Setting the scene
1627 - 1995
Early records are sometimes sketchy and the tentative conclusions drawn here about the occupiers of No. 58 High Street in the first half of the eighteenth century reflect this. During the 1730s and 1740s the upper rooms of No. 58 were probably rented out for use as living accommodation with business premises on the ground floor. At that time, John Herring, an upholsterer, lived there for nearly ten years ...
... Ann Rice probably also occupied one room until her marriage to John Shepherd, a baker. For a few years in the 1740s Stanford Blankly lived there. He was a local man whose father was a surveyor at the docks. Then came Jonathan Shepherd whose wife, Elizabeth (nee Trattle), had inherited a part share in another property in High Street from her father, John Trattle, a butcher.
When John Herring moved out in the early 1750s, William Read, a silversmith and cutler, moved into No. 58 and shared it with the Shepherds until they moved on and he purchased the entire building.
In 1788 William Read was defrauded out of £12 9s 0d by James Hunt, an exsergeant-major of the 101st Regiment of Foot, who was convicted of selling 38 pieces of base metal as counterfeit foreign coins called pagodas. This must have been embarrassing for Read because, in his defence, Hunt asked how he could be expected to know what metal the coins were made of if a silversmith could not do so. In those days, justice was harsh. Hunt had a pregnant wife and three children but he was sentenced to seven years transportation.
Read’s brother, John, and nephew, William, were also silversmiths and cutlers and William Read junior lived and worked with his uncle at No. 58. During the 1780s both men were church-wardens at St Thomas’s (now Portsmouth Cathedral). William senior died in 1790 and his heir, William junior, died three years later, leaving the property to his wife Mary. There is a memorial to both men in Portsmouth Cathedral.
After her husband’s death Mary Read lived at No. 58 with her son, William Price Read, who, as well as being a silversmith and cutler, had extended the skills of his father and great-uncle by becoming a goldsmith. In 1810 he was named in an advertisement in the Hampshire Telegraph as one of only two stockists of a new invention: The Celebrated MAGNETIC RAZOR TABLET which was apparently used by the Prince of Wales and had become so high in reputation as to be considered the only invention in the world, capable of forming a most scientific and acute edge to a razor, without the use of Oil or Grease…
In 1793 Mary purchased insurance from the Sun Fire Office to ensure that, if a fire broke out, the company’s brigade would see the Sun symbol on the outside of the building and put the fire out. The plaque she purchased is still visible on the façade of the Sally Port Hotel today.
In 1809 William Price Read married the fine featured Caroline Melchizedek Meredith, daughter of the tailor at No. 73 High Street who was destined to become grandfather of the great Victorian novelist and poet, George Meredith. Around the time of their marriage, No. 58 was sold to George Chambers, a grocer, and the Reads moved next door to No. 59 High Street. Unfortunately, after three years of marriage, Caroline died, aged 24, leaving William Price with a daughter, also called Caroline, who, in 1830, would go on to marry R.W.C. Kendall, Vice-Consul of the Azores. Read and his mother lived at No. 59 until their respective deaths in July and November 1823; so neither attended her wedding.
Two hundred years later, the Reads were amongst sword-cutlers catalogued in The Naval Officers Sword by Captain Henry T. A. Bosenquet. When Bosanquet was asked to survey and research the history of each sword and dirk owned by the National Maritime Museum, he included a general history of the naval officers’ sword. Surprisingly, sword designs were constantly changing, often according to the whims of fashion, and the Reads was listed amongst those who any selfrespecting naval officer would have turned to in pursuit of a really modern blade.
In 2012 a midshipman’s dirk made by William Price Read for Admiral Sir Charles Napier was sold by auction. Napier went to sea at 13 and received his first command in 1808. One of the high spots of his long and illustrious career was between 1831 and 1833 when he commanded the loyalist Portuguese Fleet, defeated that of the pretender, Maria Evaristo Miguel, and restored Queen Maria II to the throne. Latterly he sat twice in Parliament and worked for naval reform.
Between 1810 and 1897 No. 58 High Street was owned by members of the Chambers family. For at least 120 years the Chambers family were prominent in both commercial and civic affairs in Portsmouth.
George Chambers came to Portsmouth from Nottinghamshire around the turn of the eighteenth century. Ambitious and keen to make a name for himself in the south he started developing connections in the merchant grocery trade. For many years he carried on thriving grocery businesses at 58 High Street and at 4 The Common Hard, Portsea. The shop in Portsea seems to have been a shrewd move given its proximity to the dockyard. At that time ships were travelling for months at a time and they would need provisions to keep the crew and officers going during their time at sea. At the end of those trips sometimes foodstuffs would be left over and the Chambers would occasionally buy these back at a cheap rate for re-sale.
As well as his business interests, George played an active role in local decision making. For example, in 1827 he was one of those who, being a subscriber of one guinea or more a year towards the local dispensary, asked that its upper rooms be made available for patients recovering from lithotomy, amputations or other important operations. Another such occasion occurred shortly before he died, in 1848, when Portsmouth introduced free education for all classes and he became a member of the first School Board along with other people prominent in business, social and civic life.
After George’s death the grocery business flourished under his son, William Grant Chambers. He moved the store in High Street from No. 58 to 83 where he lived with his wife and growing family and began looking for a tenant (more about the tenants later)… In the coming years he extended the range of his business and advertised himself as a Tea Dealer and Grocer, an Agent to Mariners’ and General Life Insurance Company and a Purveyor of Live and Dead Stock. In Portsea he took on the premises next door and ran the business from both Nos 4 and 5 The Common Hard.
