Portsmouth Society

Working to improve the built and natural environment of Portsmouth for 45 years

The Portsmouth Society is an independent voluntary body affiliated to the Civic Voice with the purpose of promoting good design in the built environment. We campaign for quality in new buildings and for the preservation of the best of Portsmouth's existing environment of buildings, streets, open spaces, harbour and seashore and to encourage design excellence in new buildings and urban spaces." www.portsmothsociety.org.uk. Since 1983 the Society has run Best Design Awards: Best New Building, Best Restoration, Best Re-use and Best Landscaping. To nominate an entry contact the Portsmouth Society.

In 1976 Celia Clark was a founder member of the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust  The Trust was formed by Hampshire County Council as part of its response to European Architectural Heritage Year in 1976. Its principal objective was to increase public awareness of the plight of those historic buildings which were suffering from either a lack of maintenance or lack of a viable use. weblink. She is still an active member of the board, working closley with the Portsmouth Society on campaigns such as St Mary's House, the Theatre Royal and Wymering Manor. The society contributes an account of each year's work to the trust annual report.

Saving Buildings in Portsmouth

The Palace Cinema
The former Palace Cinema with its zinc domes and facade in Indian Moghul style was designed by AE Cogswell in 1920-21, after he had served in the Artists' Rifles at the Khyber Pass.  In the early 1970s, it was to be demolished and replaced by a spanning block across Guildhall Walk for the completion of Lord Esher's plan for a 'civic island'.  Celia Clark as Secretary of the Portsmouth Society appeared at the public inquiry with support from EMI and Dennis Sharp, the cinema historian, making a successful case for keeping this oddity in the city centre. It was listed grade II in 2000, and is now a night club


The New Theatre Royal in Guildhall Walk, Portsmouth City Centre developed from the Landport Hall of 1854, reopening as the New Theatre Royal in 1856.  It was rebuilt in 1884 to the design of C J Phipps, architect of several London theatres.  In 1900 the famous theatre architect Frank Matcham reconstructed the interior and the street facade.  The Theatre Royal was under threat of demolition for many years.  The Theatre Royal Society and the Portsmouth Society campaigned to keep and restore it.  The Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust restored the metal balcony and several phases of restoration and modernisation are bringing the theatre back into vibrant use. In 2015 a new studio theatre and rehearsal spaces are under construction.


Dog and Duck pub in Fratton Road The seventeeth century cottage which became the Dog and Duck pub in Fratton Road was under threat of demolition. The Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust worked with a local developer to remove the nineteenth century pub front and restore the building.  NatWest bank occupied it. Now it is a nursery school.


1880s Cell Block This 1880s Cell Block - for people arrested inside the dockyard - lost the staircase to the upper floors when Main/Victory Gate was widened in WWII.  When the building broke its back from piling for the Warrior berth, it was under threat of demolition.  The Society campaigned for its group value with the Recruitment Office, and there are plans for its restoration and conversion by Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust. In 2005 the University of Portsmouth converted it to start up spaces.


Rivers Street Hall, Somerstown, Portsmouth

This delightful little church school was built by George Absolom in 1868 for the poor children of St. Peter’s Parish. It was paid for by the wealthier congregation of St. Jude’s has Portland stone in its walls which may have come from the town walls, which were being destroyed at that time - for expansion of the town. 

In the mid 1970s the hall was empty and decaying, but its coursed pebble walls and gabled Gothic tiled roof and the two halls inside attracted Hurst Rinehart - who is a clown,  PALFI - for its potential as a small theatre arts space.  A small group including Tim Smith of Tipton House and Celia Clark formed the Somers Town Community Association to save it.

Because we had no financial resources, we had to turn ourselves into employers and run a youth employment programme to repair it. Our efforts were so considerable that in 1977 we won the national SAVE Award, sponsored by the Lesser Group - the only time it was ever awarded: a £2000 cheque and a large inscribed slab of slate. Since then, it has been used as a children’s art club, old people’s lunch club, playgroup, Catholic church using Latin for services, architects' studio.  A housing association recently converted it into two houses.

Omega Street School
The former Omega Street School of 1881 designed by A H Ford for Portsmouth School Board was under threat of demolition in the 1980s.  The Portsmouth Society campaigned to save it, and it was restored and extended by Hampshire County Council. It has had many recent uses: adult education, nursery, mosque, drama studio.  Celia Clark taught University of Portsmouth Restoration and Decorative Studies students the history of architecture and building conservation there until 2008 when the course closed.  The Omega Centre is now the south east of England headquarters for the Workers' Educational Association.

