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 by 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 Peking 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.

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 Parliamant 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 the new mansion in the North Gardens where he lived 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 took on the 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 81 years.


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.


Sir Frederick was ever ready to support any cause and to relieve those in misfortune, and rendered gererous 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 Councul, Chairma of the Havanat Magistrates and a member of sereral other public bodies. More locally he was most generous in allowing access to his gardens 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 encircled by post and chain fencing on the south side of Leigh Park, within easy reach of the crossroads where a swing gate gave access to the Park. Sir Frederick had a good cricket team which was made up of his friends and employees. Overlooking the pitch was a large pavillion 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 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 kept a pack of beagles at Leigh Park, and excelled at cricket playing for Havant,  and captaining his own team at Leigh Park.


Sir Frederick's son served in the Great War 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 but 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'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, 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.




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