Sir George Thomas Staunton - he who started it!
English traveller and Orientalist, Sir George was born near Salisbury in Wiltshire on the 26th May, 1781. He was the son of Sir George Leonard Staunton, first baronet, diplomatist and Orientalist, and in 1792, accompanied his father, who had been appointed secretary to Lord Macartney's mission to China, to the Far East. He acquired a good knowledge of Chinese, and in 1798 was appointed a writer in the East India Company's factory at Canton, and subsequently its chief. In 1805 he translated a work of Dr George Pearson into Chinese, thereby introducing vaccination into China. In 1816, he proceeded as second commissioner on a special mission to Pekin with Lord Amherst and Sir Henry Ellis. Between 1818 and 1852 he was Member of Parliament for several English constituencies, finally for Portsmouth. He was a member of the East India Committee, and in 1823, in conjunction with Henry Thomas Colebroke, he founded the Royal Asiatic Society. He died on the 10th of of August, 1859.
The Leigh Park Story
In 1817, Leigh Park was offered for sale and in 1827, Sir George Thomas Staunton purchased the manorial rights for £2,075 1s 9d from the Bishop of Winchester, so becoming Lord of the Manor of Havant. Sir George was a friend of George IV when he was Prince Regent, and had become one of the foremost experts on China after spending much of his early life there. He was originally a page in the British Embassy, but as a young man he worked for the East India Company for nearly twenty years.
He then returned to England where he entered the world of politics as a Member of Parliament for Portsmouth, and at the same time decided to improve his social standing by purchasing a country estate, Leigh Park House and gardens proving ideal for his needs.
He died a bachelor in London on 10th August, 1859 - his estate being inherited by descendants of his sister, Lucy Barbara Staunton. The estate then belonged to the Lynch family for a short period before being purchased by William H. Stone. He found that the house was not big enough for his family and so built a new mansion in the North Gardens in 1863 which overlooked the lake. In 1868 he returned as one of the Liberal Members of Parliament for Portsmouth, a seat which he held until a Liberal landslide brought Disraeli to power. He lived in the house until 1875, when he moved away to Lea Park near Godalming in Surrey.
Frederick Wellington John Wigram was the third son of Sir Robert Wigram and his wife Delina, and was born on 29th August, 1823. The family was originally Irish, but Frederick's grandfather had come to London to qualify as a surgeon. In 1832, Sir Robert, for reasons known only to himself, changed the family name to Fitzwygram and so his children also took on this change. Robert, the eldest son, inherited his father's title on his death in 1843, but as he did not marry, the title passed on his death in 1873, to his brother Frederick Wellington John. When he retired from the army in 1874 having reached the rank of Lieutenant General, he purchased the Leigh Park estate in 1875 and quickly took an active part in the local affairs. He was elected the Conservative Member of Parliament for South Hants, a seat he held until his death on 9th December, 1904 when he was aged eighty-one.
One of his first concerns in purchasing the estate of Leigh Park, was the building of new cottages for the estate workers, ones which still stand in the Petersfield Road. Sir Frederick and Lady Fitzwygram used to drive to Havant in a carriage and pair with a liveried coachman. On the way back, it was a custom of theirs to call in and see their tenants.
Above are two full-zize paintings of Sir Frederick and Lady Angels which used to hang in the grand hall in the house. They are now hanging in Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire
Sir Frederick was most generous in allowing access to his gardens and grounds which were thrown open every summer for charitable causes. The annual flower show was immensely popular and prizes took the form of steel engravings and certificates of merit. Sir Frederick encouraged his tenants to have attractive front gardens and window boxes by offering prizes to those who entered the competition.
A well-kept cricket pitch was enclosed by post and chain fencing on the south side of Leigh Park, within easy reach of the cross-roads (Leigh Road, now Petersfield Road and Stockheath and Martins Roads), where a swing gate gave access to the Park. Sir Frederick had a good cricket team which was made up from his friends and employees. Overlooking the pitch was a large pavilion which was also used for serving tea to the many hundreds of adults and children who visited for their Sunday School outings from Portsmouth.
In winter when the lake in front of the house froze over, the townspeople of Havant were invited to use it for ice skating. The ice was tested three times before the invitation was conveyed to Havant when everyone, skaters and non-skaters alike, would take advantage of the offer. Invalid people were not left out and were pushed there in their bath chairs to enjoy watching the fun.Sir Frederick (the fith baronet) kept a pack of beagles at Leigh Park, and excelled at cricket, playing for Havant and captaining his own team at Leigh Park. During the Great War he served as a major in the 2nd Scots Guards, winning the Military Cross, and was twice wounded before being taken prisoner by the Germans in 1915. After an exchange of prisoners he was interned in Holland where he remained until after the Armistice. During his time at Leigh Park, he became one of the youngest magistrates to sit on the Bench at Havant.
Sir Frederick (the fifth baronet) kept a pack of beagles at Leigh Park, and excelled at cricket, playing for Havant and captaining his own team at Leigh Park. During the Great War he served as a major in the 2nd Scots Guards, winning the Military Cross, and was twice wounded before being taken prisoner by the Germans in 1915. After an exchange of prisoners he was interned in Holland where he remained until after the Armistice. During his time at Leigh Park, he became one of the youngest magistrates to sit on the Bench at Havant. Sir Frederick died aged only 35, of blood poisoning, contracted while out hedging at Leigh Park in May 1920, but probably exacerbated by the effects of the Great War.
Sir Frederick was ever ready to support every worthy cause and to relieve those in misfortune, and rendered generous help to many who suffered through the failure of the Portsea Island Building Society. He was equally generous in giving his time to public duties and became Deputy Lieutenant of the County, an Alderman of the City Council, Chairman of the Havant Magistrates and member of a number of other public bodies.
In 1901, a year after his retirement from parliament, he was presented with the freedom of the Borough by Portsmouth Town Council in recognition of his kindness in allowing his beautiful estate at Leigh Park to be used as a holiday resort for the inhabitants, especially the children. He was a man of wide sympathies and generous deeds, and when he died in 1904, he was buried in the family grave at Red Hill Churchyard in Rowlands Castle. He was succeeded by his son Frederick, who died in 1920.
Sir Frederick´s mother and sister continued to live at Leigh Park after the deaths of her husband and son, and after 53 years in residence, Lady Fitzwygram died in 1935 aged 90 years. The following year Angela left and so the house became empty. and it remained so until the start of the Second World War, when it was taken over for a short period by Hilsea College for Girls. The Royal Navy and the Admiralty took possession of the entire site in August 1940 and the house became the headquarters of HMS Vernon and the Superintendent of Mine Design and his staff for the duration of the war. Nissen huts were erected along the drive and Leigh Park was cut off from the outside world.
In 1944, Portsmouth City Council bought 1672 acres of the Leigh Park Estate for 122,465 pounds, and a further 798 acres in 1946 to build a housing estate primarily for the bombed-out people of Portsmouth.Negotiations for the sale had started in 1943. The house and grounds, which numbered 150 acres, were to remain as a green belt for the local people. Technically the house remained under Admiralty control until the mid 1950s, but by this time the ravages of vandalism had taken their toll and in 1959 the decision to demolish the house was taken. All that now remains of the house is the former terrace which overlooks the lake.