BIKES, BIRDS AND COWSHIT CANYON
Evocative memories of school and family life in Bishopstoke and Eastleigh in the 1950s.
David Clifford King MA (Manc), Dip Arch (Ports)
5th April 2011
(Updated December 2021)
1954 to 1959
This book is about my rapidly changing life in the latter half of the 1950s, starting with two traumatic years at a boarding school in Kent followed by my adolescent years as a day boy at a secondary modern day school in the town of Eastleigh, Hampshire. I was to experience a variety of new challenges, including the break-up of my parents’ marriage, a nasty divorce, family isolation and financial insecurity on National Assistance, a new life in railway town, making new friends to finally starting work in 1959.
It was a period of growing social, political, and economic upheavals where everything, in retrospect, was on the cusp of radical change. The old order and its certainties were fading, the British Empire was disintegrating, and traditional industries were in decline and failing. Jobs for life, where sons followed fathers into the same factory or trade generation after generation, were fast disappearing and there was an uneasy air of uncertainty about the future.
There was also the realisation in Britain that we were no longer the world’s most powerful nation and that our international influence was on the wane. America was now recognised as the richest and most powerful country in the world and Britain’s role in this new world order was uncertain.
This uncertainty was reflected in the growing mood of unrest and rebellion amongst teenagers, and their growing lack of respect for traditional authority figures and institutions. Their mood was perfectly captured by film stars such as James Dean in the film ‘Rebel without a Cause’ or Cliff Richard in ‘Serious Charge’. The growing influence of both teenage fashions and Rock and Roll music from America, starting with Bill Haley’s ‘Rock around the Clock’, and closely followed by many others such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and, of course, the inimitable Elvis Presley, defined the late 1950s and set the scene for the swinging 1960s.
The new teenage sub-cultures of Teddy Boys in their drape jackets and ‘brothel creeper’ shoes, and Greasers in leather motorcycle jackets, with their own styles of speech and dress, disrespectful attitudes and often violent behaviour was anathema to the older generation. Churchmen thundered from pulpits against this rising new youth culture, pundits wrote damning articles, MPs raised questions in the House and the ruling classes saw it as the end of civilisation as they knew it.
After years of war and going without by their parents, followed by more years of post-war austerity and rationing, young people wanted to break out from the traditional staid mores of society to have fun, dress the way they wanted to, create their own hair styles, talk their own slang, hang out in coffee bars and listen to their sort of juke-box music. They wanted to Jive and Rock-and-Roll, follow their own teenage idols and be different – and they did.
My intention is to record how my ordinary family life carried on amongst all this turmoil and gradually adapted to this rapidly changing world. By today, 2011, everything has changed yet again and the 1950s seem a far-away, bygone, and ancient age, so my memories of this time remind me of where I came from.
1st May 2011
Chapters and Stories
A1. The House.
A2. Parents’ Divorce.
A3. Work on the House.
A4. The National Assistance Man.
A5. Sunday lunch and Christmas.
A6. Radio Classics.
A8. Longmead Arms Pub Site.
A9. Bishopstoke Woods.
A10. Dunfords Farm.
A11. Back of the Barge.
A12. Stoke Rhythm Boys.
A13. Winter fun.
A14. Make do and mend.
A15. A Gardener’s Dream.
A16. Bricks and mortar.
A17. SS Morton Bay.
A19. Railway modelling.
A20. ‘Jammy’ Jamison.
A21. Paper rounds
B1. Toynbee School.
B3. Cowshit Canyon.
B4. Singing Onions.
B5. Learning a Lesson.
B7. Law and Order.
B9. Café culture.
B11. Carnival and Fair.
B12. In at the Deep End.
B14. Going to the pictures.
B15. Saturday Night Record Hop.
B16. Hair and Clothes.
B17. Fireflies Boys Club.
B20. Bath and Back.
B21. Oxford and Back.
B22. Hayling Island.
B23. Dorset trip.
B24. Hilda’s story.
B25. Cards and Lamplight.
B26. New Beginnings.
B27. Fifty Years Later.
C. WINCHESTER. Autumn 1959
C1. Youth (Un-) Employment Office.
C2. The Interview
C3. My First Job.
C4. The Future.
BISHOPSTOKE & EASTLEIGH 1954-59
The Village of Bishopstoke in Hampshire lies a mile to the east of the town of Eastleigh and half way between the Cities of Winchester and Southampton, and approximately six miles from each. It grew on the eastern bank of the 28 mile long River Itchen, which runs through Winchester to Southampton, and its development between 1840 and the 1950s is one from a largely rural farming community and estates into to a working class residential suburb. In the early 1950s it was still a car-less society, and the workers made their twice-daily trips by the working men’s bus, bike or the occasional motorcycle and side car to work in Eastleigh to work in the British Rail Carriage or Locomotive works, Pirelli’s Cable Works, Caustons the Printers, or the Ford Motor Company factory. Often the same families had worked in the same factories for generations, particularly those in British Rail.
The parish of Bishopstoke, though now part of the Borough of Eastleigh, has a recorded history going back to the tenth century. The name ‘Stoke’ or ‘Stoches’ is usually interpreted as meaning a place situated on or near a river, containing a mill or a church. The earliest reference to Bishopstoke is in a document of 948 AD when King Edred granted eleven dwellings at ‘Stoke’ to a Nobleman named Aelfric. The association with the Bishops of Winchester goes back to 964 AD when King Edgar endowed Winchester Cathedral with lands at Bishopstoke. In 975 King Edgar is also recorded as giving a small piece of land at Bishopstoke to Osward, one of his relatives, When the Domesday Book was compiled, Bishopstoke was described as ‘having always belonged to the bishop’ who was Lord of the Manor. The village was valued at £8 in 1084 and had about 600 acres of arable land, and woods for ten hogs.
The earliest map showing the then very small hamlet of what would become Bishopstoke is dated 1616 and shows sparsely populated rural farming community with small church, a farm, a few houses, and a water mill. The line of the roads shown on this map, that of Fair Oak Road, leading from Eastleigh to Fair Oak, and the horseshoe shape of the roads Riverside, Spring Lane, and Church Road can still be seen today.
The population of the parish in 1788, according to a census ordered by the bishop, was given as “746 souls, 388 males, 358 females and 7 papists”. The population rose slowly to reach 1,007 by 1821, but by 1901 had more than doubled to 2,324. The village continued to grow over the next century and by 2001 the population was 9845. The 1794 Parish records list The Anchor public house at Riverside, which was still in business in the 1970s but has since been converted into flats.
By the eighteenth century the Parish of Bishopstoke covered an area of 3,430 acres and extended as far as Horton Heath, Fair Oak and Crowd Hill. Bishopstoke and the surrounding area was a farming community, with the majority of the inhabitants working on the land or in related crafts such as thatching, milling (the Mill at Bishopstoke was mentioned in the Domesday Book), harness making or the blacksmith’s craft. There were several large farms as well as smaller areas owned or rented by individuals, common land upon which villagers could graze their animals or turn their pigs loose, and the woods where they gathered nuts and firewood.
In 1822 the Enclosure Act meant that farms were consolidated and the villagers in lost their rights to pasture their animals on common land, which must have meant great hardship for some. As people were no longer able to wander at will through the parish the roads and footpaths had to be clearly described and named. The changes brought about at this time concerning the paths and boundaries can be traced in the modern roads and the areas of land developed and built upon in succeeding years.
The biggest change to Bishopstoke for centuries came with the opening of the Southampton to Winchester railway line in 1838, passing close to the adjacent hamlets of East Leah and Barton, which records show had been there since at least 932. Leah is a Saxon word meaning “a clearing in a forest”.
A railway station was built at the hamlet called Barton, but as Barton was so small the station was named “Bishopstoke Junction” and by 1840 the railway line had been extended to reach London. By1851 Barton had a population of 194 and East Leah had 213 and in 1868 the two villages of Barton and Eastley (as it was by then known as) were combined into one parish. A new church was built called the Church of the Resurrection. A woman named Charlotte Yonge from Otterbourne donated £500 (a huge sum of money in those days) towards the cost of building the new church. She was asked to decide whether the new parish should be called Barton or Eastley. She decided to call it Eastleigh, changing the spelling to make it more modern.
In 1871 the new parish of Eastleigh had a population of 515 and by 1881 it had just over 1,000. The new railway town had three streets, next to the station named the High Street, Market Street and Southampton Road. The town continued to grow, and more streets were laid out and, by 1891 it had a population of 3613. The station was renamed “Bishopstoke and Eastleigh” in 1889 but it was not until 1923 that the station was finally renamed “Eastleigh”.
The development of Eastleigh brought not only workers connected with the railway to Bishopstoke but also wealthy families who liked its pleasant rural surroundings, with the excellent trout fishing in the clear waters of the river Itchen, and the easy access both to the nearby cities and London. They also appreciated the excellent trout fishing in the clear waters of the river Itchen which is noted as one of England’s – if not the world’s- best chalk streams for fly fishing. Between 1844 end the late 1850s these wealthy people, often ‘new money’, brought up local farms to create their own private estates of between 50 and 100 acres. Each estate soon had a large house, a walled garden and surrounded with extensively planted parkland and some even had a separate deer park. The largest of these was the Longmead Estate, which by 1860 consisted of over 300 acres of land and in 1866 it was occupied by a Captain Alfred Barton. The National Archives of 1871 record “property, mansion and land at Bishopstoke” being owned by Justice Alfred Barton. In 1880 he is recorded as a breeder of Jersey cattle and in 1886 the pre-eminent Victorian Gothic Revival architect George Edmund Street (1924-1881) was employed to design and build Longmead House.
In the 1865 Admiral Sir Henry Keppel (1809-1904) came to live at The Cottage in Bishopstoke. He was soon followed by other naval and military men and their families, who may not all have been from titled families but could certainly be described as “gentry”. Officers such as Captain Cumming and Captain Hargreaves (a distant relative of Alice Liddell of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ fame) now rented the large houses and in the 1890s Lt. General James Gubbins rented, ‘Longmead House’.
In 1891 the second major change to Bishopstoke came as a result of the railway carriage works being relocated from Nine Elms in London to Eastleigh, which created a building boom to house all the manual workers and the families they brought with them. Many of these families settled in Bishopstoke as this migration coincided with the Barton’s of Longmead Estate starting to sell areas of land for housing development. In 1892 ten acres of the Longmead Estate lands were purchased for building the first estate of worker’s terrace housing at Riverside, adjacent to the Fair Oak Road. Other estates soon followed, and the village expanded as the population grew. By 1909 there were 13 different shops in the village and other small businesses including a house decorator, plumber, dressmaker, carpenter, builder, miller, boot, and shoe make, a carter and a blacksmith.
The gradual sale of all the Longmead Estate lands over the next few decades, with the final demolition of Longmead House in 1938, was to affect the development of Bishopstoke for 60 years, from 1891 to 1952, with final large part of the Longmead Estate being sold to Eastleigh Borough Council in 1952 and being developed with council housing from 1953.
The relocation of the carriage works to Eastleigh completely altered the social balance of Bishopstoke. Prior to 1891 the residents had been “the Gentry” with their servants and estate workers, the farmers or farm workers, plus a small mix of other occupations catering to their needs. From the late 1890s as Bishopstoke evolved into a working class residential area for employees of the Eastleigh factories the farmers and their workers moved out. Over the next three decades, and not helped by the loss of so many of the servant class in WW1 and the financial hardships of the 20s and 30s, more and more of “the Gentry” sold parts of their estates for development before finally selling up and moving out,
In the 1930s an increasing number of successful local business men, such as the wealthy John Sidney Sherwood (owner of Sherwood Paints) and Frank Dibben (owner of Dibben’s the ironmongers), had bought the large houses as they were put up for sale although, as ‘trade’, they were definitely not in the same social class as their neighbours, who were “officers and gentlemen.”
As the 1930s drew to a close there were still a number of wealthy families living in the village, including Major General Stanley Clarke, Sir Thomas Edwards-Moss, Vice-Admiral Sir Wilfred F French, Lt Colonel Guy Henry Sawyer, and Lt Colonel Ralph Henry Hammersley Smith; but by 1939 they were all gone
The town of Eastleigh and its railway yards had had continued to expand and by the 1930s it’s greater range of shops, wider choice, and lower prices, and in addition by now half-hourly bus services from Bishopstoke, enabled most of the village residents to do their weekly shopping there. This gradually put most of the shops in Bishopstoke out of business so that by the 1950s there were one or two small convenience shops, two newspaper shops, a butchers, a chemist, a small iron mongers, a couple of off-licences, two sub-post offices and a small co-op shop.
As many parts of Bishopstoke are on clay a large area to the east of Church Road and south of the Burrow Hill allotments were developed for making bricks from locally dug clay and firing them in kilns built on the site which were then used in constructing most of the houses in the village. In the late1920s the final estate of semi-detached houses was started with the construction of Longmead and Edward Avenue on the old brick works site, separated from the allotments by a narrow line of tree known as “The Plantation” – or “The Planny” to us children. It was on this estate that my mother, sister, and I came to live.
The houses on this estate were built for workers of a slightly higher social class or status, such as engine drivers, foremen and skilled tradesmen. The designs were very modern at the time, with front and rear gardens, side access, decent sized rooms with a minimum of three bedrooms, a separate kitchen, and both an inside upstairs bathroom with WC and an outside toilet for the garden.
Originally most of the houses were owned by the railway who rented them to their workers. Although British Rail was in decline by the 1950s, they still maintained their houses reasonably well but less often and I recall that in the mid-1950s their woodwork was still painted in the standard Southern Railway colours of cream and green. Following the end of WW2 many of the houses had been sold to private owners and were showing signs of lack of maintenance while the whole estate was drastically in need of modernising and upgrading.
Two thirds of the way along the parallel roads of Longmead and Edward Avenue is a short connecting road, which only has one house on it. It was here, at No 1, White Road, Bishopstoke that my mother, sister, and I came to live in 1954 and were to call home for more than thirty years.
A1. THE HOUSE.
