Victoria Gardens, Portland

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Victoria Gardens from the Western corner.

Victoria Gardens is a public garden, located on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It is found within Fortuneswell village area, and close to the villages of Castletown and Chiswell. The gardens have remained a focal point since its establishment.[1]


Victoria Gardens' D-Day memorial.

The idea for a public garden to be created for both Underhill and Tophill on Portland stems back to 1896, when the Councillor B. Comben proposed the idea to the Local Government Board. This resulted in a committee being established to consider the scheme. Portland's Urban District Council selected Little Common as the site for Victoria Gardens, which was already common land, and was situated between the police station and Victoria Square. In October 1896, an application was made to the Woods and Forests Commissioners and the Court Leet for the transformation. The Court Leet supported the proposal. During 1897, the surveyor Mr E. J. Elford was tasked with developing a plan of Victoria Gardens, and this was approved in October of that year. However by the beginning of 1898, the Wood and Forests commissioners had developed a number of draft terms for the grant of the land, which were deemed unviable by the committee. The council responded with a provisional order under the Commons Act 1876.[2]

The garden schemes came to a halt for two years after the local authorities had their attention turned to the much needed installation of a piped water supply and new drainage scheme. However the project began moving again when the government passed the Commons Act in 1899, and Councillor B. Comben became the chairman of the Recreation Grounds Committee in October 1900. The passing of the act allowed the council to submit the scheme to the Board of Agriculture instead, and the plans were drawn up by April 1901. The Board of Agriculture approved the scheme on 21 December 1901. A sum of £1,800 from the local Ferry Bridge Fund was borrowed for the Victoria Gardens scheme, which was to be paid back over the next 20 years without interest. At the same time the scheme for Easton Gardens had been developing, with Easton Square being selected as the site.[3]

Once funding had been secured, a Mr Steward of Bournemouth was approached for advice on the undertaking of the project. Mr Steward's plan was accepted in September 1902, and Messrs Stewart & Sons' received £146 for the supply and planting of 6,322 selected shrubs. During November 1902, the council selected Messrs Baker and Jesty for laying out the gardens. The transformation of Little Common was met with favourable reception, with the gardens being "admirably designed and laid out with considerable ingenuity and artistic taste". One of the major alterations necessary during the scheme was the construction of a large plateau at the base of two slopes, which incorporated the centre bandstand, which had been constructed by Messrs Hill & Smith. This bandstand, much used for weekly concerts, was later removed during the 1960s.[4]

During 1903 work was also made on the transformation of Easton Square, while in June 1903 the council selected Mr Gale as Victoria Garden's first gardener. By early 1904 the council began arranging the official opening of the gardens, which had been set for 24 May 1904. However a violent storm caused this to be postponed until the following day, when Mr Henry Sansom, Chairman of the Urban Council, opened the gardens, marking the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The event was attended by thousands of local residents and visitors, and they were entertained by performances from the Portland Town Band. A public luncheon was held to celebrate the occasion too, where Mr C. H. Collins donated £100 towards a shelter for the gardens. A plan was also made during 1904 for a turfed plateau to incorporate tennis and croquet areas. The promised shelter was added in 1905, along with a ladies lavatory, both of which were built by Messrs Jesty & Baker for a cost of £209. The overall scheme for Victoria Gardens amounted to a cost of £2,339, while Easton Gardens was considerably less at £1,307.[5]

The original 1905 lower gate entrance to the gardens from Victoria Square was later replaced by a new set in 1953, to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The gates were made by the inmates of HM Prison The Verne, and represented the Queen's family, the House of Windsor, and also Prince Phillip's House of Glucksburg. These were later removed after significant rusting, but were not replaced.[6] The garden's bandstand survived until 1966 before it was removed, although band concerts were still performed from time to time in the gardens, as well as in Easton Gardens, and at Portland Bill and West Weares. In March 1973, it was decided by Portland council's services committee to erect a stone to commemorate the fact that Portland is a royal manor and has been an urban district since 1894. It was decided to erect it in Victoria Gardens.[7]

