At the time of the last ice age, the harbour would have been a wooded valley with streams running along the course of today’s channels into the river Solent. There is evidence that stone age man lived and hunted in this valley. As the icecaps melted and sea levels rose at the end of the ice age, the sea gradually flooded the area until something like the present shape of the harbour was reached around 5000 years ago. Since then, man has been the main force in shaping the harbour, reclaiming land for agriculture, development and waste disposal, particularly along the north and west shores. As sea levels continue to rise, the hard sea walls created prevent the natural process of the mudflats and saltmarshes moving inland. These habitats are trapped between the higher sea level and the walls, a process known as coastal squeeze - one of the biggest threats to the special habitats of the Harbour and all along the coast of southern England.
For much of its history the harbour has been an area of salt production. The Domesday Book records three salterns around the harbour and by the early 17th century a saltern at Copner was well established. Here a large shallow area of the harbour meant that even without further improvement salt could be extracted from the area after each tide. The Copner saltern ceased production in 1800 but salt production continued elsewhere in the harbour until 1933.
In 1771 Farlington Marshes were reclaimed from the north of the harbour.
Oyster farming began in the harbour around 1820 with Winkle and Clam cultivation probably starting around much the same time. Production ceased in the 1950s. An attempt at Oyster farming in the 1980s soon failed. In 1997 work began to turn the remains of the old Oyster beds into an artificial lagoon. The lagoon which has a small island at the centre has, as planned, become a breeding ground for birds, particularly Little Terns.
At the entrance to Langstone Harbour stands Fort Cumberland, although the cunning design of this structure means you are unlikely to notice it. Fort Cumberland is considered to be England’s most impressive piece of 18th century defensive architecture, and was built to defend the harbour. Historic England
now manage the site.
Further historical information can be found in the book "The History of Langstone Harbour" by Ronald Tweed (ISBN: 13:978-0953331215) which is available to borrow from the Hampshire Library Service.
Additionally, the Arch-Manche Project
has recently completed a "geoportal" of Langstone Harbour, allowing you to explore what the harbour looked like during anchient times.History of the Board
Prior to 1960, the whole of Langstone Harbour was part of the Dockyard Port of Portsmouth and the Queen’s Harbour Master (acting through a voluntary moorings committee) exercised control over moorings. In 1960, the Harbour was excluded from the Dockyard Port by a revised Order in Council. This meant that there were no means of controlling the part of the harbour outside the City Boundary. The boundary runs through the Harbour and about one third of it is within Portsmouth and two thirds within Havant. The City had obtained powers of management in the Portsmouth Corporation Act 1959 but these applied only to the part within the City and it was apparent that effective control could only be exercised if the powers were extended to the whole harbour. It was also considered that the various interests in the harbour could only be properly balanced if the harbour were managed as a single unit. As a result, consultations were held with the former Havant and Waterlooville Urban District Council and they and the City Council agreed to promote legislation for the establishment of a joint Board. The Board was finally established in 1962 under the Pier and Harbour Order (Langstone Harbour) Confirmation Act 1962 which was an Act of Parliament confirming a Provisional Order made by the Minister of Transport under the General Pier and Harbour Act, 1961.