The annual tradition of delivering Christmas presents to family on the mainland takes us again to a house that I vividly remember from my childhood when it was completely painted black and no matter where you went around the Langstone Harbour area of Portsmouth it could be seen majestically standing alone, above the few other houses in the vicinity. It was a unique landmark.It is very different now. Swallowed up by development but lovingly restored by my cousin and her husband. No longer black but still standing tall and proud above more modern dwellings.The Old Engine House lies tucked away off Locksway Road in Milton, Portsmouth.
Locksway Road runs from Milton Road down to Langstone Harbour, passed The Thatched House public house, first listed in 1859 and The Old Oyster House, first listed in 1887. Locksway Road was earlier known as Lily Lane and then Asylum Road from the time when the Borough Asylum was built. (Now part of the Portsmouth NHS Trust). The name of the road was eventually changed when a three mile channel was dug from Eastney Lake to Langstone Harbour and Locks put into service on the canal to open up a shipping link from London to Portsmouth. Trade however was never much and traffic ceased on the Portsea section in 1825. The canal is now largely infilled apart from the former sea lock of the Portsmouth & Arundel Canal - part of London's lost route to the sea and one surviving brick lined lock both of which now form part of the Milton Locks Conservation area.
The Engine House itself was built in 1821 to pump water from a huge well into a pond. On the 3rd of December 1824 there was a public meeting about the contamination of wells along the route of the canal being polluted with sea water. Eighteen days later the canal company paid compensation to the residents.
Standing three stories high, with walls at least 2 feet deep and the engine room at ground level the house was originally owned by the Portsmouth Canal Company. Divided into two dwellings, No. 1 and No. 2 Old Engine House, the main entrance to each dwelling was via wooden stairways up to a front door at first floor level. No. 2 was rented to Alice and George Lofting and No 1 to the Hastings family who ran a pig farm on what is now allotment land.
Eventually the whole house was bought by my Uncle Jim and Auntie Nellie Lofting. I have such warm childhood memories of visiting the house and playing with my cousin and sister on the land attached to the house. My uncle Jim kept chickens and my cousin who now lives in the Engine House with her husband remembers how one chicken "Blackie" grew so fast that my uncle used to rub it's legs with olive oil to strengthen them. Sadly, one Christmas Blackie mysteriously disappeared.
Many a time as children we would end up with violent stomach aches from gorging ourselves on gooseberries, raspberries and blackcurrants that grew so well on the land. Despite vigorous objections, in 1960 this lovely land was compulsory purchased by Portsmouth City Council for development which is why The Old Engine House no longer stands alone.Internally the house has been brought up to date although many original features still remain. What was the engine room that became a storeroom of our childhood years is now a beautiful kitchen. Although access still remains to the first floor the main entrance is now through a conservatory at ground level. Although surrounded by progress, no-one can take away the views from the bedrooms at the top of the house across Langstone Harbour and, if you close your eyes when you go through the arch and into the garden, you can still hear the sound of chickens clucking and catch a glimpse of the sea through the fruit bushes..Olivia Hughes,
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By: Olivia Hughes