The following has been taken from the publication Leigh Park - the first Fifty Years by Phil Hammond which is available as shown on the publications page of our main site at www.stauntoninfo.co.uk or from the Havant Museum in East Street, Havant, Hampshire.
Once upon a time, many years ago in the early part of the last century, well before the Leigh Park Estate was even thought of, the countryside north of the village of Bedhampton consisted of hundreds of acres of beautiful green fields and woods. There were two principal areas of woodland - Littlepark Wood which was nearest to the village, and Outhurst Wood which was the larger by far of the two, and whose northern limits bordered on to Stakes Wood which surrounded Purbrook. There were two main roads going northwards out of the village, both of which are still there to this day. Hulbert Road led out of the village, bordered on to Littlepark Wood and continued on, cutting right through Outhurst Wood as it led to Stakes Wood and thence to Purbrook. The other road, which branched off the Hulbert Road just north of the village, was called Park Lane and this wound its way northwards towards Horndean, quite a lot different to its length nowadays of about a third of a mile long. It was this road, which was to become one of the focal points of Leigh Park - part of its length now being Middle Park Way.
Dotted along Park Lane as it wended its way northwards through the open landscape, were several farms. From Bedhampton, the first of these was Hook's Farm, just off Park Lane in Hook's Lane. A little further up Park Lane, and on the right hand side and roughly where the Health Centre is now, one came to Barncroft Farm which was about twice the size of Hooks Farm. Carrying on up the road, and just past where the Hermitage Stream now crosses Middle Park Way, was Smith's Farm and still further north was Middle Park Farm, which was probably the largest. From this farm there was a track which continued northwards and led to an area of woodland called The Warren.
Among the woods and fields, there were several small copses such as Billy's, Bondfields and Battins, each with tall trees pushing skywards among the many bushes and shrubs which were, in turn, surrounded by ferns and wild flowers. There was even a dell which was full of Lillies of the Valley. In the spring there were thousands of wild daffodils which gave way to the primroses and bluebells and then to the many hundreds of different types of summer wild flowers. Leigh Park House, a large Victorian mansion, was also surrounded by beautiful gardens and had a large lake as its centrepiece.
In the early 1930s, before the beautiful scenery was conceived as a place to be taken over by council houses, there were several other small farms as well as those along Park Lane. Among these were Riders Lane Farm in Riders Lane, Leigh Park Farm off the Petersfield Road, and Park and Westbrook farms, both in the lower part of Park Lane. Near the well-known Trosnant House, there were some allotments and near to these was an encampment of gypsies. The forestry workers were always to be seen thinning out the trees and planting out new ones to replace those which had to be felled for one reason or another.
Opposite Stockheath Common there were two cottages, one of which was called Violet Cottage, and it was here that one could buy huge bunches of flowers for threepence and which were picked from the garden while you waited. Close by was the now famous Cricketers Tavern.
Nearby were the woods and copse which, in the 1930s, was all that Leigh Park consisted of - beautiful trees and shrubs. There was a keeper of the woods who used to walk around with a gun slung over his shoulder and to children especially, was quite a menacing character. His job was to keep out intruders and to shoot the odd pheasant. In the woods, especially in some little dells, there were many types of wild flowers growing - bluebells, daffodils, primroses and lily of the valley to name just a few - creating different coloured carpets at various times of the year.
The Portsmouth children who visited Leigh Park on a Sunday School treat, could hardly have envisaged that one day they would live there. Many an elderly resident can remember those visits when Leigh Park was a place in the country, miles away from Portsmouth. The stately home was a beautiful sight amongst its ornamental gardens and large lake. Today the house has been demolished, but the gardens are preserved and open to the public.
When Portsmouth Corporation first purchased the land, they were accused of purchasing a 'white elephant', but the building work began to accommodate Portsmouth's overspill population. In 1943, Leigh Park was first thought of as a future Garden City or New Town. It was conceived as having 66% of private building and the other 33% as council building. There was also to be an industrial estate to help provide work for the new inhabitants. One year later, 1,700 acres was purchased for £132,000.
In the spring of 1949, the first families moved into the estate and not long after, the Ministry of Housing refused permission to continue the development as was first conceived and the plan was changed to that it could become a large housing estate for the overspill population of Portsmouth and would be treated as an extension of Havant.
Five official authorities were involved and these were the Ministry of Housing, Petersfield Rural District Council, Havant and Waterloo Urban District Council, Portsmouth City Council and Hampshire County Council. The ecclesiastical district was formed in 1952 out of the parishes of Rowlands Castle, Havant and Bedhampton and Leigh Park became a separate parish in 1968.
There was a 'village' atmosphere in the early days and neighbours were prepared to be dependent on one another. Shopping was a problem, but this was made bearable by tradesmen with mobile shops. Rationing was still in existence and as people came into Leigh Park they had to transfer to a different rationing authority. This was far away in Petersfield, but enterprising tradesmen with an eye for business were only too pleased to change the books. The only residential shop in the area was in a converted Nissen Hut and was owned by a Mr. English and the nearest main shopping centre was at Havant.
In 1949 when those first residents arrived, their houses were surrounded by rubble and open fields, but they thought they were in palaces and a terrific pioneering spirit prevailed. The chief grouse was the lack of amenities which they had previously taken for granted such as shops, pavements, adequate street lighting, play facilities for the children and a decent bus service. Leigh Park still had no Post Office or public telephones and even the District Nurse had no telephone in her home. The nearest doctor was in Havant. Many a man who had formerly lived near his employment in the Dockyard now had to cycle to and from work every day, over twenty miles on a round trip!
In 1956 it was stated that the estate desperately needed a library and a cinema. Today it has a brand-new library but still no cinema.
In 1960, the prescription service was begun, a boon to the elderly and young alike. The GP would deliver his patient's prescription to the chemist who would deliver it free of charge to the patient's home. With distances between doctor, chemist and home so great for some, this service was appreciated by everyone.
A report of the first Warden appeared in the press in 1960 when he was reported to be looking after 443 flats with a population of 750. These residents included 235 old age pensioners, and he had taken particulars of their next-of-kin in case of illness.
In 1960, fourteen schools and five churches had been built and the population had grown to 30,000 and was still rising. A brake was put on the building of houses and flats because of 3,749 people on the waiting list, only 1,000 were prepared to go to Leigh Park to live. The reputation it had acquired had made these families weigh their chances of a new home against living in a poor environment.
In 1964, the first Warden-controlled flats were opened and reported as having baths, shower and footbaths, intercom systems, central heating and a communal lounge. The new residents were stated to be delighted with their new found happiness and security.
As industry came to the area, some of the men who had experienced difficulties in getting employment in Portsmouth were able to work locally. Many of those who travelled to and fro changed their cycle for a small car, and the era of the car came to this predominantly working class society.
The consultant who had been appointed by Portsmouth City Council in October 1947, presented his report to the Council in 1949, and he had come to the conclusion that Leigh Park was not needed as a separate New Town, and that despite owning the land, the Council should build only 800 houses and then hand the rest over to Havant Urban District Council. He thought that developing Leigh Park to the level that had been suggested would prove far more expensive than the expansion and redevelopment of sites within Portsmouth.
When it lost its fight over independent status, Leigh Park became essentially an area for overspill housing although it would still have to develop as a functional community. Portsmouth City Council decided to proceed with their plans and became responsible for building the housing stock and thereby the rents while, since the area was part of Havant Borough Council, they became responsible for collecting the rates. This led to the residents, who were almost all from Portsmouth, to be represented by councillors on Havant Council instead of Portsmouth where their landlords were, and so it was from that moment that all sorts of problems throughout the first fifty years began.