What it's like to live in Southsea
PUBLISHED: 12:08 13 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:08 20 February 2018
Foodie families who like period property and want the beach on their doorstep need look no further than Southsea
Vibrant. That’s how a friend of mine described Southsea. It’s where she lives, so she should know. Southsea is not like the rest of Hampshire. It’s out on a limb – located on the southern tip of Portsea Island, east of Old Portsmouth. And its character resonates more with hip East End London and quirky Brighton.
Southsea developed as a fashionable Victorian resort in the 19th century - Hampshire’s answer to Eastbourne with pier, esplanade and shingle beach. It still offers a range of seaside entertainments: funfairs, fish and chips, Blue Reef Aquarium, canoe lake, putting greens and tea dances.
Increasingly it has become known for its creative vibe and free-spiritedness. Arthur Conan Doyle began his writing career here, Peter Sellers was born here and Jim Al Khalili (author, broadcaster and physicist) lives here.
Shops along and around Albert Road, Castle Road, Marmion Road and Osborne Road are both old-fashioned and edgy. There are the likes of vintage clothing stores, such as Dead Man’s Glory, Dress Code and One Legged Jockey, as idiosyncratic cool as it sounds, antiques and collectibles, proper tailors and a clothing repair shop with old sewing machines stacked in the window and a rainbow of thread reels in the workshop behind. There’s a secondhand bookshop with piles of paperbacks spilling off every surface. There are bike stores, piano shops, homeware boutiques and unexpected finds, like Budd’s Herbal Apothecary. Altogether it is a retail experience with a treasure trove of independents - some Kings Road stylish, others charmingly worn at the edges - that has been pushed out of too many town centres.
That’s not to say you won’t find established national names: there’s a Waitrose on Marmion Road and a John Lewis on Palmerstone Road, where a pedestrian precinct hosts farmers’ markets and the Southsea Food Festival - which brings us onto Southsea’s big story - its foodie credentials. It has such a feast of bars, cafes and restaurants you’re tripping over them with no shortage of places to buy or tuck into good food and drink. To name but a very, very few: Aurora cafe and lounge (serving moreish homemade salt beef, a speciality of the house), Beer Musketeer, Bread Addiction artisan bakery and patisserie, Buckwells award-winning butchers, Chocolate Lounge, Gin & Olive Cocktail Bar, Hunter Gatherer, Garage Lounge, Lou Lou’s Brasserie, Pie & Vinyl, Porters Wine Bar, Restaurant 27, Sant-Yago Spanish dining room, Southsea Coffee Company, T & Thistle, The Florence Arms, recently revamped as a gastro-pub, The Kitchen fine dining and The Phoenix, an intriguing corner pub with lounge bar dedicated to panto ponies (it is just up from the Kings Theatre) and pub garden adorned with vintage signage. Plus there is every sort of cuisine from Bangledeshi through Japanese, Mexican and Turkish to Vietnamese.
The cultural scene is as lively and varied. Arts, comedy and music venues focus on the Wedgewood Rooms and Kings Theatre, an Edwardian playhouse considered by some to be Southsea’s heart. Past, present and future combine through museums, like the D-Day Museum, currently undergoing refurbishment and reopening in spring, and an influx of young creatives contributing to a burgeoning arts scene.
Leisure facilities include Pyramids Centre with gym, classes and pools, and the extraordinary, wide open space that is Southsea Common - great for games and picnics, and a venue for exciting events such as Portsmouth International Kite Festival and Victorious Festival.
Families considering a move here will want to know about education. Schooling in Southsea is not your average offering. A range of independents includes non-selective St John’s College, Portsmouth High School GDST for girls, Portsmouth Grammar School, rated ‘excellent’ by ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate), and Mayville High School, which describes itself as having a unique approach focusing on the individual.
Many primaries and juniors are rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, among them Arundel Court, Craneswater, Cottage Grove, Fernhouse, St Swithun’s Catholic and Wimborne, while St John’s Cathedral Catholic Primary is ‘outstanding’. At secondary level Ark Charter Academy, Priory School and Portsmouth Academy for Girls are all ‘good’ and St Edmund’s Catholic School is ‘outstanding’. And, of course, there’s the University of Portsmouth, with Sandi Toksvig as Chancellor, rated ‘Gold’ in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework and listed in The Guardian’s top 40 universities.
As for property - period nerds will be ecstatic with Southsea’s roads of fine Victorian and Edwardian houses, from small terraces painted ice cream colours to the grandest villas, a confection of decorative detail, and there’s a corresponding spectrum of prices, many representing good value.
So are there any downsides? Access. With only two roads on and off the island, at peak times it can seem easier to take the hovercraft across to the Isle of Wight than drive to the M27. Plus train services to London Waterloo are not the quickest – about an hour and 40 minutes from Portsmouth & Southsea station. But, hey, as Southsea offers so much, why would you want to leave? There’s a palpable sense of energy about Southsea. It feels creative, lively, interesting and friendly, and affordable. A Victorian seaside resort for 21st century living.
Agent talk: Gary Bird, Director, Fry & Kent
I have been involved in the property industry for well over 25 years and spent most of my adult life in Southsea where I live very happily with my wife and our two daughters.
I may well be slightly biased, but I sincerely believe that we are extremely fortunate to live where we do with an ever-expanding list of amenities, attractions and events on our doorstep.
Clearly, I am not the only one who believes this as more and more people are drawn to Southsea in preference to other places along the south coast where equivalent properties are significantly more highly priced, plus there cannot be many other places where it is possible to walk to the beach yet get to London by train or car in an hour-and-a-half.
It’s easy to see the lure of Southsea, a Victorian seaside resort with an amazing seafront full of activity, streets lined with really interesting period properties of all shapes and sizes, studded with culturally diverse pockets of independent shops, cafes, bars and restaurants similar to The Lanes in Brighton but without the throngs.
A good night is only a five-minute walk away with an incredible array of really excellent quality food and drink establishments; and new and interesting additions constantly arriving. Our current favourites include Huis (Belgian beer bar), Old Toms (cocktails) and Two Doors Down (international street food). Mixed in among all this are superb schools and, of course, the University of Portsmouth, so it really does appeal to all generations - making it the ideal place for families to thrive and prosper together, as we have.