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A major exhibition of beautiful silver objects opens in Portsmouth this month, telling the stories of historical figures and ordinary local people alike.

Silver City: 500 years of Portsmouth’s History, will display treasures from Portsmouth City Council’s collection of civic silver, one of the most nationally significant outside London.

Also on show will be precious silver items loaned by the Royal Navy, the city’s Anglican cathedral and the Goldsmiths’ Company Charity.

Paintings, photographs and film will also be used to reveal the stories behind the objects.

Treasures on show will include:

  • A cup donated in 1591 by Grace Bodkin, whose husband was mayor of Portsmouth. It will be the oldest item on display.
  • An ornate salt cellar given by Portsmouth to Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, as a wedding present in 1662.
  • Two flagons presented to the city by the Duchess of Portsmouth, one of Charles II’s mistresses, in 1683.
  • Two figures of Royal Marines presented by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1959 when the Royal Marines were awarded the freedom of the city.
  • A tea service presented to Portsmouth FC player Jimmy Allen by the club after the 1934 FA Cup final.
  • An articulated model fish, donated to the city by Admiral Sir Charles Madden to mark the assembly of the home fleet off Portsmouth in 1964.
  • A model of HMS Victory, made using copper from the ship and plated in silver, given to the city by the Portsmouth Command of the Royal Navy in 1965.
  • A casket presented to Southsea’s Sir Alec Rose in 1968, after he sailed round the world single-handedly.

Also featured are stories of Portsmouth people, like Lily Besant – awarded a silver medal for netball in 1930, and another when she completed her nurse training in 1938.

Cllr Steve Pitt, the council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Economic Development, said: “This is one of the most ambitious and exciting exhibitions we have held in the city, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see these rare and wonderful objects gathered together.

“The civic collection alone is remarkable for its historical range and variety, and the sheer artistry on display. Added to this, we’re fortunate to have had some amazing items loaned to us for the exhibition.

“We see the show as an important part of the city’s Platinum Jubilee programme, as it reflects on Portsmouth’s relationship with the Crown and the armed forces – particularly the Royal Navy.

“The people of Portsmouth have assembled and protected the collection over 500 years, through civil wars, revolutions and world wars. Some of these objects were rescued from the rubble of the city’s Guildhall during the Blitz.”

The exhibition opens at Portsmouth Museum and Art Gallery on 28 May and runs until 26 February. Admission is free. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday (and bank holiday Mondays), 10am to 5pm. For more details see the museum website.

The exhibition will be accompanied by events and activities for all ages, and the council will be publishing a book about the civic silver.

The exhibition has been supported by the Silver Society, the Decorative Arts Society, The Goldsmiths’ Company, the Paul Mellon Centre, Portsmouth Cultural Education Partnership and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.


A silver fish, donated to the city in 1964., part of the Silver City exhibition