In 1953 my father decided to relocate to Hampshire from where we previously lived in Kent. He installed my mother in a small one-bedroom flat in Southampton to look for a house in the area. My father lived in a boarding house in Margate, Kent while my sister and I were at our boarding schools there. During 1953 /54 we stayed with him in the school holidays and apart from him twice taking us on a day visit to see our mother at Southampton the next time we really saw her was when we were sent back to stay with her in the new house at 1, White Road, Bishopstoke, Hampshire for the summer holidays in 1954.
In 1954 he bought the house in Bishopstoke which she has found. It was run-down, damp, unmodernised and badly in need of repairs, so only cost £500; within the limited budget he had set. During the school summer term of 1954 my mother moved into this cold and sparsely furnished house on her own and my sister and I went to stay with her there in the school holidays for the next two years, while my father continued living in Kent.
1 White Road, Bishopstoke was a small 1930s 3-bedroom end of terrace house on a pre-war estate of mainly semi-detached houses. The houses were said to have been built by a Mr Edward White, who named many of the roads after himself or his family. It was a “blue collar” working class area and in our immediate vicinity many of the houses were owned by the railway works and rented to their employees. These houses were easily identifiable as the woodwork was always painted cream and green.
Our house was the only one with access from White Road, a street some 50 yards long connecting Edward Avenue and Longmead Avenue. The block of three houses, of which ours was the end one, lay diagonally across the junction of White Road with Longmead Avenue. Our garden lay parallel to White Road and extended half way along it to the 6 feet high timber fence of the gardens to the rear of the houses lining Edward Avenue. On the White Road side was an overgrown privet hedge and in the back garden were an apple tree and a Victoria plum tree. At the end of the garden a dilapidated asbestos garage opened on to White Road. The parts of the garden immediately in front of and behind the house were laid to grass and the rest of the garden was for vegetables.
It was compact 2-storey house built with soft red-orange colour bricks with a slate roof. It had timber sliding sash windows and a projecting bay in the ground floor front room. The simple plan consisted of an entrance hall and three rooms on the ground floor and three bedrooms and a small bathroom on the first floor. It had gas and electric “shilling in the slot” meters below the stairs. The front room or parlour was on the right and straight ahead was the door to the back or living room. The living room had a pair of sliding sash windows overlooking the rear garden. From the living room another door led to the kitchen which had peeling paint on its un-plastered brick walls and a solid concrete floor. An old Belfast sink with a cold tap and a stained timber draining board sat below the window and hot water came from a wall hung gas geyser. There was a cast-iron gas stove, a couple of cupboards and a larder beyond. Outside there was a toilet and a coal store. Clothes were washed either by hand in the sink or in a small portable gas fired clothes boiler. With minimal ventilation, no insulation or damp proofing the kitchen always ran with condensation and the lino-covered floor was always damp. The only form of heating in the house was one open coal fire in the back room the fireplace in the front room having been blocked up years before. Off the first floor landing there were three bedrooms, one double at the front and two singles at the back and all were unheated. The bathroom had a cast iron bath with badly stained white enamel, a washbasin and a toilet flushed by a high-level cast iron cistern. Again, a gas geyser with a long chrome swivel pipe gave hot water to either the bath or the basin. Except for the school holidays when we joined her, my mother was there on her own for the first two years.
During the holidays we soon got to know two girls and three boys who lived in Edward Avenue: Anita Longman and Joan Mojer, who were a similar age to me; Malcolm Dawkins and Colin Bird, who were both my sister’s age, and Peter Dawkins who was also my age. The three boys became good friends and would often come to our house in the evening to play darts, board, and card games. My mother was particularly fond of the card game Rummy, and we gambled with matches. The dart board was mounted on a sheet of hard board but there were a lot of holes in the floor and wall before we got good enough to hit the board every time. She did not mind and never told us off about the holes. We were all very fond of pickled and Spanish onions and a favourite snack at the end of an evening was bread and butter with a lump of cheese and half a Spanish onion dipped in plenty of salt, all washed down with a cup of tea.
During term time when Diane and I were back at boarding school Peter and Colin continued to go to see my mother once or twice in the week to play cards. It was very kind of them and was company for my mother during a very difficult period of her life. During the holidays Diane and I made many more friends locally. After we came home in the summer of 1956 my father wrote to my mother and told her to send me to the local secondary school, which was Toynbee Road Secondary Boy’s School in Eastleigh and, as Diane would be fifteen in September, she was old enough to leave school and get a job. Diane was not interested in further schooling and started to look for work, which she soon got at Rutter’s Riding Stables in Fair Oak Road, and I looked forward to going to a local day school in Eastleigh with the friends I had made over the previous two years. It was to be a different phase of life, with emotional if not financial stability.
A2. PARENTS’ DIVORCE.
Shortly after we arrived home for the summer holiday in 1956 my mother received a letter from my father, through his solicitor, stating that he was going to divorce her. He stopped paying any maintenance and my mother had to apply for National Assistance and Legal Aid. In 1958 the divorce hearing took place in Southampton. My father did not attend the hearing or offer any defence and my mother was awarded the divorce on the grounds of his desertion and his admitted adultery with his landlady in Margate. The decree nisi was subject to a financial agreement being reached. His only offer was the house as it stood and £1000, which my mother had to accept. Then he disappeared from our lives for ever.
For the next 15 years in Bishopstoke Hampshire we had no contact at all with either the wider King family in England and abroad or with the very few aged and scattered remnants of my mother’s family in Dorset. My mother was unable to work as she was not only totally deaf but also had other medical issues so was reliant on national assistance until she died in a Basingstoke care hospital in 1993, aged 79. It was a time of learning how to survive with no capital or resources, living very frugally, budgeting carefully, getting clothing from mail order catalogues on the “never-never”, and going without. From the age of thirteen I had learned by trial and error how to maintain a house and keep it together, teaching myself to paint, wallpaper and do basic carpentry, with the thousand pounds being gradually spent on doing the things I could not, like rewiring, plumbing, and plastering. Diane eventually got a better paid job in Causton’s the printers in Eastleigh and gave half her weekly wages to my mother. My mother grew flowers that she sold to the local shop and from the two trees in the garden she sold fruit in season to neighbours. I started doing paper rounds in the mornings, evenings and at the weekends to help bring in money and continued my secondary education in Eastleigh.
In 1956 it had been an interesting challenge for me to adjust to the rough and tumble of the working class Toynbee Road secondary day school, coming as I did from a boarding school in Kent. It was only in 1958 that for the first time 10 pupils from Toynbee School took the GCE “O” level exams and I was in the in the next group of 12 in 1959. Having achieved some reasonable RSA and GCE results my headmaster, Mr Hartnup, recommended that I should go on to the local grammar school to study for the A level exams, a pre-requisite for applying for a place at university.
I was offered a place at Barton Peveril Grammar School in Eastleigh, but the problem was how my mother could support me there for another two years. In those days there were no grants available and child support from a father to his children terminated at 16. Although my mother hated to do it she contacted my father via his solicitor in Margate, Kent asking for additional financial help for me. He flatly refused, stopping my maintenance precisely on my 16th birthday, some two months before the end of the school year. So, I had to leave school, get a job, and start bringing in money. It took me eight years of part time and evening school study before I was able to go to college full time for the final two years of my course, graduating from Portsmouth Polytechnic with a Diploma in Architecture in 1970 and from the University of Manchester in 1973 with an MA in Urban Design.
A3. WORK ON THE HOUSE.
As the house was in such a poor state, and my mother did not have the money to pay for any work, from the age of fourteen I had to learn how to maintain and repair it. My mother was a keen gardener and looked after the garden while I did what I could on the house. At first, I had no idea of how to tackle jobs, no male grown-up to advise me, no money to buy tools or materials and no idea what to buy anyway. It was very much learning on the job, bodging things as I went along, borrowing old tools from friends, buying cheap paint and brushes from army surplus stores – and making many mistakes.
In 1957 my mother managed to get a basic grant from Eastleigh Borough Council to upgrade and modernise the kitchen and to tackle the damp in the living room, where the wallpaper had peeled off up to dado level. Things improved after 1959 when I started work in Winchester City Architects Department as I quickly started to discover how buildings went together. On building sites, I watched how workmen did jobs and what tools they had, and back at the office both my boss, the Assistant City Architect Mr C. C. Steptoe and his assistant, Mike Bryant, gave me a lot of help, telling me where to buy cheap tools and materials and which ones were essential. When I was doing some rewiring in the house Mr Steptoe got me a drum of rubber cable at trade price, which was the first time I learnt that there were two prices to everything – what the public pay and what the builder pays. I still have some of that cable today on the same drum and use it for an extension lead.
My workmanship rapidly improved and I started to do more adventurous projects. At my part time architectural course at Southampton Collage of Art I was learning about building construction and modern architectural design. In the early 1960s the only design promoted by our two design tutors was modernism, represented by all things Scandinavian. Any other style was dismissed as being irrelevant, out of date or belonging to architectural history. To gain their approval our building designs had to have clean lines, flat or mono-pitched roofs, plain brickwork (preferably silver grey), white paintwork, big windows with no glazing bars, natural wood inside with white walls and glazed doors between rooms. Fired with this evangelical zeal I started to apply this approach to our house, and my mother must have been very trusting to let me get on with it.
My first project was the front bay window, which had three sash windows. I took out the two side ones and replaced each with a single sheet of glass with hardwood beading on the inside. I cut out the glazing bars on the central window and painted everything, inside and out with brilliant white gloss. To finish off the new window I bought some material from a curtain shop in Southampton to make some floor to ceiling curtains. The material had a bold and colourful pattern within a black grid on a grey ground and was designed by Gerald Piper, based on stained glass windows at Arundel castle. I did the same work on all the other windows at the front of the house. I covered the panelling in the front door with a sheet of hardboard painted a matt mustard colour, and the rest of the door a brilliant white gloss. Then I boxed in the supports to the door canopy before painting it all brilliant white. The front of our house certainly looked different from the cream and green painted houses nearby. In the entrance hall I cut out the door panels and fitted obscured reeded glass. I took out all the stair balusters and newel post on the bottom flight of the dog-leg stair and repapered all the walls. The tall wall on the landing I papered in a pattern of a large graphic design in three shades of light grey. All the other walls and woodwork were painted a brilliant white. The final touch was a brilliant orange carpet in the entrance hall and stair.
When I was eighteen my most ambitious project was to replace the timber floor in the living room, which had wet rot and was badly in need of repair. I carefully took the floor apart to learn how it had been put together. I measured all the joists, wall plates, floor boards and skirting before ordering from the timber yard in Eastleigh, being careful to specify all the new timber to have preservative. It took me several weeks as it was the most difficult job I had done, as at the same time I rewired the room and also put a down-lighter in the recess by the chimney – another favourite design touch of my college tutors.
I also used a new material to insulate the room. Rolls of 3mm thick polystyrene had recently come on the market and the idea was to paste them on the walls and ceilings then cover with either lining paper or wallpaper in the usual way. As our house was very cold, draughty, and damp this seemed like a good idea to me. Years later I read a report by the fire test on this product that had recently been completed by the National Building Research Centre. They had lined a room with the product and then the researcher deliberately applied a flame to a part of the wall. To the dismay of his colleagues the whole room had instantly burst into a searing ball of flame and the researcher, fortunately wearing fire protective clothing, just had time to hurl himself out through the door. My last big job was to get rid of the thick hedge round the front garden which was always a tedious job to cut. Using the joists and floor boards salvaged from the living room floor I constructed a wooden fence of posts with horizontal board rails, all stained black – another currently fashionable Scandinavian touch. I also moved the gate from its position directly in line with the front door to a point where the road was nearest to the corner of the building. In Bishopstoke front doors were only used for formal occasions or by unknown visitors. Everybody else used the back door which in our case was in the end wall of the house and led straight into the kitchen. This made it more convenient and gave my mother a larger front garden.
A4. THE NATIONAL ASSISTANCE MAN.
Twice a year a standard badly-xeroxed letter would come through the letter box saying that a Mr (name filled in with ink) would be visiting (my mother’s name filled in) on (date, day and time filled in) and would expect to be given all necessary information. It would throw my mother into a panic as it would herald the next visit of the dreaded ‘National Assistance Man’.
My mother’s only source of income was the few pounds a week that she got from the National Assistance Office in Eastleigh, the very basic forerunner of today’s Social Security Scheme, and she lived in fear of these visits. They had a mind-boggling set of petty rules and regulations and if ‘they’ could catch you out in an infringement they could, as my mother said, “drop on you like a ton of bricks” with unimaginable consequences like reducing or even stopping her weekly money.
The rules were policed or rather, enforced, by petty officials who delighted in the exercise of their limited power. Although there were several different ones who visited over the years, I can still see a typical one – or perhaps it is an amalgamation of several – in my mind’s eye:
A thin, fussy, middle-aged man of medium height with slightly rounded shoulders and carrying a worn imitation leather brief case. He was wearing, or carrying on one arm, an old fashioned long gabardine raincoat with a belt. His scrawny neck with a prominent Adam’s apple poked out of the too-large, slightly grubby and worn collar of his once white but now off-white shirt. He was wearing a dark tie like a badly knotted piece of string, and his badly-fitting dark two-piece Burton’s suit with shiny patches on the elbows and knees and was in need of a good press. A few strands of hair were carefully plastered down over his nearly bald head, and he peered around through his glasses with his lips pursed, wearing a slightly peevish but belligerent expression. He would sit primly on a kitchen chair with his hands clasped together on top of his brief case on the table. After a few preliminary remarks he would open his brief case, take out a clip board with sheets of paper, get a pen from an inside pocket, write something down and begin the inquisition.
He would want to know absolutely everything about my mother’s modest financial affairs for the previous six months. In mind-numbing detail, he would go through her list of daily and weekly outgoings and what had she bought recently in the way of clothes or household goods. On each visit he would also go around the house to inspect all the rooms as it was apparently part of his job to spot anything that might require my mother to explain to him either how she had got or paid for a particular item.
