Reaching out to students

The exhibition will be at the library until the New Year.

This week sees the installation of a new exhibition at the University of Portsmouth library. This has been put together in an effort to reach the student population, many of whom live in Somerstown but may not know very much about the area where they live.

If you were unable to visit any of the previous exhibition opportunities, or the Museum of Somerstown, then this offers another chance to see some of the archive maps and photos of the area.

Any member of the public can visit the library.  You needs to bring photographic ID with you and report to the reception desk on arrival (the desk before the turnstiles). They will ask you to fill in a short form and then you’ll be issued with a day pass.

The display is on the 1st floor. Do get in touch if you have any comments or stories to share – we love to hear them!

30 pages and rising!

‎30 pages and rising!

The book about the story of Somerstown (including a bit about the project itself) is jam packed full of archive photos and fascinating facts.
For example: did you know St Luke’s church was temporarily used as a stable until funding had been raised to finish it? The church was opened by Rev Basil D. Aldwell in 1861 and then separated from the oversight of St Mary’s and formally consecrated in 1864 by Dr Rev Sumner, Bishop of Winchester.

For those of you who use Facebook, you might be pleased to know that Somerstown Stories has a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Somerstown-Stories/358675977488733

Here we can update a bit more regularly with tidbits and smaller bites of information. You can also add your comments and post photos if you want to.

We’re delighted with how Somerstown Stories continues to build momentum and is gaining new friends, months after our public work has been finished. Do feel free to pass it on!


Retracing our steps…

An example of wattle and daub construction

Well work on the book continues apace, and meanwhile I’m trying to fit in just one or two final interviews before it gets finished and goes to press.

One of these interviews was with a lady named Jean, who is the first person I’ve met who confirmed that there were two wattle and daub cottages in Somerstown before the post-war redevelopment. I had heard rumours of them, but Jean confirmed it and is now in the process of contacting members of her family who knew the residents of those cottages for more information.

For those of you who might not know, wattle and daub was one of the most common forms of building construction in the Middle Ages and into the 15th and 16th century. The builder made a frame of wooden struts, surrounding an interlaced fencing piece made from slim sticks. This was the wattle. Then a mixture of earth, sand, straw and other ingredients was mixed together and packed on top of the fencing. This would dry hard and provided a good degree of shelter and dryness. Often a layer of whitewash was painted on top to improve the water resistance of the walls. To look at them, these building would probably remind you of a ‘typical Tudor house’.

The cottages that Jean remembered were situated at the end of Ivy Street where it met Somerville Road. She thinks they may have had thatched roofs as well. Further down Somerville Road there was also a farm house. My guess is that these buildings were the remnant of the first hamlet (mini-village) in the area, before Somerstown began to get more built up. The Industrial Revolution in Victorian England prompted a wealth of building projects (as can be seen from archive maps of the area) and so more and more houses were built from brick which could be manufactured quickly and cheaply, rather than stone which was more costly and slower. Famously St Peter’s Church building was constructed in just one year and it is made from red brick, unlike the neighbouring church of St Paul’s or St Jude’s which took considerably longer to build.

Thus the story of Somerstown continues to go deeper and wider than any of us thought! And as local people retrace their steps and rediscover stories from the past, I wonder what other treasures might be uncovered?


Taking shape…

Just to whet your appetite, here’s a preview of the book cover:



Please note this is a draft version only and the final copy may differ from this. The book will be hardback with a dustcover and the images inside will be in full colour, if they were taken in colour. If you’re interested in having a copy of the book, remember the cost has been covered by the Heritage Lottery Fund grant, so you will only need to pay for postage & packing. Copies will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, so make sure you register your interest by emailing: sharon.court@gmail.com

Quick book update – Sept ’12

Students from Year 9 and Year 7 have taken part in workshops as part of the Somerstown Stories project. Here they’re exploring a map of the area from 1870. The project has helped them discover a Somerstown that they never knew.

Just a quick note to keep you all updated: the manuscript has come back from the proof-readers (thanks very much to those wonderful people who gave their time for free to do that!!) More content is still being added. We’re getting close to finishing the manuscript and then it’s time to put it all together in book format.

Around 15 hours work have been put into it so far, but there many more to come I think! If you would like a copy when its done, please email: sharon.court@gmail.com

Building a story…

It might seem as though everything has gone quiet, but in fact we’re busy, busy, busy!

Behind the scenes our project leader, Sharon, is working hard on compiling and editing the book of the project. It covers Somerstown from the early 1800s up to the mid 1970s, and there are plenty of photos and stories from real people who lived in the area.

Here’s a taster of what you can look forward to:

Most of the housing in the centre of what we’ll call Somerstown was built between 1830 and 1870. A broad swathe of traditional Victorian terraces, built from red brick, filled the area behind Hampshire Terrace and above Kings Street and Elm Grove right across to Somers Road in the east and up to the railway line in the north…

In the face of this tide of Victorian terrace development stood the temporary ‘tin church’ of St Peter’s, on the opposite side of Somers Road, and behind that was open land until ‘Lazy Lane’ (which becameFawcett Road) andLawrence Road. This open land, dissected by Baileys Lane, was known as St Peter’s Park, although whether the land gave the church its name or vice versa, is unclear. At the top of Lazy Lane was the Priory and Priory Farm, which in years to come would become Priory School…

There are stories from the 1930s, local people’s memories of the Blitz during World War II and being evacuated, as well as more recent memories of the post-war rebuilding programme and the construction of the now-familiar tower blocks and Winston Churchill Avenue.

