Gosport’s Naming and Foundation

The Naming of Gosport, and its Foundation as a Medieval New  Town, from Documentary Sources

Most of the English place-names beginning with Gos- were traced by the pioneer Place-name expert Ekwall in 1936 to the Saxon word “gose” meaning goose, while “port” meant both “market” from the Saxon, and “port” from the Latin. The site where the tiny new “vill” of Gosport would be built in 1204 AD was a marshy little peninsula near the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. Migrating geese, (who still feed on the tidal shores today), were netted by experts, and sold as food Gosport Common was part of the Manor of Stoke, (later “Alverstoke”) and foundation.

In 1001 AD the land had been given to Winchester Cathedral by the grieving Lady Alvara,in return for prayers for the soul of her husband Leowin. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles state he was King Ethelred’s high-reeve, amongst 81 killed by the Danes at the Battle of Dean.

Thus 200 years later, as Bishop of Winchester, Godfrey de Lucy was collecting all the profits from Alvara’s “Alverstoke Manor”. He had, during the first five years of King John’s reign, become a famous builder of new towns in Hampshire. But it was John’s royal grants of markets and fairs to those towns that helped multiply the old bishop’s profits. This in turn had funded the beautiful Early English Retrochoir which de Lucy’s “Brotherhood of Workmen” had added to his beloved Winchester Cathedral.

 Gosport’s Medieval Foundation, 25th August 1204

ENGLAND WAS IN CRISIS in 1204 when Gosport was founded. King John and his Anglo-Norman nobility had been horrified to learn , to their shame and dismay, that he had just lost Normandy to the French! His plan was to retake Normandy by boldly embarking a huge army of knight and horses from Portsmouth Harbour.

He decided to order all the ships’ captains from all over England to assemble their tiny ships there. Then load his knights, horses, armour and food for all, to transport them in a convoy to Normandy…He also knew he needed extra storage and embarkation space around his new Town of Portsmouth for such a huge venture.

So he rode to Winchester to seek help from his loyal old Bishop Godfrey de Lucy, who had grown up in the royal household. The king’s grants had made Godfrey’s three “new towns” profitable, enabling the Bishop to form a band of Cathedral workmen to repair and extend his Cathedral. As Bishop of Winchester, Godfrey also owned all the coast of Alverstoke Manor opposite the ten-year-old Borough of Portsmouth. Though very near death, he was able to send his famous Cathedral workmen to build a new port as fast as possible for King John.

The ONLY WRITTEN RECORD of GOSPORT’S FOUNDATION is Bishop Godfrey de Lucy’s prudent “deathbed Charter” of 25th August 1204. He granted all Gosport’s future profits to Winchester Cathedral.

“all the profits which may reasonably derive from the Vill newly built upon the Harbour in the Manor of Alverstoke, reserving to himself & his successors, his manor house and chapel and the parson’s house”.

He died 17 days later, on 11th September 1204. His tomb lies in the lovely “Retrochoir” he added to Winchester Cathedral. De Lucy’s soaring Early English arches were a source admiration and wonder to Pilgrims thronging to St Swithun’s shrine – and to Tourists today.

Joan Russell,  President Gosport St Vincent Local History Club.