After borough councillors gave the go-ahead for a low carbon housing development on Portland, found on the other side of the main road to Victoria Gardens, a spokesman of the developer ZeroC said that as part of the entire scheme, the company would make improvements to Victoria Gardens, by adding new seating and play facilities, and at Officer’s Field (on the site of the development), which will be retained under the scheme.[8][9]

In late 2013 Weymouth and Portland Borough Council proposed cuts to the parks budget in Weymouth and Portland, which would save almost £150,000 over the next two years, could lead to the closure of Portland's two public gardens. A budget working group examining areas to save money found that a further £74,000 would be saved in 2015/16 by exploring the return of maintenance for Victoria and Easton Gardens to the Crown Estate agents and/or community groups. This led to demands that the gardens be kept open and that a budget for the maintenance of the gardens is maintained. None of Weymouth's public gardens were selected for budget cuts.[10] The concern was based upon community impacts of the loss of the gardens, and also that the Crown Estate, who own both community spaces, could decide to do something else with the land if it was not looked after.[11]

During 2014-15, a set of improvements were made within the gardens, and these were funded by the South West Regional Development Agency and the Court Leet. Weymouth and Portland Borough Council worked alongside the Friends of Victoria Gardens to provide new play park equipment, seating, and a new lower gateway. The gateway was completed in 2015, with the pillars created by Portland Stone Ltd, and the gates and arch by Hyde Fabrications. The entrance has a Victorian-styled design.[12]

D-Day Memorial[edit]

In 1944 Portland's harbour was commissioned as USNAAB Portland-Weymouth. The harbour was a major embarkation point for American troops during D-Day, particularly the US 1st Division who embarked for "Omaha Beach" in June 1944. The King, Prime Minister Churchill and Free French leader Gen. De Gaul came to see the great D-Day preparations at Portland, when the harbour's activity was continuous.[13] The island's role in the D-Day landings was celebrated with a ceremony on 22 August 1945, when American Ambassador John D. Winant unveiled a commemorative stone in Victoria Gardens.[14] The stone memorial, locally known as The American Stone, included a plaque honouring the Americans who took part.[15]

The plaque reads: "The major part of the American Assualt Force which landed on the shores of Franch on 'D' Day, 6 June 1944, was launched from Portland Harbor. From 6 June 1944 to 7 May 1945, 418,585 troops and 144,093 vehicles were embarked from this harbor. This plaque marks the route which the vehicles and troops took on their way to the points of embarkation. Presented by the 14th major port, U.S. Army." It is signed Harold G. Miller, Major, T.C., Sub Port Commander, and Sherman L Kibor, Colonel, T.C., Port Commander.[16]

Portland's contribution was also noted by messages from the United States: "..For over a year your Island of Portland has been a key factor in the movement of troops and their weapons of war to the far shore in the liberation of the Continent..." and "You are the biggest little port in the world, you have been wonderful."[17] At the same time as the unveiling ceremony, the former Cadets Road running around the edge of the gardens was renamed Victory Road.[18]

During March-April 2008, the memorial underwent restoration work, after calls had been made by Portland Community Partnership for Portland's Cenotaph to be restored. The cenotaph's restoration was funded by Weymouth & Portland Borough Council, and in order for both memorials to be repaired at the same time, the Court Leet agreed to fully fund the D-Day Memorial. The work on both monuments was carried out by Messrs Humphries and Jones of Crewkerne. For a number of years the D-Day Memorial had suffered from a build-up of dirt and algae. The restoration consisted of a thorough cleaning, while the copper stains on the bronze panel were also removed.[19]


Victoria Gardens' bowling green.

Victoria Gardens largely feature grassed and formal bedding areas, as well as a large rockery running across the centre of the gardens, which is planted with a mixture of shrubs, perennials and bedding plants.

A children's play area is located on the upper tier of the gardens, and two tennis courts are open all year to the public. A bowling green is also located in the centre of the park. The Portland Victoria Bowls Club operate the daily management of the bowling green, however two rinks are available for use by the public for an hourly rate.[20] In July 2011, the club celebrated their 100th anniversary.[21] An 18-hole putting course was once situated in Victoria Gardens, and this was still active during the late 1950s.

