PEOPLE IN PORTSMOUTH

 

HERBERT ALLEN (1770-1850)

It would probably surprise Herbert Allen if he were to be informed that his place in the history of Portsmouth would be largely as the father of the young antiquarian Lake Allen. That this should be so does the elder Allen a disservice as he led a distinguished life in the business, commercial and social life of the Borough for over 50 years.
 
For the first 27 years of his life, Herbert Allen's name is absent from the annals of Portsmouth but on 13th August 1797 that changed when he married 23 year old Mary Taswell, the daughter of the highly respected surgeon, scholar and gentleman Lake Taswell at St. Thomas's Church. Legend has it that Taswell strongly disapproved of the match on the grounds that Allen was merely a tradesman and as a consequence excluded his daughter from his house ever after. Whilst this makes for a fine Georgian melodrama there is no evidence to support the tale and much to suggest that it was either speculative or short-lived.
 
It is certainly true that Allen was a tradesman, he was in fact a hatter at the time of the marriage and probably very successful as is suggested by the location of his shop on High Street, Portsmouth, probably at No. 134, one of the most fashionable streets in the south of England. It was said to have been just a few doors from his new father-in-law.
 
In May 1799 Mary Allen gave birth to the first of several children, a boy who was baptised Lake after his grandfather, a strange choice perhaps if the mother really was estanged from her father. Lake Allen was a sickly child but was not short of determination as he worked hard to overcome his ailments, eventually becoming one of Portsmouth's earliest published historians. In this he was certainly abetted by his grandfather who had published the very first historical guide to the town and it's environs.
 
Apart from their son Lake, the Allen's had at least three other daughters, including Jane and Elizabeth, and another son, William Herbert Allen. In November 1807 the Allen's eldest daughter, name unknown, died. Jane went on to marry Jonathan Gain with whom she lived at Lumps Villa on Lumps Lane. Gain later became the owner of a substantial amount of land in Southsea and Milton.
 
In November 1813 Herbert Allen placed an advert in the Hampshire Telegraph offering No. 134 High Street for let or sale. This almost certainly signifies a major change in his life as he seems to have given up the hatter's trade to become in that same year the local manager of the Portsea Island Water Company. It is not known whether Allen's wealth at that time was derived solely from the hatters business or elsewhere but it was sufficient to allow him to purchase a large property on Wish Lane, or Albert Road as it is known in 21C. It was known as Wish House and it sat at the corner of what we now know of as Lawrence Road, in substantial grounds.
 
Allen's respectability was becoming firmly entrenched by 1818 when he was amongst a group of Portsmouth's great and good, led by Sir Lucius Curtis, who declared their 'perfect confidence' in the bank run by William and George Grant which had been under some threat of insolvency. It is worth noting that a few years later George Grant led an attempted buyout of the Portsea Island Water Company.
 
The Hampshire Telegraph reported the inevitably early death of the Allen's son Lake on 19th April 1824. He died not at home with his parents but at his grandfather's house at 19 Penny Street, Portsmouth. Both grandfather and grandson were to be commemorated on a plaque in St. Thomas's Church suitably inscribed in latin. Lake Allen's modest history of Portsmouth went on to overshadow any of his father's achievements.
 
Within a month of his son's death Herbert Allen sold a 'small neat cottage' in Green Lane, Somer's Town but it is not known if there was a connection between the cottage and Lake Allen. Herbert's apparent propensity for buying land must have continued unabated as a few months later he was one of several persons who owned land adjacent to the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal and who were suing the proprietors for damage done to their property. Many of these same people went on to press for a railway connection to London, Herbert Allen sitting on one of the most influential committees.
 
Lake Taswell died on the 18th February 1830. By 1835 Herbert Allen had been appointed Justice of the Peace.
 
As befitted a successful Victorian businessman, Herbert Allen devoted much of his time supporting charitable institutions, many of them connected with the sea. On just one of them he worked under the chairmanship of Admiral Sir Francis Austen to improve the relief offered by the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners' Benevolent Society.
 
By 1845 Allen owned a substantial amount of land either side of Wish Lane (Albert Road) part of which he sold or donated to the Dock Mill Society. He owned a further tract of land adjacent to Lazy Lane (modern day old Fawcett Road) and more of his estate fell either side of what we now know as Waverley Road on which were later built Allens, Herbert and Taswell Roads, seemingly named after himself and his father-in-law.
 
Herbert Allen died on 26th June 1850. It is not known exactly what happened to his property as his will was proved on 20th July 1850 but was not finally resolved until 1872. He had decreed that his lands should be sold for 500 per acre, exclusive of land to be set out for roads. Allen's wife Mary plainly did not benefit from her husband's estate as the 1851 census recorded her as living in Orange Street and supported by her son, presumably William Herbert Allen who may have retained Wish House though his marriage notice in August 1863 gave his address as Wish Place. William Herbert was declared bankrupt following a court action entitled Winkworth v Allen in 1864.
 
That Herbert Allen's place in the history of Portsmouth should depend so much on the achievements of his son is probably caused by his apparent lack of political ambition. Unlike his contemporaries Edward Casher and Andrew Nance who's lives followed a similar trajectory, Herbert Allen satisfied his desire to serve his community as a Justice of the Peace and seemingly made no effort to join the Borough Council. There is still much research to be carried out into his life and works before the legacy of Herbert Allen will not need the support of his son.
 
Tim Backhouse
April 2013

 
REFERENCES
The Hampshire Telegraph
"Portsmouth & Gosport Water Supply" by Halton Thomson
"Young Antiquaries: Lake Allen and Frederick Madden" by John Webb
The 1845 Tithe Map prepared by Thomas Ellis Owen
Notes from the will of Herbert Allen.