I have lived near the South Coast for a while now, and thought I had visited all the interesting places.
Then last week, my son arranged to take me out for the afternoon, to a place he said I hadn’t seen before. It turned out to be the Southsea Rose Garden, just a short distance from the Rock Garden, one of my all time favourites.
Right on the sea front, tucked in between some buildings, was an enclosed area dedicated to England’s favourite flower. Only when we went, the season was nearly over and most of the roses had finished flowering.
It was a lovely peaceful place, and I imagined what it must have looked like a few weeks ago. Then I started to notice the strange buildings all around the edge, all odd shapes and angles, and unusual openings and windows. Not residential dwellings, I thought.
I forgot all about the roses and walked around the edge of the garden again, fascinated and curious. I had to find out what I was looking at.
And this is what I found out…
Certainly, almost nobody knows it by that name. That’s because Lumps Fort doesn’t really exist anymore. The fortified walls remain, as well as a few mounts for defensive guns and the like. These days, however, the fort is better known for being the home of Southsea Rose Garden.
The “current” fort was built in the mid-to-late 1800s, but it has been a fortification since at least as far back as 1805, possibly dating back centuries. Part of the semaphore line between London and Portsmouth ran through Lumps – but as a good chunk of the fort fell into the sea during this period, it doesn’t seem like it was particularly well-looked-after even then.
The fort’s main claim to fame was serving as the training facility for Operation Frankton, where, in 1942, a team of Royal Marines executed a daring commando raid on the German-occupied port of Bordeaux. The mission led to six ships being successfully sabotaged, at the cost of the eventual deaths of all but two of the marines. A plaque outside Lumps Fort commemorates the “Cockleshell Heroes” (named after the “cockle” kayaks used) involved in this imaginative and courageous raid. A film of the same name was made in 1955.
The majority of the old fort is now occupied by Southsea Rose Garden. In bloom, the garden is stunning, and is said to have up to forty varieties of roses on display.
The Rose Garden also contains what seems to be the only clue that Portsmouth is twinned with the city of Maizuru, in Japan. The “Japanese Garden” might be a little dilapidated now, but it stills possesses a bit of the charm it must have had when it was new.