Thomas Ellis Owen Shaper of Portsmouth, ‘Father of...

Thomas Ellis Owen Shaper of Portsmouth, ‘Father of Southsea’ by Sue Pike

I’ve been holding on to this for a while now as I wanted to make a feature of it and had to wait for the exhibition to finish to give it pride of place on the front page. If like myself you’re always looking around at our local architecture you will have noticed many of the buildings within the book Thomas Ellis Owen Shaper of Portsmouth, ‘Father of Southsea’. Some could even be right on your doorstep but you have never noticed, or peeked over that high wall. Thomas Ellis Owen’s work is all over the city and you’d be forgiven for walking past as a lot of it is hidden or down those streets you may not stroll down too often. Other buildings however are right in your face. Ever noticed the huge block of flats at the entrance to Waitrose, the detailing on the building at Dover Court opposite the old Havana bar?

“Thomas Ellis Owen is probably the best known of Portsmouth’s nineteenth century architects, his construction of villas and substantial terraces in Southsea being responsible for the emergence of the district as a middle class locality. His work was recognised by Pevsner and Lloyd in their magisterial Buildings of England: Hampshire, and later by a rather more detailed architectural enquiry by two students, Preedy and Stewart. My own research was principally concerned with dating Owen’s properties and analysing their inhabitants. What Sue Pike has done is to cast the net very much wider, not only by providing great detail about Owen’s family, but also by demonstrating the impressive breadth of his activities outside architecture. Indeed, his interests were so wide that there must have been few aspects of Portsmouth’s development in the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s in which he was not involved. Infrastructural fields such as gas supply, the Portsea Canal, railways, the Camber Docks and hospitals lay within his purview, while he assisted in the purchase of land for one of Portsmouth’s defining features, the Palmerstonian forts. His tithe map has proved of inestimable value to local historians. Meanwhile Owen was an important local politician. All these facets of Owen’s life have been fully laid bare in this thoroughly well researched book by Sue Pike, who is to be congratulated on her labours.” Professor Ray Riley

Thomas Ellis Owen Shaper of Portsmouth, ‘Father of Southsea’ is a really interesting read and contains stunning colour photos of many Owen properties in Southsea and Alverstoke by Gosport photographer, Tim Martin. There is no real target audience and hopefully it will appeal to old and young alike. The detailed captions may be helpful to first year architecture students but it showcases Southsea well and may well appeal equally to academics, photographers, interested newcomers and people who just want a really nice book to put on their coffee table. I’m a huge fan of both history and architecture so this book is a real winner for me, and I have no doubt that if that’s not really your bag you will still appreciate what Thomas Ellis Owen Shaper of Portsmouth, ‘Father of Southsea’ has to offer.

You can purchase a hardback copy for £25 via the publishers www.tricornbooks.co.uk and www.whsmith.co.uk and read up on the book and the author Sue Pike over at www.thomasellisowen.co.uk


  1. Dean

    6 May

    Anyone know what’s happening to the Thomas Ellis house in Highland Road cemetery ? Was up for sale a few years back, was sold, had chimney removed – this was boarded up and has been left ever since.

  2. The father of Southsea but from what I understand didn’t have the cleanest of hands. Lots of good reading about him out there, interesting character.

  3. Khalid

    8 May

    A few years ago the University was disposing of a vast number of early dissertations and I luckily managed to salvage the original 1972 copy of Preedy and Stewarts research.

    It may be of use to future exhibitions/research etc so if there is any interested let me know

  4. Paul Gonella

    10 May

    Wow, what a find! Hopefully someone will take you up on that offer in the future.

  5. Debbi

    17 May

    I haved lived at The Friary for just over 12 years. Amazing changes in the last 3 years. When I first moved in 12 years ago was a completely different place but full of history. Each flat had their own bathroom but it was down a corridor in the right hand block I lived in so got to know the neighbours a bit more intimately! There was no central heating with just a gas fire in the living room and my kitchen was no longer than 6 ft and about 2 ft wide! Had a Baby Belling in those days for cooking and just enough room for a small fridge. The launderette was my local haunt for 10 years.

    The new owner has done a wonderful job on converting the flats. We moved into the middle block 2 years ago. Bathrooms inside with a shower (bliss!), central heating (bliss!) and a fitted kitchen with oven and hob…we really do enjoy cooking now. Have a washing machine too which has saved so much time and money. Couldn’t be happier! The original features in the corridors have remained and where possible the original fireplaces have been kept too.

