Throughout history, the site of Portchester Castle has gone through many transformations. Based in Portsmouth Harbour, it began life as a large Roman fort, before later becoming a Saxon settlement. It was only after the Norman Conquest that a corner of it was first turned into a castle. During the medieval period, the site was re-imagined once again, this time as an impressive royal residence for kings and queens.
The castle was used as a prisoner-of-war from the late 17th century onwards. In 1796 over 2,000 free French Black and Mixed Race soldiers were imprisoned inside the castle having been captured whilst fighting for France on the Caribbean islands of St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada. The castle would continue to hold prisoners of war until the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1814.
Unlike later prisoner-of-war camps we hear about today, life at Portchester was not completely cut off from the outside world. Prisoners could find work in the cookhouse, laundry and hospital and it even had its own daily market where prisoners could sell items to visitors, locals or each other. Prisoners also took part in activities such as drawing, fencing and even put on plays in a theatre that they built in the castle themselves in 1810.