My mother was a scrupulously honest person but had a dreadful secret. She did have an undeclared, seasonal very tiny irregular income from another source, and she lived in fear of being found out. She was a great gardener, and every year had a great crop of seasonal vegetables and tremendous displays of flowers in the spring and summer. In the garden there was also a Victoria plum tree and two apple trees, one producing ‘eaters’ and the others ‘cookers’, and each year the trees were loaded with fruit.
Neighbours admired her garden and she gradually started selling a few things to them, perhaps a dozen daffodils for one shilling (5p) or a dozen apples for one-and-sixpence (7.5p) and a lettuce or two for a few pence. Even the local shop keeper, Reg Howe, would buy bunches of flowers from her and sell them on in his shop. I doubt that if even in a good year she made more than £5 but, at a time when at the end of some weeks we had only one shilling (5p) left to put in the pay-as-you-go gas meter, every little bit of income helped us to survive.
Usually, the interview with the man would take about an hour and it was a great relief when he finally gave a satisfied nod, put the cap back on his pen, the clip board back into his brief case and got up to go. My mother would always offer him a cup of tea and a biscuit, but he always refused. My mother’s relief when she finally closed the door behind him was almost palpable and she knew that the stressful time was over, and we were safe for another six months.
A5. SUNDAY LUNCH AND CHRISTMAS.
No matter how short money was on most Sundays we had a traditional cooked meal with a joint of roast beef or pork, vegetables, roast potatoes, and gravy. From 1 pm every Sunday there were two comedy shows on the radio, which we always listened to while we ate.
My mother also belonged to a Christmas club, where she put away a few shillings every week to ensure that we always had a slap-up Christmas, with turkey or chicken and all the trimmings. My mother did not approve of alcohol but as she and I were both very fond of crystallised ginger she bought a bottle of green ginger wine at Christmas, and we had a small glass or two each as a Christmas treat. Even now the smell or taste of green ginger wine instantly recalls Christmas to me. My picture shows our Christmas dinner when we had a lodger staying with us, probably Pete O’Brian.
A6. RADIO CLASSICS.
Although my father had bought a TV for us in the late 1940s when we lived in Kent, in the late 1950s it was still very unusual to find one in a working class household. Designs had moved on and they were now much smaller, almost portable, with larger screens, but transmissions were still only in black and white for a few hours a day and sets were expensive. The majority of people still relied on radio for the news and home entertainment. Their radios were usually big, old-fashioned floor standing models in veneered cabinets or clumpy Bakelite table-top models, as transistors, miniaturisation and battery-powered portable radios were still several years in the future.
We did not have the money to buy our own radio, but my mother managed to find the money from her extremely tight budget to rent one. The very basic system was called ‘rent-a-set,’ operated by a local company called ‘Redefusion’, and only provided the basic three radio stations.
There were three main BBC Radio stations broadcasting in Britain in the 1950s. The most widely listened-to service, the “Light Programme”, was for popular music as well as mainstream light entertainment in the form of variety shows, comedy, and drama. The “Home Service” was the main channel for news, features, and drama of a more demanding kind – and was the home too of regional programming. The “Third Programme” only broadcast in the evenings and was for classical music concerts and recitals, talks on scientific, philosophical, and cultural topics, together with poetry readings and classic or experimental plays.
Houses using the rent-a-set system in a particular area were linked together by a wire rather like a telephone cable which I suppose came from some central radio transmission box located nearby. The radio wire came through the window frame into a small, surface mounted white rectangular plastic terminal box screwed on the nearest wall inside the house. The box had a knob on the front with settings for three channels and a cable linking it to a small speaker with a volume control. This service only cost perhaps two shillings a week and although the small table-top speaker did not have much volume, was crackly and had no tone control it was more than adequate for our needs.
The 1950s was a wonderful period for the radio, with a wide range of popular programmes, many of which are recognised today as classics. People listened to daily serials such as ‘The Archers’ (still running today in 2011), Mrs Dale’s Diary, lunch-time factory shows like ‘Workers’ Playtime’ or ‘Have a Go’ with Wilfred Pickles and ‘The Billy Cotton Band Show’. There were light entertainment family shows like ‘Meet the Huggets’ and ‘Life with the Lyons’, and thriller serials like ‘Dick Barton- Special Agent’. Most memorable for me were the comedy classics including The Clithero Kid, Take it from Here, Hancock’s Half Hour, Ray’s a Laugh, The Goon Show and, from 1959, The Navy Lark.
The totally irreverent and anti-establishment Goon Show – a favourite of Prince Charles – had a tremendous following among my age group and to go into school without having listened to and be able to discuss the previous night’s episode was unthinkable. One of my class mates at Toynbee, Gordon Brodie, was such a fan of the show that he learned to mimic all the characters’ voices and would have us all in stitches as he repeated all the previous night’s jokes and catch-phrases. There was one Spike Milligan catch-phrase of ‘Hullo Jim’ said in a high pitched nasal voice that Gordon could take of so perfectly that his nickname became ‘Jim’ Brodie.
For a few years after 1954 I loved reading comics. Not the ones with just picture stories but those that were packed with solid reading, with several serials running at once in each issue going on for several weeks. My interest had been started by an unlikely person, no less than our young 20 year old steward on the boat to Australia in 1952. His name was Ted Shelford and he looked after the cabins in our corridor. He looked something like the mid-1950s singer, Tommy Steele, having the same cheerful smiling expression and irrepressible humour. No matter how we kids played him up he never lost his temper with us. He became great friends with us and many of the parents on board and nothing seemed to be too much trouble for him. He was from Walthamstow, London, where my father had grown up, and still lived there with his widowed mother. My mother discovered that his mother had some sort of connection with the same part of Dorset as she did so when we got to Australia my mother wrote to her and for a few years they occasionally exchanged letters, particularly after we came back to England.
Ted’s working life as a steward was spent going back and forward between England and Australia and England and New Zealand. We never saw Ted Shelford again after our ship, the SS Morton Bay, docked at Melbourne Australia but had news of him in his mother’s occasional letters. In one of these his mother told us that Ted was engaged and, in another, that he a dedicated reader of the Hotspur, Rover, Wizard and Adventure comics. While he was away on his three month round trip to New Zealand or Australia, she would have them all delivered to her every week to her house in Walthamstow. On his return on shore leave he would have a huge pile of up to 50 comics to read before setting of again. His mother usually threw them away when he had finished with them but, after we came back to England, twice a year she kindly sent them on to me at Bishopstoke by parcel post. This went on for three years until Ted got married and went off to live in New Zealand with his wife.
Coming home from boarding school at the end of the Spring and Summer terms I knew there would be a great treat in store for me: A HUGE pile of comics for me to spend hours reading and it was usually one of the first things I looked for after my arrival. They would be in one or two parcels wrapped in thick brown paper tied with string and sent by parcel post. After tearing off the paper my first task was separating them into the four different piles and then sorting out each pile in date order. It became a habit to spend the first day of each holiday in bed just reading and catching up on my favourite serials. My mother would bring me meals in bed throughout the day and just leave me to it. I had of course read many adventure books for boys, featuring characters like Biggles, which were mostly stories set in WW1 or the 20s and 30’s. The heroes were all very establishment and definitely upper class, ‘sound chaps from good backgrounds’ who always seemed to accomplish their missions effortlessly, barely breaking sweat even when the going got rough. Crooks were usually overcome with a straight left to the jaw or, if the hero was tied up, ‘with a bound’ he would suddenly be (mysteriously) free and giving the enemy their come-uppance.
The Hotspur, Rover, Wizard and Adventure comics were much more confidently anti-establishment and were aimed at and appealed to a working-class mass-market. The heroes of their stories were a different breed altogether – they were definitely working class; gritty down-to earth no-nonsense characters. They seemed to be far more believable to me, however far-fetched the actual story lines were, as they were similar to the sort of people, I saw all around me every day at Bishopstoke and Eastleigh.
The working class heroes in the stories all had an underlying sense of decency and fair play. They were often from poor backgrounds, not well educated or well-spoken, but were natural leaders who were used to doing things their way, fighting their corner, never quitting, and succeeding against all the odds. They had an unspoken code of never letting their friends down and always doing their best whatever the circumstances. The three characters I remember vividly are the athlete Wilson, the WW2 bomber pilot Sergeant Braddock, and the runner Alf Tupper.
The Wizard featured stories about an almost mystical athlete called William Wilson. According to the story line the mysterious Great Wilson was an all-round athlete who lived the life of solitude in a cave on Yorkshire’s Stayling Moor. He did not appear to have any job or independent means of support and was also supposed to be 150 years old. Supposedly born in about 1790 he had later been given the elixir of life by a mysterious hermit called Matthew and had then devoted all of his long life to becoming the world’s greatest athlete. In 1943 he had run 100 yards in nine seconds
and as far back as 1820 had leapt seven feet in high jump, carrying a 16-pound cannon ball. He always wore a full-length, one-piece black woollen running suit and ran in bare feet. His sole aim in life was to constantly improve his sporting performance and to do this he had to overcome the many set-backs, disappointments and the opposition of various sporting bodies who tried to stop him competing. He poured scorn both on the establishment figures running sporting events and the development of academic sports science. Time after time he proved them all wrong by getting out there and winning by sheer stamina and natural ability while also setting new sporting records.
The Rover featured the exploits of the WW2 bomber pilot Sergeant Matt Braddock, VC, and bar, known for his fearless nature, superb piloting skills and no-nonsense attitude. He was always badly dressed in a creased uniform; his hat stuck under his shoulder strap and his VCs and (many) other medal hanging by a few threads to his jacket. He had no time for petty rules and regulations, and remained at the rank of sergeant, refusing to be promoted to officer. However, this didn’t stop him from standing up to incompetent superiors or defending other enlisted men from overzealous courts-martial.
His exploits and adventures were written by his loyal friend and navigator, George Bourne. Braddock constantly clashed with the mindless ‘desk pilots’ and ‘chinless wonders’ of the officer classes and was always falling foul of the military police. He went through the Second World War putting two fingers up to both the military police and the officer classes but had to be forgiven because as a pilot he was the best of the best and always won through by sheer skill and persistence, no matter how difficult or dangerous the mission. In the late 1950s many of his stories were published in a book called ‘I Flew with Braddock’ which I bought and still have.
The Rover also featured Alf Tupper, “The Tough of the Track”, who was a poor working class man whose sport was running. He was a welder by trade and his diet consisted largely of fish and chips, eaten out of a newspaper, and beer. He could often only train late at night after work in the dark and was the perpetual underdog in his tatty running gear. He was looked down on as a guttersnipe by the posh blokes in the fancy running clubs. They refused to let him join their clubs and did everything in their power to stop him competing against them. Alf often slept under some railway arches and after staying up all night to finish welding a boiler to help his boss out of a jam, would breakfast on fish and chips and then out-run the local Harriers in revenge for their sneering at his torn vest and rough talk.
In one episode I recall he had been unable to train properly and had worked all the previous night. The posh club had refused his entry to a particular race, so he sneaked in as a spectator and positioned himself near the start line. When the starting gun went, he shrugged out of his worn tweed jacket, leapt over the barrier, and ran a blinder of a race to beat the sneering posh local champion into second place.
Since then, I have always had the idea that anyone who trains for an Olympic event should immediately be barred from competing. Competitors should all just shrug out of their everyday clothes at the start line and the best man (or woman) would win through by sheer grit and determination.
As I was writing the above the thought occurred to me that given our straightened family circumstances in the 1950s and having no father or other male family members around when I was growing up, I wonder if I subconsciously ‘adopted’ these fictional heroes and their values as substitute role models?
A8. LONGMEAD ARMS PUB SITE.
Directly opposite our house and taking up half the length of White Road, was a rectangular derelict site. One short side of the rectangle fronted onto Longmead Avenue and the other backed onto the bottom of the gardens of two houses on Edward Avenue. One long side fronted onto White Road and on the other was the high timber fence of the Longmead Avenue Post Office and Store. It was originally enclosed on the road sides by a six-foot high post and paling fence, which had become gradually broken down over the years. The site was largely overgrown with grass, weeds, and a mass of brambles and at the back end of the site there was a small door-less and very rusty corrugated iron lean-to shed that was divided into two compartments. In the middle of the site was the ground floor slab of a building, covered in a layer of asphalt. In 1938 a brewery had started to build a pub there but when war started work stopped at slab level and it had been abandoned. The Longmead Arms was not actually built until the early 1960s.
This piece of land was an irresistible attraction as an adventure playground. At some time in the past one of the tin sheets on the White Road side of the shed had been pulled off allowing easy access, and several small gaps had been made in the fence. The shed became a gang hut, a fort, a hiding place, or just a place to hang out away from grown-ups’ prying eyes. We called the sheds the ‘Roadman’s Rest’ as, once, or twice a week, two or three of the local street sweepers would congregate there with their barrows at lunch time. They would spend an hour or more inside talking, smoking, and eating sandwiches from cream and green tin lunchboxes while drinking strong tea from their thermos flasks. Sometimes they would sit out in the sun and read the Mirror or Sketch newspapers, loudly discussing football pools, or racing certainties. They used the inner ‘room’ of the shed as their toilet, so hence our name for it. Sometimes they left their papers behind when they went, and this allowed us a free read.
At one period I built balsa model aircraft from kits and had laboriously built a first world war SE5A biplane with about a two foot wing span. Going the whole hog, I had painted the fragile tissue paper covering silver, had glued figures of pilots in the two open cockpits and mounted two machine guns on the front. Inspired by some American war film I had (badly) painted the tiny head of an angry American steer with big horns and the words “Fighting Horny” in small lettering on the engine cowling. The plane was powered by a propeller and very strong rubber bands. Holding the body of the plane gently but firmly in my right hand I would steadily turn the propeller with my left. This would wind up the elastic that ran down the inside of the fuselage to the anchor point at the tail. I had to be very careful since if it were over-wound and the tension got too great, the whole fuselage could suddenly collapse and ruin days of careful work.