  6. Sue Pike

    18 May

    Thank you everyone for the kind comments and interest you have shown in my book and in Thomas Ellis Owen’s Southsea. Actually I am unable to sell it at mainstream bookshops because it was expensive to produce and the price would have to be prohibitively high if they were to add their 35% on top. Apart from the TEO website it can be purchased from The Gallery in Albert Road and from The City Museum.

    Debbi: I recall when I was delivering leaflets and letters to The Friary to advertise the Thomas Ellis Owen Festival held in 2004 there were some doors that didnt have letter boxes so I had to push the post under the doors… Were you ever in the bath when I did that?…

    Khalid and Paul: There was a lot of good stuff in Preedy and Stewart’s dissertation, it started the whole interest in Thomas Owen off and it should be applauded for that. However, if you ever decide to use it for research, please be aware that some of the facts in it were later proved to be incorrect. For example, Thomas did not come from Ireland to Portsmouth in 1820, his father did not design the City Keys and some of the properties they include as Owen’s are, in reality, ‘in the style of Owen’.

    Pudding Snack: When I first started researching Thomas Owen, I was interested in the one lady who stood at his graveside amongst the men. I was never able to find any ‘dirt’ though! Perhaps you know more than I do.

    Dean: The Planning Department are doing what it can to ensure The Lodge at Highland Road Cemetery is properly restored.

  7. Gillian Russell

    27 May

    I live in a TEO house (Queens Place) and feel very priviliged to be part of Southsea’s history. It was also a bit sad and unloved when we moved in but hope that our efforts over the last 8 years have made it a home again.

  8. Glenn Ford

    24 September

    Dear friends,
    Just to let you know that my descendants had a close relationship with Thomas Owen,as they were brickmakers from that period in time.
    My gt gt grandmother was actualy born in the Friary c1852

    My gt gt gt grandfarther was living with his parents John and Charlotte, at the Lennox arms which i believe was owned by Thomas at that period in time,i will add more as i find info.
    P.s my descendant`s are the Durrell`s

  9. George Langton

    13 March

    Can you help ?, I am researching the building which is now the White Horse pub on Southsea Terrace. So far I discover it’s address was Regency Place off Castle Rd (1895) and it does not appear in Southsea Terrace/ Marine terrace for many years (WW2) It seems it may have been called “Bellevue House” and sat in a plot now occupied by Southsea Terrace. The ‘front’ of the house is on the North side. If it is listed as a Thomas Owen building it will not be the 1811/20 period which the research suggests. Any help will be appreciated

  10. Jean White

    6 April

    your book has been a wonderful insite into my research in to Jacob Owen 1778-1870. This all started because I bought an oil portrait of an unknown man, who turned out to be Jacob Owen. Since then I have learned such a lot about this very important man, I have even been able to contact his great great great grandaughter in New Zealand. I have been able to trace the picture back to Ireland where it was commissioned for the R.I.A.L. in 1855. I would love to contact you and find out more about Jacob. Hope to here from you soon

  11. Susan Pike

    3 September

    Dear Jean I havent looked at this site for years so I don’t know when you posted this but Thomas Ellis Owen’s great great grandson would be really pleased to hear from you about that portrait. Please contact me on suepike1265@gmail.com if you ever read this and maybe send me a photo of the portrait if you can. It was put into an auction and family members were most upset that it was lost as they would have loved to have bought it themselves if given the chance. I’m really hoping you will contact me.

  12. Helene Scott

    30 January

    Would anyone be able to advise if original plans exist for the Thomas Ellis Owen Villa that was formally known as ‘Barrington House’ at 51 Kent Road? It was redeveloped into 3 dwellings in the early 1980s. Also if anyone can shed any light on its history? We know it was first owned by Lieutenant Randall Vans from 1845/6 when he shared the house with his two spinster sisters. When he died in 1849 it was passed on to his younger sister but not the elder one. When she dies I think in 1879, we do not know who inherited from her. We live in one of the dwellings and would be intrigued to see the layout of the original house prior to its conversion and to learn more of its past. We have been told that it was once a police station once it was no longer a residence.

  13. Jackie

    17 June

    I’m looking for information on Broadlands, which I think was at the Queens Crescent/Grove Rd South junction. Not a local resident so can’t go and have a look but grateful for anything anyone might know. Thank you.

  14. Jamie Vans

    9 January

    HELENE SCOTT may be interested to know that Randell Vans was the son of Samuel Barrington Vans, also a naval officer; I suspect that he was named after Admiral Samuel Barrington and the Admiral may be where the name ‘Barrington House’ at 51 Kent Road came from.

    Randell was my 2nd cousin (4x removed admittedly); I’ve only recently found the details of that connection; any other information about that Vans family would be of great interest to me.

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