The cost of the book is being met by the Heritage Lottery grant, and it is therefore free to the public. There will be a limited print run, and copies will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, one per household. There will also be copies available in the Local History Centre.

If you’d like a copy, please send a message via the contact form on this page, or you can email Sharon: sharon.court@gmail.com


Final exhibition at Central Library

Our final event is upon us! Today and tomorrow is your last chance to explore the archive maps, photographs and memorabilia before everything is handed over to the Local History Centre and becomes the ‘Somerstown Archive’.

This means all the historical materials will belong to the people of Portsmouth and the archive can be added to and accessed long after this project has finished.

We’re also in the process of compiling a book, which will be jam packed with photos and local people’s stories. The book will be FREE as its paid for by the Heritage Lottery grant, however we will ask people to pay postage costs so we can send them a copy. Copies will also be available in the library.
There will be a limited print run – around 50-100 copies so books will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, one per household. 

To express an interest, you can drop us a line using the contact form.

We had over 200 visitors at the Museum of Somerstown and the stories, photos and fascinating facts are still flooding in, three days after #MuSo closed its doors!

Thanks so much to Steve & Daniel of NebMedia who organised the event, Sarah Dyer who volunteered for two days at the Museum, Guinness Hermitage for letting us use the building for free,  and of course to everyone to came along and for everything you have shared and continue to share! I feel we’ve started something here, and I’m not sure the Local History Centre staff will quite know what’s hit them, when I finally hand over all the historical materials, photos, oral histories and so forth! 😉

The overhead wires suggest it could have been on a trolleybus route, and there are some of the familiar clamps, that were seen on trolleybus wires. But St Paul’s stood alone in a square, and did not have buildings next to it. So which church is this?

One puzzle that has emerged is over a photo that I believed was of St Paul’s church, but we now realise it isn’t! We have a image of St Paul’s church when it had been newly opened, and of the side of the building and its beautiful Rose window, sadly devastated after being bombed in January 1941, but this photo is not the same building.

Do you recognise this church? If so, please tell us! There’s a growing number of people who want to know!

Meanwhile, prompted by St Paul’s and the mystery church, I’ve put together a short history of Southsea Community Centre, which stands on the site of the former Long’s Memorial Hall, which belonged to the church. If you have any memories of St Paul’s, or the Old National School which used to be in Long’s Memorial Hall, do let me know!

A short history of Southsea Community Centre

The Museum of Somerstown is an event organised by Daniel O’Neill and Steve Bomford of NebMedia

We have been thrilled by the number of visitors we’ve seen so far at the Museum of Somerstown. It’s been open for less than 24 hours, and we’ve had a steady stream of visitors offering to share their stories and photos of the area.

Things we have learnt so far include:

  • Pink Floyd was just one of the bands that played in the  SPACE gallery, which was part of the newly built Eldon Building in the early 1960s
  • When the Eldon Building was first being built, there were still 3 or 4 houses remaining on Bedford Road. These houses were simply pushed on on themselves, compacted and then built on top of! When excavations were made for the new extension to the Eldon Building http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/education/ground-is-broken-at-site-of-new-arts-extension-1-3507928 they found the remains of the houses and their extensive cellars, which reached underneath Middle Street! Contractors also found an intriguing artefact: a glass bottle, possibly for lemonade, from the Portsmouth Mineral Water Company. The bottle had fixings for a metal brace & bung (similar to those on some beer bottles) and a glass marble in a special cavity in the neck, which helped to maintain the gas pressure and seal the bottle.
  • Prior to Eldon Building being built, Middle Street was the play area for a number of local children. They played football on the wasteland either side of the road, and cricket on the road itself. They became very skilled at these sports as they had the space to play whenever they wanted! The boys were most affronted when the builders came in and took away their play space!
  • Before the children gained their playground, and while there were still remains of houses there, the Civil Defence used the area for training practice.
  • Henrietta Street (which is now located underneath the newly built Henrietta Place) is believed to be the site used for a film in 1965 called ‘Operation Crossbow’ starring George Peppard,  Sophia Loren, John Mills and Trevor Howard about the production of the V1 and V2 bombs during WWII. The houses were already derelict due to bomb damage, but they were lightly repaired and then blown up as a substitute for London during the Blitz. http://ww2.portsmouth-college.ac.uk/portsmouth/main.php?g2_itemId=712

An artist’s impression of the new extension to the Eldon Building, which will become the home of all the Creative & Cultural Industries faculties. The University very much hopes to build stronger relationships with the local community and is keen to find ways that Somerstown people could use the space in ways that interest them.

Overwhelmingly the comments about Somerstown from people who have (and still) live there is positive and one of close-knit, community spirited people who are loyal and supportive of one another. This may not perhaps be everyone’s experience, but it seems Somerstown does not deserve the reputation it has unwittingly earnt.

The Museum of Somerstown is open on Sat 21st July from 10am-6pm and on Sunday 22nd from 10am-4pm.

All the historic materials (photos, maps, oral histories etc) will become the Somerstown Archive which will be held by the City Records office and people can continue to access it and add to it after the project is finished in September 2012.

Follow us on Twitter: @SomerstownStory and find us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Somerstown-Stories/358675977488733

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