The gardens once had an operational public toilet block, now closed. Easton Gardens has been awarded the Green Flag status based on how safe, clean, accessible, well managed and welcoming they are, however Victoria Gardens has not. This is most likely down to the closed public toilet block.

Friends of Victoria Gardens[edit]

The play area of Victoria Gardens.

Friends of Victoria Gardens were established in May 2008 with the support of Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, to be responsible for the gardens and their daily management. The aim of the group is to work closely with the Council's Parks Section to make improvements to the gardens for benefit of the community and future generations.

The Friends received £3,875 from Comma Funds to create a wooded area on a redundant area found next to the gardens, behind the gardeners' shed, and the group cleared away foliage and planted thousands of Snowdrop bulbs for a future woodland area, with the help of the Chesil Cove Juniors. Once the trees have established, a path through the woodland will be created so that it can be opened up to the public.[22]

In November 2008, Portland Court Leet agreed to distribute £8,000 to locally-based organisations in their annual group meeting, with the top amounts of £1,000 each going to Island Volunteers for You and Friends of Victoria Gardens.[23] Later, the Court Leet funded the provision of a bench seat which was incorporated in the grounds of the gardens.[24]

In October 2011 the group were the focus of the Rotary Community 2000 table top sale where over £700 was raised. The money was for improvement to the gardens which was due to include the renewal of the railings in original Victorian style wrought iron. In addition to the woodland, the group have also placed two new noticeboards in the entranceways to the gardens in Spring 2012, which were funded by the group along with Tim and Denise Clark, of Clark's Boatworks Ltd. In 2012, bulbs were planted by pupils from Underhill Junior School; and their flowerbed display won second prize for the Best Community Group Floral Display in the year's Portland Town Council Community Gardening competition. The Friends group also run two annual, popular events each year in the gardens; the Teddy Bears' Picnic in July and the Christmas Festival in December.[25]

At a meeting in relation to forming the Friends of Victoria Gardens in March 2008, a Dorset Echo article noted the keen interest from local people to form such a group after a meeting in St John's Church Hall. The local council parks supervisor Carl Dallison had stated "The Parks Section has already set up a number of groups in other areas of the borough and this way of working is proving so successful that it would be great if a group could be formed for Victoria Gardens. Without support from the community, a group will struggle to establish sowe hope there are other residents who feel as passionate about making a difference to these gardens." Dallison had also expressed that besides physical developments to the gardens, it would be nice to see more people making better use of the gardens by holding events and community projects.[26]


  1. ^ "Victoria Gardens, Portland". Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
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  6. ^ Portland Urban District Council (Late 1950s). Isle of Portland Official Guide. Ed. J. Burrow & Co. Ltd., Publishers - Chelternham and London. p. 24.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ Free Portland News. March 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  8. ^ "Backing for eco homes on Portland (From Dorset Echo)". 2009-07-23. Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  9. ^ "Green homes plan for Portland approved". 2009-07-28. Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
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  14. ^ Pomeroy, Colin A. (1995). Military Dorset Today: Second World War Scenes and Settings That Can Still Be Seen 50 Years on. Silver Link Publishing Ltd. p. 138. ISBN 978-1857940770. 
  15. ^ "Chiswell, Portland, Dorset". Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
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  18. ^ Pomeroy, Colin A. (1995). Military Dorset Today: Second World War Scenes and Settings That Can Still Be Seen 50 Years on. Silver Link Publishing Ltd. p. 138. ISBN 978-1857940770. 
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  20. ^ "Victoria Gardens, Portland". Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  21. ^ "Portland Victoria BC celebrate centenary (From Dorset Echo)". 2011-07-05. Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  22. ^ "Friends of Victoria Gardens". Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  23. ^ "Court Leet distributes £8k locally (From Dorset Echo)". 2008-11-29. Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  24. ^ Free Portland News. February 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  25. ^ "Friends of Victoria Gardens". Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  26. ^ "Friends of Victoria Gardens (From Dorset Echo)". 2008-03-23. Retrieved 2013-03-22. 

Coordinates: 50°33′43″N 2°26′50″W / 50.562°N 2.4473°W / 50.562; -2.4473