The flat asphalt area of the pub slab was a perfect place for flying my model. There was a low grassy bank of excavated material to one side. I would stand on top of the mound holding the body of the plane in my right hand while my left hand would be holding the wound up propeller. Raising it above my head I would stand on tip toe and sweep my arms forward, releasing the plane all in one smooth motion. If everything was right it would power off in front of me until the propeller stopped, then glide down into the long grass, undamaged. The best times of all were when made a perfect three point landing on the asphalt. Naturally, this activity was accompanied by an enthusiastic running commentary from me along with the appropriate loud engine, machine, and bomb explosion noises from my friends.
After some time, the plane had got very battered and had had lots of patching following breaks on bad landings or puncturing of the tissue paper covering by brambles. Even more frenzied noises from all of us of machine guns, crashing planes and explosions always accompanied such occasions. Influenced by comics I had been reading, particularly such epics as I flew with Braddock and Vic Green of the Desert Air Force, I finally decided this splendid plane deserved a spectacular end.
There was quite an audience of friends as one afternoon as I stood on the mound with the plane, slowly winding up the propeller to its fullest extent. Having done that, I held the plane steady, and my friend Peter Dawkins came forward with a lighted match. In the twin cockpits, in front of each pilot, I had inserted a small explosive firework, and Pete lit the blue touch paper. Rapidly swinging the plane back over my head, I hurled it as hard as I could skywards, head on into a light breeze. The propeller whirred and clawed the plane up to about fifteen feet in the air above us before the extra weight began to tell and the nose dipped. To our utter delight there were twin loud explosions as both the bangers went off, followed by gasps as the whole plane ignited and plunged back down as a ball of fire. To our horror it seemed to be heading for the tinder dry brambles by the post office fence but by good fortune or a fluke of the wind it suddenly dropped vertically, smashed into the tarmac, and burned furiously.
Simultaneously an angry red face of Reg Howe appeared over the Post Office fence shouting “You young ********! Get the hell out of here. Are you trying to burn the place down? You wait till I tell your dads!” We fled the scene.
The derelict site was also a place that attracted wild life such as birds, rats, and field mice, which made it a favourite hunting ground for the local cats. In 1959, just before construction of the Longmead Arms pub started the brewery erected a new paling fence around the site to keep people out, so we lost our playground. Shortly afterwards I looked out of our front bedroom window towards the site, and I saw a cat that had got a bird. The cat was sitting on the grassy mound, about twelve feet in from the fence, and playing with its prey. It would let the bird go and as it started to flutter away the cat would grab it again.
I was wondering what to do when a young scout in uniform, someone I did not recognise, came walking down White Road alongside the fence. He saw the cat with the bird and, clearly inspired by the scouting ideals, decided to do something about it. He shouted loudly at the cat, which just looked lazily up at him before carrying on with its game. Next the scout tried shaking the paling fence while jumping up and down. The cat looked slowly up again and gave him a slow feline version of a sneer or the evil eye. This seemed to enrage the scout who cast his head rapidly about looking for something to throw at the cat to scare it away but could see nothing handy. His hand dropped to the scout knife on his belt. In a fluid movement, he pulled it out in his right hand, grasped the top of a fence paling with his left, jumped upwards, swung his right hand back over his shoulder and threw the knife over the top of the fence at the cat.
It was a perfect throw and skewered the cat to the ground. The scout stood totally rigid with disbelief while the cat jerked once or twice before going limp and the bird fluttered off into the long grass. The scout then cast a terrified look around him, took off across Longmead Avenue and ran down Nelson Road as if the hounds of hell were after him. I never saw him again. None of us dared to go in and get the knife, as we knew whoever did would be blamed. A day or two later both the knife and the cat were gone.
A9. BISHOPSTOKE WOODS.
The woods were five minutes’ walk away from my house and in the summer, they were an irresistible attraction to my friends and me, possibly because we were out of sight of adults and could do (nearly) anything we liked. We made bows and arrows, hunted each other and real or imaginary animals, dug holes, cut down branches, lit fires and tried to cook things, climbed trees, and swung from branches, made hide-outs. We usually ended up fairly dirty with a few tears in our cloths and the odd skinned knee or splinter, but we never actually killed ourselves.
I used to go up to the woods with Pete ‘Grabber’ Dawkins and Colin ‘Nobber’ Bird and when I was thirteen, we had a craze of dirt-track bikes. From Stoke Common Road there was a rough gravel track that skirted the woods and ended at Dunford’s farm about a mile away in the countryside. Just off the track, surrounded on three sides by the woods, was an old sand pit where a cemetery now is. There were numerous humps, bumps, and holes with small tracks over and around them and the place was covered with thick gorse bushes and brambles. We decided this would be perfect for dirt-track riding, so we each got old, heavy single gear bikes from a local second hand bike shop. I think we paid just a shilling or two for them or more likely we were given them as such old bikes when traded in for newer models were very hard to get rid of. We decided that each bike should have a different colour and have its own logo.
My machine was a woman’s bike, with a single gear, thick spokes, wide metal rims, thick tyres, solid metal mud guards and a sit-up-and-beg riding position. It was almost too heavy to lift, was probably about 30 years old and had definitely seen better days. I worked very hard on it, cleaning, and oiling everything beforehand painting it in black gloss. On either side of the rear mudguards, I fixed a black tin plate about 9 inches square on which I had painted a large red hand with the fingers spread out. As a finishing touch I put a small piece of cardboard on either side of the rear down tube, held on with clothes pegs, and projecting into the spokes of the rear wheel. When the wheel was turning it made a very loud and satisfyingly penetrating noise.
We spent many happy hours that summer careering around the sand pit; falling off, crashing into the gorse bushes, and bitterly contesting races around the circuit, when no quarter was given or expected. Amazingly we did not break any bones and the old bikes, a tribute to British workmanship, survived all the punishment virtually intact, although scratched and a little bent here and there.
A10. DUNFORD’S FARM.
In the summer of 1954, my mother learned from her aunt in Abbotsbury that the farm at the end of the track past the woods and the sandpit was owned by a Mr Dunford. My mother’s grandmother had been a Dunford from Abbotsbury and this Dunford was some sort of distant relation. We took a walk one summer evening out along the track to the farm to meet him. I recall an elderly man in work clothes who had a lot of black and white collie dogs roaming around the farm yard around which were several open fronted buildings seemingly full of old rusty farm vehicles and machinery. There was a dark barn with double doors full of sweet-smelling bales of hay and, at one end, a loft area reached by a rough wooden ladder. There were a lot of cats in the barn, and he said they were there because of the rats, but I did not see any. The barn was an exciting adventure place and several times that summer I went back with a friend or two and played there. The farmer did not seem to mind as long as we did not try to set anything alight or play on the machinery.
A11. BACK OF THE BARGE.
Bishopstoke was originally a small settlement at the bottom of a hill on the banks of the river Itchen, in the area now called Riverside and The Mill. Over the centuries it gradually expanded back up the hill behind. The river, famous for its trout fishing, rises near Alresford and flows through Winchester before passing Bishopstoke and on down to the sea at Southampton. Following his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 William the Conqueror made Winchester his capital and used the river Itchen as a supply route connecting with the port at Southampton and so to his homeland in Normandy. He caused the river to be upgraded so that it was navigable for small barges and short lengths of canal were constructed to get around the un-navigable parts. It is said to be the earliest canal building in England.
In 1710 the ten mile long Itchen Navigation Canal was opened and provided an important trading route from Winchester to the sea at Southampton for about 150 years. On its completion it was capable of taking shallow barges of around 14 feet in width and 70 feet in length. The route follows the river where it was navigable and with short sections of canals excavated to link the sections that were not.
The Itchen Navigation was never a busy waterway. Indeed, it appears that, even at its busiest period during the Napoleonic Wars, six barges were sufficient to move all the traffic. The most important trade was coal brought to Southampton in collier brigs from north east England and transhipped to barges for carriage up the river, mainly to Winchester. Other cargoes included salt, corn, iron, timber, and chalk. When the railway replaced barges, the Navigation was no longer required, and the last commercial vessel travelled along the waterway in 1869 and it fell into disuse until by the 1950s much of it was silted up and un-navigable.
A ¾ mile section of the canal was constructed on the flood plain lying between Bishopstoke and Eastleigh, leaving the river some 300 yards north of Riverside and re-joining it a ½ mile south of the village. This section, now silted up and very shallow, was known locally as the “Barge River” and the footpath alongside it the “Barge Path”. It was here and upriver from the lock gates – which we all referred to as ‘back of the barge’ – that we children often went to play our watery games.
At Riverside the construction of the canal created a large island between it and the Itchen and much later the old Manor House was built here. From the main road between Eastleigh to Bishopstoke you can turn left on to a towpath alongside the canal, now a very shallow waterway. In conversations this area was referred to either as ‘the back of the barge’ or ‘round the barge’.
On entering the barge footpath, from where the barge river flows under the main road to Eastleigh, in about one hundred yards the path branched, giving the choice of either going straight ahead to re-join the riverbank and so on to Winchester or of turning sharp right over the canal by a metal bridge, downstream of a sluice gate controlling water from the river into the canal. It was on this bridge in 1966, since rebuilt, that I proposed to my first wife, Margaret Nicholls, as we returned from dancing lessons in Chandlers Ford.
Once across the bridge the path takes two more turns left and right, crosses the river Itchen by what was then a wooden bridge and joins the end of Oakbank Road. On the right of Oakbank Road is a dilapidated and ivy-clad church tower, the last remnant of the village church built in 1825, standing in the middle of an open green that long ago was the village church yard. On the far side of the green is a large yellow brick late Victorian or early Edwardian house with its gardens fronting onto the river and I was told by a local historian that it had been built for one of the many mistresses of Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Bertie, Prince of Wales, notorious for a series of amorous liaisons. The best known of his mistresses were Lily Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt and Alice Keppel who was the great grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles. Bertie was also a close friend of Admiral Keppel, who lived in the village from 1865 and often visited him there.
The back of the barge was where we went to mess about, gaff minnows, paddle, dam side streams and play games that ended up with us being wet and muddy. We stalked ducks and other feathered wildlife with our home-made bows and arrows. Once we had got hold of an old air pistol. After the pellet was put in it was ‘loaded’ by pushing the sliding front barrel back into a casing to get some compression. The compression cylinder was so leaky that the pellets could be fired barely a hundred feet. It was also totally inaccurate. We had spent an afternoon messing about on the riverbank and on the path by the sluice gate. It was said that a large and fierce old pike had lurked for years in the deep hole formed by the water gushing fiercely under the bottom of the sluice gate. It was said that many experienced fishermen had tried to get it, but it had outwitted them all. It was said that its jaws were full of rusty hooks from lines that it had snapped. Our plan was simple and to the point. It was so obvious we wondered why nobody else had thought of it before – we would shoot it.
After an afternoon in the hot sun, spent hanging dangerously out over the sluice gates and the water foaming below it, poking anything that seemed to look like a fish and shooting at anything that moved in the water, we had completely failed and were all wet and exhausted. Making our way homewards we were all banging on about how bad the gun was and if it had only been half decent, we would have got the pike for sure. I started bragging about my time in the Australian bush and how my older Australian cousin Bill could shoot a rabbit on the run at a hundred yards. I told how he had taught me to shoot, and I could usually hit sitting rabbits at fifty yards.
By this time, we were on the wooden bridge over the river Itchen, and I was leaning on the railing staring downstream. “See that duck down there?” I said, pointing to a bird some way downstream, “Bill would get that for sure, with one shot!” From over my shoulder, I heard the click of the airgun being loaded and the voice of one of my treacherous friends. “If you reckon you are so good then, I bet you can’t do this.” He pointed out that behind me was a bird sitting on a bank of reeds on the junction with the barge canal about 30 yards away. “I’ll give you the gun and count three and you turn around and shoot. Let’s see how good you really are!” Hoist by my own petard! I looked up to see four sets of eyes staring pitilessly at me. I had no choice, honour and status was at stake here. I grabbed the pistol, heard the count of three, turned and fired in the general direction of upstream.
There was a loud ‘THWACK’ and, as my eyes focussed, I was horrified to see a bird topple over into the water and come floating downstream. There was a stunned silence from my fickle friends, followed by a rush to the railing. We all peered down as a bird, possibly a moorhen, floated silently below us with one bloody eye staring accusingly up at us. As though we were playing Pooh sticks, we rushed to the downstream railing and watched silently as the dead bird appeared below us and floated off downstream towards Riverside. My friends looked at each other and then at me, with what I hoped was new respect in their eyes. One of them muttered “Cor!” Stretching my paralysed face into what I hoped was a nonchalant grin I shrugged and said, “It was nothing – really,” while miming blowing non-existent smoke from the barrel of the pistol and trying unsuccessfully to shove it into the wet waistband of my trousers. From that time forward I had the reputation as a crack shot and my opinion was always deferred to in any matters relating to guns. Fortunately, I was never put to the test again, I have never shot any living since and even now I still feel bad about shooting a bird just for fun.
A12. STOKE RYTHM BOYS.
By 1957 the music scene in Britain was changing. With hindsight I realise that the 1950s was a period of transition between the era of the traditional dance bands and crooners of the 1940s and the explosion of pop music in the swinging 60s with its new cult of ‘youth’ in which if you had not made it by the time, you were in your early 20s you were considered to be washed up.
Record charts of the most popular music sold started to be complied and issued in the early 1950s and by 1957 they had evolved into the weekly Top Twenty – a list of the most popular records bought by teenagers that week. In 1956 the record charts were still dominated by the traditional artists – Dean Martin, Winifred Atwell, Kay Star, Pat Boone, Doris Day, and Lonnie Donegan. By 1959 the charts were led by a new breed of younger artists with a totally different type of music – Elvis Presley, Tommy Steele, Cliff Richards, Adam Faith, and Buddy Holly.
After 1955 various forms of music were emerging such as skiffle, rock and roll, jazz revival and country and western, all cross influencing each other and resulting in many hybrid styles. There was an explosion in the number of amateur bands and groups forming and performing in Britain, influenced by what was happening in America. Traditionally musicians and singers were trained to achieve a level of musical competence, such as being able to sight read music, but the new breed of bands and singers rejected this and just learned to play an instrument or sing by listening to and copying the latest pop records. They practiced in their bedrooms or living rooms – or were banished to garages and garden sheds. There was not much money about so instruments were begged, borrowed, or bought second hand. Others were homemade, such as a bass from a tea chest and broom handle, or a wash board that was played with thimbles on the fingers.
