|HCC Site ID:||1725||Parish:||Hilsea ward, Portsmouth|
|Access:||Public Access||Ownership:||Portsmouth City Council|
Location and site
Gatcombe Gardens are situated on the west side of Copnor Road (A288) in Hilsea, Portsmouth, about two miles north of the city centre, and just south of the creek which used to separate Portsea Island from the mainland. In a densely residential area, the gardens provide a peaceful setting for the eighteenth century Grade II listed Gatcombe House to the north-east, which is now the prestigious headquarters of a local building firm and separated from the park by railings.
Although on Portsea Island, Hilsea was a settlement in the parish of Wymering until 1904 when the boundaries were extended to include the whole of Portsea Island into the Borough of Portsmouth. In the thirteenth century the Esturs family, lords of the manor of Gatcombe on the Isle of Wight, held a small portion of land at Hilsea, known later as the manor of Little Gatcombe to distinguish it from the larger one. The lands at Hilsea passed through many hands until in 1778 Admiral Sir Roger Curtis married Sarah Brady, daughter and heiress of Little Gatcombe. Gatcombe House was built about 1780, and it was around this time that Curtis was obliged to sell the site to the government as the estate was required for military purposes. For centuries, Hilsea was the first place reached by travellers after crossing the creek at Cosham, and soldiers who guarded the entrance to the island were housed just south of Hilsea in temporary or semi-permanent encampments. Permanent barracks were built from 1780 to the north-west of the house, and Sir Roger Curtis became Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces in Portsmouth and continued to live at Gatcombe House until his death in 1816. By 1854 The Royal Field Artillery were garrisoned here, where they remained until 1921, and Gatcombe House was used as the Officers’ Mess.
The OS 1st ed. 25″ 1868-78 map shows Gatcombe House as a rectangular building at the end of a long avenue of trees extending from the entrance on present-day London Road to a turning circle in front of the house, with a second parallel avenue to the north. There are several outbuildings to the north of the house, with gardens and parkland surrounding the house on all sides. To the northwest bordering London road are the Artillery Barracks which extend eastwards to the gardens north of Gatcombe House. By 1898 (OS 2nd ed. 25″), the house has been extended north- and southwards, and whilst the boundaries of the garden remain, it is difficult to see to what extent they were still in use. In 1921 the Royal Army Ordnance Corps took up residence at Hilsea Barracks until 1962 when the Army moved out. The OS 4th ed. 25″ 1932-33 shows Gatcombe Gardens much reduced in area: the avenue of trees leading to the house is gone, and a housing estate has been built to the south, occupying much of the original parkland. The gardens appear to be limited to the area immediately around the house, with a strip of trees forming the southern boundary. After the Army moved out in 1962, the site was neglected until sold to the City of Portsmouth in 1970, and private developers built the Gatcombe Park estate on the site of the former barracks between 1971-73. During this time Gatcombe House was falling into dereliction until it was bought and carefully restored as its headquarters by a local building company in the mid-1980s. The area to the south and west of the house became Gatcombe Gardens, a small public park of about four acres (1.62 ha.), which was redesigned in 2002 by Portsmouth City Council.
Today the small park is a green oasis in a densely residential area. Access is either from Copnor Road in the east, or a quiet cul-de-sac from the west, with Gatcombe House to the north-east separated by brick and iron railings which disguise somewhat the car park provision. The circular carriage sweep in front of the house is bounded by black iron railings. As you enter the park from the east, there is a small formal garden area on the right, and a band of trees on the left which extends along the southern edge of the park. In the south-west corner is a 19th century domed temple from the Italienate gardens at Crichel House, Dorset, re-erected in the park in the 1970s which, together with the Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in the grassed area to the north, fits in well with the backdrop of Gatcombe House.
A late 18th century house with parkland which for most of its life was used for military purposes. Sensitive restoration by a local company has saved the house from dereliction. Whilst the majority of the garden and parkland have been built on, a small area, redesigned to complement the setting of the house, has been preserved as a quiet open space for public use.
Information: May 2013
1st ed. 25″ 1868-78
2nd ed. 25″ 1898
4th ed. 25″ 1932-33
Mastermap 1:3000 2012