10 fascinating things you never knew about Staunton Country Park

In this blog post I’ll be revealing some of the secrets of Staunton Country Park which have been discovered by historians and volunteers

Feb 8 2019

Staunton - people skating on lake in 1909 large

If you know them already, then maybe consider joining us as a guide for the park.

1. Find the fox print!

The terrace was part of Leigh Park Mansion house, built for William Stone in the early 1860s. The bricks were made on site and would have been air dried outside (amongst the natural surroundings) before being baked/finished off in a kiln. And that’s probably why there is a cheeky little paw print, which we think is a curious fox’s, under one of the brick archways.

If you walk to the third in form the right (as you’re looking at the terrace), turn left and look up you should spot it.

Image by Kat Foxton

2. Where did it lead to?

Whilst you’re there, did you know that the passage way at the far-right end of the terrace led into Leigh Park Mansion house? We still don’t know exactly where it led but the passage was nearest to the Dining Room.

Staunton - Leigh Park - Mansion map

3. The Shell House without shells...

The Shell House was designed for Staunton in 1832 by Lewis Vulliamy and is based on the Chichester Market Cross. It is made from local-sourced flint and pebbles from Emsworth beach. It used to have shells in the inner walls (from Hayling Island) but these have been lost overtime, along with an odd collections of curiosities (like a stuffed crocodile, roman pottery, a toucan beak and semi-precious gems). The Shell House is one of the follies which will be restored as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund developments.

Staunton - The Shell House

Image by Steve Jones

4. Tree-mendous trees

Because George Staunton was a horticulturalist and collected different rare specimens, there are lots of different trees and plants in the park which aren’t native to Britain. For instance, the Redwood trees; which come from California and can grow to be gigantic.

Staunton - Redwood tree

Image by Kat Foxton

Staunton - Redwood tree trunk

Image by Kat Foxton

You can also spot the Kiwi vines (originally from China but also grown in New Zealand) on either side of the gate next to where our new car park is going to be (walk towards the Beacon nursery and stand by the metal gates). The one to the left is the male, whilst the one to the right is the female. The female vine is the only one that bears fruit: there were lots of little kiwi fruit last summer.

Staunton Kiwi trees

Image of Kiwis in summer 2018 by Kat Foxton

5. Gone fishing

The fish in the lake include carp (mirror and common), pike, perch, bream and tench. Trevor and Lionel are the two biggest fish in the lake at well over 20 lbs in weight.

Staunton - man fishing

Image by Kat Foxton

6. Heated Pine pits

Pineapples were originally grown within the farm’s ornamental gardens in the 1830s (Staunton’s kitchen gardens). Later pineapples were grown within what is now the over-flow car park, called the Storey Gardens, which was William Stone’s kitchen garden from the 1860s. Referred to as ‘pines’, they were grown in heated pits (the warmth likely coming from stored manure.) In the 19th century, eating your own pineapples was a sign of wealth as it took a great deal of resources to grow them.

7. Tick Tock, the Coach House Clock

The Coach House Clock was not originally built into Stone’s Coach House (built in the 1860s) but taken from Staunton’s stables and moved over. It was likely designed by the Benjamin Vulliamy (brother of the architect Lewis Vulliamy, who also designed clocks for King George 4th) around 1834.

Staunton - coach house in the snow

Image by Tom Joyes (Friends of Staunton Country Park)

8. Not just a World War Two bunker...

... It’s Stone’s Victorian Ice House.

Just like a freezer, this building would have been where Stone’s ice was kept. Victorians had worked out that you could keep ice frozen for many months, even a whole year, using thick stone walls and insulation like sawdust and hay. It was however converted into a bunker during World War Two.

Staunton - World War two bunker

9. Gift of the gab

George Thomas Staunton could speak Chinese when he was 12, as well as five other languages. In 1791, he travelled with his father George Leonard Staunton as the page to Lord Macartney on a mission to China. During his time there, his language was enhanced by two Chinese priests and in 1793 he was presented to the Emperor Kien Lung. The Emperor was very pleased by his skill in his native tongue and gave him a silk purse in recognition.

Staunton  - silk purse sketch

10. Ice skates?

When it was frozen in winter time, the lake was open to ice skaters during the Fitzwygram ownership of the park in the 1900s. See this extract from the Portsmouth Evening News!

Many hundreds of the residents of Portsmouth have today been enjoying skating at Baffin’s Pond, Lumps Fort, and at Leigh Park, Sir Frederick Fitzwygram having generously thrown open the large pond near his residence.
Portsmouth Evening News, 20 December 1892

Staunton - people skating on lake in 1909

The lake, 1909.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing these 10 fascinating facts about Staunton, there are many more which we hope to share with you throughout our bicentenary year.