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Bath House – A History by Wendy Osborne

This garden of 1.36 acres was part of the design by 21 year old architect Thomas Ellis Owen (1804-1862) for “Anglesey ville” in 1826.

He was commissioned by Robert Cruickshank, a notable Gosport entrepreneur (1785-1853) who wanted to create a fashionable new watering place like Brighton.

It was an ambitious project; successful at first, but not enough for all the buildings in his plan to be achieved. This Ornamental Garden was laid out for a line double Crescent but only the first half was built. Its raised Terrace Walk commanded view’s of the Isle of Wight and kept out the cattle that grazed between the Garden and the sea, At its centre was a small Neoclassical building: a curved Reading Room with Bath Houses on each side, where warm and cold sea water baths could be taken, often medically prescribed in those days.

Among other notables, Jane Austen’s younger brother, Captain Charles Austen of the Royal Navy, lived nearby in the early 1830’s. In clement weather he would certainly have strolled in the Garden with his visiting sister Cassandra.

Small children could play safely here; and the elderly and frail who were not up to the rigours of the seashore could benefit from salty breezes in Terrace Walk, with warmth and shelter nearby and splendid Solent views.

Now it is a public Community Garden enjoyed by everyone, particularly those in wheelchairs and the elderly, small children, and the visually handicapped – the latter especially appreciate the scents of old fashioned Roses, pinks and other flowers.

The water, supplied by the Pump House still to be seen in St. Marks Rd. was drawn from Haslar Creek. Residents of Crescent Rd rented keys for their use of the Garden, which paid the gardener, Henry Cooper, who lived under the Reading Room. (Census, 1841 and 1851). The fixed rent of 30 shillings was not enough to meet the rise in labour costs after WW I: in WW II’ the iron railings were taken as scrap metal, to make munitions.

By 1949, the Garden had become a wilderness, and Cruickshank’s great grand – daughter Pauline handed over its control to the Borough Council, as an open space for the enjoyment of the people of Gosport. (News. 22/6/49)
The Reading Room and Bath houses were demolished in 1950.

Crescent Gardens Restoration

In 1989, the Borough Council, working with the Hampshire Garden Trust, and with funding from English Heritage and Hampshire County Council through the Re-Generation of Older Areas Programme, began to reclaim the Garden. The Anthemion-headed railings were re-made. Paths were restored and gravelled, together with the site of the vanished Reading Room and Bath houses, the latter identified by a local architect, Peter Hollins.

In 1991 Friends of Crescent Garden as formed by Wendy Osborne, a local painter, who devised a central planting based on a plan for a villa garden in the Picturesque style by JC Loudon, in the Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion, 1838.
Fostered and supported by the Borough Council, the Friends grew in number, much encouraged by the Hampshire Garden Trust and the Garden History Society. It was decided the Garden’s Regency character should be restored: no plants should be used that were not in this country by 1850.

Hazel LeRougetel, an authority on Roses, advised on these: other plants were carefully researched. Informal curving beds flowed round the shape of the Reading Room, making grassy bays arid inlets. Two Mediterranean Cypresses, and climbing Roses on Reptonian iron supports, were reminders of the vertical columns that once echoed the pillars of the Crescent. Seats, of an early 19th C. design and colour, recalled the social relaxation of the Reading Room.

The Friends began planting in December 1992. They have since contributed the smaller seats and extended the restoration along Terrace Walk, Here was evidence of the original largely evergreen flowery shrubberies. Only the strongest species survived, but they showed the influence of garden writers of the Regency period, whose work has been studied with care during the restoration. (W S Gilpin, H Phillips, C McIntosh and J C Loudun.)

The Garden’s Period Character

The Friends work hard to preserve the historic character of this evocative small Regency Garden, partly because it reflects that of the Crescent opposite, but also because examples of Regency Gardens are comparatively rare – and this pre-Victorian style has a natural informality that has wide appeal to people today.

The Garden is designed to be strolled through and enjoyed at a leisurely pace. The layout of the paths, the placing of the benches, is as it was in the earliest maps of the site. Plants have been carefully researched to ensure that everything you see – trees, flowers, shrubs and old Roses, could have been growing here by 1850. A series of Little Scenes unfold as you walk along Terrace Walk, framed in the evergreens that form the backbone of the ornamental shrubbery planting. Honeysuckle and Jasmine, climbing Roses and Wisteria, give scent and colour in their season. At the Eastern end, a winding path leads into a small secret woodland garden where bluebells and Foxgloves, Violets and Primroses herald the Spring. Almost undisturbed in Summer, wildlife has a peaceful haven here – there is a colony of stag-beetles and sometimes Pipistrelle Bats.

