Drawing inspiration from city’s landscape

Deane Clark
Deane Clark
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Lift your eyes next time you are out and about. Peer up at the buildings around you and study them. Absorb them. Make sure you mind the lamp-posts though.

Not enough of us do apparently and it really bugs Deane Clark.

Park Mount, Kent Road/Sussex Road, Southsea, in 1987. the house bought by Deane Clark's parents in 1934

Park Mount, Kent Road/Sussex Road, Southsea, in 1987. the house bought by Deane Clark's parents in 1934

He loves buildings: old ones, new ones, the beautiful, the functional.

The 75-year-old has devoted much of his life to, first, designing them and latterly playing a leading role in saving some of the most historic edifices in this part of the world.

In Portsmouth there’s the old Naafi building in Museum Road – part of the City Records Office and Museum, Gatcombe House at Hilsea, the Dog and Duck pub in Fratton Road and the Ship and Castle on the corner of Queen Street and The Hard.

And then there are the forts on the hill – Widley and Purbrook. And while we are on the subject of forts, if it had not been for Deane Clark, you almost certainly would not be able to visit Southsea Castle today.

The Camber, Bridge Tavern and St Thomas's Cathedral, Old Portsmouth, in 2006

The Camber, Bridge Tavern and St Thomas's Cathedral, Old Portsmouth, in 2006

As an architect he was able to influence hugely the built environment of the city and county of his birth.

And that disciplined architectural training has enabled him to now produce a handsome volume of his drawings and paintings of buildings and scenes in his home city – many long gone.

There are, of course, many, many books of old photographs of Portsmouth, but there are few of any quality in this vein.

When we chat in the sitting room of his Victorian home in Florence Road, Southsea, we are surrounded by his art, those of others and piles of books. Among them is a small paperback volume which Deane is anxious to show me.

It goes back many decades and features nothing but detailed sketches of Portsmouth. It was produced by Violet Pearce, a teacher at Portsmouth Grammar School and Deane’s muse.

‘She was the first person to make me enthusiastic about drawing,’ he said. ‘I was already a keen photographer because my father, a senior scientific officer with the navy, was secretary of Portsmouth Camera Club.

‘I went to the grammar school shortly before Christmas 1944 when I was 11. It was freezing because there was no heating. It was very cold and bleak, but the one thing that made it all worthwhile was Mrs Pearce.

‘She must have spotted something in me because I was a very keen photographer although I don’t think I was that good at drawing.

‘But in the holidays she would invite me and some other lads around to her small villa in Villiers Road, Southsea, where she would hold drawing classes. She was a marvellous teacher who taught us everything about drawing. It stood me in very good stead and I owe her much.’

The other formative moment came earlier in his school life after his family moved out of the home they had bought in Portsmouth in 1934 – Park Mount on the corner of Kent Road and Sussex Road, Southsea – to get away from the war.

‘My mother’s great aunt was the housekeeper at Littlegreen [now a school] at Compton, near Chichester.

‘We lived in the servants’ quarters which was delicious. It was all a rather idyllic time, growing up in the county.

‘I went to the Lancastrian School in Chichester on the bus every day and it was quite progressive.

‘We had lots of lessons outdoors on mats.

‘One of the things which left a lasting impression on me was being encouraged to make three-dimensional models of buildings out of lolly sticks and boxes.

‘It taught me how to look at buildings, even at that young age. It’s something people don’t do enough of. Just stop, look up and take notice of buildings.

‘For example, one of the last sketches I did for the book, in November last year was of the buildings at the end of Broad Street, Old Portsmouth, to Point. It was only when I sat down to study them properly that I realise what a marvellous roofscape is on those buildings.’

Dean casually admits that he failed art at PGS at first, but passed it eventually and began his training as an architect at Portsmouth College of Art and School of Architecture

from 1953 to 1958.

‘In the first year, in the summer term, the whole of Wednesday was spent out sketching, making measured drawings of buildings.

‘It was marvellous training that has lasted all my life,’ he said.

His first job took him to London where he helped design housing estates and shopping centres. ‘It wasn’t inspiring, not my kind of thing at all.’

He then moved to the architects’ department at Euston station designing railway stations and signal boxes.

But in 1970, all those hours spent drawing the famous old buildings of Portsmouth paid dividends when he returned to the city to work as the historic buildings architect for the council’s Department of architecture and civic design.

‘It was a time when building conservation was really beginning to take off.

‘The Civic Amenity Act had come into force and there was a change in philosophy running through the city which meant we could preserve, not demolish.’

It was also the time when the Portsmouth Society was formed – the voluntary organisation which fights to preserve the best of Portsmouth’s buildings, streets, open spaces and seashore, and encourages well-designed new buildings and amenities. Deane’s wife Celia is the society’s present having served for decades as its secretary and chairman.

Deane added: ‘There was money around in the form of grants, and General Improvement Areas were introduced by John Marshall, the leader of the council. This meant we were able to save swathes of the city from redevelopment.

‘It meant we could save St Agatha’s Church in Market Way and the Ship and Castle on the corner of Queen Street and The Hard when the road was widened.

‘My first job was to restore Southsea Castle which the city council had acquired. It was in such a state that if we hadn’t taken it on I doubt whether it would be open to the public today.’

He was the architect for the conversion of Clarence Barracks into the City Museum and Art Gallery.

After local government reorganisation in 1974 he moved to Hampshire County Council where, until 1996, he was deputy and then head of the Historic Buildings Bureau which had 12,500 listed buildings on its books.

‘That was a quite a challenge but we were able to do a lot of good work in Old Portsmouth and Southsea, Gosport, Fareham, Titchfield and Emsworth.’

And then Deane returns to his theme. ‘If only people would stop rushing about and look up.

‘There are some lovely late-Georgian buildings in Gosport High Street and I enjoy walking in High Street, Fareham, where you’ve got everything from Saxon times to late Victorian.’

And with that Deane dons his beret, picks up a sketch pad and goes off to Southsea seafront to sketch one of the old shelters on the prom.

Deane Clark’s Portsmouth is published by Tricorn Books at £18.95 and is available from the publishers at 131 High Street, Old Portsmouth, tricornbooks.co.uk, or (023) 9273 6271.