These are suburbs indeed, with the beginnings of pavements and the terminus of a tramway that runs from here, a distance of three miles, to Portsmouth itself. We cross over the bridges that span salty channels, oozy and redolent of ocean and sea-weed during the hours of ebb. Here we are immediately confronted with the ceinture [belt] of forts that embraces the towns and garrisons of Portsea Island in a ring of masonry, earthworks, and steel. The fortifications straddle across the road on brick arches containing Royal Engineers’ stores, and ornamented with the device “18 VR 61,” done in red brick upon yellow; and obsolete cannon, buried up to their trunnions, guard the brickwork piers against the wear and tear of traffic.
At this point the terminus of the tramway was at Cosham. I think the London-Portsmouth Road had by-passed Cosham High Street by 1895 (need to check that). He then walks[?] south to Portsbridge where he joins the London-Portsmouth Road, crosses Portsbridge Creek and the Hilsea Lines. The brick arches were demolished in 1919 to widen the road.
Now come Hilsea Barracks, with Hilsea Post Office opposite, and further on, opposite the “Green Posts” Inn, an obelisk, marking the eighteenth-century bounds of the borough of Portsmouth, with the inscription, “Burgi de Portesmuth Limes MDCCXCIX . Rev. G. Cuthbert praetore.” And so by stages through North End into Landport, past ever-growing settlements and suburban wildernesses where new-built rows of hutches miscalled villas look out upon market-gardens and those forlornest of fields already marked out for “building sites,” but still innocent of houses; where builders’ refuse cumbers the ground, and where muddy pools, islanded with piles of broken and slack-baked bricks, and wrinkled into furious wavelets by the blusterous winds, resemble miniature seas in which (to aid the resemblance) lie the discarded iron pots and kettles of Portsmouth households, their spouts and handles rising above the waters like the vestiges of so many wrecked ironclads.
Successive eras of suburb-rearing are most readily to be noted. First come the red-bricked suburbs still in the making ; then those of the ‘60’s and the ‘70’s, brown-bricked and grey-stuccoed; and then the settlements of a period ranging from 1840 to 1860, contrived in a fashion fondly supposed to represent Italian villas, characteristically constructed of lath and plaster now very much the worse for wear, but at one time wearing a spick-and-span appearance that would have delighted Macaulay, to whom the sight of a row of “semi-detached suburban residences” gave visions of progress and prosperity that seem to us inexpressibly vulgar. The sight of wealthy trades-folk and of plutocratic contractors seems to have warmed Macaulay into an enthusiasm which became eloquent in enlarging upon the rows of villas that encircle every great town. To him the ostentatious surroundings of the despicable rogues — the typical contractors of the early and mid-Victorian epoch — who contracted to supply hay and fodder for our armies in the Crimea, and forwarded in their consignments a large proportion of bricks and rotten straw — the vulgar display of men of this stamp recalled the most prosperous times of the ancient Romans, and was therefore to be approved. But these men have long since left their lath-and-plaster fripperies for a place where (let us hope) their bricks and their rotten straw will be remembered against them, and their descendants have mounted on the heaps of their inherited money to a very high social scale indeed. The eligible residences themselves, with their “grounds,” are mostly to be let, and the firesides across which unctuous purveyors and middlemen and their wives grinned at one another and ate buttered toast at tea-time, and drank “sherry wine” at night, are cold.
He’s got the essence of it right - rings of development, working out from Old Portsmouth. Even today you can recognise the districts he’s travelling through, with some changes (I don’t think his “Italian villas” survived, for the most part, or if they did they’re buried under shop fronts).
Following upon this suburban stratum come the egregious houses of the Regency period: pseudo-classic houses these, bay-windowed and approached by steep flights of stone steps surmounted by ridiculously skimpy little porches, with attenuated neoclassic pillars and pediments, done in wood. Some of these are gone — pulled down to make room for shops — and doubtless many more will shortly go the same way. Let us hope one or two will be preserved for all time, for, although by no means beautiful, they are interesting as tending to show the manners of a period now removed from us by nearly a century; the taste in domestic architecture of a time when the First Gentleman in Europe ruled the land.
Here, where we come into Landport, we also come into the less affected region of “streets.” In the newer suburbs nothing less than “roads” will serve the turn of the jerry-builder; his ambitious phraseology soars far above what he thinks to be the more plebeian “street”; “but perhaps, after all, he is wise in his generation, and is amply justified by the preferences of his clients; and if that is the situation, let us by all means condole with him as a much-maligned man, who does not what he would, but what he must.
Here, too, in these beginnings of the old town, shops jostle villas with “grounds,” and they in turn elbow artisans’ dwellings, where children swing with improvised swings of clothes-lines on the railings, and manufacture mud-pies in the “gardens”; sticking them afterwards upon the shutters of those ultimate shops of the suburbs which seem to be in a chronic state of bankruptcy, and hold out no hopes of a living for the pioneer butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers who, having served the purpose and gone the way of all pioneers, leave them richer in experience but light of pocket.
Landport left behind, one came, until within only a comparatively few years ago, upon Portsmouth town through a series of ditches, scarps, counterscarps, bastions, and defensible gates. They are all swept away now, as being obsolete, and where they stood are parks and barracks, military hospitals, and open spaces devoted to drilling. The surroundings of Portsmouth are, in fact, very modern, and probably the most ancient edifice here is the High Level railway station: a class of building which age has no power to render venerable. The latest effort of modernity is to be seen from this point in the Town Hall, of which every inhabitant of the allied towns of Portsmouth, Southsea, Gosport, and Landport is inordinately proud. And if size should count for anything, they have cause for pride in this municipal effort; for Portsmouth Town Hall is particularly immense. This is no place in which to enlarge upon its elephantine dimensions, nor to specify how many hundreds of feet its tower rises above the pavement; but it may be noted that it is a second-hand design, having been closely copied from the Town Hall of Bolton, in Lancashire. The architectural purist is at a loss how to describe its architecture; for it is neither good Classic nor passable Renaissance, although it partakes of the nature of both
“jerry-builder” in 1895. Interesting.