In this blog, the fourth in a series of posts looking at sites of historical interest in Portsmouth, Dr Katy Gibbons, Senior Lecturer in History, discusses the significant but often overlooked history of Wymering Manor, the oldest domestic building in the city of Portsmouth. Katy’s research specialisms focus on the religious and cultural history of early modern England, and specifically on the Catholic communities living under Protestant rule. This connects to her teaching at Levels 4 and 6 of the History curriculum, particularly specialist modules on religious identity in Elizabethan England.
For a place rich in heritage, Wymering Manor, on the outskirts of Portsmouth, is one of its often-overlooked gems.
This grade 2 listed building is the oldest domestic building in the city. It is a sixteenth century manor house (with earlier foundations), with an interesting and colourful history, but is rather ‘off the beaten track’ of Portsmouth’s visitor attractions. Wymering Manor provides a fascinating route into the changing history of the local area, the varied use and repurposing of historic buildings and their contents, and into contemporary issues relating to the conservation of public heritage. It also connects in different ways to the research interests of staff at the University of Portsmouth, including those within the History team.
In its current form, the house was built in the later sixteenth century, by the Bruning family. The Brunings were Catholics at a time when England’s identity was increasingly being wedded to Protestantism: whilst part of the elite social group, the Brunings would have been part of a religious minority. Since that time, the Manor has been home to a number of different inhabitants, including the vicar of the parish, who established an Anglican Religious order there in the nineteenth century; the British army during the Second World War, and, most recently, to countless numbers of visitors in its stint as a Youth Hostel. Located next door to the ancient parish church of Wymering, it has played an important part in the local community.
The fabric and contents of the house itself reflect its changing use over the centuries. It presents historians, architects and others with a number of puzzles, as it is not always clear when changes were made, by whom, and for what purpose! There is the intriguing question of possible priest holes: spaces were built into the fabric of Catholic houses to hide priests if the Protestant authorities carried out a search – but the dating of these at Wymering raise some interesting questions. Some of the internal structures and decorations also pose puzzles – how ‘original’ are some of the fireplaces for example – have they been moved from other locations in the house, or brought in as part of later ‘home improvements’ from other domestic settings?
Wymering Manor is also associated with a number of ghost stories, providing us with another route into thinking about the ways in which Portsmouth and its surrounding areas, are thought about and remembered. A number of legends are associated with the building, and it is a popular location for paranormal investigations.
The Manor has survived, if precariously, whilst the community around it has changed as a result of the expansion of the urban area of Portsmouth. However, it has continued to have an impact on its local community. The house is now in the hands of the Wymering Manor Trust, who have taken on the significant challenge of preserving it for the use of future generations, and of providing a community hub for a range of different cultural and social events.
For further information on Wymering Manor click here.
For further examples of academic research on Catholic History: see the journal British Catholic History, edited by University of Portsmouth’s Dr Katy Gibbons.
For those interested in Portsmouth’s supernatural past visit the Darkfest site.