Ashburton Church Hall [shown to the left of Christ Church], built in 1868 was the first building ever to stand on this land. It had been marshland until drained and shown on the 1838 Tithe Map as farmland owned by Mr Joseph Knott. The building of the main church of Christ Church was subsequently started with the laying of the Foundation Stone in 1870 by Mr John Kemp-Welch JP.
This set of nine plain apartments was then constructed in 1961/62 following the demolition of the remains of the bomb damaged Christ Church. The less attractive style compared with the architectural delights of the earlier church reflect the post-war austerity [in design and materials] still about and fashionable in early 1960’s England. However, given the historical importance of the site, it is now included in the Southsea Conservation Area.
Ashburton Court, Ashburton Road
* As an ongoing Community Project managed and funded by Hampshire volunteers, we invite comments and additional research which should, initially, be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. All [non-junk] polite e-mails will get a reply – eventually.
The new building might have been called Ashburton Mansions but that had already existed in 1939 at No.5 Ashburton Road and was destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War of 1939-1945.
Ashburton Road at approximately six metres above sea-level was one of three parallel streets built and developed at about the same time in the 1860’s on agricultural land that had been marshland until drained by the time of the Tithe Map of 1838. It was then shown as farmland owned by Mr Joseph Knott of the wealthy Portsmouth brewing family whose kinsmen had been Hampshire/Sussex maltsters/brewers back to the 1600’s. It was then a popular name as the 1851 census showed there to be 137 men with the name “Joseph Knott” in England. According to the Portsmouth Evening News, 25th January 1952, there was then still a Mr Kenneth Knott running the “Lord John Russell” pub in the Albert Road. Mr Joseph Knott died, aged eighty-one, in Portsmouth on Sunday 31st October 1853 [✎sourceMr Richard Knott, originally of Portsea had died in Wandsworth, London a year earlier, aged 83, on 25th July 1852 – w.i.p. re Will difficult pre 1858 – 3 years older than Joseph❜] leaving a widow and ten children. His Will…..[w.i.p research but difficult pre 1858.] He was the owner of a Brewery in East Street, several well known inns, commercial property and important quayside wharfs at the port. Much of this was publicly ✎remarkoffered for sale starting quickly in December 1853❜ and then over the following years until in 1858 the Trustees for the late Mr Joseph Knott offered a large parcel of land for sale by auction at The Portland Hotel on 30th June 1858. It is not yet  known why there was this delay by the Trustees but the Crimea War did not end until 1856 and throughout 1857 there had been a major financial crisis. The Trustees/beneficiaries would not, presumably, have been short of cash having sold so much commercial property over the prior years. The Trustees may also have been “hawking it about” before offering it for sale by auction The Notice was boldly headed “Capitalists, Speculators, Builders and Others” and offered 17a(acres), 2r(roods) and 28p(perch) being land south of Kent Road running west from Mr T.E. Owen’s house and grounds [Portsmouth Junior School in 2017] to Mrs Green’s manor (Beaulieu) in the west [Nightingale Road in 2017]. It further claimed that the offer was of “building sites of a most valuable and imposing character…….fine and uninterrupted views of Spithead, the Channel, Isle of Wight, etc….affords a prospect of a very large return for enterprise…”
As folks know, an acre was the area of land which a yoke [pair] of oxen could plough in one day according to the somewhat earlier Doomsday Book. Well, by the 19th century it was much simpler being one acre is equal to 4 roods which were each equal to 40 perch – oh dear, but fortunately a perch was equal to 30.25 sq yards. So in terms of sensible modern European measure, the land on offer was 71,528 sq metres – hey presto! – just the same open meadow land between Kent Road and Osborn Road as shown on the map of “undated but about 1860” [Plate 1, page. v] in Sue Pike’s excellent book Thomas Ellis Owen, Shaper of Portsmouth, ‘Father of Southsea’. This was then, certainly, the land upon which the streets were built which became known as Nightingale, Shaftesbury, Ashburton and Elphinstone Roads.
