Southsea Common (Historic England)

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HCC Site ID: 1739 Parish: St Jude Ward Portsmouth
Designations: HE II, Southsea Castle SMR – see end of gazetteer for monument designations Area: c82 ha
Access: Public Access Ownership: Portsmouth City Council

Location and site

Southsea Common occupies the southern tip of Portsea Island with the English Channel beyond its southern extent. It is divided into two irregularly shaped areas and linked by South Parade with Southsea Castle, and the promenades of Clarence and Eastney Esplanades forming their southern boundaries. The A288 road runs the length of the northern boundaries of both areas: in the larger more open western area the roads are named as: Southsea Terrace, Western Parade, Clarence Parade and South Parade with St Helens and Eastern Parade Roads along the eastern section. Pier Road, which is not included in the Historic England listing, forms the western boundary with an enclosed triangular extension from Pier Roundabout and a short stretch of road that links with the A288, Victoria Avenue, Pembroke, and Gordon Roads. On the eastern triangular section there is a footpath between Southsea Rose Garden and the Portsmouth Football Club ground which delineates the eastern boundary.

After Southsea Castle was built in 1544, the land to the north and west became common land with that to the east remaining as marshland known as the Great Morass. It is a low-lying and generally flat area with extensive views to the sea in most of the western area. However, there are more enclosed gardens in the eastern section with a new protective sea wall being constructed (2021) beyond most of the listing’s southern boundary.

Historical Development

Southsea Common was part of the manor of Fratton (or Froddington) on Portsea Island, and from the 13th century was vested with the Hospital of St Nicholas the Domus Dei. In 1540, the land was surrendered to Henry VIII and four years later built as a castle as part of his south coast sea defences. It was from there, the following year, that Henry saw the sinking of the Mary Rose. The Common was enclosed in the mid-1780s to prevent development and ensure an open space around the Castle for a ‘field of fire’. The 1810 Old series 1” map shows that boundaries were in place, and some of the northern common land had been reclaimed, although the Great Morass is still noted. There is a routeway from Croxton Town, the old town centre of Southsea, to Lumps Fort on the eastern boundary. From this period Southsea began to develop both as a residential suburb of Portsmouth and a seaside resort. In the early to mid-19th century, the Common was levelled and gradually became a pleasure ground. To the north and east, there was housing development, laid out by the local architect and developer Thomas Ellis Owen. Clarence Esplanade was constructed along the seafront and additional batteries were added to the Castle. By the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries the housing development to the north of the Common was largely complete with avenues of holm oaks planted around several roads and a double avenue of elms laid out for parades along Ladies’ Mile walk. At intervals along the esplanade, monuments to commemorate naval victories were in place and Canoe Lake had been formed from the Great Morass.
In 1922, Portsmouth City Council purchased the Common from the War Office, by which time the weapons from the Castle’s West Battery had been removed. The revised 4th edition OS maps show tree-lined avenues in the northwest between Pier Road and Western Parade, various monuments, and the listed Royal Naval War Memorial adjacent to Clarence Esplanade. To the north of the Castle, formal play areas of tennis courts, bowling greens, a putting green and a pavilion are also shown. The tree-lined Castle Avenue separates the play areas from a diamond shaped area containing a bandstand and pathways leading from the Avenue, Clarence Parade, and the Esplanade. Neither the Rock Garden nor The Dell just north of it, are noted but they are indicated with the more formal layout of Burgoyne Gardens. On the eastern sector encompassing Canoe Lake and Cumberland House, pathways, tennis courts and two pavilions are shown. Cumberland House came into the ownership of the Council in 1928 and opened in the 1930s as a Natural History Museum and Art Gallery. With the opening of the Castle as a Museum in 1967, Cumberland House became the Natural History Museum. In June 1948, the D-Day Memorial Garden, SW of Canoe Lake, was opened by Field Marshall Montgomery. On the 4th ed OS map, published in 1942, Lumps Fort is noted as dismantled and was purchased by Portsmouth City Council in 1932.
In 1952 the Fort’s parade ground was laid out as a rose garden, and four years after the removal of the fortifications, the adjacent site became a model village. The military ceased their occupation of Southsea Castle in the 1960s when it was purchased by Portsmouth City Council and opened as a museum in 1967. The bandstand area became a skateboard park, and in 2011 it was leased to a Trust to manage. The bandstand was eventually moved to the Castle’s West Battery area. The East Battery became known as Castle Field. North of Southsea Castle, Castle Avenue is now the Avenue de Caen, where the Caen Peace Memorial Garden was unveiled just off the junction with Clarence Esplanade in January 1995. The Pyramids Leisure Centre adjacent to the Rock Garden was opened in 1988, and the Blue Reef Aquarium to the West of the Centre was opened in 2007.