At the Garden’s heart, where Patrons once read the news of the day, and perhaps gingerly lowered themselves into cold sea water Baths, a small Dolphin Fountain sparkles into a pool of Portland stone. Its pattering music enhances the scent of the old Roses – and maybe lulls the spirits of the couple, Henry and Mary, who once lived under the Reading Room, and tended the Garden in the 1830s….

Crescent Gardens Maintenance

The Garden is of special interest in this respect, as it is the result of a most unusual and ongoing co-operation between many people. It is this co-operation that has made its authentic Period character possible, and made it especially enjoyable for so many visitors. The essential partnership is between Gosport Borough Council and the Friends of the Garden, who share the labour and the funding as a continuing team effort.

Also invoiced are many Gosport children, the ‘Garden Guardians”, who help to take care of it, for everyone.

It is interesting to think about the early days of “Anglesey ville”, when Jane Austen’s sailor brother Charles strolled with their sister Cassandra and his young family down Terrace Walk. The picture shows them as they might have looked: the figure in the foreground is Robert Cruickshank. He is looking at the newly planted Garden, and perhaps hoping to see the other half of the Crescent, still only a dream, soon built

It is even more satisfying to read in the Hampshire Telegraph, October 1829, of Captain Austen’s speech at a Dinner at the Anglesey Arms Hotel in honour of Robert Cruickshank: “It is no small gratification to me, to leave those who are dear to me in a neighbourhood where so much good and generous feeling exists.”
The goodwill and helpfulness shown by all concerned in the resurrection of this small but significant Regency Garden show it still exists, today.

Crescent Garden: Regency Character

A natural look is the aim; this is not a rigorously formal Garden, like the later regimented Victorian Parks where a leaf out of place was a blot on an impeccable landscape where an imposed order was imperative for any garden of quality. The Regency flavour was more exuberantly informal. Hard edges and immaculate geometry came later. Leafy scenes, drifts of one colour into another, flowing curves and trailing climbers that imitated glades in New Forest landscapes were the gardeners’ delight before the young Queen Victoria came to the throne, and Prince Albert made such a virtue of order. A Regency garden flowed into the surrounding countryside seeming part of nature itself: the Victorian parterre garden was unnaturally regimented to impress, contrived in the teeth of Nature.
It is important, when working in Crescent Garden, to bear this in mind, because it influences the way many of the tasks are carried out. A knife-like edge to the shrubbery beds is not as good as one which is gently blurred by slightly overhanging leaves; the grass should run in under shrubs rather than the shrubs being cut back and contained inside a clearly defined bed. Pruning and shaping should aim at a natural effect, and so should the way plants are placed and supported.

Whether a volunteer is tending one section, giving occasional general help, or lending a hand with a specific project, it’s important for them to see the Garden as a whole, as a place to be, that offers tranquillity and pleasure to those who stroll through it. It is designed for strollers: as they walk along Terrace Walk, small scenes unfold through strategic gaps in the planting frame items of interest: an iron flower basket full of Roses, Tulips or Geraniums in season, a small bench with something scented growing near it: the sparkle and sound of water in the central part.

Historically, the centre was the site of a since-demolished Reading Room and two Bath houses, where salt water baths were taken, often on medical advice. As well as being an ornamental Garden for the double Crescent originally planned, it was a place where convalescents, the elderly and the very young could take exercise and the sea air sheltered from rigours they would face on the seashore itself. The Reading Room gave the whole a social dimension, now echoed in the larger benches on its site, given by HCC when the Friends were first founded. It is satisfying to consider how the intention of the architect (Thomas Ellis Owen) has been revived and the same sections of the community benefit from his design today, though on a wider scale. Small children can still play protected from the road by the restored railings, and the frail have a sheltered Walk; the disabled have access, and the visually handicapped can enjoy wonderful scents, especially in early Summer.

For two years Friends of Crescent Garden worked hard to achieve the Green Flag Award – and a Green Heritage Award, as a historic garden.

The Judges said the Garden had lost the views of the Solent it was designed to have, and we couldn’t put those back – and the Reading Room had been pulled down in 1951 – we couldn’t put that back, either.

Just round the corner, Friends of S. Mark’s Cemetery had made a wonderful transformation. Graves were not only carefully repaired – an Angel had an arm transplant – but were beautifully planted, with wild-life encouraging flowers and trees. Many famous names came to light, all were carefully recorded, and many visitors came to find their ancestors.

The two groups of Friends realised that the Garden and the Graveyard put together showed a whole picture of an era in Gosport’s history, and so Gosport B. council made a joint Application this year for that Heritage Award.

So now, Gosport has one of only 21 Green Heritage Award plaques in the country, and we are all very proud of it.