Nos. 82 - 83 High Street
These two buildings are the last of the southern section of High Street, which is defined as that part which is south of the entrance to Oyster Street. It is sobering to remember that as we look at the elegant shops in the fashionable parts of High Street, there was, no more than a few dozen yards away, another side of the old town of Portsmouth, that of the Camber. Oyster Street is a poignant opening onto that other world.
Charpentier's guide shows us that in 1842 both Nos. 82 and 83 displayed typical shop fronts, belonging as they did to the retail sector in High Street. There are no images of these buildings around 1860, but they do appear in the 1880 photograph mentioned in connection with Nos. 78-81. Although they are shown at a most acute angle it is clear that both properties have changed. Their overall structures seem to be the same but the ground floor facades have lost their bay windows and taken on appearances more appropriate to an elegant Victorian era. Both have ornate balconies and No. 83 is partially adorned with stone cladding either side of a high arched entrance.
The question of the balconies offers us a chance to date some of the images, or at least put them in order. There is another (oblique) image of the two buildings from the late 1870s which shows that only No. 83 has a balcony, whilst the undated drawing (below) shows that only No. 82 has a balcony. The sequence would therefore seem to be that No. 83 obtained it's balcony in the 60s or 70s, No. 82 followed suit in the 80s and then No. 83 lost it's balcony, possibly in the 1890s. Photographs from the 1930s show that No. 82 retained it's balcony into the middle of the 20C.
There is a further feature of No. 83 which only appears in the undated drawing which arises because it shows the buildings from the north. This allows us to see part of the Oyster Street side of No. 83 and shows that the large display windows of the High Street side are continued around the corner into Oyster Street for at least about 10 feet. A further, early 20C photograph, taken from High street but looking straight down Oyster Street (see below) shows a stone cladded doorway at the far end of the property some 40 feet along the street, with a wide, intricately moulded cornice above the stonework. These features are not shown on the Charpentier drawing and so were presumably introduced at the same time as the rest of the property was converted.
The 1861 Census, Schedule 71, lists Theresa Elkins, (43, widow) as Head of Household. Living with her was an extended family comprising of daughters Matilda (34, unmarried) and Edna (32, unmarried), and sons Julian (30, unmarried and a Naturalist), Charles (29) with his wife Emma (30) and sons Albert (4) and Robert (1) and a daughter-in-law Sarah Elkins (28, married) with her daughters Alice (4) and Ada (1). There are no servants listed which may indicate that the family was perhaps undergoing financial hardship following the death of the founder of the business. The two daughters-in-law, Emma and Sarah, were both born in Westbourne, Sussex.
Schedule 72 names William Grant Chambers (51, Grocer and Tea Dealer) as head of a sizeable household which consisted of his wife Margaret (47), daughters Louisa (20), Helen (19), Margaret (15), Martha (13), Mary (8), Betsey (7) and son William (18). There were also a French Nurse (Amelia Donigy, 25) and two servants (Ann North, 29 and Berthia Wills, 17) living in the house.
Kelly's 1859 Trade Directory does not mention either Nos. 82 or 83, but Hunt's 1852 directory does refer to WG Chambers at No. 83 as does Simpson's 1863 Directory whilst Harrod's 1865 Directory expands on that entry by listing William Grant Chambers under it's section for Gentry as well as in the Commercial section as a "wholesale and retail grocers, tea dealers and Italian Warehouseman with secondary premises at 4, The Hard. Harrod's also lists Elkins & Co., as "importers of foreign goods and dealers in antiquities" at No. 82.
William Grant Chambers was an established member of Portsmouth society with wide interests. On May 20th 1859 he was elected as a Councillor, when he was described as a grocer. He was elected Mayor of Portsmouth in 1862, a post he retained for two years after which he returned to the benches until he was elected Alderman from 28th December 1868. Given his probable wealth and high status it seems likely that the conversion of No.83 from Georgian shop to a more imposing emporium would have taken place during the period Chambers was in residence from at least 1852. This is all the more likely given that No. 83 was his private residence as well as his place of business.
It would not be unreasonable to assume that the improvements in the fortune of the Elkins household at No. 82 followed the same trajectory as at their neighbours, but the difference in their case was that by the 1861 Census the head of the household had died. The Harrod's directory tells us that the family maintained the business for several years after the death.
The modelling of No.83 poses a problem in that there are no images of the front of the building which show the configuration of windows, stonework and doors. We can see from the early, oblique images that there are five pillars visible and probably a sixth hidden behind the shop front to No. 82. The outer ones are clad in chamfered stone blocks whilst the inner two, either side of the tall arched doorway, are plain. It would be reasonable to assume that the two shop-front units that can be seen on the Oyster Street side of the building are replicated on the front. These units are the narrow single window flanked by stonework and the triple window with the centred arch. By experimentation it is possible to place copies of the single units at each end of the front facade and an arch for the doorway in the centre leaving sufficient space to place the triple units either side of the doorway.
On the Oyster Street side we can see in the undated drawing above the two units on display and assume there is another single window unit just out of view round the corner. It is unlikely that there are any further windows facing Oyster Street as the road has a very narrow neck before it emerges onto High Street, hardly a place to stand gazing into a window. The first and second floor windows were probably as depicted in the Charpentier drawing, there being little point in adding more when they would be faced by a brick wall just a few feet away on the other side of Oyster Street.
The photo of the entrance to Oyster Street (above, left) shows that the building terminated in the same elaborate stonework we see on the front facade.