Number 57 High Street

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During the first half of the 18th century No. 57 High Street was occupied by members of the Grigg family, descendants of Robert Grigg a Portsmouth butcher who died in 1676.

By 1781 George Fielding had bought No. 57 and was living there with his wife, Sarah, and their children. Fielding ran the prestigious Fountain Hotel which was next door at No. 56 High Street. By 1785 though the family had moved from No. 57 and in the forthcoming years a series of tenants lived in the house until it was sold to Robert Tyler a draper.

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The Tyler Family

The Soldiers’ Institute

Tenants at No. 57

The Tyler Family

During much of the 19th century, No. 57 High Street was owned, although not always occupied, by the Tylers, a family of drapers who heralded from Liverpool. By 1820 Tyler and his wife, Ann, had found tenants for Elmcote, the cottage they owned in Elm Grove, Southsea, and moved to No. 57 where they lived with their children until early in the 1840s. The Tylers were also operating their business from another property in High Street: No. 97; and part of No. 57 was used as a ready-made linen warehouse.

Robert Tyler was elected as a Councillor for St Thomas’s Ward in January 1836 following the introduction of the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act. He was thus actively involved with many local issues of the day including the development of the wet and dry docks of which he was a shareholder. In November 1840 he decided not to stand for re-election though and in the following year the family sold some of their possessions and returned to Liverpool. Tenants were found for both Elmcote and No. 57 High Street.

A notice in the Telegraph mentioning the auction of a portion of Tyler's furniture
Notice of auction of a portion of the Tyler’s Genteel Furniture in the Hampshire Telegraph, 20 September 1841.

Clearly having an eye for trade, in Liverpool the Tylers set up a Berlin wool work business and by 1851 were importing wool and employing five assistants. Patterns for Berlin wool work – a kind of embroidery similar to needlepoint using wools on canvas - were first published in Germany early in the 19th century. They became all the rage in England after receiving a boost through the 1851 Great Exhibition.

Robert senior died in 1855 and Robert junior died in 1870. Ann Tyler returned to Portsmouth and was living at Elmcote when she died in 1877. No. 57 was inherited by her daughters and sometime during the next twenty years it was sold to become part of the adjacent Soldiers’ Institute with the support of the Princess Christian Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society.

A pair of Berlin work men's slippers
Berlin work men’s slippers 1855.

The Soldiers’ Institute

From 1898, No. 57 High Street was used as a convalescence annex to the Soldiers’ Institute next door. During the 1870s the historic Fountain Inn at 56 High Street, had become a rendezvous for private gambling, bare knuckle fighting and cock fighting. No doubt to the great relief of local residents, it closed when a man was killed in an illegal boxing bout. This was sad, given that such illustrious guests as the novelist Sir Walter Scott, the Duke of Cumberland and the Duke of Sussex had stayed there. It was fortunate for servicemen though because the hotel was purchased by Sarah Robinson in 1873 and opened on 10 September 1874 as a Soldiers’ Institute.

When Sarah Robinson tried to set up a Soldiers’ Institute in Portsmouth she faced much opposition from local clergy, publicans and prostitutes. Like others before her, she was concerned that many soldiers and sailors squandered their wage packets on beer and brothels rather than sending it to their families. The temptations were set out in a letter she received from a staff-sergeant of the 6th West Yorkshire Militia who described the scene in Portsmouth on his arrival back from Abyssinia:

Immediately we disembarked, and before getting into quarters, we were beset by keepers of gin-shops and worse, hundreds of unfortunates in gay attire, and professional music-saloon harpies, all determined to allure the unsuspecting soldier into their meshes … The consequence was that, in the absence of any counteracting influence whatever, we ran riot through the town, [a] completely demoralised species of humanity, drinking spirits like water, giving ourselves up to all manner of wickedness, regardless of all orders relating to conduct or sobriety. it was no uncommon thing for a man to go out with £10 or £15, and within a few hours be brought to the Main Guard minus boots, cap, belt, and money, having been relieved of these superfluities by the ‘friends’ who had enticed him into their houses…

