Richard Evamy was baptised in the agricultural market town of Wimborne Minster, Dorset on 25 June 1765. He came to Southampton in early 1788, setting up as a “saddler, cap and coach-harness maker, from London” at a shop in Above Bar lately occupied by James Gradridge (Salisbury Journal, 11 February 1788). Evamy profited greatly during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, especially from government contracts to equip cavalry regiments encamped on Southampton Common. They were “furnished, on the shortest notice, with saddles, helmets, sabres, gilt and plated, epaulet chains and every other military appointment, equal in quality and price to any house in London” (Salisbury Journal, 20 May 1799).
Profits from government procurement were used to acquire an extensive property portfolio – both leasehold and freehold – in prime development land to the west of Above Bar. The thrust of Evamy’s property interests were concentrated to the north of Orchard Street with his purchase, on 26 June 1810, of the freehold estate of the late Colonel James Morgan, originally of Purbrook Park, Waterlooville (Southampton City Archives D/Z 459/13). It was a prime location, bordering Canshot Lane (later Windmill Lane, now Regent Street) on the north, Above Bar on the east and Southampton Water on the west. The purchase brought the Spa Gardens, the property of Southampton Corporation immediately to the south, into Evamy’s remit. On 19 September 1811 he lodged a plan of improvement for the Spa before the Corporation. This was approved following a site visit.
The development of Portland Street and Portland Terrace was an exercise in creative speculation. Forty-two vacant lots were offered on 99-year building leases with liberty to purchase the freehold before 1 January 1833 at the fixed rate of £100 for every £7.10s of annual ground rent. Lessees were to build a dwelling house on their lots within three years of the date of the conveyance. Strict covenants controlled the build. The illusion of purpose-built terraces was ensured by prescribed elevations drawn up by Thomas Benham, covering the entire frontage (Southampton City Archives D/MW 62/112).The majority of the first lessees were either builders or in allied trades. Members of Evamy’s close family were heavily involved from the start. Charles Pardey held leases on eleven properties in Portland Street, eight in partnership with his brother-in-law R H Perkins. Single leases were held by Henry Coward and Mary Millais. Richard Evamy himself moved from Nursling to no.8 Portland Street.
A dramatic reconstitution of the area around the Spa Gardens, leased to Evamy in 1815, complemented the new building. The river-side frontage was secured by a new lease, approved by the Corporation on 10 August 1825, of a 700-foot section of mudland in front of the gardens. Plans and elevations of proposed new assembly rooms were advertised jointly with the building lots in Portland Street in the Salisbury Journal, 10 April 1826. The New Rooms, as they were initially called, opened in the summer of 1830. The entrance from Portland Terrace is shown as figure 2. The main features of the two-storeyed building were a 90-foot long ballroom, a card room and river-front balconies. The surroundings, including the eponymous spa, were transformed by the addition of a promenade along the water’s edge and archery grounds. A new 40-year Corporation lease covering the Archery Rooms and associated buildings was granted to Evamy on 20August 1830 (Southampton City Archives SC 4/3/1460). Metamorphosing into the Royal Victoria Assembly Rooms in October 1830, they had by the spring of 1832 come under the proprietorship of Evamy’s son-in-law Henry Coward.
The joint development was a financial disaster. The Portland Street element became mired in a labyrinth of mortgages, complex tenancies, delays and bankruptcies: a pecuniary failure according to Evamy’s rather terse obituary (Hampshire Advertiser, 13 October 1855, reprinted in Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1855). The western side of Portland Terrace was incomplete by the time that Evamy lost control of the project. The Royal Victoria Assembly Rooms were put up for sale by private contract in August 1834. An essential precondition was that Evamy should own the land on which they lay.
A subsequent career as a hop trader proved equally unsuccessful. A fiat of bankruptcy was issued against Richard Evamy on 18 July 1835. It signalled the complete collapse of all that he had worked for. He lost his property, his residence, his furniture, his money and his hopes. His new house in Portland Street had already been forfeited. By c.1838 Evamy had retreated to the outskirts of the working class suburb of Northam, renting no.4 New Road, a modest 6-roomed house, from Samuel Morton Peto, partner in the firm of Peto and Betts, contractors.
Richard Evamy died at his house in New Road on 8 October 1855, aged 90 years old.
- 'Richard Evamy: saddler, hop merchant and property speculator in Southampton, 1788-1855' (Southampton Occasional Papers No. 11)
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