There were many young groups in the Eastleigh/ Bishopstoke area and the ‘Stoke Rhythm Boys’ who started in 1956 were typical. The five core members of the group came from Bishopstoke and Stoke Common. The original line up was Pete Dawkins on lead guitar, his brother Malcolm on the drums, Doug McGill on the double bass (all from Edward Avenue), a boy called Clive from Drake Road who had a brass guitar, and another guitarist whose name I have forgotten from Stoke Common. Before they could afford better instruments Doug McGill played a tea chest and one of the others played the washboard.
I went to one of their first public performance in 1956 at the Memorial Hall, in the corner of the recreation ground at Bishopstoke Mill. It was a village concert featuring various local contributors – the church choir, an amateur singing group and a pianist – but all we teenagers were waiting for was the Stoke Rhythm Boys.
The Hall was a long shed, with entrance doors at one end and a small, raised stage with curtains at the far end. It was full of local people from 8 to 80 all sitting in rigid rows on metal framed tubular stacking chairs with canvas seats and back and these rapidly became extremely uncomfortable. The audience watched the acts quietly, only clapping politely as each finished – and at the end the ‘Boys’ were on. Dressed in their Teddy Boy gear of drape jackets, white frilled shirts, boot lace ties, slim Jim trousers, and suede brothel creeper shoes, what they lacked in coordinated musical ability they made up for in sheer vibrant energy and volume of sound. They did not play the music but attacked it, with Pete, a choir boy, belting out the lyrics and the rest playing their instruments as if their lives depended on it. At first one or two groups of teenagers in the audience started to clap softly in time with the music and as tune followed tune more and more of us joined in, until all the teenagers were clapping loudly and stamping their feet to the rhythm of the music, cheering loudly at the end of each song. Scandalised adults angrily shushed us and loudly told us to ‘be quiet’, but they were ignored.
Finally, after the performers had been called back for several encores with all the teenagers on their feet shouting, cheering, and clapping the curtains were firmly pulled shut and the master of ceremonies announced that the show was over. We teenagers left full of good cheer, loudly discussing the merits of one song over another and the adults shuffled out into the night with frowns, dark glances, and many comments of ‘disgraceful’ and ‘shouldn’t be allowed’.
A13. WINTER FUN.
When snow and ice appeared, it was time for fun and games and if the snow was deep enough out would come the home-made sledges, trays, or anything that we could possibly slide on. It was great fun to make long slides on the pavement ice and to see how fast and how far you could slide before falling over. Surprisingly, apart from the usual bumps, bruises and skinned knees and hands no-one broke any bones or suffered any lasting damage.
A14. MAKE DO AND MEND.
Because money was tight my mother spent a lot of time making or mending things on her sewing machine. The picture shows her work table in the back room. Behind the sewing machine is a table lamp I made for her at school. It was influenced by the Russian sputnik space craft and the body was a piece of oak I turned on the woodworking lath, with three wooden dowels for legs, each with a round wooden ball for a foot. Nothing was thrown away if there was a possible use for it. Things were cut down, altered, used as patches, or finally used as rags. My sister, Diane, became very good with the needle and had the ability to make curtains, cushions, and chair covers.
In 1961 I bought my first car which was an open topped 1937 Fiat 500 painted in Italian racing red and cream and, as it was nearly a total wreck with a worn out engine, I got it for a few pounds. I spent a year filling its rust holes and rebuilding the interior for which Diane made all the new seats, cushions, and door panels in bright red plus a fawn-coloured roll-back hood for it. When I occasionally got it running its top speed was 50mph – downhill, with a following wind.
A15. A GARDENER’S DREAM.
My mother was a keen gardener, and she always wanted her own green house to grow things from seeds, but we could never afford it. So, I designed this one for her to show how it would look how it would look in the exact place she would have liked to have built one.
A16. BRICKS AND MORTAR.
J A Coe was a local building firm and I sometimes used to sneak onto some building sites locally at weekends when they men were not there to have a look around. I really did not have much idea of what I was looking at but got some idea of how houses were put together, which helped me when I was doing maintenance work on my mother’s house.
A17. SS MORTON BAY.
In 1958 I had been watching a programme about Southampton docks and the cargo ships and liners that sailed from there on our black and white TV and was reminded of our departure from there in the spring of 1952 on the Morton Bay as migrants to Australia; a journey that took six weeks. I tried to draw from memory what the ship looked like and, for the owners of the adjacent warehouses, used the names of several of my classmates.
In 2010 I found a picture of the ship on the internet taken in 1949, and I was pleased to see my picture looked something like it.
There had been a bad shipwreck during a bad storm in either the North Sea or the English Channel and many people were saved because of the courage and leadership of the ship’s captain.
Our art master at Toynbee School, Len Pretty, gave the art class the title ‘shipwreck’ for homework and told us to use our imaginations and paint what such a terrible thing might actually be like to experience for the people who were there.
A19. RAILWAY MODELLING.
The above photos were taken by my friend Brian May with his flash camera on Wednesday, 6th October 1960. The photo on the left shows, on the extreme right, the diesel carriage train lent to me by my school teacher, Mr Ian Millen.
Between 1956 and 1960 I became a keen railway modeller starting off with a standard Tri-ang 00 gauge boxed set at Christmas. Very soon I was a regular visitor to the Model Shop on Southampton Road in Eastleigh, spending my paper round pocket money on scale model kits of buildings, figures, trees, bushes, and accessories.
For an early project in the school woodwork classes I built two 6ft x 4ft hardboard-topped folding trestle tables for my rapidly growing train set, which my mother allowed me to set out in our unfurnished front room. Within two years the whole 40 square feet was densely packed with railway lines, a shunting yard, roads and several scenes, each separated from the other by a small hill, a tunnel or a bridge. Starting by buying ready-made cardboard kits of buildings which I only had to glue together I soon began to design and make my own, along with making my own wagons and trains, painting them with the LMS livery colours and lettering that I preferred.
Some railway modellers focussed mostly on their railway ‘network’ and how it ran, with buildings and accessories added just as a backdrop. The weekly magazine The Railway Modeller featured very large and complex layouts whose owners actually ran in accordance with some particular timetable from the British Rail network they were modelling. To me the actual running of the trains was almost incidental to the pleasure I got from working out complicated layouts and designing and making all the buildings to create scale model town, village, or country scenes. Eventually the only pieces I bought were scale model figures, vehicles and accessories like passenger baggage, station trolleys and benches. I made things from cardboard, plaster of Paris, plastic boxes, I used sandpaper dyed green for grass, small pebbles or gravel for moorland areas, pieces of loofah on sticks for trees and bushes, brown corduroy for ploughed fields, silver paper for ponds and rivers -whatever came to hand. Perhaps it was from this enthusiasm, coupled with the practical building experience I was getting on maintaining the house, that I found the impetus to become first an architect and then an urban designer. It was a cheap hobby and I had hours of fun. Friends with their own layouts used to come to play for an afternoon bringing one of their own trains, perhaps a main line express or shunting engine, to run on my network.
My teacher, Ian Millen, also had a model railway layout and soon after he had bought the latest 2 carriage green diesel locomotive, only just introduced on the local railway network, he lent it to me for two weeks while he and his wife were on holiday.
Within a year or two of starting work I had lost interest in railway modelling. My mother became keen to clear the front room so that it could be redecorated and furnished. For £5 I sold the whole lot to a neighbour for her young son.
A20. ‘JAMMY’ JAMISON.
Our local policeman was Constable Jamison, who lived in the police house in Scotter Road. He was known as ‘Jammy’ but I never knew why. A tall man, he was always dressed in an immaculate uniform, his cape neatly folded over the chrome handle bars of his bike. It was a traditional heavy upright model, possibly a Raleigh, with Sturmey-Archer 3 speed gears, a totally enclosed chain guard, and a battery tube on the down tube of the frame. He always cycled in a slow and stately manner.
Jammy was an old-time copper who knew everyone on his patch, and he had a reputation amongst us boys as a man not to cross. Word had it that he would box a boy’s ears soundly if he caught him doing mischief or haul him off to the parents for them to deal with. As he rode about his patch he would gravely nod to adults or cast his evil eye in the general direction of any boys hanging around in the street.
Now the thing about his bike was that it creaked. Perhaps it was an un-oiled chain or maybe loose cotter pins, but as he slowly pedalled along each downward sweep of a pedal was accompanied by a loud creak. This sound carried quite a way and announced his presence long before you actually saw him but nonetheless, he had the uncanny ability of turning up at the most unexpected times. We lads would be in the street planning some exploit, such as scrumping apples from a neighbour’s garden or climbing trees, when we would hear ‘creak, creak, creak’ and Jammy Jamison would pedal sedately around the corner. He would fix his eyes on us as he unhurriedly passed and instantly, we felt guilty. It was though he knew exactly what we were going to do before we did it, so we would abandon our plans and shuffle off.
Thinking back, I never actually knew anyone who had been thumped by P C Jamison, but his reputation went before him. They don’t make coppers like that anymore.
A21. PAPER ROUNDS.
To earn pocket money for myself and also to give something to help my mother with the desperate shortage of money, for four years from the age of thirteen I did paper rounds for Dick Gillingham who ran a corner newspaper shop in Spring Lane. Later I had an additional round from Mr Smith at the railway station. I had weekday morning and evening rounds, a Saturday morning round, a second round on Saturday to collect money and a Sunday morning round, for all of which I earned the princely sum of twenty one shillings (£1.05p in today’s currency).
The weekday and Saturday rounds were the same and very long. All the houses I delivered to were spread widely apart. On a weekday in good weather, I was pushed to do it in an hour from leaving the shop. On Saturday it took half as long again as there was the greater weight of the thicker Saturday papers and weekly magazines and comics. I was also slower on a Saturday; knowing which houses took particular weekly magazines and comics, before delivering them I would stop around the nearest corner and have a crafty free read.
I was always at the shop by seven and on weekday mornings aimed to be back home by a quarter past eight in time to get a quick breakfast before cycling to school in Eastleigh for nine. Later on, when I became a school prefect, I had to be there by a quarter to nine, particularly when I had to be at the school entrance that day on ‘lates’ duty.
Because most customers were rarely up when I made my paper delivery on a Saturday morning, especially if they had been in the pubs or working men’s clubs on the Friday night, I had to make a second round to collect the money for the week. I had a leather shoulder bag with pockets, £2 in loose change and a small book, made up by Dick Gillingham every week, showing what each customer owed. It was a long collecting round, starting in the council estate on Hamilton Road and finishing along Fair Oak Road at Weavills Road.
On my round I soon got to know which people would pretend not to be in or would claim that they had paid the previous week and I must have forgotten to mark it in the book. There were also those who were hard up so only wanted to pay a few shillings ‘on account’. Again, I soon got to know who was permanently hard up and who had temporary difficulties. It was surprising how many of the permanently hard up people were able to settle up their account in full when I said that all deliveries would be stopped from that day. It was the younger families who tried it on, the older or retired customers were scrupulously honest, and it was they who would press an extra three or six pence into my hand “for yourself,” although I knew that most of them were very short of money.
The Sunday round was the hardest work. I covered the whole of the nearby council estate between Sedgwick and Underwood Roads, and it was a double round that took two bags of heavy Sunday papers. The estate is built on the side of the hill at Bishopstoke and so there was some strenuous peddling up and down hills with a heavy newspaper bag over my handlebars. In addition, because of the steep site and the cut-and-fill that had been needed to build the houses many of them were at the end of a flight of steps leading up or down from the road. Running up and down these steps to each letterbox all took time and I was rarely able to do the round in less than two hours.
Dick usually got up at half past five every morning to take in the papers, mark them up with each house number and put the rounds together for each delivery boy. I soon found I could remember what should be delivered each day to every house on my round without reference to his order book, so he let me put my own papers together, saving time for both of us.
Dick Gillingham had been a military policeman during the war and one day he told me an amusing story. He had been posted to Egypt and shortly after his arrival he was sent out to an army camp to investigate the theft of a crate of whisky from the officers’ mess. A regiment of gunners with their 25 pound mobile field guns were camped in a secure area surrounded by barbed wire and security guards. The site was mostly hard standing, and Dick said that it was unlikely that the whisky could have been got out of the camp or buried within it. On arriving who should he bump into but a gunner who lived just up the road from him in Bishopstoke and who in civilian life was the local Prudential Insurance agent. After turning the camp upside down Dick Gillingham had to admit defeat. He could not find the stolen whisky, but he knew the gunners had nicked it. After the war and back in Bishopstoke he met up with the Prudential agent in the local club and asked him about the missing whisky. “Well,” said the agent “you remember that the 25 pound guns all had metal plugs in the end of the barrels to stop sand getting in when they were not in use? We slid a bottle of whisky down each barrel and then put the plugs back. You were actually standing next to them when you were questioning us all on the parade ground!”
Looking back, I can now appreciate the extraordinary social, economic, industrial, and political changes that have taken place in Eastleigh in last 50 years which, had we been told were to happen, would have sounded like science fiction and we would not have believed. That world has largely vanished today.
Eastleigh was originally named Bishopstoke Junction, after the nearby village of Bishopstoke. It was a small station built in 1838 where the main north-south London to Southampton railway line now crosses the north-west, south-east Bristol to Portsmouth line. The railway company built a few cottages for its employees and by 1881 the growing town, by then renamed Eastleigh, had a population of about 1000. In 1889 the railway company began building a wagon and carriage works and in 1909 a locomotive works.
This new industry meant that Eastleigh boomed, and the expanding town was laid out on a grid-iron of streets lined with rows of 2-story, red brick, grey slate roofed Victorian terrace houses. In 1893 a local board was formed in Eastleigh to regulate the development of the town. There were no sewers, drains or street lights and the unpaved roads were in a very poor condition. The Board set about constructing drains, building pavements and kerbs, and putting in street lighting but roads were not made up until the 20th century. In 1895 the Local Board was replaced with an Urban District Council and in 1899 the two communities of Eastleigh and Bishopstoke were merged. In 1892 the railway company built a Railway Institute for its employees’ recreation. In 1896 the council bought an adjacent field and laid it out as a park complete with a band stand. The Town Hall was built in 1899 in the latest ‘Queen Anne’ style. By 1901 Eastleigh had grown into a small town with a population of over 9,000 and the first cinema in Eastleigh opened in 1911.
