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Victoria Park has a long and rich history, you can see our heritage tour on the Council Facebook page.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund is the largest dedicated funder of heritage in the UK. They believe that understanding, valuing and sharing our heritage brings people together, inspires pride in communities and boosts investment in local economies.
Development of the park
In the 1870s the city leaders were concerned about the health of local working people and the lack of access to clean open spaces. With the demolition of the old city walls, land had become available and was leased to the Council (and later purchased) to build a ‘People’s Park’ – later renamed Victoria Park. It was also an expression of civic pride as the area around the park had become a thriving new commercial district and the park became a focal point for the city.
The park was originally larger, which can be seen from the name of Park Road. The once-open boundaries were eventually fenced off and gates were installed.
An aviary dates back to shortly after the park’s opening in 1878 and has housed rare birds and animals, including monkeys. The last monkey, Minnie, died shortly after the Second World War. Its location has changed a number of times and the most recent aviary was built after the great storm in 1987.
The welfare of the aviary birds and animals is one of the main reasons that the park remains one of Portsmouth’s only dog-free zones – it’s also the reason that the playground is not gated.
The landscape and layout was designed by Alexander McKenzie who also created Finsbury Park, the Victoria and Albert Embankment and Alexandra Palace Park. The original design for the site created an excellent example of a late-19th-century formally planned garden, with a broad tree-lined central avenue, bandstand, ornamental planting, open lawns, a gently meandering path network and lodge.
The park hosts nine naval memorials celebrating ships, people and international events linked to Portsmouth’s history. Perhaps most notable is the Chinese-themed HMS Orlando memorial which was brought home by veterans of the Boxer Rebellion in 1901. Some years ago the original Fort Taku bell was returned to its home in Tianjin, China and a replica now hangs in its place.
HMS Shah, which is also memorialised in the park, fired the first locomotive torpedo used in anger while serving near Peru, was involved in the Zulu War in South Africa, visited the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific, and ended up in Denmark where the decking was repurposed as flooring for a Royal Palace.
The other memorials to be found in the park commemorate HMS Victoria, HMS Centurion, HMS Powerful, HMS Active, HMS Royal Sovereign and Admiral Charles Napier. These were often placed to remember ships that did not return to Portsmouth. Some carry the names of ordinary sailors, many of them locals, who did not return.
The centenary fountain
The fountain is part of the original landscape of the park and is a Grade II listed object. From a Hampshire Telegraph article of the time we are told:
“In his address the Mayor described the park as ‘for the use of the people of Portsmouth’ and proposed to ‘leave it with them to take care of’. The Mayor then turned on the fountain, and declared the park open.”
It is made up of and ornate cast-iron fountain with moulded base supporting four swans seated above a large ornamental tray. The fountain was restored for the centenary of the park in 1978 and is now known as the Centenary Fountain.
If you are interested in the history and heritage of the park please contact us at email@example.com or join our Friends group.
Nature in the park
Some of the trees pre-date the park itself and are over 300 years old, dating from when the area outside the old city was farmland. The formal tree-lined walkways were a feature of park design in the late 19th century. A recent survey which shows the ten oldest trees in the park which collectively add up to over 2000 years.
The natural landscape of the park is maintained by the council and we will be writing a new maintenance plan. From the survey and habitat surveys we have a good understanding of the flora (plants) in the park.
The park hosts plenty of wildlife such as small rodents, squirrels and other urban wildlife. There is a wide variety of native and visiting birds including jays, robins and finches who make their home in the trees and bushes. Our habitat survey established that we have back-headed gulls and herring gulls present in the park, both of which are ‘notable’.
Bug-life is rich in the park and we want to encourage endangered species like bees and butterflies through our planting plans. An entire wild eco-system lives at the heart of the city – the park is a living space.
We will be able to explore and support this with the help of the Natural History Museum team and interested volunteers. We can run activities that showcase the nature of the park with events such as wildlife photography workshops, tree-walks, nature trails, bird spotting classes and bug workshops.
We also have a small number of tended birds and small animals that are housed in the central aviary. The aviary continues to be one of the most popular visitor attractions in the park.