NOSTALGIA: Dirty corner of Hilsea transformed by engineers and a hint of Venice

Hilsea Lido 'lagoon'.             Picture: costen.co.uk
Hilsea Lido 'lagoon'. Picture: costen.co.uk
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Hilsea historian Jane Smith was delighted to see this picture earlier this week of the lido and has answered my question about why, where and what was the ‘lagoon’ exactly.

She questions my date of the 1950s saying it’s much earlier.

Hilsea Lido map

Hilsea Lido map

Jane says: ‘The reason for this is that the swimming pool isn’t visible from the end of the terrace and there is a boy at the water’s edge apparently fishing, which he would not have been able to do once the swimming pool was built in 1935. The ladies’ clothes also suggest that the photo was taken about 1934.’

She then moves on to explain why the word ‘lagoon’ might have been used and sent me a map from about 1950 of Portsmouth and Cosham.

Jane continues: ‘As the names for this area can be confusing, I hope it will make things clearer for readers. Hilsea Lido was built on the site of the fortifications known as the Hilsea Bastion which was demolished in 1919.

‘Early on, this area was known as Hilsea Bastion Gardens and as the forerunner of the lido, was an amenity with a tea stall and open-air music. Other names originating from these fortifications still remain today, such as Portsbridge Roundabout and Ports Creek. The Hilsea moat, also part of the fortifications, runs parallel with the Hilsea Lines across London Road with the east end almost reaching to what is now Anchorage Park. It still exists today.

St Edward's Road, Southsea.

St Edward's Road, Southsea.

‘At the west end, the moat reached the corner with Stamshaw Esplanade where it turned sharp left and ran parallel for a short distance opposite Tipner Lake. The area to the south of the moat, between the boating lake and the Portsmouth Grammar School playing field, was developed and landscaped. This included the terraces and pergolas seen in the picture plus lovely gardens, tennis courts and a roller skating rink. In the summer, there was even open-air dancing here.

‘Originally, it was known as Hilsea Lagoon, perhaps deriving from the Venetian lagoon, and hence the more recent name of the café, the Blue Lagoon. On the north side of the moat, the swimming pool complex was built between the two stretches of water, the moat/boating lake and Port Creek. The whole site eventually became known as Hilsea Lido.’

Jane says: ‘Overall, what a very clever piece of civil engineering! The bastions made a very effective green backdrop to the swimming pool complex while also using a redundant fortification.

‘A very difficult piece of terrain, previously considered “a dirty corner of Hilsea”, was reborn as Hilsea Lido, the seafront in the north of the city.

‘It provided a wonderful amenity for local people for many years. ‘

She confirms that the terraces were demolished by the city council in 2000 and the ‘charming’ white, wooden oriental-style bridge over the moat in 1995.

Jane concludes: ‘The bastions remain but the gardens were grassed over in 1992.

‘The development of the M275 of course, essentially changed the site forever.’

• Many thanks to Brian Clifford who is able to put the icing on the cake with this Edwardian picture of St Edward’s Road, Southsea.

He says the carriage is a Victoria which had wheels of varying size, an elegant vehicle in which fashionable folk might be seen taking a ride.

Brian adds: ‘Of French design, it was introduced into this country in 1869 (I believe by Albert), and acquired its name the year following, reflecting the Queen’s love of it.

‘Two passengers faced forward, and had a folding hood to protect them from sun or rain. I believe, in fact, it is here drawn by one horse only, although a pair could be utilised.

‘Private carriages sported a coachman; carriages plying for public hire had a ‘driver’!