When Robinson spoke about the appalling state of the town though she was often harangued and local clergy blocked the War Office’s offer of a site for the Institute. Undeterred, she purchased the vacant Fountain Hotel at 56 High Street and set about creating a warm, cheerful alternative where soldiers were even willing to listen to the occasional talk or hymn to take advantage of the comfortable facilities afforded there. (It is one of life’s ironies that old hotels often proved perfect for temperance activities.) This, despite being pelted by mud, and bricks being thrown through the windows of the Institute

While Sarah Robinson was setting up and running the Soldiers’ Institute, MajorGeneral Synge of 61 High Street was assisting numerous invalids from the Army; some in his own home others in hospitals and private houses. In 1898 Synge, working with the Princess Christian Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society, bought No. 57 High Street to use as a kind of convalescence annex to the Institute. Anyone willing to subscribe £2 could nominate a patient. There was accommodation for about fifteen men and suitable cases could be admitted for four weeks. Some stayed for longer.

A black and white photo of the soldiers institute
No 56 High Street after it was converted for use as a Soldiers’ Institute.

The annex was opened in July 1898 by Lady Davis wife of the Garrison Commander of the Southern District. In the first four years 61 inmates from 29 corps benefitted from the care and training offered there.

Her Royal Highness Princess Christian, third daughter of Queen Victoria, had become President of the British Nurses' Association upon its foundation in 1887. This role was taken over by Queen Alexandra after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901. Given her interest in military nursing, the princess also chaired the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service Reserve formed in 1897 and the Princess Christian Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society. It was thus not surprising when she and her daughter, the Princess Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, visited No. 57 High Street in October 1901.

Western Daily Press article on the soldiers institute
Western Daily Press - Tuesday 22 April 1902

Whilst there, she spoke sympathetically to most of the inmates, listened whilst their cases were explained to her and expressed herself much pleased by the arrangements made for the care of discharged soldiers, sailors and men on sick furlough. It seems that changes were foreseen even then though. The Portsmouth Evening News commented that more commodious premises were being sought in the area because so many applications for admission to the home were being received.

By 1902, eleven inmates remained in the home and so great was the demand on its resources that an extension in the form of a new house was opened at No. 6 Grand Parade. Princess Christian visited the premises at the inauguration ceremony and took tea there afterwards. The home included a dormitory in which beds have been endowed by the Rifle Brigade in memory of the Princesses son, Prince Christian Victor, who died in 1900 while on active service in South Africa.

A black and white photo portrait of Princess Christian
Her Royal Highness Princess Christian.

In 1914 the Committee of the Princess Christian Home instructed King and King, to sell by auction the prominently situate bay fronted freehold dwelling house known as No. 57 High Street adjoining the Portsmouth Soldier’s Institute. The Home in Grand Parade would continue to do its good work for many years to come.

After the convalescence annex moved to Grand Parade, a series of tenants moved into No. 57. In 1933, the Y.M.C.A. moved next door when the Soldiers’ Institute closed. However, being a major naval base, Portsmouth was an obvious target for German bombing in WW2 and, between July 1940 and May 1944, more than 1,000 people were killed during 67 air raids. One of the worst of these led to the demolition of the Y.M.C.A. on 10 January 1941 when 171 people were killed. No. 57 was not unscathed by the attack and would remain uninhabited until the late 1940s when the first proprietor of the Sally Port Hotel took up residence.

Tenants at No. 57

Edwin Galt

Whilst in Liverpool, the Tylers rented out No. 57 to a series of tenants. One of these was Edwin Galt, a young wine merchant who, at the time of the 1851 census, was living there with Mary Chandler, his housekeeper. For a few years he also shared with James Hoskins, listed there in the 1852 Slater’s Directory under both Attorneys and Fire & c. Office Agents.

Edwin Galt's advertisement in the Telegraph
Advertisement in Hampshire Telegraph 29 August 1846.

During the 1870s Galt, by then a brewer, wine and spirit merchant, instigated the first South Parade Pier in Southsea. At that time Southsea was a popular seaside resort which attracted visitors wishing to avail themselves of the healthy sea air. The pier was designed by the Borough Architect, George Rake, and built by Messrs Head, Wrightson and Co. of Stockton on Tees. It was 580 feet long with a 150 foot wide pier head on which a bandstand could be placed. The structure took less than a year to build and, at the opening ceremony on 26 July 1879, the ribbon was cut by Her Serene Highness Princess Edward of Saxe Weimar. The pier’s popularity was probably guaranteed because the Provisional Order granting permission for it stipulated that all naval, military and civil servants on duty were to be given free admission.

