Garden City of the south
In 1086 the Domesday Survey listed Havant as being owned by the Bishop of Winchester 'for his monks'. From a market town it developed into a thriving medieval community which later became known for its parchment and glove making and cottage industries which were common in many towns. After the opening of the railway to Brighton in 1847 and to London in 1852, Havant developed even further as a dormitory town. The largest of the houses in the area was Leigh Park, situated in nearly 2,000 acres of land to the north of Havant.
Sir George Staunton purchased the lease of Leigh Park Estate in 1820 and then in 1827, the bought the freehold from the Bishop of Winchester. He spent his leisure time creating the magnificent gardens which remain virtually unchanged today.
Sir George became Member of Parliament for South Hampshire and later for Portsmouth, living in Leigh Park House until his death in 1859. His successor, William Stone MP, replaced the 18th century house with another in the Victorian Gothic style. He lived there until 1874 when the estate was again put up for sale. In 1875 Leigh Park was sold to the Fitzwygram family and it was they who first encouraged the use of the gardens for childrens' outings and other events.
I was born in Havant in 1919 and in the 1920's I used to visit the gardems on the Leigh Park Estate and view the flowers - my mother was passionate for flowers but we were never allowed to pick any. We would play in the fields and in the winter go skating on the ponds in the fields because my father knew all the farmers from his work as a blacksmith and we had their permission. We would walk there via New Lane which was just a grass road.'
Leigh Park Estate was once more advertised for sale by auction in 1936 and a large part was purchased by 'Parkleigh Investments Ltd' for £72,000.
In 1940 the Admiralty requistioned Leigh Park House for use by the mine design department (UCWE) who were responsible for the design of mines, depth charges and minesweeping. Their research section was sited at the nearby West Leigh House with a manufacturing facility in Martins Road.