History of Vernon Square Garden

An extensive history is contained in the attached pdf ‘History of Vernon Square’

Ryde was expanding rapidly in the 1820’s, and in 1829 was recognised as a Town. Melville Street was formed in the first years of the century as an extension to Cross Street but by 1829 had been built as far as Monkton Street.

In 1828 unlet building land on the South side of Melville Street was advertised to form Vernon Crescent. The head lease was obtained by one William Houghton Banks who eventually extended leases laid out as a square.

By 1836 some houses had been built on the East and West side and Vernon House was on the South end. A lodge was planned for the North side facing Melville Street but this was never built. Now nine of the houses on the Square are listed Grade II.

William Banks was an apothecary and Royal Navy surgeon, who then lived in Morpeth House, Union Street. He also founded the Royal Victoria Arcade.

William moved for some time to Vernon House, but was plainly living beyond his means; he was declared bankrupt and fled to Spa, Belgium.

Vernon Square was undoubtedly named after Admiral Edward Vernon, who’s name was also used to name the mine sweeper base in Portsmouth; ‘HMS Vernon’.

The owner of Vernon House in 1840 arranged for the grassy square to be laid out as a garden. Later in the century the school which occupied the large building on the North East corner turned most of the garden into tennis courts.

By the time of World War I these had disappeared and the area was mainly taken over by vegetable growing. At this time, also, the spear pointed railings were removed for the war effort.

After the War the Square was kept in reasonable order as a garden until the 1950’s when it fell into disrepair. The perimeter hedges took over and the garden became virtually impenetrable.

The garden received little interest until it’s poor state was brought to the attention of the Local Planning Authority. The Isle of Wight Council undertook some remedial work to remove diseased trees and the undergrowth.

In 1988, after long discussions, the Garden was bought by the Trustees of the newly formed Vernon Square Preservation Society from the then owner Elizabeth Hargreaves. This was achieved through a grant of £1000 and a loan of £4000 from the owner. Later the two Hargreaves sisters converted their loan to a gift. Thus the proposals to build bungalows on the square or make a car park were thwarted.

With grants achieved from Medina Borough Council and the Isle of Wight Buildings and Preservation Trust as well as funds from Ryde businesses the conservation work commenced. In a twelve month project nine workers from Manpower Services Commission managed to clear the Square. During the conservation work the well was uncovered, also pathways, a pergola and featured steps.

After the initial clearance, the garden was replanted with new shrubs and trees. A new seating area was provided at the North end and the perimeter was reinstated with plain steel railings. The overall cost of the conservation scheme was met by a further grant from Medina Council and funds raised by the Society itself.

In 1989 a grand opening was held. Dr David Bellamy planted a tree to commemorate the occasion and a competition was held for a new sculpture to replace one stolen earlier. The winners sundial sculpture now stands on the upper grass.

The current Committee and members continue to upgrade the conservation work. The Leylandii trees have all been removed to allow views from Melville Street. Extensive tree work and crown reduction took place in 2013. A splendid bed of a variety of flowers has been planted in the area cleared from the Leylandii and sufficient progress had been made on general clearing of pernicious weed to allow a celebration of 25 years since the opening by David Bellamy.

In May 2014 a Celebration reception was held in the garden when HM Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, Major General Martin White CB,CBE,JP planted a commemorative Magnolia tree in the East corner of the flower bed.

Now a major Garden conservation plan is being prepared. Application for a grant towards a water and electricity supply is under way. The Society has changed it’s name to Vernon Square Trust in anticipation of a request to the Charity Commissioners to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).

Meanwhile the regular maintenance continues and fund raising events take place in Summer and Christmas.