Southsea Lifestyle – Free Magazine for Southsea, Old Portsmouth, Eastney & Gunwharf Quays

History Hot Spots – Southsea Common

Words: Victoria Doxat

Image courtesy of Victorious Festival

A popular family hot spot and the home of Victorious Festival, it’s difficult to imagine how different Southsea Common would have looked 200 years ago.

Contemporary accounts describe the Common as ‘a swampy wasteland filled with rubbish’ known as the Great Morass.

As Old Portsmouth began to increase in size, more land was needed for housing and between 1831 and 1843 the Great Morass was first drained and then levelled – eventually creating the area that we now call Southsea Common. 

Gradually the Common began to be developed into a pleasure ground and in 1848 Clarence Esplanade was built, soon becoming a focal point for visitors to Southsea, drawn to the fine sea views.

By the end of the 1850’s, areas to the north and east of the Common had been developed for housing under the command of Thomas Ellis Owen, the renowned architect and local speculator. Southsea soon became a bustling seaside town which attracted huge numbers of tourists each summer. 

Southsea Common remained at the heart of the suburb of Southsea but by the 1860’s the residential areas had increased and now stretched from Clarendon Road as far as Granada Road. This spurred on further development of the Common and after the Council took lease of the land in 1884 a walk known as Ladies’ Mile was created and in 1886 Canoe Lake was formed.

The housing development to the north of the Common was largely complete, but the Common continued to be developed and planted with gardens. In 1922 Southsea Common was purchased from the War Office by Portsmouth City Council and was designated as a public park. The Council continued to develop the area and added further gardens, bowling greens and tennis courts from the 1930’s onwards. 

In 1953 the Common was registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act. This means that the Common will continue to be at the heart of Southsea and continues to be developed in response to the needs of local residents. 

Over the past few years Canoe Lake’s Victorian grass tennis courts have been restored and a new tennis pavilion and café have been built by Canoe Lake Leisure as a philanthropic enterprise. 

Victoria is a writer and lecturer and has lived in and around Portsmouth for most of her life. You can read her entertaining blog at

Posted in: Local & Community