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Portland Year Book 1905
PORTLAND'S PUBLIC GARDENS


1904 marks a notable year in the Island's records. It witnessed the opening and dedication to the service of the inhabitants of two handsome public gardens, one known as the Victoria Gardens, on the site of Little Common (Underhill); and the other in Easton Square (Tophill). The inception of the movement which led to the establishment of public gardens or recreation grounds on the Island will always be honourably associated with the name of Mr Councillor B. Comben, of Weston. In 1896 (July 8th) Mr Comben proposed a resolution, to make application to the Local Government Board for power to transfer a portion of the Ferry Bridge money to the Urban District Council for the purpose of providing two public recreation grounds, one in the Underhill hill district and the other in the Tophill district. This was carried unanimously, and a Committee, including Mr Comben, appointed to consider the matter. The choice of the Council in the Underhill district fell upon what is known as Little Common, the large triangular piece of common land in front of the police station and extending down the hill opposite the entrance to Victoria Square. For the Tophill district it was suggested in the discussion at the Council meeting that a field adjoining the Volunteer Drill Hall, in Easton Lane, would be a desirable site, but shortly after the Government started quarrying operations there. In October 1896 the Council was recommended to make application to the Woods and Forests Commissioners and the Court Leet for permission to utilise the Little Common for public gardens. In April 1897 the then Surveyor (Mr E. J. Elford) was instructed to prepare plans of the Committee's scheme for submission to the Commissioners. The previous November the Court Leet had supported the proposal to transfer the Little Common to the Urban Council for public gardens. The Surveyor's plans were submitted to the Committee on October 12, 1897, and generally approved. In January , 1898, the Wood and Forests commissioners forwarded draft terms for the grant of Little Common. These were such as could not be accepted by the Committee and it was suggested that the Council should obtain a provisional order under the: Commons Act 1876. In the June the Council directed the Clerk to take the necessary steps to this end. For two years the whole thing practically remained in abeyance, the Council being engaged in carrying out big water and drainage schemes and later in purchasing the Gas Works. In October 1900 Mr B. Comben was appointed Chairman of the Recreation Grounds Committee. Ili the meantime the Commons Act (1899) had been passed by the Government. Under this measure instead of proceeding by of provisional order the Urban Council could submit a scheme for approval of the Board of Agriculture which would have the same effect. This course was adopted by the Council. The draft scheme and plan, for the "regulation of the Little Common" were passed in April 1901 and forwarded to the Board of Agriculture and the latter's approval was given on December 21st., 1901. The Local Government Board sanctioned the appropriation of 1,800 from the Ferry Bridge Fund towards defraying the cost of the scheme, the money to be paid (without interest) by half yearly instalments spread over 20 years. The application was made to the Local Government Board in August, 1901. The choice of the Committee had also fallen on Easton Square for the public gardens in the Tophill district and application was made at the same time to appropriate 956 from the Ferry Bridge fund for this work.

In August, 1902 Mr Steward of Bournemouth, was called in to advise the Committee as to the best method of carrying out the Little Common scheme. Next month the Committee approved of Mr Steward's plan and recommended for acceptance. Messrs Stewart & Sons' tender for supplying and planting 6,322 selected shrubs at a cost of 146. In Nov 1902, the Council sealed the contract with Messrs Baker and Jesty for laying out the Little Common as public gardens. The work made excellent progress in the hands of this well known firm and was admirably carried out. Little Common underwent a marvellous transformation. The gardens are admirably designed and laid out with considerable ingenuity and artistic taste. The chief alteration to the natural formation of the ground was the construction of a large plateau at the base of two slopes, each separated by a public wall. In the centre the plateau is the band stand, which was constructed by Messrs Hill & Smith. Above this, in the middle of the Centre slope, is a glass shelter. The gardens are enclosed with an iron-fence, with a quick set hedge on the inside of it.

In June 1903 Mr Gale was appointed gardener. Another important step taken by the Committee in the summer of 1903 was to hire the Verne Common a playground. The Local Government Board sanctioned the Easton Square scheme in August 1903 and the Engineer's (Mr R. S. Henshaw) plan of the proposed garden was adopted by the Council. In November Mr F. J. Barnes' tender was accepted enclosing the gardens with a stone wall and iron fencing Etc. Messrs Hill and Smith supplied the bandstand. Messrs Steward and Son undertook the work of laying out the gardens. Early in 1904 steps were taken to arrange for the opening of the Victoria Gardens, Underhill. Tuesday, May 24 (1904), Empire Day, was the date set, apart for memorable event, but a violent storm postponed the ceremony to the following day (Wednesday). Mr Henry Sansom, JP, Chairman of the Urban Council, performed the opening Ceremony in the presence of thousands of townspeople and visitors.

The public spirited services, of Mr Councillor Comben and the Pleasure Gardens Committee were cordially acknowledged on this occasion. The Portland Town Band performed in the gardens during the afternoon and evening. At the public luncheon held in Honour of the occasion Mr C. H. Collins generously promised 100 towards erecting a shelter in the new Gardens. This addition with a ladies lavatory, is being made this year (1905). Messrs Jesty & Baker are the contractors and the total cost will be 209. Victoria Gardens are opened and closed as follows:-

November, December, January and February 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ;

October and March 8 a.m. to 7 p .m. ;

April and May 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. ;

June, July, August., and September 7 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.

During the summer (1904) excellent band concerts were given in the gardens and were much appreciated alike by visitors and residents. The turfed plateau is marked out for tennis and croquet.

The display of flowers in Victoria Gardens during the summer was superbly lavish and richly merited the warm praise which was bestowed upon it.

The Easton Square Gardens were opened on a day of brilliant sunshine, Wednesday, August 18th, 1904, the ceremony being performed by Mr. Hy. Sansom, J.P. It is no exaggeration to say that in Easton Square "The wilderness and the solitary place has been made to blossom like the rose." Gone is the old Easton Pond; the old pump; and the ugly waste of barren ground in the centre of the square. The Gardens are exceptionally pretty and effective, superior in this respect to the Victoria Gardens. Inside the walls of Portland stone, surmounted by handsome iron railings, are ornamentally devised lawns, and spacious flower beds winding asphalted footpaths, and in the centre an ornate bandstand. A well laid path encircles the whole of the outside of the Gardens, forming an additional pleasant promenade. Both the Gardens are well lighted with incandescent lamps and furnished with comfortable seats.

Another admirable innovation effected for the Recreation Grounds Committee last year (1904) was the improvement of the approach path to Church Hope, the finest beauty spot on the Island. The work was splendidly designed and executed by Mr R. S. Henshaw.

The total cost of the Victories Gardens eras 2,339 and of the Easton Square Gardens 1,307. Of this amount (:3,646) 3,001 was obtained by the sale of consols (in which the Ferry Bridge fund was invested), and 555 was taken for the District Rate Fund. This latter step would not have been necessary but for the deprecated value (owing to the war) of the consols in which the Ferry Bridge money had been invested.

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