The Beneficial School
The Beneficial Society, an early mutual benefit society, built the Beneficial School in 1785 for the education of poor children.  Designed for monotorial teaching, it is one of the oldest charity schools in the country, listed Grade II*.  The Assembly Room on the first floor was the setting for many great occasions, including concerts by Niccolo Paganini.  Charles Dickens's mother attended a concert there the night before his birth in 1812.  The school continued in use until 1960, when the adjoining replacement was built.  The Beneficial School's future was uncertain for many years.  Uses for adult training did not last, but in 2010 the Groundlings Theatre Company reopened it as a community theatre.


Portsmouth School Board Buildings

This study of Portsmouth School Board's first ten schools was based on the extensive documents in the City Records Office, and the surviving School Board buildings

Celia Clark has a special interest in school buildings.  Her report Beacons of Learning: Breathing new life into old schools published in 1995 by SAVE Britain’s Heritage draws attention to the potential of old school buildings, particularly those in urban areas in England and  Wales,  for creative and beneficial reuse once they are no longer needed for teaching children.  Essays on the evolution of school  design by Roy Lowe, Andrew Saint, Malcolm Seaborne, Robert Dark and Elizabeth Hunter are related to contemporary educational theory.  Edith Gollnast describes the conversion of village schools and Michael Morris the upgrading and extension of Victorian schools in Hampshire.  Many varied case studies then examine experience of new uses in more detail.  The report  was sponsored  by English Heritage & Hampshire County Council. 205pp.

St Mary's House, the former Portsea Island Union Workhouse of 1845 designed by Augustus Livesay and Thomas Ellis Owen for a thousand paupers was under threat of demolition.  The modern St. Mary's Hospital developed to the south, and the workhouse was ued to house old ladies.  Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust, Hampshire County Council and the Portsmouth Society made a successful case for reuse.  Portsmouth Housing Association converted it into modern flats, so once again homeless people live there as tenants or as shared owners.

Wymering Manor, the listed oldest house in Portsmouth, with timbers dating back to 1581.  Portsmouth City Council bought it in about 1960 as a Youth Hostel, but that use ceased in the 1990s.  The Friends of Wymering Manor and the Portsmouth Society worked with local developer Ian Young who has planning permission and listed building consent to covert it into a hotel, but the City Council evicted his caretaker in October 2010 and are paying £2000 a week security costs.  There have been several failed attempts to sell it at auction.  The Wymering Manor trust of which Celia Clark is a trustee was set up in 2013. The Music Room restored from the Peoples Lottery,  is available for hire. Contact Ben French

The Vulcan Storehouse of 1814 has a functional elegance, celebrated in Henry Slight's poem which describes Gunwharf as 'sacred to utility'.  After it ceased in active use in the 1950s, it deteriorated for many years; the beam ends rotting.  Celia Clark and Roger James of the Portsmouth Society saw its wonderful spaces had potential as an art gallery.  The City Arts Administrator thought so too, and national galleries were approached.  However developers Berkeley Homes were given planning permission to convert most of it into flats, but the local Aspex Gallery moved into the ground floor of the south wing.  Their conversion by Glen Howells Architects has justly won several awards.


 Lost Buildings

 The Tricorn 1962 to 2004

The Tricorn has been celebrated  - and reviled - in festivals, ballet, music, performance art, videos,  websites, films, virtual fly-throughs, poetry, books, television and radio.   How many other buildings have inspired such an efflorescence?  Despite  its demolition, it still  lives vividly in people’s memories and  dreams.  

Celia Clark and Robert Cook  explore what  makes an architectural icon – and what unmade it.   This book sets  the Tricorn within its architectural context: Brutalism and the 1960s.  The unpopularity of Brutalism and the fact it was a commercial property affected the Tricorn’s fate.  The book draws on two sources not usually combined:  a  collage of documentary material, and the rich seam of people’s descriptions  of life in the building. The Tricorn’s architects: Owen Luder and Rodney Gordon explain the building’s genesis and reflect on its demise.    The 1812 Overture was played at its demolition - a reflection of  the Tricorn’s heroic status in people’s imagination.
Copies available from Celia Clark directly £18.50 plus £5 P&P -

The Tricorn has been celebrated  - and reviled - in festivals, ballet, music, performance art, videos,  websites, films, virtual fly-throughs, poetry, books, television and radio. How many other buildings have inspired such an efflorescence?  Despite  its demolition, it still  lives vividly in people’s memories and  dreams.

