Few people passing Jubilee House today will know it has a long and rich history. It provides nursing care today so is not open to the public. For centuries it was the centre of a large and prosperous farm, part of the Wymering manor estate but after WWI housing was built over its fields when Portsmouth's boundaries were extended to bring in Wymering as Portsea Island became ever more crowded. Firstly, fields to the north of today's Medina Road, once part of Cosham Field, were covered by "homes fit for heroes" with gardens, designed to be part of a "Garden City". Then, in the 1930s, the "Isle of Wight" estate followed to the south of the road. Even before WWI some farmland had been lost - to extend Wymering's churchyard in the mid nineteenth century and in 1900 to build Queen Alexandra Hospital. A school, more housing and a council refuse tip followed, separating the farmhouse from its agricultural land so it is hard to believe it that for centuries it looked out onto fields of grain and flocks of sheep.
The house that is today's Jubilee House was built sometime in the eighteenth century. When first built it was a large extension to a much earlier house, almost doubling it in size. Both can be seen in a lantern slide now in Portsmouth History Centre archives. The old house was pulled down in the 1930s when Jubilee House became a home for the Aged Blind. All that remains is an oak doorway, on display at Portsmouth Museum.
The house was often under the same ownership as Wymering House (as the Manor was called then) and occupied by tenant farmers. The predominant crops were wheat (for bread) barley (for beer) and oats (for feeding livestock). The corn harvest on Portsdown Hill was the earliest in England, according to William Cobbett. Sheep flocks, grazing on Portsdown or the marshes at the sea's edge, provided wool and meat. Pigs were kept for bacon, for which Hampshire was famous and even today the Hampshire Hog stands outside County Hall in Winchester. Sheep and cow's milk was made into cheese and large amounts were sold at Portsdown Fair in July. There was a growing demand for all the farm's produce, especially when the number of sailors, soldiers and marines at Portsmouth increased during the 1700s and Portsmouth's population also mushroomed. No wonder the owners were able to embellish and extend the house to give it a more modern and "up-market" look, with fancy brickwork, an ornate central doorway and plaster ceilings fit for a gentleman.
In about 1750 John Pittis moved from the Isle of Wight to become tenant of the farm and four generations of his family farmed there until 1886, farming much of Wymering House's lands as well. The Pittis family became important in the parish, with successive generations serving as Churchwardens and Overseers of the Parish when these had wide responsibilities - for collecting rates, housing and welfare payments and road maintenance. As befitted gentlemen they were also keen huntsmen with the Portsdown Harriers and Hambledon Hunt. John's son Richard reputedly had the best pack of hounds in the district. George, the fourth generation to live at the farm, was also a betting man. He won a large amount by pairing up 300 lambs with their mothers out of his flock of sheep in 2½ hours. Other members of the family were landlords of the George and Ship Inns both on Cosham Street (now the High Street) so they quickly made their mark in local business. They grew so wealthy that John's son and grandson, both Richard were able to buy the farm in 1812 for £ 18,500. But they had bought at the top of the market and struggled in the economic downturn after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815. At Richard Pittis junior's death in 1838 the estate was sold and Richard's son George became a tenant farmer again. Profitable farming became more difficult. George's farming partnership with his brother Charles was dissolved and he was declared bankrupt in 1870, though he remained at the farm and a pillar of the community. His sister Eliza kept house for him, remaining a bachelor until he was 53 years old. His bride was only half his age, the daughter of the local veterinary surgeon Joseph Irish, but there was no family member to take on the tenancy when he died in 1886.
Many remember the farm as "Peel's Farm" but their tenure was much shorter than the Pittis family. George Peel took over as tenant on George Pittis's death, though his father had farmed at Upper or West Wymering Farm for more than 20 years. They had prospered there and George bought Wymering Manor in 1883. He is said to have removed some panelling from there to his home. George Peel was a go-ahead farmer but his steam threshing machine fell foul of the law when George Pittis used it at Wymering Farm too close to the Turnpike road (Medina Road) and the noise was judged to have been likely to frighten horses. Like George Pittis, George Peel married late, when he was in his mid 40s and a tenant farmer in his own right. He remarried after his first wife's death and when he died in 1907 his widow was left with three small children but she stayed on at the farm. Her touching memorial to George is in the parish church. She later remarried but the family left the farm when it was taken over in 1915 as a transit camp for troops and the house became officers' quarters. The family lost more than the house, as two of George Peel's sons, George and Roger, were killed in World War I.
After 1918 the farmland was compulsorily purchased by Portsmouth Council. Besides new housing the marsh land below the railway line was gradually reclaimed by controlled tipping of refuse from the city. This land eventually became King George V Playing Fields. The farmhouse was very dilapidated by this time but was remodeled and extended in 1935, becoming Jubilee House for the Aged Blind. It provided a home for 26 men and women and, in the 1950s, had two cats. One cat, Ginger, would only move out of the way for the blind residents. The Home was moved out during the Second World War and the building may have been used as a military hospital. The residents returned after the war but needs changed and in 1984 it pioneered a new way of providing help for old people, rather like sheltered housing. It offered residents "control over the pattern of their daily lives, with recognition of their need for privacy, fellowship and entertainment at appropriate times".
Today Jubilee House retains only the facade of the old house. The ornate plaster ceilings and panelling have gone. So have the barns and cart-houses, which ended their days as stabling for the shire horses that pulled the council's refuse carts. The staff at Jubilee House today wanted to learn more about the house and its people. Friends of Old Wymering researched and financed a display for their Visitors' Room. We share their hope that visitors and staff will also be inspired to look more closely at Old Wymering and Jubilee House's important place in its history.
The research for the above topic was carried out by Janet Hird. It is subject to copyright and should not be copied or transmitted in whole or part without her acknowledgement. We ask you to respect her copyright.
Residents outside Jubilee House in 1935
Jubilee House (once East Wymering Farm) on Medina Road provides continuing nursing care and the building was recently renovated and redecorated. A new Visitors' Room was created and the staff wanted to display a collage showing the building's history. Friends of Old Wymering stepped in, answering their call in The News for help in finding information and we also offered to fund the project.
Some photos and a brief narrative text were printed and professionally framed, creating four large pictures. These were presented to Jubilee House in time for their official opening in September. The hospital staff were delighted with the result and visitors have been intrigued by the building's past.
Where is it?
Jubilee House is situated on Medina Road. (map)