A black and white photo of the South Parade Pier in Portsmouth, taken in 1879
The first South Parade Pier which was opened in 1879

Professor John Hiles

Another tenant that seems to have lived and worked at No. 57 around the same times as Galt and Hoskins was Professor John Hiles. Hiles, the older brother of the better known composer, Henry Hiles, was himself a prolific composer and teacher. In 1853, after some difficult years following his bankruptcy, he came to Portsmouth to take up the appointment of organist at St Thomas’s Church, today’s Portsmouth Cathedral. Following this move, Hiles placed regular advertisements in the local press for pupils wanting to learn to sing or play the piano. In those advertisements he claimed to have been a former pupil of Mons. Jules Benedict. Despite the iffy spelling, he was probably referring to the composer and conductor who would write a march for the wedding of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and Alexandra of Denmark in 1863 and become Sir Julius Benedict in 1871.

By 1860 Hiles had moved from No. 57 and within a few years he would take up the post of organist at All Saints’ Church, Brighton. Whilst there he published practical tomes for students of music such as Rink’s Practical Organ School in which the Preface, Remarks and Technical Terms were translated from the German.

The front cover of the book Catechisms of the Organ written by Professor John Hiles
Catechisms of the Organ, written by Professor John Hiles

Then, in 1876 he produced Catechisms of the Organ which delivered a thorough explanation of technical details of the organ’s mechanism and pipes using a question and answer format. Despite dating from before electric action was prevalent, the explanations in this book are still relevant today and include information on the construction of various types of pipes, the sounds of stops, wind systems, action, scaling and tuning. Hiles would no doubt be intrigued to learn that his entire book has now been archived on the internet and can be downloaded on https://archive.org/details/catechismorgan00hilegoog. Over the years, licensees of the (adjacent) Fountain Hotel sometimes rented No. 57 either as living accommodation or for business purposes. One of these was Thomas Streeter who, in 1859 following Hiles’s departure, was using it as a wholesale and retail wine and spirit store with smoking and refreshment rooms.

Tenants at Nos. 57 and 58 High Street

George and Caroline North moved to Portsmouth from Wiltshire and by 1844 they had opened an eating house at 5 Broad Street. Probably needing larger premises in which to bring up their four children, they moved to 58 High Street in 1851, opened an eating house and stayed there until moving next door to open Norths commercial coffee and dining rooms at No. 57 in the mid-1860s. During those years staff members came and went and amongst them may have been Mary Pannell, the 24 year old domestic servant who was sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment with hard labour for stealing a cloak and some other items from George North in 1874.

In the mid-1870s George and Caroline turned No. 57 into North’s Temperance Hotel. For over a century, from 1830 onwards, the control of the liquor trade would be a major political issue. The first temperance society in England was formed in February 1830 in Bradford and others quickly followed. The early temperance societies endorsed the drinking of beer and wine in moderation but were opposed to the drinking of spirits. The adoption of the 'total abstinence' pledge in Preston in 1832 led to radical changes to the character of the movement and it soon became clear that different facilities were required if converts were to be sustained in their commitment to total abstinence.

The opening of the first temperance hotel was on Christmas Eve, 1832 in Preston. A commentator of the day listed objectives that the owners of such premises could seek to accomplish. They should aim to open a respectable eating house; a respectable lodging house to accommodate persons who object to stopping at public houses; and a place of casual accommodation, where persons can come to transact business, read the papers, or enjoy social intercourse, or where parties, societies and committees can meet for similar purposes. He also suggested they provide various liquids which are pleasant to the taste, such as coffee, tea, milk, ginger beer, lemonade, peppermint water and raspberry vinegar; and noted that the latter are much in use, diluted with hot water, and sweetened.

Perhaps opening a Temperance hotel had been a long held ambition of the Norths. This would fit in with George North describing himself as a tea dealer on a petition he signed during the 1840s. If so, the dream was to be short lived. George died on 10 September 1878 and Caroline died on 4 June 1880. Following her mother’s death, their eldest daughter, also called Caroline, and her brother, Raymond, ran the hotel for a few more years. Eventually Raymond married and moved to Cambridge and Caroline opened her own temperance hotel: The Cambridge in St George’s Road.