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The history of Highfield Mansions, which later became Highfield Hall

Highfield Mansions, which later became Highfield Hall in 1914 as a part Hall of Residence of University College
Information provided courtesy of William Burns through the Southampton Sotonians and Friends (SS&F) Facebook Group:
This view from the SS&F archives, dating to around 1902-1907, is of the Westside (front) of what were called Highfield Mansions.
The house and its occupants required some research as there has previously been very little written about this large and fine house that once stood in its own grounds in our narrow Highfield Road.
At the time of our photo, Highfield Mansions was a hotel and boarding house run by Robert Horsley Gudgeon. Robert was born in Winchester in
1849, becoming an upholsterer like his father before him ‘Robert Edwin Gudgeon’ (1818-1891) who worked as a master upholster.
Robert is still seen working as an upholsterer in Winchester in the
1901 Census, which was the same year his wife Mary is seen running our Highfield Mansions Hotel as the proprietress. The Hotel at this time employed five servants including a cook, waiter, coachman and grooms.
Mary’s guests at the hotel in 1901 included men of our armed services – there was 47 year old Royal Navy Officer ‘Reginald P Cochrane’, also boarding at the Hotel was 67 year old welsh born, retired Major, Anthony Powell Traherne and his wife Lucy aged 62. Anthony had served the Empire with the 17th Regiment in 1853.
By 1902, Robert Horsley Gudgeon is listed as the proprietor of Highfield Mansions, one unconfirmed reference suggests it was run as a Temperance Hotel, although this cannot be confirmed at present.
Sadly Robert died just two years later on the 17th of November 1904 aged 55, at which point his wife Mary Elizabeth (nee Easther born in Winchester in 1851), whom he married on the Isle of Wight in 1871, would continue to run the Highfield Mansions Hotel. Robert and Mary had six children in eleven years (all boys), the youngest son was ‘Ennis Hugh Gudgeon'( 1885-1959).
Mum ‘Mary’ had moved to Lee-on-Solent by 1911 which is when we see Ennis now running the Highfield Mansions Hotel. Ennis’s guardianship of the Hotel was relatively short lived. Like his older brothers, he signed up to serve his country during the Great War (WW1), as a 2nd Lieutenant and acting Captain, Hugh served on the battlefields of France. Surviving the war, Hugh died at Southampton’s general hospital on the 18th April 1959.
The Highfield Mansions Hotel:
If we look to our image again we can clearly see the building has two types of architecture,. It had been extended, the extension on the right was to the southern side of the large villa known as ‘Heatherdeane House’ .
Mrs Rogers owned Heatherdeane House. When purchased by Robert Horsley Gudgeon in the early 1900’s, the house was extended and renamed Highfield Mansions. A description after the extension work by Robert tells of a splendid building, the description states:
“This new block comprised a fine mahogany-panelled dining room seating over seventy persons and commanding beautiful views of the Common; leading from it a large lounge was constructed. Above, twelve good bedrooms were built, below a billiard room only a few feet smaller than the dining room. Mr Gudgeon also added the winter garden to be used as a recreation room, and laid out tennis courts in the field where now stands the Central block of the new Hall of Residence.
A few years before, the estate had begun to be cut up, and the roads made on either side of the house were named Khartoum and Omdurman in memory of recent events in the Sudan War.
At Mr. Gudgeon’s death, the house was sold and the new owner being a minor the management was left in the hands of executors, who allowed the house to remain unoccupied for five years. During this period of neglect both old and new parts rapidly deteriorated, some parts were attacked by dry rot and the grounds became a wilderness of weeds and tangled shrubs. But even when it was in this derelict condition, the late Dr. Alex Hill, who had accepted the office of Principal of University College, saw its possibilities and, being anxious to establish a centre of social life for students and staff, he rented the house on a long lease and began its renovation. This was a long and very expensive undertaking, but finally the house was furnished and at the beginning of 1914 re-opened under the name Highfield Hall.
The old part was used as Dr Hill’s private dwelling house, and in the new a few men members of the staff and students were accommodated. The social life, inaugurated in February, 1914, by a crowded evening reception, included dances for students in the ‘ball room’ over the old stables. Sunday afternoon ‘at Homes’, where staff and students might meet, and ‘Hall’ dinners once a week to which members of the College staff other than the residents were. invited.”
So, it was University College (forerunner of Southampton University) that took over the Highfield Mansions Hotel after it had fallen into disrepair.
Dr Hill was only to make use of the hall for a short time as War was upon us all. The Gudgeon brothers went off to France to fight in that dreadful war for our country whilst the Highfield Hall was turned over to the Red Cross Society in 1914, who looked after convalescing soldiers that had been wounded at the front. In fact, there were so many soldiers who required convalescence, other great homes and houses were opened up across Hampshire for the same purpose.
Image 2, show the old Hotel in its new guise as Highfield Halls and when the Red Cross had taken up residence.
As the number of soldiers requiring convalescence increased to over
120 at Highfield Halls, they struggled to take in any more of the soldiers and so erected a large marquee on the lawn to the rear and the old billiards room of the Hotel was turned into a operating theatre.
We can go back even further with Highfield Mansions as mentioned the original villa before it was extended was called ‘Heatherdeane House’.
Although we don’t know exactly when ‘Heatherdeane House’ was built in what was a narrow lane opposite the common, we can see it on maps from at least 1871, it is thought that parts of it dated back the late 1700’s early 1800’s when it was known as Highfield Manor.
In 1891 Heatherdeane House was home to another of our serving men 70 year old ‘Lieut-Col William Bridges’ William born in Newbury in 1821 and was living here with his 47 year old wife Ellen and two children. The family also afforded servants in the form of a Coachman, footman, cook and two housemaids.
How the other half lived in Highfield eh!
Looking at other large houses in Highfield Road in the late 1800’s, I note many a serving man chose to live in Highfield.
I have lived on this side of the Itchen for the last 40 years in this area I affectingly call “my neck of the woods” . In this time I note pubs, houses and businesses have been demolished as our Southampton University expands, with continued planning permission granted for the building of large student accommodation and the fact we now have two Universities in our great City of Southampton, I can’t help wonder what the area of Highfield/Portswood, indeed the City, might look like in another 100 years time.
Image 3: Heatherdeane House seen on the 1897 map and before the extensions to the house and roads were laid out.
Image 4: Highfield Mansions are seen on the 1907 map, Heatherdeane had been extended to the south and sits between Omurman Road, and Khartoum Road, the names of which remember the battle of Omdurman in 1898, a battle in which Kitchener sought revenge for the death of General Gordon who died in the Battle of Khartoum. Southampton also remember General Gordon with a memorial in Queens Park. If you were a serving or retired serviceman of the British Empire where better to live than Highfield that celebrates these battles of old.
Heatherdeane Road, which runs to the east of these two roads, remembers the great house that was Heatherdeane.