Out of the Wilderness

An early nineteenth century traveller coming over Portsdown Hill on the Portsmouth-London road to visit the naval base would have been struck by a most impressive view.  Looking across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, he would have seen laid below him a great expanse of fields, wooded areas and marshes, dotted with small settlements.  Descending the hill and crossing to Portsea Island his coach might well have passed through the village of Froddington, later to be known as Fratton, close to the site of the future school.

Old maps of Portsea Island show that until the nineteenth century the land now occupied by the school was situated between East Field and St Andrew’s Field to the west and between the two main routes to the coast, now Victoria Road and Fawcett Road.  In the early nineteenth century the area to the east of the site, now occupied by Orchard Road, Telephone Road and Manners Road, was covered by a large orchard.  When it was purchased by the Portsmouth School Board in May 1890,  the site was a neglected area known as “The Wilderness”.  It was enclosed by a high wall and iron gates and had remained untouched and probably unentered for many years

The Ordnance Survey maps of 1873/74 and 1906 show the remains of a priory somewhere in the area now occupied by the all-weather pitch.  The 1873/74 map also shows “Priory Farm”  to the south-west of the present school site, close to the present bingo hall at Bradford Junction roundabout.

In “The Wilderness” there were several derelict buildings, including the ruin of a dwelling known as “Howard’s Cottage”. The Portsmouth Times of 21 May 1892 carried a drawing of the cottage and referred to it as having “the reputation of being the most ancient residential building in the island of Portsea”, and having been “the habitation of a real ghost at no very distant period”.  The ghost was said to be that of Lady Temple, who allegedly poisoned her husband and then hanged herself on one of the trees in the plot.

The largely rural nature of Portsea Island changed dramatically after 1870.  The view from the flat roof of the school confirms modern Portsmouth as one of the most densely urbanised cities in the country and, it is said, in Europe.  The large numbers of terraced houses which cover most of the island were built, from bricks manufactured largely on site, in the final decades of the century to provide homes for the workers who flooded into Portsmouth as it became the country’s principal naval dockyard.