Current Description

The western section of the Common beyond Clarence Pier to Southsea Castle is mainly a grassy open play area bisected by Duisburg Way from the roundabout on Pier Road with Gordon Road directly opposite to Western Parade. The Charles McCheane drinking fountain stands just north of the Parade Tearooms, at the junction of Western Terrace and Southsea Terrace, with close by an early C20 tram shelter. To the west of Pier Road and north of Gordon Road there is a small triangular section which has a building currently undergoing extensive repairs. Within this area is the large Fitzclarence monument and an enclosed area used for dog training that faces Pier Road. The corner area between Duisburg Way and Pier Road is boarded up.
A new car park has been laid out but as yet not opened, and bedding displays are planned by the adjacent footpath. The corner site between Pier Road and Clarence Esplanade has a large car park that serves the Pier and Southsea Hoverport. A building of the Southsea Rowing Club, the Beach Club café and a series of monuments lie to the east of Millenium Way on the Esplanade. The monuments representing Trafalgar anchor, HMS Chesapeake, HMS Shannon, HMS Trident stand before the Royal Naval War Memorial and the smaller obelisk of HMS Aboukir. The Crimea War Memorial is by the Southsea Castle complex that includes the Blue Reef Aquarium and the D-Day Museum with its impressive outdoor displays and a statue of Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery. A car park occupies the inner walled area of the Castle’s western battery, with the Bandstand situated on the outer seaward side in an amphitheatre where various events take place. The eastern battery forms a walkway that overlooks Castle Field, providing another open space for outdoor activities. North from the entrance of Southsea Castle there is a listed lighthouse, a car park, a water feature with 30 water jets, a central display of bedding plants with footpaths and benches either side that extend to Clarence Esplanade. This is named the Brian Kidd Way after a former Park Superintendent and is directly opposite Avenue de Caen. On the west side of the Avenue and north of Clarence Esplanade the Peace Memorial Garden is surrounded by low shrubs with a floral display in the centre. However, there is now no indication that it is a memorial garden. To the immediate north and west of the display there are beach volleyball and tennis courts, a Portsmouth City Council depot, a couple of takeaways and a splash park. Further west is the Serpentine Road, a non-vehicular path that links Clarence Esplanade with Clarence Parade to the north. Further north of this junction is Southsea Common car park, south of the junction and following the line of the Parade there are concrete balustrades with a number of access points. Each entry point opens out into a circular space with a Phoenix canariensis planted in the centre. Steps lead into the Common with adjacent areas railed and planted with a few trees, a variety of shrubs and perennial plants, all linked by a tarmac path on the Common. This area might have been the Italian Sunken Garden. Also from the junction with the serpentine path is the Ladies Mile, a double avenue of trees that ends at Jack Cockerill Way and is bisected by Avenue de Caen. The Blue Reef Aquarium and the Pyramid Centre are to the south of Jack Cockerill way and the Clarence Esplanade. The Southsea Rock Garden is to the west and there are three fine listed Victorian shelters and a series of early 20th century lampposts on the adjacent coastal esplanade. To the north of the Rock Garden the Burgoyne Gardens are separated by Michael Robinson Way with The Dell to the East. Burgoyne Gardens is railed with a perimeter border of annuals and a central lawn and is the end of the western registered listing of Southsea Common before South Parade Pier on the coast.
The A288 links to the two registered areas and goes north to St Helen’s and Eastern Parades with Eastney Parade becoming the coastal road. At the junction there is the D-Day Memorial Garden, a relatively small square raised garden with a memorial stone in the centre that has deteriorated over time. This area was once part of Canoe Lake and held the Emanuel Emanuel drinking fountain that was moved to its present position at the south-west corner of the Lake around 1934. Canoe Lake Park includes the former Lumps Fort now with the Southsea Rose and Japanese Gardens and Model Village within its walls, and beach huts between the walls on its eastern side. Canoe Lake dominates the western side of the Park, with Cumberland House Natural History Museum and garden to the north. To the south and adjacent to Eastney Parade there is a large open area used for barbeques, as well as toilets and a car park. To the north are two play areas for different age groups, several cafés, a mini-golf course, hard and grass tennis courts, a new tennis pavilion, a community garden, and a Nursery.

