City of Southampton Society
Registered Charity No 1006256 England and Wales
caring for our city's heritage and its green open spaces
Webmaster John Avery
                                      Titanic departing from Southampton April 1912          John Melody Town Crier          
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Queen Mary entering KG DOCKOur outdoor visit to Minstead Church in 2011 image Will TempleWarrior who after service on the front in WWI became a Southampton Police Horse. Image by kind permission Bitterne Local History SocietySouthampton CenotaphJohn Melody Town Crier at Tudor Revels 2012 image Arthur Jeffery

Thorner’s Homes by Alec Samuels

Robert Thorner was a wealthy businessman and philanthropist who retired to Baddesley near Southampton in C17 and became an elder of the Above Bar Chapel.  When he died in 1690 he left a substantial sum of money for charity, which included the building of four almshouses for widows of good character and limited means.  Isaac Watts was one of the trustees.  Eventually when the capital became available due to leases falling in, in 1788-9 or thereabouts the almshouses were built, between Above Bar Street and West Marlands Road, at a cost of some £450.  They were said to be very pleasant, a quadrangle with green lawns and trees. 


In the early 1930's Alderman Sir Sydney Kimber persuaded the town council to build the Civic Centre on the Marlands land, in exchange for making other land available for housing, such as the Flowers Estate.  Thorner's Homes had to move, and duly moved to their current site in Park Road, Shirley.  The estate of some 60 1-bed units was designed by a distinguished national architect, Sir Aston Webb, in a very distinctive style. 
By 2010 the accommodation was found to be no longer fit for purpose for modern living, and older people were unwilling to live there.  So the decision was taken to demolish and rebuild, refurbishment being found by the trustees to be impractical.  The current buildings are pleasing in character and quality from an architectural and visual and historical point of view, though not listed, but unpleasing from the social support point of view.  Planning permission has been given by the City Council for the rebuild, in a much more contemporary style, though the clock-tower and principal arch feature of the original buildings will be retained. 

Permission for Demolition - An unlikely tale by Marian Hubble

In October 2010, the Trustees of Thorner’s Homes submitted an application to the planning department of Southampton City Council for permission to demolish and rebuild the complex in Regent’s Park Road.

Thorner’s Homes is a charity which was established in the 18th Century to provide homes for lone widows. In one of its incarnations the Charity’s homes were located in the area now occupied nearby to the Civic Centre. In1938, the Charity moved westwards to its present site, in Regent’s Park Road.

Outwardly the buildings collectively form an attractive group of dwellings with extensive lawns, a few trees and open spaces between the houses.

Local residents in that part of the city are fond of the complex; it does have a gracious air about it. The architect was Sir Aston Webb. Aston Webb served as RIBA President (1902–1904) and, having been elected as a full member of the Royal Academy in 1903, served as acting president from 1919 to 1924. He was knighted in 1904, received the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture in 1905 and was the first recipient of the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1907

The plans for redevelopment came before the CoSS Planning and Environment Committee. John Avery visited the homes and reported back with the recommendation that we should support Thorner’s Homes in their application.

It came to our notice that other societies in the city were intending to oppose the application. It was decided that a second site visit, with two more members of the committee, should be undertaken.

One might have been forgiven for initially registering dismay at the proposed destruction of these buildings for they are, indeed, very attractive. The commemorative memorial to Thorner the benefactor was inscribed by the 20th Century sculptor and typographer, Eric Gill.

Our minds changed the instant that we viewed the living accommodation. The residential units, for single ladies are miniscule. These tiny homes are totally unsuitable for anyone, let alone ladies who might be frail and of limited mobility. There is no space in the living accommodation for a dining table and chairs. A bed takes up most of the bedroom area and the toilet and washing facilities are tucked away BEHIND the bed space. Storage space barely exists and there is no place for a mobility aid. To enter the ground floor flats it is necessary to negotiate a large and deep step. The upper floor is reached by steps open to the elements.

 We were of one mind. This situation should not be allowed to continue. The fact that there are 19 vacancies bears out the fact that these homes do not attract new residents.

Over the years Thorner’s Homes trustees have approached 4 (FOUR) different architectural firms to produce plans to convert the dwellings into homes suitable for the 21st century, maintaining the existing facades. Not one of the firms was able to do this.
The completed project news item by John Avery
  On 17th July 2014 the trustees invited guests to attend the opening of the completed work and to take afternoon tea with the residents.

Outdoor visit to Minstead Church image courtesy Will Temple Outdoor visit on a Guy Arab open top busTug tender Calshot in preservation