Where’s Magwitch? In search of the creepy black island home

The Old Black House, Langstone Harbour
The Old Black House, Langstone Harbour
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It looks like an opening shot from a film of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. A lone, rickety black house way out on the marshes with just a gnarled, creaky and weathered ancient tree for company.

All it needs is a convict emerging from the oozing mud and the scene would be complete.

Except this is not the north Kent marshes but those belonging to Farlington in the northern reaches of Langstone Harbour.

These three intriguing images - two of which are in the story’s In Pictures feature - were sent to me by regular Remember When contributor Gez Groom, from Waterlooville.

Unsurprisingly this isolated and forbidding building appears to have been known as The Black House, among others. It was also dubbed The Old Black House or Oyster Water House. And it is the latter which seems to explain its existence... unless you know otherwise.

Gez stumbled across the images in his ‘chest’ of family treasures.

Written on the back of the photo is ‘ The Old Black House – Oyster Watch House.Gez says: ‘The painting, I believe, was done by Ted Herring, a founder member of the Portsbridge Sailing and Cruising Club. He dabbled a lot with paint but his results were always naive, which I think makes them such a good local record.’ The map is on the back of the painting.

So what was the spooky house and why was it built?

An internet search throws up some potential answers, but I would be keen to know more.

Apparently a Matthew Russell, who gave his name to the channel leading northwards from Sword Sands towards North Binness Island, married Jane Tilley at St Mary’s Church, Portsea, in 1798. About 1819, when presumably his family of six sons and two daughters was complete, he took the lease of the small island about 250 yards off the southerly point of Farlington Marshes peninsula.

A house was built and used to establish, maintain and, most importantly, guard the proposed oyster beds which were to continue as a viable business for 130 years. The house was called the Black house or Lone house and was demolished in 1950.

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please e-mail Chris Owen at chris.owen@thenews.co.uk or write to him at The News, The News Centre, Hilsea, Portsmouth,PO2 9SX