A medieval ‘travel lodge’ once stood alongside the Garrison Church in Old Portsmouth until it was closed by Henry VIII and turned into a weapons store.
Dr Dominic Fontana, of the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Geography, uncovered the history of the land next to the ruined church while helping the programme makers of Time Team on Channel 4.
Their programme, Governor’s Green, will air on Sunday, October 24 at 5.25pm.
Dr Fontana said: “The Channel 4 programme makers were attempting to find and record the remains of the medieval hospice, one of the most substantial buildings in Portsmouth until the Tudor period. The word hospice didn’t mean then what it means now – it was a lodge, or a resting place for both the old and infirm and for travellers.
“It was called Domus Dei, which means God’s house, and was founded in 1212 as a place where pilgrims entering and leaving the country could find accommodation and food. It was essentially a medieval ‘travel lodge’.
“A religious community ran the hospice which also looked after the city’s old and sick.”
But as the threat of invasion from France grew, King Henry VIII converted the monastery into an armoury. It was used as a weapons store during the Battle of the Solent in 1545 which is remembered for the sinking of King Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose.
In about 1580, the site was radically modified again and rebuilt to provide a residence for the Governor of Portsmouth who was in charge of the town and oversaw the large military population.
Dr Fontana said: “The closure of the hospice would have meant the social care of the old and infirm would not have been very good for some time. Portsmouth was very important to the defence of the kingdom because it was one of the few places where an invader could quickly land a large army. In 1545 if Portsmouth fell, the country would fall.”
The exact contents of the Time Team programme remain under wraps until it airs but Dr Fontana said one of the most exciting aspects of the excavation at the site was using geophysics (GIS) to pinpoint the locations of substantial archaeological remains.
He said: “The second trench that was opened revealed two walls exactly where the GIS suggested they should be along with the remains of a lost medieval road surface.
“During the excavations we discovered that although the excellent Tudor maps of Portsmouth showed many of the buildings accurately they didn''t quite match up with the archaeology under the ground. The Time Team’s Phil Harding kept complaining about this.
“By comparing the archaeological evidence with the historical mapping in the GIS and combining this with data gained from a builder''s estimate for the conversion of the site to the Governor''s residence the team were able to discover an error in the Tudor mapmaking, thereby proving Phil Harding correct and the Tudor cartographers wrong.
“Portsmouth is unique in having the earliest large-scale plan map of any town in England as well as the wonderful detail of the town that is shown in the Cowdray Engraving depicting the loss of the Mary Rose in 1545.”
After helping with the Time Team programme, Dr Fontana and Rear Admiral John Lippiett, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, put together an exhibition of Tudor maps of Portsmouth. It is open to the public in the Mary Rose Museum, at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, until October 17 and includes maps from the British Library, the Admiralty Library and the UK Hydrographic Office. It is the first time these maps have all been available in one place and almost certainly the first time that the original Tudor map has returned to the city in almost 500 years.
1. Time Team’s Mick Aston and Phil Harding discuss the excavated remains of the “Domus Dei” medieval hospice in Governor''s Green, Old Portsmouth.
2. “Domus Dei” in the time of Henry VIII (1873)
(2nd par) Dept of Geography –
(2nd par) Dominic Fontana’s pages:
(2nd par) Time Team –
(5th par) Domus Dei –
(Last par) Portsmouth Historic Dockyard –