Eastleigh airport began life in 1910 when an early aviator called Eric Moon flew an aircraft called the Moonbeam from fields in a nearby farm. In 1917 the farm was made into a military airfield and in 1929 it became Southampton Municipal Airport. The WW2 Spitfire fighter plane made its maiden flight from the airport in 1936.
A new era began in Eastleigh in 1921 when Pirelli opened a cable factory there further boosting industrial growth. In the 1920s the first council houses were built, the Public Library opened in 1935 and in 1936 Eastleigh was made a Borough.
At its peak the railway works alone employed 2,600 people but from the 1960s when the railways were in decline, first the wagon and carriage works were closed, and the locomotive works were gradually run down until they closed in 2006 with the loss of the final 500 jobs. Now the Pirelli factory has also closed down, as have most of the other heavy and often dirty industrial concerns. Eastleigh has changed from being a heavy industrial town and now, in 2009, the major employers are service or light industries, and it currently has a population of 120,000.
In the late 1950s the majority of my school friends’ parents were working class, employed in the often dirty and physically hard jobs at the wagon works, the locomotive works, or in the shunting yards, in Pirelli’s, Caustons the Printers or the timber yard. Others were employed as station staff, worked on the buses, or were firemen or policemen or worked in shops.
Nobody I knew had a telephone in their house. On the very rare occasions a telephone call had to be made you used the nearest public telephone. In those days television was still black and white with two or three channels, but I don’t remember that anyone I knew had one. Everybody listened to the wireless, with many renting their set from a local company called ‘Rent a Set’, which had three channels.
Families with a gramophone usually had the electric powered, large, wood-veneered unit with a built in radio and valves that had to warm up first and it was normally kept in the front or ‘best’ room. Others still used wind-up portables, although the first of the (comparatively) lightweight electric portable sets were becoming popular with the ‘with it’ teenagers. Mostly records were the traditional large Bakelite 78rpm discs, but sales of the new vinyl 45s with the latest pop songs of the day were rapidly increasing and smaller, lighter electric portable record players were becoming available. Radio Luxemburg was the radio station of choice for the teenagers of my generation, and it was almost social death not to have stayed up from eleven until midnight on Sunday to hear the latest Top Twenty pop records played and to find out which was the new Number One.
Private cars were few and far between, only owned by well-off people like doctors, bank managers, vets, and businessmen. Mostly people walked, cycled, or used the local buses while a few of the older workers had a motorcycle, many with a side car attached
From my later research I found that very few people owned their own house and most either rented privately or from their employers. The railway works owned many terrace houses in Eastleigh which often had their woodwork painted green and cream. These were usually two or three bedroom Victorian terrace houses of red brick with grey slate roofs. They were of three basic types, the first having two sliding sash windows at ground and first floor, the second a bay window on the ground floor with two sash windows at first floor, and on the third type the bay window extended up to the first floor. From the small front garden, the front door led straight into a hall/ corridor from front to back that also contained the stairs to the first floor. The first door in the corridor led into the front room, and the second into the back room. From the back room there was a door leading to the rear extension containing the kitchen with a door to the rear garden, a scullery or larder and an outside toilet and coal store. Above the kitchen was a third bedroom and, in some cases, it would have been converted into a bathroom with inside toilet. The oldest terrace houses only had a back yard with a rear pedestrian lane access. The later ones had long narrow gardens with a rear lane access wide enough for a car so when car ownership became more usual in the 1960’s many of the sheds at the ends of the gardens became converted into garages.
The living or ‘back’ room was where most of family life happened: eating, reading, playing cards, listening to the radio, doing homework, entertaining friends, or just sitting around the fire talking. They were very simply furnished, with lino or mats on the floor, and an unmatched mix of second hand furniture and pieces passed on from parents or relatives. The fire was usually burning most of the year with clothes always drying in front or above it. ‘Father’ or ‘Dad’ would have his own special chair to one side in which he would sit reading the paper after coming in from his shift at the railway works while ‘Mother’ laid the table for the evening cooked meal which was usually eaten just after 6 pm. Food was very basic, with none of the luxury items that most of us take for granted today. Cups of tea were always on the go and even now, 50 years later, when I visit Mrs Fowler the first question on my arrival is always ‘would you like a cup of tea?’
The front or ‘best’ room was the one where there might be a matching 3-piece suite, a carpet, curtains, ornaments, and pictures. There would often be a glass fronted cabinet in a corner containing best China, mementoes, and special ornaments with family photos in frames on the top. This room was only used to entertain special visitors or at Christmas.
Workers had an annual holiday when a place like the railway works would close down for a complete week or fortnight. Holidays for the luckier ones might be camping or in a caravan somewhere, a holiday camp, or even a week at a boarding house. Others would just be at home working in their gardens or allotments with maybe a day trip by rail to the nearest seaside.
Most of the families I knew whose fathers were employed in the railway works were low paid, unskilled, or semi-skilled, working as labourers, track layers or station porters with a few having a specialist skill or trade such as engine driver, shunter, machinist, or welder. Of three other friends, the father of one was a police constable, another did land surveys for the Ordnance Survey and a third ran a small newspaper and tobacconist shop. Most men were paid weekly in cash as hardly anyone had a bank account. Money was always very tight but, with very careful budgeting, it just got them through the week until the next Friday night pay-day, with nothing to spare for anything other than necessities. Parents could occasionally go to the pictures but usually they went to one of the local working men’s clubs for a Friday night pint and a game of darts or dominoes while the wives gossiped. An unexpected need for a new pair of shoes or piece of clothing could be a catastrophe for people on low wages so most bought larger things on the ‘never-never’ or through mail order clothing firms where an agent came around every week to collect their weekly subscription. Families also paid a few shillings a week into local savings and Christmas Clubs to cover birthday and Christmas expenses.
Clothing was very basic, both cheap and hard wearing. Usually children had two of everything, one to wear and one in the wash, and a third set kept for ‘best’. Clothes were mended and patched until they simply wore out and were often passed down to younger children in the family when outgrown or given to neighbours for their children.
Mothers usually wore a pinafore, a scarf around their hair and a shapeless skirt and blouse. Very few wore any make-up, except maybe some lipstick on a special occasion, and going to a hairdresser was unknown. Compared with married women of all ages today they looked and dressed old before their time, slipping into shapeless obscurity in their late twenties or early thirties.
The fathers who were employed by the British Rail works often wore striped collarless shirts, dark blue or black serge waist coats and trousers held up by a wide leather belt and sometimes braces as well, boots and a flat cap. This, or something similar, would have been the standard dress whether in the house, on the allotment or around the town. I have half a memory that some of them, maybe the older shop foremen, also wore bowler hats to signal their higher status.
They rode big, upright bikes with totally enclosed chain guards and a small saddle bag, while wearing a long dark mackintosh or coat with an ex-army khaki bag slung over one shoulder containing their flask and sandwich for the morning break. The very loud steam hooter at the railway factory would sound at 7.30 and a flood of black-clad men on bikes or on foot went through the gates to the railway workshops. The hooter would sound again at 12 noon and the gates would swing open to release a surging tide of men on their way home for lunch. They all poured back in as the one o’clock hooter sounded and out again at the end of the day to the sound of the five o’clock hooter. Woe betide any vehicle or cyclist passing the gate when this river of men was leaving – they did not stop for anyone!
As children we amused ourselves with whatever was to hand. Most of us did paper rounds or other part time or weekend jobs to earn some pocket money. There were youth clubs for darts, table tennis and billiards or the local cinema with fish and chips afterwards. Six penn’orth of piping hot chips and a shilling piece of fish, with plenty of salt and vinegar, all wrapped in newspaper (1shilling and 6 pence = 71/2 p today) – magic!
We cycled, walked, scrumped apples, swam at the local open air swimming pool, went to youth clubs, hung around the cafes in Eastleigh listening to the juke boxes on a Saturday afternoon or, with the girls from the local girl’s school, had record ‘hops’ on Friday evenings in the scout hut in Chamberlayne Road.
There were no faxes, computers, emails, internet, computer games, mobile phones, texting, emails, internet, twitter or Facebook, CD’s, DVD’s, telephones and colour TVs in every room, microwave ovens, designer kitchens and bathrooms, fitted carpets, double glazing, gas central heating, out of town shopping centres, supermarkets, or foreign holidays – but we all survived and many of us thrived.
Looking at this photograph (below) of Leigh Road, Eastleigh taken in 1956, the year I came to live at Bishopstoke and started in the 3rd form at Toynbee Road Boys School, it seems like a scene from another planet: few pedestrians, fewer vehicles, and Victorian buildings – the one on the right the long-demolished Railway Institute – but it was actually like that.
B1. TOYNBEE SCHOOL.
At the age of thirteen, in the autumn term of 1956, I started school at Toynbee Road Boys Day School, Eastleigh, in class 3A. Toynbee Road was a turning right immediately past the Police Station in Leigh Road, just beyond the park and Town Hall and the school was a 1930s single story brick building with white painted mullioned windows and a tile roof.
On plan it was ‘H’ shaped with the two legs of the H facing Toynbee Road and set back some 20 feet from it. The left-hand leg of the building contained the classrooms. It had a wide central access corridor, lit by roof lights, running from the double entrance doors facing Toynbee Road through to the double doors at the far end opening on to the playground. The corridor was lined on both sides with classrooms, with a room allocated to each year. The last room on the left at the far end was the staff room which had windows on two sides giving a good view of the playground. In the entrance hall, just inside the doors at the Toynbee Road end was a school desk up against the wall on the left at which the duty prefect sat. His jobs included putting ‘names in the book’ for anyone being sent out of class or being late into school and, most important, walking around the school at the end of every period ringing a small brass hand bell very loudly to signal class change over times. Immediately to the left of the entrance was the school secretary’s office with the headmaster’s office behind that and to the right was a long recess with coat hooks on the wall for the school cloakroom.
The central bar of the H plan contained the small gymnasium, toilet facilities and storerooms and a covered but open corridor both sides giving access to the other ‘leg’ of the H containing the woodwork and art room. The building was surrounded by tarmac and out the back, on the far side of the playground area, was two single story concrete temporary buildings containing the science and metal facilities and to the right rear was a small playing field.
It was a working class school, with about 450 pupils from age 11 to 16. The pupil’s mostly blue-collar parents worked in factories, shops, the timber yard, the railway works or the Ford car plant. Parent’s jobs ranged from unskilled store men, railway gangers and building site labourers to lorry, taxi, bus, or train drivers. All the pupils there had either failed the eleven plus or had never even sat for it. The school leaving age had recently been raised to 15 and in 1956, the year I started there, the first small class of 10 pupils stayed on until 16 to study for the General Certificate of Education ‘O’ level exams.
As a school it was a totally different experience to what I had been used to at my previous school. It was a real culture shock, and my first year was not easy. The most obvious difference was the accent. From my previous school I had picked up the usual camouflage of a middle class accent that was normal for the time. In the context of the normal accent of my new school, a combination of the soft Hampshire burr, sloppy pronunciation, and local slang, I stuck out like an iceberg in the desert. I had to lose my accent very quickly and learn to fit in.
Then there was dress. I had been used to having to wear a clean and neat school uniform at all times and to be caught outside school without wearing a cap was a caning offence. Here the school uniform was said to be black shoes, long grey socks, short grey trousers, a black cap and blazer with the school badge of a small black and white checkerboard shield. The youngest years of the school sometimes wore all or some of the items, but mostly they were all a bit worn and obviously second hand, but school caps were very rarely worn or even owned. The further up the school the more casual clothing became with the toughs in the leavers’ form usually wearing jeans, leather jackets, T-shirts, or loud shirts. The GCE forms of 4G and 5G wore long trousers and were generally neat in clean shirts, ties, school blazers or sports jackets.
To me what was most amazingly different from my previous school was the totally different attitude of the pupils to each other and of the teachers to the pupils. At boarding school, I was used to a hierarchical, authoritarian system in which each year demanded obedience and respect form the years below them which was usually achieved by a combination of intimidation and bullying. Pupils tried not to attract the attention of Monitors or Prefects because of their powers of punishment, and you kept out of the way of any teacher whenever possible. When a teacher entered a classroom, everyone automatically fell silent and generally you did not speak to him unless spoken to.
At Toynbee respect had to be earned, it was not assumed as a right. If you were not respected, you were not obeyed or listened to and pupils from lower years would answer back or even argue with you. Prefects had no powers of punishment, except ‘putting your name in the book.’ with the time, date, and nature of the offence. If a pupil’s name appeared in the book more than twice in a week then the duty master or even head dealt with it and as far as I can remember caning was not used at all. Also, there was an election process for new prefects. A school meeting would be held in the gymnasium once a year and the staff would ask for names to be put forward. Names would be put forward from the pupils, some serious, some frivolous and some totally unsuitable. Then the names would be voted on. A final short list would be agreed and then considered by the staff in the next week before the new prefects were announced. The staff always had the final say and would add or take names away from the list, as they thought appropriate. It did make everybody feel they were involved in the process and the chosen ones usually had they respect of most of the pupils. I was very pleased at the end of my first summer term when Jimmy Smith put my name forward as a prefect. I only got two or three votes, but it meant that I was becoming accepted.
Respect was hard earned but easily lost. You got respect by establishing yourself in the pecking order, by who you were and what you did and never letting your mates down. There were occasional fights in the playground but if you didn’t quit, took the knocks, or gave as good as you got you were soon seen as ‘Awl’right’. Unlike my previous school, where groups of two or three senior boys would hold down and rough up someone younger, bullying was not approved of. It was strictly one against one stuff and size for size. I saw toughs from the leavers form intervening in unequal fights by waving their large fists threateningly under a bigger boy’s nose and growling “Pack it in, Moosh! Pick on someone yer own size.”