Pitt Street, Pitt Street Baths

The Portsmouth Society campaigned to save this building, the Royal Naval School of Physical Training 1910, used as a regional centre for Gymnastics, but Portsmouth City Council pulled it down.  The site is still empty, years later


World Heritage Site

Celia Clark is campaigning to see Portsmouth Harbour listed as a World Heritage site


Greening the Grey Tricorn Site

There are four inspirations to this scheme.
1. As Secretary and Chair of the Portsmouth Society Roger James and I attended the
Greening the Towns and Cities conference held in Liverpool in 1984 in association with the
Liverpool Garden Festival which created a temporary park along the banks of the
We heard from inspirational speakers all over the world, including how the fortunes of
Prospect Park in Brooklyn New York were completely turned around.  The Park had been designed by Frederick Olmstead who was inspired by the first public park - Birkenhead Park on the northwest of England - to design Central Park as well as Prospect Park.  The Warden described how she and volunteers had completely transformed a dangerous space haunted by drug dealers and criminals into a marvellous resource for the city of New York, much loved and enjoyed by locals including our daughter and her family who live in Brooklyn.
2. Roger and I came back to Portsmouth from Liverpool inspired to green a bit of Portsmouth, and a couple of years later the city council gave us a bit of space left over after planning in Somers Town where Roger worked as a doctor – on the south side of Winston Churchill Avenue to create Portsmouth’s first Community Wildlife Garden.  It’s still there – a little haven of quiet peace, and it’s recently been joined by the Somerstown Community Garden in the grounds of the Omega Centre where local people can grow fruit and vegetables. The lovely Stacey Garden and  Orchard in Copnor is another special space gardened by locals.
3. I picked up the Greening the Grey idea several years ago from walking round Islington near the Emirates stadium – that empty sites hit by the recession should be greened on a temporary basis, until developers are ready to build on them.  You may remember the community garden in the heart of Covent Garden.
4. The Royal Horticultural Society currently has a Greening Grey Britain campaign – encouraging us all to create green spaces in our cities – so you could say it is an idea whose time has come!
Why green the Tricorn site?
Members of the Portsmouth Society and a City Council officer met on the site in April 2011 and agreed on why we want to green this site.  As a main road entry point to the city centre, the bare expanse of carpark does not give the impression of a vibrant, innovative, well designed approach for visitors to the Historic Dockyard, shoppers, university students' parents... not to mention how it feels to Portsmouth residents.  Ben Ainslie’s Americas Cup was the final push which made it happen.
There is currently a gap on the south side of Market Way in the 'green corridor' which otherwise extends on the north side from the new landscaping in Mile End by the Highways Agency to St. Agatha's park.  Facing the Tricorn site are eight plane trees and bushes bordering the Pitt Street carpark, maintained by the city council.  Ivies are growing well in the central barrier of the road. 
Portsmouth as a city is seriously lacking in greenspace.  This project is intended to bring visual benefit - a green link -  to a grey, desertlike area.  The first design in 2011 was by Architect Carl Leroy-Smith, but it’s taken all this time to get the current scheme together and raise money to implement it.  It’s only due to the persistence of David Baynes and his fund raising skills that this project being launched today has materialized.  As far as we know, it is the first temporary greening of a recession-hit site in the south of England – and there’s a two stage benefit to the city, because once development finally gets under way on the site – which has already been empty for 11 years, the plants will be moved to enhance the city parks and green spaces.
We are very fortunate to have brilliant city officers in Portsmouth – including Barry Walker, the City Centre Manager and Vincent Mount, senior Landscape Architect who designed the beautiful and award winning central reservation in Commercial Road inspired by Southsea Beach.  These two made our idea bloom  - with sponsorship from the city council, Portsmouth Tree Wardens and Sir Nigel Gosling’s Trust.  Barry Walker raised sponsorship for Vincent to design the planting and containers, the Hampshire Gardens Trust supported the idea, and the talented Shaw Trust members constructed and planted them.