Victoria Park (Historic England)

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HCC Site ID: 1726 Parish: Charles Dickens Ward Portsmouth
Designations: HE II Area: 3.5 ha
Access: Public Access Ownership: Portsmouth City Council

Location and site


Victoria Park is located in the heart of Portsmouth between St John’s Cathedral on the north side and the Guildhall on the south. Bishop Crispian Way, formerly Edinburgh Road, delineates the northern boundary. The old swimming baths area, southwest of the park, is now a Portsmouth University accommodation building site with the Portsmouth railway line embankment forming the complete southern boundary with the Civic Centre beyond. The busy Anglesey Road (A3) forms the western boundary and Portsmouth University’s Catherine House and Travelodge Hotel the eastern one.
The roughly square flat site was originally open farmland of Southsea or Portsea Common and in the late 18th century ramparts were built to protect the town and dockyard. A recent archaeological survey (2020) has found the remains of these old city walls under the north western section of the park.

Historical Development

The Park was designed by Alexander McKenzie and officially opened in 1878 by the Mayor of the County Borough of Portsmouth. A year later the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map shows that the northern road was noted as Edinburgh Road and a branch railway line to the docks formed the eastern boundary. There were two underpasses from the southern railway line from the Town station (Portsmouth and Southsea) and Town Hall, and another from the Public Baths in the southwest corner. From the station entrance a mostly tree lined avenue made a diagonal path to the northwest corner entrance adjacent to a lodge, dividing the park into roughly two triangles. In the northern section, there was another entrance in the north-east corner with a more intricate series of paths and scattering of trees. In the southern section, just off the main diagonal path and nearer the lodge, a drinking fountain is shown with a more open Band Stand area with a scattering of trees. This area is eclipsed by a tree-lined path. In the southwest corner is a series of glasshouses. An approximate circular perimeter path linked the whole. Three urinals are marked, one nearer the glasshouses, and the other two, in a parallel line east and west of the fountain. Just south of the east urinal is a structure that is not marked but it is assumed to be the aviary that was in place soon after the opening of the park. Adjacent to the diagonal path a flagstaff is noted and three monuments: Napier, Sultan and Shah. These monuments were brought together from other sites and more were added by 1906-07, notably HMS Orlando memorial that was built in a Chinese pagoda style with an authentic bell.
During World War I, as well as normal park use, fundraising events took place and the military used it for drills. A tuberculosis station was also installed that provided medicines and gave advice on how to treat the disease. Soon after the war, the area under the railway underpass by the Guildhall was used as a site for the Portsmouth War Memorial.
In 1926, Portsmouth became a city and the council purchased the Park from the War Department; land was lost to the east of the dockyard railway line to a technical college. By 1939 the underpass from the public baths had been closed and a new entrance off the south west corner of Anglesey Road created. The glasshouse and band stand had been removed, and railings flanked Anglesey and Edinburgh Roads. During World War II, the Park suffered three direct hits that destroyed shelters and the summerhouse. Air raid shelters and static water supply tanks were installed and a restaurant established to feed families that had been bombed. Between 1948 and 1952, the restaurant closed and a tiled summerhouse was erected. Around 1978, a maintenance building was in place in a fenced enclosure with a glasshouse. The fountain was restored and renamed Centenary Fountain. After the 1987 storms, a new aviary was erected in the southeast of the park that replaced the one on the eastern boundary.
By the end of the 20th century the summerhouse was demolished, a coffee shop and small art gallery were located in the park lodge, and many trees had been replaced. In 2005, the Chinese bell was returned to China and replaced by a replica. A couple of years later a Worker’s Day memorial was erected in the park.
In 2020, the Council decided to apply for Heritage Lottery funds to restore the park. A number of key studies have taken place including archaeological and conservation reports, and habitat and tree surveys. After various consultations, an application for funding will be made in September 2021.

Current Description

Victoria Park is a delightful oasis between the Portsmouth Civic Centre and the busy Anglesey Road. What is particularly noticeable is the range of different trees species that warrant a Victoria Park Tree Trail, although many of the original tree plantings, particularly in the central avenue, have been replaced. The size of the park and layout of the paths have changed little from McKenzie’s original design. The entrance from the station to the park is probably similar to McKenzie’s plan but the adjoining underpass entrance from the Municipal Centre is rather grander through gates at the centre of the War Memorial complex. Walking from this entrance northeast on the perimeter path following the route of the old dockyard railway line, is a very pleasant children’s play area. From here between the path, the boundary and the northeast entrance, there are a variety of shrubs and a large electricity sub-station. The rest of this northern triangular area has formal bedding, with rose beds and annual plantings as well as the site of the more recent Worker’s Day memorial. The café in the northwest corner, near the northern entrance from Anglesey Road, provides a focus with a paved area, benches and tables for eating. In this area are four of the monuments – HMS Royal Sovereign, Charles Napier, HMS Active and HMS Powerful, with another three – HMS Victoria, HMS Centurion and HMS Orlando – across a perimeter path by the Centenary Fountain and next to the diagonal path that bisects the park. Adjacent to and more or less at the central point of this path, is the former flagstaff that now supports a weathervane. Across the path there is a large aviary and small animal enclosure, all of which need upgrading. As well as the HMS Shah monument, close-by are derelict greenhouses and a maintenance area that are off limits, dominated by a Black Poplar tree and well concealed by fences and shrub planting. Another small play area with a miniature train engine is just south of the aviary. The rest of the southwestern area of the park is mainly grass, shrubs and trees that is often used for events with another entrance from Anglesey Road. The only conveniences available are at the café.

Summary and Significance

A late Victorian Park designed by Alexander McKenzie in 1878, the land was initially owned by the War Department and purchased by the local authority in 1926. During the two world wars its central location provided the focus for military and civilian support facilities as well as suffering bomb damage during WW2. Various monuments brought here at the beginning of the 20th century remain. The summerhouse and toilets have not been replaced but there have been refurbishments to the fountain, the lodge which is now a café, and the aviary as well as planting of a range of different trees species, and the addition of two children’s play areas.
A late Victorian Park designed by Alexander McKenzie that accommodates a number of historical monuments, as well as providing a range of facilities close to a busy city centre.
HGT Research Urban Park Survey: August 2021

Sources

Portsmouth City Council – Victoria Park https://victoriaparkportsmouth.org.uk/heritage/ [accessed 14/4/21]
Pevsner, N., Lloyd D, 1967 Hampshire & the Isle of Wight, Penguin Books Ltd.
Portsmouth Park https://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/services/leisure/parks/victoria-park/ [accessed 14/4/21]
Grid reference finder https://gridreferencefinder.com/ [accessed 12/8/21]

Click here to visit Historic England site for this location.
HE description written: April 1999 Amended: July 2001 Register Inspector: VCH Edited: February 2004

Click here for local link and opening times.


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