Hidden Treasures at the University of Portsmouth

Image credit: GoogleMaps Street View.

The University of Portsmouth is full of forgotten treasures. A new project being run by Records Management Officer, Nina Shore and her colleagues aims to find them.

One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.

A.A. Milne

Photo by Duncan Toms.

Over the last few months I have been part of a project alongside Sarah Arnold, Anna Delaney and Jelena Bavrina, which has seen us tour the entire University of Portsmouth estate, essentially looking for treasure.

We have found countless beautiful paintings, interesting gifts from all around the globe and spoken to so many lovely staff members who have told us fantastic stories of the history of our magnificent buildings.

Part of our project has been spurred on by the fact that many of us walk past these works of art and historical artefacts and don’t even realise they are there. Some are even part of the fabric of the buildings themselves, such as the awe-inspiring mosaic flooring (see image below) or the intricate stone carvings above the entrance to Park, and just a glance up and down gives us insight into the rich history of the building.

Photo by Nina Shore.

So far we have visited over 30 of the buildings spread across the campus.

On the 3rd April, Sarah and I were touring St. Andrews Court in search of hidden treasures, not expecting to find much due to the age of the building and the renovations that have been completed within the building, when we stumbled across an amazing discovery in one of the staff kitchens. We couldn’t quite believe our eyes that we had found a full set of original architectural drawings for the oldest building owned by the University!

Park Building was officially opened as a Municipal College and Public Library in 1908, so these plans were an exceptional discovery.

As you can see from the photo below, the designs are signed off with the signature ‘Armitage Hodgson’. This company are also responsible for the original design of the Portsmouth Guildhall (prior to the damage caused during World War II and the restoration that ensued).

Photo by Nina Shore.

After obtaining permission from the staff in the department where we located the plans and feeling very much like we were starring in a Portsmouth reboot of The Thomas Crown Affair, we hot-footed it down to deliver our find to the University Archivist, Anna Delaney.

Anna said “I am really pleased that these plans are now safe in the University Archive. They join our other items relating to the construction and early use of what we now know as Park Building, including estimates for building work and the souvenir booklet for the official opening on 8th September 1908. If anyone ever comes across any material relating to the history of the university and our many predecessor institutions, whether from the 1880s or the 1980s, I would love to hear from them.”

Photo by Nina Shore.

Looking at Dr. James Thomas’ published history of the building ‘To Meet All Competition: Park Building and the Provision of Education in Portsmouth 1908-1997’, the building was part of a design competition with £100 as the first prize, of which architect G.E. Smith was the eventual winner. Apparently some changes were made to the design during the building process.

We are still on the lookout for any other hidden gems in and around the University, so if you know of any artefacts that need to be recorded, please get in touch with me at nina.shore@port.ac.uk and on ext. 3108, or if you would like to speak to Anna regarding the University Archive please contact her at anna.delaney@port.ac.uk.


This article was first published in the University of Portsmouth’s Information Matters Newsletter.