It was the first time when school life and family life outside school became inextricably intertwined. At boarding school, one learnt to exist in a self-contained isolated bubble forming just a few limited friendships with one or two fellow boarders for both companionship and protection. Boarders and dayboys didn’t mix neither did the years or between the separate boarding houses. I suppose divide and rule was the order of the day. Home and family were somewhere quite different, and the two parts of your life never overlapped. I realised much later of all the boys I knew at boarding school there were only two that I knew the first names of and some sketchy details about their families, and both of those were from my prep school days.
Here the boys you were at school with were also your friends outside school and were often sons of neighbours. While like at Bishopstoke, going to each other’s houses was not encouraged, outside we hung around, kicked about, or did things together in the evenings and weekends around Eastleigh: boys clubs, pictures, and organising weekend ‘hops’ with the nearby Chamberlayne Road Girl’s School. These were mostly organised by Michael Derrick, the head prefect, as he had an aunt who lived at his house who bought him the top ten records every month. An individual characteristic or ability made you an identifiable person in your peer group; differences were accepted, not seen as an excuse for ganging up and excluding. Very soon you all knew a lot about each other, their families, what they did, where they went, their strengths and weaknesses. With your very closest friends you were soon on visiting terms in and out of each other’s houses, watching TV or sharing a family meal. Fifty years later I still visit Mrs Fowler, the mother of my friend Robert ‘Bob’ Fowler, whenever I am in the Southampton area.
The teachers too were different. They looked and acted like ordinary people and were tough but fair. They usually knew your name and spoke to you, even if they met you by chance in the street at the weekend. Teachers I particularly remember are the Head: Mr Hartnup, Ian ‘Maxi’ Millen: Maths, Len Pretty: Art, ‘Legger’ Vine: science, Mr Hamlin: Woodwork and TD and Mr Pollard: English.
Mr Hamlin’s mantra was “measure twice, cut once” and in the three years I was in his woodwork class I learnt all the basic skills of using tools, sharpening them and doing simple joinery. For my last project in 1959, with his guidance, I designed and made my first piece of furniture: a record cabinet in oak with glass panelled doors. Mr Hamlin was very good in that he allowed me to learn by my mistakes, while quietly guiding me generally in the right direction. It still looks OK today (2009) except for the top, which has warped slightly as Mr Hamlin said it would. I wanted the grain to run in a particular direction across the depth of the piece. He said it should go lengthways as it used only two pieces of oak instead of three my way. I did it my way and he was right, and I was wrong.
Len Pretty was the art teacher. He was over 65, with a tall stooping figure, had a shock of white hair and a short white moustache, which seemed to cover some injury to his top lip. He usually wore rough ginger coloured tweed 3-piece suit and had a slow pedantic way of speaking. Len had stayed on past retirement and was said to have served in the First World War. He was the first person that made art interesting and introduced me to thinking laterally about subjects and what else was going on in the world. In his art lessons he would always bring in his old wind up gramophone and play classical music on scratchy old 78’s as he insisted it would get us in the right mood.
When talking about art he would throw in information from other disciplines: when so and so was painting this, ‘x’ had made this scientific discovery and ‘y’ had written this play or book. He would always give constructive and encouraging criticism to our often awful efforts and would say it did not matter what the final result was as long as we enjoyed doing it. He encouraged us to draw and paint everyday life around us – the local streets, our houses, places we went to – it did not matter how bad they were as long as we looked, observed, and did something because he said we would get better, and he was right.
I was amazed to discover that, with the exception of maths, science, and metalwork my schoolwork improved by leaps and bounds. At my previous school I had been near or at the bottom of the class for most subjects but at the end of the year in 3A I was top in English, History, and Art and in the top four in Geography, Woodwork, RE and Technical Drawing, which I maintained for the next two years. In my final year at school the head told me that I would not be getting the English, History and Art prizes again that year as it was only fair that other boys got a turn. I was upset at this at the time but, looking back, he was right.
In 1956 the school had started to prepare pupils for the GCE ‘O’ level examination, which was a two-year course, and a new class called the ‘G’ form had been set up with its own class room under the leadership of Ian ‘Maxi’ Millen, the Maths teacher.
At the end my first year in class 3A I was, along with 13 of my class mates, selected to join the GCE class for the autumn term of 1957. The original class, now in their second year, were re-named ‘5G’ and we, the new intakes were named ‘4G’. My fellow class mates were Brian May, Gordon Brodie, Jan Kosnioski, John Brown, Michael Jenney, Roger Burlinson, Adrian Ward, David Rooke, Hugh Bulpitt, Michael Derrick, Michael Vince, Philip Brown, and John Collins. Both 5G and 4G shared the same class room.
Ian Millen’s wife, Faith, was the local midwife and they drove a black Ford Popular, registration number ‘POT 78’ which I featured in painting I did of an Eastleigh Street scene in January 1959, using the name of my friend Brian May on the shop front. The ford popular was a cheap and ugly car and it was said that when Henry Ford made a trip to England, he was shown the car he said, “We make that?”
We soon found Mr Millen to be a hard but fair taskmaster. He was in his late 20’s, above middle height, and had a thin wiry build, a narrow face with side-parting in his short cut black hair with a lock falling down across his forehead. He was very intense, with a prickly manner, was full of nervous energy, did not suffer fools gladly and had a very short fuse. We were all intimidated by him at first as he had the forceful personality that some teachers have of just being able to appear silently in a class room doorway and immediately everyone would fall silent and sit up straight.
He also had eyes in the back of his head. He would be writing on the blackboard with his back to us and would suddenly say “Brodie (or whoever) stop doing that!” He would carry on writing and if the person spoken too did not stop, he would suddenly whirl around and throw the piece of chalk with unerring accuracy to bounce off the offender’s head – to general laughs from the rest of us. He would then carry on writing and if the person still continued to do whatever he shouldn’t then use his final weapon. The blackboard was cleaned with a rubber, consisting of a thick felt pad on a solid wooden back, like a large and heavy shoe brush. In one continuous move Ian Millen would pick up the rubber, turn and throw it. He was renowned for being able to hit anyone anywhere in the classroom on the head with it with one throw – and I can testify from personal experiences that the force was hard enough to almost knock you off your seat. He would then calmly turn back to the board and continue, while we all sniggered at our classmate rubbing his head. I can’t see a teacher being able to do that in these politically correct times, but we came to no harm.
Ian Millen also always had a worn gym shoe conspicuously to hand with which he was always threatening to use and had the reputation in the school of being the teacher not to cross. I never had the slipper and in retrospect cannot remember anyone who actually did, so it was the implied threat, and our imaginations did the rest. We soon realised that under the seemingly forbidding manner he was actually extremely kind and would do anything to help his pupils. He just had high standards, expected the best from us and for us to work as hard as he did.
I was (and still am) hopeless at maths and no matter how hard I tried I still had great difficulties. However, I had no problems in asking him after class for help to explain something I did not understand, and he always did his best to help me. Indeed, at least twice I was invited around to his house in the evening and patiently (for him) he went through maths homework I had got wrong. It was only due to his untiring efforts that I at last just managed to scrape through mathematics at GCE ‘O’ level with, as he told me, only one mark above the fail level.
Today he would be described as slightly eccentric with a strange sense of humour, and he certainly sometimes had an unusual way of solving problems. I remember that I had a habit in class of leaning back in my chair on the back two legs. After giving me several warnings, I arrived in class one morning to find Ian Millen had replaced my seat with one that had only two back legs. He made me sit on it the whole morning with the dire threats of the slipper if I fell off it. Needless to say, I spent the morning wobbling frantically on the chair and it completely cured me of the habit.
Another time it was found that somebody was defacing the toilet cubicles with obscene graffiti and every time the school caretaker cleaned it off in a few days it happened again. The head master, Mr Hartnup, asked in assembly for it to stop, but it didn’t. The toilets were in the centre block of the H shaped building and had a high ceiling with a flat section some 15 feet above the floor with a small access trap to the area above, which I assume where the cold water storage tanks were. One lunchtime there was a commotion and a teacher marched out of the toilets holding the arms of two of the 14 year old thugs from the leavers’ class, those destined to leave barely being able to read or write and bound for jobs as labourers or gangers on the railway.
We learnt that they had been caught by the simple expedient of Ian Millen getting up into the loft space during several lunch hours and by leaving the hatch open a tiny crack was able to spy on all the boys using the toilets below. Finally, the culprits appeared and, in a cubicle, started to draw on the walls and at a signal on his whistle from Ian another teacher who was stationed just outside in the playground came in and caught the culprits. The problem was solved and never happened again, but I cannot imagine a teacher being able to get away with a similar approach today.
To be fully accepted as part of a group my new school usually, but not always, meant acquiring a nickname. This was used almost exclusively by your male friends but not by any of the girls who might be associated with the group. At my boarding schools’ fellow pupils were known only by their surnames and, to this day, I have no idea what their Christian names were. In the working class community of Bishopstoke and Eastleigh it was totally different. Both at school and in the community at large you were always known by your Christian name with your surname being thrown in sometimes in conversation as an afterthought.
Nicknames just happened over a period of time. There was no point in time when your particular group of friends said, “We are all going to call you ‘XXXXX’ from now on.” Some appellations would gradually come into conversation when referring to an individual, maybe at first starting off as a bit of a joke. Eventually it would gradually supplant your Christian name in general conversation until the point was reached when you were just known by your nickname. Some nicknames were obvious contraction or modification of the name: “Ade” from Adrian Ward or “Dick” from Michael Derrick. Others were because of some interest, such as “Jim” for Gordon Brodie, because he was a fanatical devotee of the Goon shows or “Customs” for John Collins because at a school talk on careers unwisely said he wanted to be a customs officer and Roger Burlinson was always referred to as “Dodge.”
I acquired a nickname and I know exactly where it came from – Ian Millen’s warped sense of humour.
In 1958 I was 15 and in form 4G, studying for ‘O’ levels. At one time my mother, who was frequently in poor health, became ill and had to stay in bed. In those days there were no outside support systems to help in such cases, families just had to get on and cope with the situation as best they could. Diane was working at the factory and was bringing in much needed money, so I had stay at home from school and look after her as best I could, doing the cooking, cleaning, shopping, washing, ironing, and any other chores that needed to be done. She wrote a letter to the school explaining the situation and I was given permission subject to keeping up with school work and homework. Doctor Boyle came by the house once or twice a week to keep an eye on things, but otherwise we were on our own. It was originally thought I would be away from school for a week at most but in the end, it became four weeks.
Maxi Millen knew that I had permission to be away and anyway was preparing school work for me every day to do at home. However, at the beginning of the first week I was away he called the morning register as usual and ‘discovered’ my absence and, according to one of my friends, looked around the class room in a slightly puzzled way. At afternoon registration he produced a figure which he had fashioned from a potato with another potato stuck on top for a head and potato peeling for arms. He put this on the front of his desk and twice a day for the next 4 weeks each time he called the register, and I was not there he would ostentatiously stick a pin in this effigy. When I eventually came back to school the potato man was bristling with pins like a hedgehog. From then on, I was known as “Spud” King.
B3. COWSHIT CANYON.
As I plodded slowly up the narrow track, I saw to my surprise the back of a familiar figure ahead leaning heavily against a tree. By his hunched shoulders, lowered head and steamy breath rising above him in short pants I could tell he was knackered.
I was not particularly sporty at school. I did not play for any school teams or participate in any of the after school clubs like gymnastics. Once a week we had a double period in the gym with the sports teacher and, on Wednesday afternoon games in the winter, there were afternoon kick-about football matches between ourselves at Fleming Park.
Two things we all had to take part in every year, unless excused on medical grounds, was the summer sports day at Fleming Park and the winter cross country run. I was generally rubbish on sports days. I had no turn of speed at all and so was hopeless at the races and had little or no aptitude for such sports as high or long jumping, javelin and shot putting.
My only attribute was one of endurance. When running, cycling, or swimming I could soon click into a steady pace and just keep going. I was not fast but consistent and I always finished. In the annual school cross country run, when the ground was usually dry and hard, the best I could ever do in my first two years was to finish half way up the field. But in my final year it was all different.
The run started in the school grounds and the first off was year one, and one minute later year two and so on, so by the time the 5th year started off the first year had a 5 minute start. The circular circuit went out into some fields and up a steep narrow track through some woods and round to the start again. It may have been a mile or two long and I cannot remember if we had to go around once or twice.
We all lined up at the start with the first years at the front and we 5th years at the back. One of the boys in the senior year fancied himself as a runner or, to be correct, fancied himself full stop. He had a good turn of speed and always did well on sports days, particularly the sprint events, and was usually in the top six on the cross country run.
He was one of those chaps who, when everyone else wore their crumpled and not too clean gym kit and plimsolls, turned up in pristine white shirt, shorts and clean gym shoes. On the start line, while we all stood idly about chatting and waiting for the off, he would bounce about on his toes warming up and frowning intently while doing exaggerated stretching exercises with his arms. When our turn came to start, he always tore off into the distance while I and other slower runners plodded along in his wake.
The winter of 1958 was extremely wet, and the ground was soddened, muddy, running with water, very slippery and extremely slow going. To my surprise I found these conditions exactly suited my running style. Gradually I found myself overtaking other runners and working my way steadily up through the field. The worst part of the run was up the steep narrow track in the gully through the woods. Known as ‘cowshit canyon’, because of all the cow pats there, it was usually damp, slippery, and smelly. This year it had excelled itself. The track was a slippery mass; a brown porridge-like mix of water, mud, cow manure, fallen leaves and clay. As I ploughed slowly and steadily up the track there ahead, I saw my class mate leaning heavily against a tree. His white outfit and legs were streaked with mud, as if he had slipped and fallen over several times. His back and head were bowed, his shoulders heaved, and his panted breath formed little clouds of steam above his head. Hearing me coming he glanced over his shoulder, moved slightly to one side and, as I passed, waved me forward with his arm and said, between pants, “Go on, Spud, go on! For the school!”
Taken aback by this extraordinary remark I ploughed steadily on and finally finished 15th- my best ever result in a cross-country run.
