Historical gems of town that ‘punches above weight’

Gosport Conservation and Heritage

Book review by Leslie Mitchell

THOSE who love to know more about their surroundings will thoroughly enjoy this new compendium of information about Gosport which has just been published by The Gosport Society and Historic England.

More than a dozen experts have opened a treasure chest of information and facts about this town, with a population of around 82,000, nestled on the South Coast of England. Gosport punches well above its weight for heritage and conservation.

Gosport Conservation and Heritage is described in the introduction as, “a legacy volume for the five-year (2019-2023) Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) programme of historic England. The prestigious HAZ status was accorded to Gosport in 2019.”  It is also a most enjoyable read.

One way of encouraging civic pride is by learning about our surroundings and   there is evidence of a settlement in the area of Gosport going back many centuries to the time of hunters and gatherers. The Saxons and Jutes also left their mark as have their successors.

Thanks to the efforts of Lesley Burton, a local historian who dedicated herself to championing local heritage, Gosport was one of the first in England to embrace a new idea just taking off in Europe.  Heritage Open Days (HODs) began in Gosport in September 1992 when the public was invited to visit six places in the borough, not usually open to the public. HODs has grown steadily over the years in Gosport.  By 2021 there were sixty- nine free events attracting 16,436 visitors inclusive of digital viewing.

Gosport has been of great military significance defending the area with forts  while supplying victualing services for centuries to the Royal Navy in neighbouring Portsmouth.  The town also had several garrisons and this town has made its mark in English history as can be seen by the Submarine, Diving, Hovercraft museums and Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower all in the borough. There is also a Discovery Centre and Gosport Museum on opposite sides of the High Street. Haslar Royal Naval Hospital played a vital part in the town for over 250 years.

Bury House

Each chapter of this  book focusses on a different part of the borough’s local history and it is immediately clear that the contributors are all passionate about their chosen subjects which have been thoroughly researched. For example, the history of Bury House as recorded, brings to life a building which residents of Gosport are aware of as being Gosport Community Association’s base.

Learning about the families who called Bury House home, from the 18th century onwards, is fascinating. What a story that is!

Martin Snape, born in Gosport in 1852, became a prolific and renowned artist and Richard Martin here explores the life of a man of many talents who did a great deal for his hometown. Read how Lee-on-the-Solent developed. Understanding the history of Gosport’s railways makes interesting reading and brings us up to date with most of the former rail tracks now developed into cycleways and footpaths. A stretch of the Gosport to Fareham Line has become the Eclipse Bus route now linking the towns.

There is no space here to encapsulate all the contents. Each chapter throws new light on hidden or partly uncovered gems.

The Gosport Society is very much committed to preserving the heritage of the town and this book will also serve as a resource for town planners, architects and developers looking to the future.

The value of this book can’t be underestimated, to those who have lived all or part of their life here, for those interested in history local or national  or who are planning a visit to this town of less than 10 square miles, with 19 miles of beachfront, wrapped up in history and hope.

This richly illustrated book shows light on some of Gosport’s biggest gems but there are more. So, buy the book, look out for details of the next HODs in September and book early when they are announced as some are sold out on the first day tickets are released. The Gosport Society is always keen to increase its membership too.