Portsmouth Cathedral - a personal recollection involving "Left hand down a bit."


I arrived at 16.31 on the 9th of October 2015. In looking for somewhere to park my car I had glimpsed Battery Row and Grand Parade and thought of Jane Austen visiting her brother Frances, who later became Sir Frances Austen, Admiral of the Fleet. I found a parking space and after a manoeuvre involving 'Left hand down a bit' docked said vehicle without mishap near to the cathedral. The building was shrouded in scaffolding covered against rain so I have no photographs of the outside. I was greeted, or rather, not greeted by a workman clattering tools, yelling into a mobile phone. In his conversation, he found it necessary to mock the 'church music' emanating from the building.

Fanny Price's thoughts from Austen's 'Mansfield Park' came to mind:

"Here everybody was noisy, every voice was loud……. Whatever was wanted was hallooed for, and the servants hallooed out their excuses from the kitchen. The doors were in constant banging, the stairs were never at rest, nothing was done without a clatter, nobody sat still, and nobody could command attention when they spoke….. though Mansfield Park might have some pains, Portsmouth could have no pleasures."

Once inside, though, I entered a different world. Peace, tranquility, soft light, the warmest of welcomes from a verger, and the joy of hearing the organ being played. (The current sub-organist is Sachin Gunga - trained initially by Tom Corfield in Derby).


The cruciform building was dedicated in 1188. It is a small and solid building that, in its location on the green, brings an air of serenity to the locality. The central tower has had the distinction of being used both as a lookout and a lighthouse. It is a seagull's wingbeat away from The Old Sally Port and the narrow channel that has kept the Navy safe for all this time.


One of the current names is Cathedral of the Sea. Not that sailors have always shown respect for they murdered the Bishop of Chichester there in 1449 as a result of which local inhabitants were excommunicated and the church closed.


Things are more settled now and the cathedral, which chooses a theme for each year, is bustling with events, lectures and concerts as well as services. The theme for 2018 is Time: Time to Reflect, Time to Learn and Time to Engage.


It is Time for me to finish with the thought that my early childhood, spent nearby, was a Happy Time some of which was spent enjoying Leslie Phillips steering HMS Troutbridge in The Navy Lark. I disagree with Miss Price, Portsmouth does have some pleasures.


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