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Porteswuda to home of the gentry
Friday, 14 December 2007
Read an extract from Jim Brown's "The Illustrated History of Southampton's Suburbs", in which he charts the history of Portswood from as far back as 1284.
Tennyson Rd c.1900, built by Henry Brain, Builder, with members of his family standing in the front porchways. They would occupy the buildings until such time as tenants were obtained. The fine railings protecting the small front gardens were all removed as part of the war effort during the Second World War. (Henry Brain Collection – Maureen Webber)
Old maps show that the Manor of Portswood originally included the modern Bevois Town, Swaythling, St Denys and Highfield, but these are now suburbs in their own right. The name comes from the Old English ‘Porteswuda’, meaning ‘wood of the town’ and there is evidence from the Roman occupation of Clausentum that a lot of timber was needed for smelting iron in the adjacent St Denys. A document of 1254 also mentions that ‘…the canons of St Denys have and hold a certain wood called Portswood by a grant from Richard, formerly King of England, in free, full and perpetual aims.’ This was granted in 1189.
The horse drawn tram at Portswood Junction, c.1900, has just left the depot and is passing the Belmont Inn at 200 Portswood Road. This building was demolished in the 1920s and the Belmont Hotel built on the site. (Henry Brain Collection – Maureen Webber)
The same view in 2004. The Belmont Hotel was renamed ‘The Mitre’ in July 1986 and became a free house in 1994.
Portswood then had ‘three plough-lands, three groves of woodland, 100 acres of pasture, 40 acres of meadow and 40 of marsh.’ Its labourers had to work hard for the Priory, just as they had done for the King. They had to clear half an acre of ground each day, from John the Baptist’s Day (24June) to 1 August, and in August they had to reap half an acre each day, for which each man received a sheaf. When the harvest was over they had to collect clay for repairing their houses, gather apples to make cider, shear sheep, carry out repairs and make up the fences.
The Prior, as Lord of Portswood, agreed in 1396 that its inhabitants should ‘submit to the jurisdiction of the town’ and in 1469 there is the first mention of the ‘Alderman of Portswood’. He represented Portswood at the town’s Court Leet and was, in effect, their constable.
In 1524, during the reign of Henry VII, it was Southampton’s poorest ward, and only 21 persons in the tithing had assessable goods for taxation. 18 of these were in the lowest category of only £1, compared with all the other wards that had householders in the higher grades of £10 and more. The Prior’s ownership continued until Henry VIII dissolved the Priory in 1538, when Sir Francis Dawtrey purchased both the Manor and the St Denys district. Portswood was then very thinly populated and by 1696 only had 73 inhabitants. Jointly with St Denys, it had a succession of owners, including the Earl of Peterborough in 1730, and became very desirable during the town’s rise as a Spa.
It was during this period that Walter Taylor, renowned for his invention of the circular saw and specialist block-making for the Royal Navy, built Portswood Lodge. This was a fine mansion with extensive grounds and stood on the west of Portswood Road, almost opposite the junction with St Denys Road.
324 Portswood Road, a Grade II listed building and lodge to the first Portswood House built in 1778 by General Giles Stibbert of the East India Company. It has been a blacksmiths, a car sales office and is currently empty and for sale. In 1968 the then owner tried to obtain a demolition order, but strong local resistance triumphed and the application failed.
The estate extended to 200 yards back from the main road and ran from Highfield Lane to Brookvale Road. Its 32 acres of pasture were used in 1844 for a huge Royal Agricultural Society Cattle Show that catered for several thousand visitors.
General Giles Stibbert, of the East India Company, later purchased the Portswood estate. He built the first Portswood House around 1778 on a site now bounded by Spring Crescent and Lawn Road and it was said to have given ‘fine views across the entire Itchen Valley.’
The immediate outskirts of the town, such as Portswood, thus provided fine country retreats for the fashionable gentry, but the eventual decline of the Spa, and consequent reduced prosperity for the borough, brought change. People of high social standing found the area less desirable and were inclined to dispose of their properties and move further afield. The growing power of steam and proposals for new docks also meant that the sparsely populated outer districts were ripe for development, to cater for Southampton’s increasing need for housing.
Leonard, Alan G.K. Stories of Southampton Streets, Paul Cave Publications, 1984. Local Studies Group, Southampton Portswood, Personal Reminiscences, 1982. Ticehurst Brian & Meachen Harry Pictures of Portswood’s Past, Kingsfisher Railway Productions, 1989.
This extract is from "The Illustrated History of Southampton's Suburbs" by Jim Brown, published by Breedon Books and available from Bitterne Local History Charity Shop for £14.
For information about the local history of neighbouring areas St Denys and Bitterne Park, visit our sister site bitternepark.info and click on Local History.
About the author
JIM BROWN is a local author and researcher with a passion for Southampton’s history. A former detective with the Southampton City Police, he has lived and worked in the city all his life, and in retirement has devoted himself to investigating the city’s past. As a leading member of the Bitterne Local History Society he has written and contributed to several books and booklets, including Southampton’s Changing Faces.