate historical information in the most engaging manner to both children and adults. While Nelson’s bed and bath and those of the seamen serving under him make for a fascinating tour, you should read through this BBC history link for greater detail. I walked through these exhibits utterly spellbound.
Something More Than A Nuncheon
I have two suggestions for sustenance after or during your visits to this remarkable group of museums. The first is Abarbistro, where I had my baptism in the British appetizer: fried whitebait. I have become addicted and tried it in different places, but their version is still my favorite. Abarbistro is thoroughly modern and minimalist ( you can eat outside too) but its foundations are like much of Portsmouth, which go back centuries. It was a sailors’ pub in the 1780s, and later probably housed convicts being deported to penal colonies in Virginia. Thus it was renamed the American Hotel. It arose from the ashes of World War II bombing and is now this lovely restaurant with a really good menu and libations.
My other thought is a much larger restaurant with a magnificent view of Portsmouth and its harbor, with the very British name of The Still & West. Outside dining when British weather allows, and indoors all the time with nicely prepared menus using local farm products and catch from the waters surrounding Portsmouth. And as you can see from the menu link, they include quite a dashing children’s manu.
The Amazing Button Boy Ceremony
My son-in-law, whose father was a seaman in the Royal Navy (Chief Petty Officer and responsible for Physical Training) shared this incredible video of the Button Boy Ceremony — a tradition that celebrated the prowess of British seamen beginning centuries ago and enduring well into the latter part of the 20h century. The footage is from the British children’s show Blue Peter.