The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Department stores

Debenhams – Southsea

Nominated by: Regional Group
Have C20 acted upon before? yes
Region: South
Former names: Handleys
Dates from: 1951-55
Built for: Handleys
Architect: Healing and Overbury of Cheltenham
Listed: No
Conservation Area: No

Debenhams, Southsea

Credit: Pauline Mousley

In Pevsner’s Hampshire: South volume of the Buildings of England series, the site is described as the ‘main shopping street of Southsea […] rebuilt after severe damage in the Second World War’. Nos. 44-46 was a Handleys (and later Debenhams) department store built in 1951-55 to designs by T. Overbury of Healing & Overbury of Cheltenham. An article in the Evening News from 17 May 1955 describes the building as ‘Modern and imposing […] [and] worthy of the traditions that have been built up by Handleys through courteous […] service to generations of shoppers in Hampshire and the neighbouring counties’. Handleys was established in 1867 as a small draper’s shop and from initially employing just one assistant it grew to employ over 500 members of staff in the interwar period.

The original Handleys store was destroyed during bombing on the night of 10 January 1941. The company continued to trade from 20 small shops in the surrounding area until the construction of the new premises in the early 1950s, following the realignment of Portland Road. According to the Evening News article (1955), the catalogue for the new store read: ‘From the ruins emerges a new Handleys – modern and imposing, carrying forward old traditions and courtesies to grace and conscientiously serve our historic City’.

Built on 3 storeys, the former department store includes ground floor shop fronts with a concrete canopy above, and brick upper storeys, with original windows to bays separated by stylised engaged columns, and entrances articulated by tall windows with restrained classicising surrounds. The Evening News article describes the store as ‘a modern building but both the architecture and furnishings combine traditional elegance and dignity with the best contemporary work’.

The building’s corner is curved where Palmerston Road meets Clarendon Road, mirroring the design of the Grade II Knight & Lee store opposite, which was also built in the 1950s by Cotton, Ballard and Blow.

In early 2021, Portsmouth City Council resolved to grant planning permission for a scheme by the National Regional Property Group and HGP Architects to convert the store for commercial and residential use involving the addition of a substantial two storey rooftop extension (reference 20/00620/FUL). Click here for more information on the proposals. The application is being reconsidered following the Grade II listing of the Knight & Lee store opposite in May 2021. (last update: September 2021) 

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