Aerial view of Portsmouth Harbour
Portsmouth Harbour © Historic England
Portsmouth Harbour © Historic England

The Hotwalls, Portsmouth

The Hotwalls is an impressive art hub in Portsmouth, providing high quality studio spaces for a range of local artists and artisans. It also provides high quality exhibition space and a café space.

The Hotwalls are located in part of the imposing Grade I listed and scheduled Point Battery and Barracks which form part of the original military defences of the city at the western end of the city’s four mile stretch of Seafront in Old Portsmouth, protecting the port from attack by sea.

A port city in Hampshire, mainly covering Portsea Island, Portsmouth is located 113 kilometres south west of London and 31 kilometres south east of Southampton. It was considered the most significant naval port in England for a number of centuries. Its history has inevitably been shaped by its proximity to the sea and mainland Europe.

Portsmouth is famous for having the oldest dry dock in the world, as well as being the first line of defence from French invasion in 1545. Originally constructed during the late 17th century, the Hotwalls were reconstructed in 1847-50 from Flemish bond brickwork and with four tunnel vaulted chambers, to allow the casements for the guns to be deepened and a second tier of three gun ports to be added to the Flanking Battery.

By the early 19th century, Portsmouth earned the soubriquet of the most heavily fortified city in the world.

Like many English coastal towns, Portsmouth was affected by the Second World War, and suffered heavy losses during the Blitz. Portsmouth and nearby Gosport were pivotal embarkation points for the D-Day landings, and the naval bases carried out modifications to shipping and components for temporary portable harbours.

Portsmouth officially suffered 67 air raids between July 1940 and May 1944, three of which were categorised as major attacks. These three major raids took place on 24 August 1940, 10 January 1941 and 10 March 1941. According to German records, as many as 40,000 incendiary devices were dropped during the major raid on the night of the 10-11 January 1941.

During the four-year period of the Portsmouth Blitz, 930 people were killed, 1,216 hospitalised and a further 1,621 suffered less severe injuries. It's estimated that almost 10% of the city's 63,000 homes were destroyed, approximately 6,000 were damaged and almost 69,000 houses suffered some form of minor bomb damage.

New commercial use for the historic area

In the 1960s, the abandoned battery and barracks were purchased by Portsmouth City Council. In 2014, funding was secured to transform the largely disused buildings into a vibrant new creative quarter.

There was already a strong art connection at the area known as the Hotwalls; the arches had been used since the 1950s to display and sell artworks mostly ad hoc and at weekends. By drawing upon this history and strong connection to art, the site was transformed into a much needed and loved art hub for the city.

Works on the site were completed in 2016 and the disused arches have been converted into high quality workshop and studio space for 13 local artists. The Hotwalls complex also houses a gallery space, café and space to sell the artwork produced in the studios. Each arch has been glazed and work has been undertaken to make each studio wind and weather proofed, with water and electricity also introduced. The use of glass has made the interior of the studios visible allowing the public to see artists at work, increasing the profile of the artists and raising the footfall to that part of the city.

Gallery space is also available at the nearby Round Tower, which forms part of the Point Battery and Barracks. The tower was originally built in wood in the period 1418 - 1426, on the orders of King Henry V. The tower was rebuilt in stone in the 1490s, although it has seen various alterations. It is now used as part of the site as an exhibition space. This allows the artists to hold open days and exhibit their work, raising greater awareness of their work and the Hotwalls.

The Hotwalls project in Portsmouth has enabled the vibrant arts community in the city to expand and grow, allowing early career artists a space to grow and develop their skills. The development has also enabled the adaptation and re-use of the Point Battery and Barracks, allowing the buildings to be preserved for future generations.