Summary and Significance

Southsea Common owes its current status to Southsea Castle which up until the 20th century maintained the area around it as a ‘field of fire’. The Common covers a large area adjacent to the coast that was owned by the War Department until 1922 when it was purchased by the Council with the condition that the area should be retained for recreational use only. Not only does it provide space for a fine range of recreational facilities, including gardens, skate parks, museums, and a large lake, but it is also home to a range of monuments and memorials that have been erected to commemorate various maritime tragedies, personalities and events associated with the City.
The Common is a significant area that provides a range of recreational facilities as well as sites for monuments and memorials associated with Portsmouth City.

HGT Research, Urban Park Survey: December 2021


Monument designations: from Clarence Esplanade Pier to Southsea Castle and adjacent to Clarence Esplanade are the following all LB II listed:

    The Peel or Shannon Naval Brigade Monument (1860);
    Trafalgar Monument 1852;
    Chesapeake Monument (T J Willis and S J Nichol) 1862;
    Trident Memorial (Macdonald Field and Co) c1860, re-erected 1877;
    Royal Naval War Memorial 1920?4 (by Sir Robert Lorimer)
    Aboukir Memorial (Baker of Southsea) c1875, restored 1984;
    Crimean Monument (1857);
    Obelisk of Portland stone by H J Andrews, erected by the Portsmouth Debating Society
    Nineteen early C20 cast-iron lamp columns are placed along the south side of Clarence Esplanade.

In the north-west corner of the Common between Pembroke Road and Pier Road:

    Monument to Lieutenant-General Fitzclarence (1852) by J Truefitt (LB II);
    Along the north side of the common, along Southsea Terrace are:
    a drinking fountain in memory of Charles McCheane 1889, restored 1977 (LB II);
    an early C20 Tram shelter (LB II).

The eastern section around Canoe Lake:

    Emanuel Emanuel Memorial Drinking Fountain c1870, refurbished 1992 (LB II)
    Cumberland House (LB II)


British History online [accessed 12/3/21]
Historic England (HE) Listing [accessed 11/3/21]
OS 1st ed Old series map
3rd ed OS map 1906-08 revised published 1911 6” [accessed 12/3/21]
1938 4th ed OS map surveyed pub c1942 1938 6
Lumps Fort History [accessed 17/3/21]
Victorian Forts [accessed 12/3/21]
Portsmouth Natural History Museum [accessed 16/3/21]
History of Skatepark [accessed 17/3/21]
Southsea Seafront Masterplan: [accessed 11/3/2021]Opening of Southsea Castle as a museum [accessed 17/3/21]
Emanuel Emanuel Fountain: [accessed 30/12/21]

Click here to visit Historic England site for this location.
HE description written: May 2002 Register Inspector: CB Edited: November 2002

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