Born in Portsmouth in 1810, William became a well-respected local figure known to be astute in both business and politics. One occasion this business acumen revealed itself was during the Crimean War. Shrewdly realising there would be a shortage of food for troops in the Peninsular, he dispatched several loads of provisions which arrived in time to relieve both the hardships of the soldiers and ensure the enrichment of his business.
As a Liberal, William entered the Council for the “Mother Ward” of St Thomas’s in 1859. In December 1862, despite being a councillor for only a few years, he was appointed as successor to Mayor Thomas Ellis Owen (the prominent local architect who suddenly died in office) because it was thought he would bring freshness and new life to the borough. This was a particular tribute to his abilities. The mayor had been chosen with some care that year given the ensuing wedding of the Prince of Wales and the conjecture that knighthoods might be forthcoming to Mayors of the principle towns. In the event, Chambers received no such honour but he did receive the Prince and Princess of Wales when they crossed to Portsmouth following their post-nuptial visit to see Queen Victoria at Osborne.
The following year William was elected to stand as Mayor again and distinguished himself so much that afterwards, in 1865, the public of Portsmouth presented him with a silver epergne, weighing 267 ounces, in recognition of his services as Mayor. Today the detailed description of this sumptuous epergne in the Hampshire Telegraph may have raised questions surrounding the Council’s profligacy.
William Chambers went on to become an Alderman, a Justice of the Peace, Chairman of the Landport and Southsea Tram Company and a director of the Floating Bridge and Steam Packet Companies. He eventually moved from High Street to live at Eastlands a sizeable Owen property in Kent Road, Southsea. He retired from active business in 1873 and died in 1883 leaving a personal estate worth £20,741 10s 3d. His only son had died in his 20s and none of his six daughters had married so there was no generation to carry on after them. In 1934 the silver epergne was passed back into the possession of the Lord Mayor and Corporation under the terms of the will of Mary Chambers, the last of William’s daughters to survive.
No. 58 High Street was sold in 1897 at an auction organised by King and King. James Bullin, a retired furniture manufacturer who lived round the corner at 1 Grand Parade, purchased the property. After James Bullin died in 1917, 58 High Street was inherited by his son, James Ernest who, although initially a furniture manufacturer, later specialised as a military camp equipment contractor. Throughout their ownership of the property the Bullins rented out the upper floors as residential accommodation and many tenants came and went over the years. James Bullin junior died in a nursing home in the Isle of Wight in 1951. No. 58 was inherited by his son James Vernon Bullin, and his younger brother, Reginald Bullin, both solicitors. A few years later Reginald, a keen amateur musician, received a knighthood in the New Years’ Honours List. In the meantime, No 58 was sold to Alberto Pitassi, first owner of the Sally Port Hotel.
In 1867 Charles Matthew Smithers, a tailor and outfitter moved into 58 High Street. He, his wife, Harriet and their five children lived and worked there until the mid1870s. In 1872 they were the victims of a crime. The criminals were caught and the ensuing session at the magistrates’ court was reported in the Hampshire Advertiser.
During the 1870s a young mortgage broker, E. T. Le Messurier, moved into 58 High Street for a few years. He placed regular advertisements in the local press that tell us that as well as arranging mortgages, he offered his services as a valuer, estate agent, insurance agent, general commission agent and share broker.
Le Messurier had come from Guernsey where he worked as a Government Emigration Agent. Thousands of acres of land was being made available in America and, in Guernsey, he secured passages for people wishing to begin a new life there. Land in Iowa and Nebraska could be purchased from the Burlington and MissouriRiver Railroad Company. It was described as:
…fine rolling prairie, ready for the plough without expense or labour of clearing; it is well watered and well drained, entirely free from swamps and stagnant waters, and no diseases whatever are incident to it.
After Le Messurier left Portsmouth in the latter part of the 1870s, William Weeks, an insurance agent, took over the lease of No. 58. for a couple of years. Then came James Aylen, and Company, who were listed as Plumbers & Glaziers in the 1890 Kelly’s Directory of Portsmouth despite describing themselves as Painters in the 1891 census. James Aylen, his wife, Emma, and their five offspring stayed until the mid-1890s when the property was sold to James Bullin in 1897.
For thirty plus years after James Bullin purchased No. 58, the lease of the premises was taken on by Jepps and Company, a firm of upholsterers and cabinet makers already operating at 52 High Street, who needed additional space to develop their range and incorporate invalid furniture manufacture.
Manoah Jepps, the founder of the company that took on the lease of the business premises at No. 58, had died two years beforehand. Jepps who, in the 1870s and 1880s, had been elected as a Liberal Councillor for St Thomas’s Ward, was known to be one of the most extreme radicals on the Borough Council. Indeed, in 1874 whilst still a comparatively new councillor, he was one of those who led incensed locals to the, so called, Battle of Southsea in which they fought with special constables, the borough police and, ultimately, soldiers for four days.
Their wish was to tear down a barricade across the beach erected by the company that owned the Southsea Pier. At that time it was commonplace for male members of the general populace to bath naked from the pier and its owners did not consider it appropriate for their gentrified clientele to view… the male members of the general populace… In the end the offending structure was torn down but many citizens were injured and the Riot Act had to be read for the last time in the town’s history in order to disperse the crowd.
After Jepps and Company left No. 58 in 1931, both domestic and business premises were rented by a string of tenants for short periods of time until World War Two when they remained unused. Then, in 1949/50, Alberto Terence Pitassi, first proprietor of the Sally Port Hotel moved in.