Pounds House and grounds were purchased by the City Corporation in 1927 in one of the three parcels of land to form the future park. In 1928, Mawson’s report to the Hoe and Parks Committee noted that the house was in an extremely bad state of repair but worthy of renovation. He proposed that, suitably converted, the house and its grounds should be tied in with parkland on the south side of Venn Lane.
Just over 100 years previously, in 1825, the Pounds estate had been purchased by William Hodge. He is described in directories as a ‘banker’ and Pounds is a fine example of the sort of suburban villa favoured by merchants.
William Hodge built Pounds House on the site of an earlier house and it was completed in 1829. In the fashion of the time, the principal rooms were on the ground floor (something of an innovation of the early 1800s), with an arcaded porch overlooking a terrace on the south side.
The stable block
William Hodge was a keen horseman, and he built a large, grand block of stables close to his new house whilst, further away, 250 yards to the south, there is a circle of pine trees where he is reputed to have buried his racehorses.
Plymouth Corporation purchased the stables with the house and grounds in 1927 and it seems likely that they were left vacant or only used for casual storage until the second world war when a despatch rider section of the 17th Battalion of the Devonshire Home Guard was based there.
The formal garden
There is a formal garden on the west side of the house, approximately 70 feet square and with a fountain pond which is slightly south of the garden’s centre.
The fountain and pond appear to have been constructed from reinforced concrete, whilst the central feature of water nymphs on a triangular plinth appears to be of Coade Stone.
A heritage survey in 2002 considered the garden to be inauthentic to the period of the house but nonetheless highly suitable to the setting. By 2023, the garden was minimally tended and the fountain abandoned and, like the house, in need of restoration.
The camellia house
Early camellia introductions were slightly more tender than later ones and, coming from warmer countries, it was originally thought that they could only be grown in the UK in glass houses. Hodge, or perhaps his son, William Chapell Hodge, were amateur plant collectors and they had a camellia house built to the east of Pounds House. It is shown on the map surveys of 1854 and 1968 but, today, only the brick base remains although veteran camellias from the nineteenth century still grow within its walls.
Pounds House stayed in the Hodge family until 1899 when the whole Pounds estate was sold to George Shellabear, George Gentle Shellabear and Thomas Shears who were preparing to build the houses on Peverell Park Road and new streets leading off it. They kept back Pounds House from development and let it to Sir John Jackson from 1899 to 1914. He had come to Devonport to build the dockyard’s Keyham extension and became Member of Parliament for Devonport from 1910 to 1918.
Henry Hurrell (1852-1939) bought out Thomas Shears’s share in 1904 and then the other partners in 1912 to become the sole owner of Pounds House. Hurrell was George Shellabear’s son-in-law, as well as being a corn merchant and local dignitary having served three terms as mayor, 1902-03, 1903-04, and 1911-12. He and his family lived at Peverell Park Villa, which still stands on Outland Road opposite the junction with Peverell Park Road.
In 1919, Plymouth Corporation considered buying Pounds House for use as a girl’s secondary school and entered negotiations with Hurrell although these were dropped two years later. Hurrell wanted to develop the grounds and had planned up to 204 houses on the 12-acre site.
In 1924, Plymouth Corporation served Hurrell with a ‘notice to treat’ having decided that the house and grounds should be part of Central Park. By then, the house had been empty for more than ten years and was said to be in a ruinous condition. The two parties were unable to agree a price, so the Corporation used the statutory powers it had obtained under the 1923 Plymouth Corporation Act to effect a compulsory purchase. Arbitration proceedings in November 1926 determined £12,356 to be fair compensation.
After its purchase by the Corporation, Pounds House was briefly lived in during the park’s construction and the early years of the park. It became vacant again from 1933 until 1938 when the Parks and Recreation Committee gave effect to Mawson’s proposal of ten years earlier by accepting a tender of £6,689 to renovate and convert the house into a social centre. The work completed in April 1940 and it was formally opened by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Lord and Lady Astor, on 26th April. Following the ceremony, which took place in the ballroom, there was dancing while in the upper rooms there were bridge and whist parties.
Less than a month later, with the evacuation of allied soldiers from Dunkirk only days away, Pounds House was briefly considered as classroom accommodation for Stoke Damerel High School for Girls and Devonport High School for Girls. Nothing came of this and the house stayed empty until March 1941 when the Town Clerk and his staff relocated there after being bombed out of their city centre office.
(The Box accession reference 3488/6549)
The story of the house in wartime and the years following is told on Air Raid Precautions control buildings