Haslar Heritage Group

Main Facade & Freize

The Main Facade was the first part of the hospital to be constructed and opened in October 1753 and is 171 metres (567ft) long. The middle floor with the large windows was designed as a council chamber but was never used as such as it was felt to be too grandiose.

Referred to as the Ceremonial Gate. The centre gate was only opened for the Governor and his carriage and this was originally the main entrance to the hospital. The view through the gate is towards Portsmouth and the Haslar Jetty at which the sick and injured were landed from the fleet for transport to the hospital.

The sculpture over the main entrance was highly esteemed in the early days of the hospital. It was executed by Mr. Pierce, in Portland Stone. In the centre are the Royal Coat of Arms for King George II. On the left a female figure represents Navigation: she leans on a rudder and pours oil on the wounds of a sailor. The North Star above her head, and a compass at her feet. At the angle the stern of a ship, with pearls, shells and zephrs. On the right Commerce is represented as sitting on bales and chests, distributing money, fruit and flowers. At the angle a sailor in distress, and a bird (of which the head is missing) at the extreme shells and ornaments.

 Click to the left, centre or right to reveal an enlarged version of each section of the frieze.
Download high resolution image of the full frieze (1.4mb)

Carved by Thomas Pearce in 1752 it has at the centre a splendid carving of the Royal Arms of George II.

Two female figures sit either side of heraldic beasts the lion and the unicorn representing the dual pillars of the British Empire, which was dependent on the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy: Navigation and Commerce.

Henry Slight described it much more romantically in a poem all about Portsmouth published in 1820:

…While on the rising ground is seen THE HOSPITAL.
Let India boast her caravanseras,
Of hoar antiquity – rich princely works
For wandering Pilgrim, fainting traveller;
Boast Greece and Italy their classic fanes,
Their marble columns, and towers fair;
But where shines ought, more noble or grand
In genuine kindness, angel charity,
Than Haslar’s sumptuous pile..

On the rich pediment behold
The arms of England’s monarchy,
The various sculptures which unfold
The pomp of naval dignity.
First, Navigation,bodly shining,
Her arms on blazoned prow reclining,
While bending low with gesture sweet –
A wounded sailor at her feet –
She bathes his wounds in charity,
With care Samaritan attends
His every want,each woe befriends.

High in mid-air the northern star,
Sure guide to ancient mariner;
On fore-ground the compass wheel,
The mystic polar-pointing steel;
And at the angle, low reclined,
The Guardian of the Westward wind;
While stern of ship – rich pearly ore –
And shells complete’th entablature.

Next Commerce, with unsparing hand,
Sheds plenty oe’r the smiling land;
And fruits and never failing flowers
From golden Cornu-copia showers –
On Bales of Merchandize her seat.
The worlds’s vast treasure at her feet.
Near this a ship-wrecked sailor stands;
To whose distress and prospects drear
A friendly bird doth minister;
While Boreas bids the tempest roar,
And shells and coral crown the shore..

With acknowledgement to Henry Slight and also Jane Smith author ‘The Story of Nelson’s Portsmouth’
Published 2005.

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