Demolition of stately home was an act of ‘vandalism’

Leigh Park House in all its glory.
Leigh Park House in all its glory.
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I’m sure many of you remember the large Gothic-style Leigh Park House within what was to become Leigh Park gardens.

The building most of us knew was in fact the second house to be built on the estate. It was built by William Stone, begun in 1863 and completed at the end of 1865 at a cost of about £20,000.

Stone had bought the estate in 1860 but only lived there until 1874. Over the years he bought much other land and when it was all sold consisted of 1,866 acres.

The estate and new house was purchased by Lt Gen Sir William Fytzwygram.

He had retired after 40 years in the army and settled down on the estate creating the gardens that many of us remember in the 1950s.

Sir William died in December 1904 aged 81 and his only son, Frederick, inherited the estate at the age of 20. He lived there with his mother and sister Angela.

He fought in the First World War during which he was captured. He was repatriated but his health never fully recovered and he died in Queen Alexandra Hospital, Millbank, London, in May 1920.

His funeral was at St Faith’s Church, Havant, his coffin borne on a gun carriage.

Lady Fytzwygram died in 1935 aged 91 thus ending 53 years of the family living at Leigh Park.

Angela moved to Hindhead to a house appropriately called Leigh House. She died in 1984 in her 100th year.

In 1944 Portsmouth City Council decided to buy the Leigh Park estate to build a satellite town.

This was to house the many who would be returning home from the Second World War and had nowhere to live, as well as those who had been bombed out of Portsmouth.

At a council meeting on March 14, 1944, the recommendation to buy Leigh Park House and some of the land that went with it was accepted and the house and 497 acres was bought for £33,000.

The purchase of timber in the same deal cost £1,600 and with fees and stamp duty the council paid £36,057 6s 10d, the equivalent today of £1.17m.

Then, in what I consider to have been an act of wanton vandalism, the council had the house demolished in 1959.

Not all sales went through so quickly though.

Part of Leigh Park belonged to timber merchants JH & FW Green Ltd which owned 798 acres of woodland.

It was offered £4,650 for its land plus the right to buy timber on the land for £3,000 for amenity purposes.

When the Greens found out that the land was to be used for housing they refused to sell.