Unfortunately for those selling, the auction failed even though two thirds of the purchase price could have been left on mortgage at 4 per cent per annum when Bank Rate in that year, since 23rd February 1858, was 3 per cent. It had been between 10 per cent and 8 per cent during the previous year’s financial crisis when unemployment had been up to 11.9 per cent of the workforce. At the same time, the late Sir Ralph Hawtery tells us in his “A Century of the Bank Rate” pages 77 & 78 [published 1938], many country banks had been hoarding cash. This uncertainty may have unnerved investors. It may have been an unacceptably high reserve price. The Trustees may have been reading of land sales in Sydney, Australia about 20 years earlier where one acre of land alone was selling, amazingly, for almost £14,000 [or about £1.4 million in 2016 values] according to Charles Darwin in his letter of 28th January 1836 to his sister Susan [The ‘Beagle’ Letters (page 374) edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Cambridge University Press 2008]. Such high figures might have put a present day value of almost £25 million on the total Knott land in 2016, according to the Bank of England inflation adjuster.
Subsequent private offers of sale for the same area of land [now offering individual plots but no longer the mortgage offer] were published in the Portsmouth Times and Naval Gazette later in the year on 14th August 1858 and again on 2nd October 1858. Sales normally fail when the asking price is too high. Given that the Trustees had a legal duty to achieve the best possible price they may have been holding out for too much. Not surprisingly, as the offer was couched in very speculative terms but much dependant upon the open meadow land being developed and it was nearly all in front of [by now] Alderman [and one time Mayor]T.E. Owen’s fine villas where the yet to be defined “NIMBY” phrase was, perhaps, already in play, although in this case “NIMFY”. The failure to sell may also have reflected the then strength of public feeling against the development of this open meadow and so frightened off potential buyers. Even if the latest offer succeeded in finding one or more buyers there would probably have been no transfer of title [given that lawyers with pen and ink in those days would have been even slower than in 2017] until well into 1859. Current research has not yet  uncovered the price[s] finally paid for all the land. Readers of this page are invited to submit research. We do know [see below under Ashburton Hall] that the small parcel of land of 655 sq metres on which Ashburton Court now stands was valued somewhere between 1865/67 at £720 [now in 2016 about £79,000] equivalent to about £4,400 per acre. This would, in 2016 terms, be about £480,000 per acre or a more realistic present day figure of about £8.5 million for the total Knott land then offered in 1858.
Then it is interesting that the first street to be built was Nightingale Road [several years ahead of Shaftesbury, Ashburton and Elphinstone Roads] where “villas” would not have obstructed the view from Mr Owen’s fine villas further east along Kent Road. With the Crimea War having ended in 1856 [and Victoria Cross medals still being presented by Queen Victoria on Southsea Common well into 1858] the choice of Nightingale as the street name is not surprising. With Alderman T.E. Owen’s death in 1862 the opposition to further development of the Joseph Knott meadow land may have died with him. However, when the Kent Road/Ashburton Road plot was finally purchased on behalf of the Congregational Church, somewhere between 1865 and 1867,it had by then been laying empty and undeveloped for several years since it was first offered for sale in 1858, even if it had [and we don’t yet in 2017 know] speculatively changed ownership during that period.
The two neighbouring parallel streets also developed at about that time were Shaftesbury Road to the west and Ephinstone Road to the east. The Census for 1861 does not mention any addresses in Ashburton Road. HM Land Registry shows [title number:HP434762 ] the Knott family selling No.4 Ashburton Road in 1869 so the Knott family may have been the early developers if their attempts to sell the land had continued to fail. A number of Mayors of Portsmouth Town [as they were known in the 1860’s] are also named in HM Land Registry documents about that time as “wheeling & dealing” in plots of land so developed. Perhaps such opportunities “went with the job” in those days.
One amusing aside. An early O.S. map from a survey by Lt. Sandford RE in 1865 shows three parallel streets first as cul-de-sacs with access only to/from Osborne Road and not Kent Road so that housing development begins at the southern end of each road. Then other maps from 1865 show a road to be built parallel to [but with no access to] Kent Road joining all the three streets at the northern end. It was [probably most controversially] to have been called Fitzherbert Road – when Mrs Fitzherbert [another of King George IV’s well known mistresses] had only died in Brighton a few years earlier in 1837. It was never built. The controversy over this street has not [yet in 2018] been fully researched but may have been a contributory factor to the delay in selling off plots at the northern [Kent Road] end of Ashburton Road. Eventually all the three streets, Shaftesbury, Ashburton and Elphinstone Roads each ran from Osborne Road to Kent Road as shown on later maps. By 1862 Thomas Owen was dead and, possibly, the opposition to this development of the open farmland into three “ugly” streets [whose higher buildings damaged the views from his fine villas] died with him.