B4. SINGING ONIONS.
He pointed his stick at me and said, “It’s you, get out!” – and my musical career was over almost before it had begun.
Once a week we had a singing lesson in the main school hall with the music teacher, Mr Smith, a pleasant, mild-mannered, rotund, and grey-suited man who was approaching retirement.
In our fourth year he had the idea that he could make some sort of choir out of us, or at least get us to sing in tune together. We would sit in the hall on two benches, one behind the other, while he tried to find out what sort of voices we had, so he could arrange us in some sort of musical order on the benches. He would play a few notes on the piano to give us the tune before standing before us, waving a thin baton-like stick, encouraging us to sing the right words together and in tune.
We were not very good, and he would get so exasperated. “No! No! All together” – and a sharp tap with his stick to those individuals who were not doing it correctly.
My time in this fledgling singing group was short and didn’t get off to a good start. On the first or second lesson I was standing next to Gordon Brodie who, as we sang, leant dramatically away from me with an exaggerated look of distaste on his face. Several times Mr Smith told him to stop doing it and stand up straight until he eventually asked him what the problem was. To which my friend Gordon replied “Please Sir! It’s King. He’s breathing onions all over me!”
For supper the previous night had eaten Spanish onions (a favourite of mine), bread and cheese and as I enthusiastically bellowed out the song, he could smell it on my breath. I was told to sit out the rest of the lesson and not to eat onions again before a singing lesson.
After a couple of weeks, he had got us singing loudly together and had begun to work on the tune. Each time we started off he would listen hard and after a short time he would stop us, play a couple of notes on the piano and off we would go again.
This happened several times and he got more and more annoyed, stabbing the notes on the piano, and telling us to listen. Eventually he said he would start us off and as he pointed his stick at each of us in turn we were to stop singing. Off we went in fine voice with plenty of volume and he gradually worked his way along the benches. He pointed at each boy in turn, listened and then pointed to the next boy.
Eventually he pointed at me, so I stopped singing. He listened to the choir and immediately said “It’s you – out!” I was apparently tone deaf – sang flat and couldn’t hold a tune. For the rest of the year in music lessons I sat to one side reading while the others sang.
B5. LEARNING A LESSON.
I came out of the hall at the end of morning assembly, turned right towards my class room and stopped dead with shock amongst the mass of boys shoving past me as realization dawned – it was me, it was supposed to be me, what had I done?
The school day started with morning assembly in the hall. At the front were the head master, Mr Hartnup, and some members of staff. Arranged in lines down the hall were all the classes, starting with the first year at the front. We prefects were spaced out along each side, with our backs against the climbing bars, to keep an eye on the unruly elements and to make sure there was no mucking about.
On this particular Monday the assembly was running its usual course when about half way through there was an unexpected long pause in the proceedings. A rustle of anticipation went around the hall, and I looked around, wondering what was going on. Mr Hartnup seemed to be gazing around the hall with a slightly puzzled and questioning look, running his eyes along the prefects standing down each side. Finally, he bent down, picked up a bible, read the usual lesson, assembly finished, and we all filed out.
In the corridor it hit me like a sledge-hammer, and I stood aghast, rooted to the spot. It was me. I was supposed to be reading the lesson. What had I done? How could I have forgotten?
As part of the assembly service the lesson from the bible was usually read out by the head master, but now and again the religious instruction teacher selected a prefect to do it. I had only recently been appointed as a prefect and was a bit taken aback when, shortly afterwards he asked me to read the lesson on the following Monday. He showed me the lesson I had to read, and, for rest of the week, I practiced reading out loud at every spare moment. I had not read anything out in public before, especially to a hall full of critical fellow pupils, and I wanted to get it word perfect and not to make a mess of it.
But somehow, come the Monday morning, I had totally forgotten all about it and expected the worst from the head master. However, when I was later called into his office and told him that I had no rational explanation as to why I had forgotten he seemed to understand. A week or so later I was asked to read a lesson again and, the day before, both the RE teacher and the headmaster took the trouble to ask me if I was ready for it. I was, and it all went off like clockwork and Mr Hartnup said a quiet “well done” as he passed me on the way out of the hall.
Glancing up at the clock on the wall I leapt to my feet in a panic, oversetting my chair with a crash onto the concrete floor, and ran up the corridor frantically ringing the bell.
The duties of a prefect were to be on ‘lates’ and ringing the bell to signal the changeover at the end of each lesson. ‘Lates’ was being stationed at the entrance gate to the school at 9 o’clock in the morning and at 1 o’clock in the afternoon to enter into ‘The Book’ the names of any pupils who were late for school. At the end of every week the headmaster would look at the book and take action if any pupil was consistently late.
Inside the main door to the school was a desk that was manned during school hours by a prefect. The school day consisted of eight periods, four in the morning and four in the afternoon. After two periods there was a break, the morning break, lunch, and then the afternoon break. Prefects manned the desk in turn for two periods at a time and at the same time did private study. Any visitors to the school or pupils sent out of class to see the headmaster were received by the prefect and then taken into the adjacent school secretary’s office. To signal the end of every period the prefect had to walk around the school ringing a small brass hand bell. Various classes or teachers would change over, depending on whether it was a single or double period and whether changes of classrooms were involved.
On one memorable morning I was on 9am duty at the desk for the first double period of the day. There were no visitors or pupils sent out of class to distract me and the corridor was unusually empty of foot traffic. I was revising for exams and became so absorbed in what I was doing that I totally forgot the time. I eventually leant back in my chair and glanced up at the clock and to my horror saw that it was 5 minutes short of the end of the second period – I had totally missed ringing the bell for the first period.
Leaping to my feet I frantically ran around the school, ringing the bell as loudly as I could and arrive back at the desk in a muck sweat and panting and waited for retribution.
Absolutely nothing happened. There was no noise of pupils changing classes and no teacher appeared in the corridor to find out what was happening. Five minutes later I again walked around the school ringing the bell at the end of the second period and there was an immediate noise of voices and the thunder of pupils pouring out of the class rooms into the playground for the mid-morning break.
I learned later that at the end of the first period with no bell being rung several teachers had poked their heads into the corridor to see what was going on. Apparently seeing me totally absorbed in my work they grinned, nodded, and winked at each other and withdrew back into their classes and just carried on. Fortunately, there were many double periods that morning, so they took their chance to quietly play a joke on a pupil.
B7. LAW AND ORDER.
With a flourish I reached below the desk and smashed my exhibits one after the other onto the desk top. The audience shrank back in their seats, and I knew I had them.
I belonged to the school debating society and every year we had an open day where parents could come and see the school, watch gymnastic displays and various other activities, and listen to any discussions or debates.
This year the subject for the debate was ‘Youth Culture v Law and Order’, as there had been a lot of coverage in the press about the Teddy Boys and their deadly enemies, the motorcycle Greasers. These boys were usually tooled up with bicycle chains, knuckle dusters and flick knives and the fights between the various groups around the country often made the headlines. It was not only the periodic scuffles and fights between local groups but also the increasing feeling of intimidation felt by older people, and that it was no longer safe to walk the streets at night was increasingly causing concern.
Clerics thundered against the seemingly unstoppable rise of this alien youth culture from their pulpits. Pundits wrote scathing articles, police spokesmen made portentous statements, academics debated the deteriorating situation on radio programmes and the ruling classes saw it all as the beginning of the end of civilisation as they knew it. Certainly, in Eastleigh I did not dare go into the Station Café, the Greaser motor cycle club hang-out, or The Cosmo, the Teddy Boy’s café because both groups could be equally violent towards anyone they took exception to. They were known to be people to avoid and, in the street – if a bunch of them were swaggering along the pavement, the sensible person stepped aside.
Also, presaging the large violent pitched battles between the Mods and the Rockers in the 1960s, the factions were starting to do things in a more co-ordinated way and on an increasing national scale. The word would go out and on a given weekend, one or two motorcycle ‘clubs’ of Greasers from different parts of the country would descend on, say, a sea-side town like Brighton for the day.
The word would also be passed around the local Teddy Boy groups that the Greasers were going to ‘invade’ their turf and they would all turn up, tooled up and ready for trouble. The local citizenry was usually terrified, and the local constabulary were often overwhelmed when trouble inevitably broke out on the sea front or in the town centre. In the punch-ups shop windows were often smashed, parked cars damaged, and people got hurt.
For the debate I had been given the task of speaking on behalf of Law and Order, while my opponent spoke on behalf of the youth culture. He made a pretty good and convincing job of it, trotting out all the arguments about a new post-war generation, looking to the future, the reactionary and hidebound older generation, the over-reaction of the police, the press blowing things out of proportion, and finally made a plea for tolerance on all sides.
I could see by the nodding heads of several of the parents that he had done well, so I knew I had to pull something out of the bag and fortunately I had a secret weapon.
When it was my turn, I spoke on the urgent need for a greater enforcement of the law and the protection of the people from these marauding groups of Teddy Boys and Greasers. I reminded the audience of several awful incidents, plus statistics and facts that had recently been in the national press. I followed this with stories that had been reported in the local press about Eastleigh and several anecdotes about what I or friends had seen or been told about that had happened locally. I felt the audience gradually swaying in my direction, but I needed a clincher.
By chance, I happened to know two Teddy Boys who lived In Bishopstoke. They were a few years older than me but seemed to be quite reasonable blokes when they were not dressed up in their Teddy Boy outfits. I approached them about the school debate and asked them if they could help me. Fortunately, they found the whole thing very amusing so kindly lent me the tools of their trade, as long as swore not to say where I had got them and gave them back.
The Teddy Boys’ weapons of choice were metal knuckle dusters, bicycle chains and flick knives. Some Teds even had a special modification to their trousers with a long thin pocket down the leg of their trousers in which they would dangle their bicycle chain. In the event of trouble, they could easily whip it out and whirl it around. More street-wise Teds just used penny coins in their fists in a fight, with a projecting coin tucked between each folded finger. They could cause a lot of damage in a fight but if stopped by the police and searched for offensive weapons they would only be found to have coins of the realm in their pockets.
They lent me a bicycle chain and a flick knife and, at the end of my speech I finished up by dramatically smashing the chain on the desk in front of me and then, whipping out the knife from my jacket pocket, I flicked it open and stuck it quivering in the desk top, while saying something like “Would you like it if you or your son or daughter had these used on them? I won the debate by a landslide.
The summer of 1959 was very hot. We were in the final week or two of revision before our GCE ‘0’ level exams and were doing a lot of private study. We had no regular lessons and as long as we were in school on time, we were very much left to our own devices to get on with revision, apart from touching base with various teachers if we needed help or advice.
The school had an official uniform, but they were very relaxed about enforcing it and most pupils wore casual clothes with perhaps a second hand blazer as a lot of them could not afford to buy the full kit.
My class, 5G, was the top form of the school and most of us were prefects so our usual style of school wear was a shirt and tie, sports jacket, long grey or black trousers and black leather shoes. However, because of the very hot weather our style of clothing had gradually tended more and more towards lighter and more colourful holiday wear.
On this particular day I decided to go the whole hog and wear my favourite shirt into school, which I usually wore out in the evenings when on a date going to a ‘hop’. It was black silk-like black buttoned long-sleeved shirt, with a buttoned cut-away collar, and had white vertical frills down the front – a sort of a stylised version of a Teddy Boy shirt.
I teamed this with my cycling sun glasses, a pair of shortish khaki shorts, shocking pink luminous ankle socks and black leather shoes with thick crepe soles, with my prefect’s badge pinned to the waist band of the shorts. It was a very comfortable and ‘cool’ outfit and as I passed them, I got more than a few admiring glances and comments from the girls of the nearby girls’ school.
At break time I was told to go and see the Headmaster, Mr Hartnup. He gave me a real telling off and said if I ever came to school again dressed like that, he would take my prefect’s badge away from me, so next day I was back to wearing more conventional clothes.
B9. CAFÉ CULTURE.
In the late 1950s and early 60s were three cafés in town centre of Eastleigh, each the focal point of a different tribal group. They were known as the Station, the Cosmo and Denny’s. The Station Café was on Southampton Road, opposite the railway station on the main line to London. Denny’s was on the corner of High Street and Factory Road, and the Cosmo was half way down Market Street on the left, near the Jack Hobbs cycle shop. The Station was the haunt for the motorcyclists, the rockers, and greasers. The Cosmo was the hang out for teddy boys and other scruffs. Denny’s was the preferred place for Jazz Revivalists, Beatniks, Mods, and others who considered themselves both ‘with it’ and at the more educated end of the gene pool. None of them got on with the others and one café group didn’t go into another group’s territory, unless they were bent on mischief. The Station was a typical railway town greasy spoon; the Cosmo was just greasy, with dirty brown net curtains and blue flickering fluorescent strip lighting. Denny’s was more of a coffee bar, its Formica décor heavily influenced by the 50s café style associated with likes of Tommy Steel, Cliff Richard, and Adam Faith. It was on the corner of High Street and Factory Road and, from inside its large glass windows we could see (and be seen by) every passing girl.
I and my fellow GCE group from Toynbee Road Secondary School favoured Denny’s because a bottle of Coke was 3d (1.5p) and the Jukebox was 1 shilling (5p) for three plays. Also, the frightfully cool and well educated girls from the local grammar school hung out there as well as girls from Chamberlain Road Girls’ School. Josie Honeybone, a dark haired girl from Drake Road in Bishopstoke, had a part time job behind the counter at weekends. She was rumoured to be over nineteen and not even engaged, which made her seem over the hill in eyes of the local belles. In the local culture of those days most girls aimed to be ‘going steady’ by the time they were 16 or 17 at the latest, married at 18 or 19 and have one or two children by their early 20s. The youngest I had heard of was Janet, from Edward Avenue, who had had to get married when she was only just 16 and, in the 1960s her daughter did the same, making Janet a grandmother at 32.
On a typical summer Saturday, I would be up and out on the road on my bike by six o’clock doing my regular early morning 20 mile training circuit through Twyford, Winchester, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh and back home to Bishopstoke. Just after 7 I would be at Dick Gillingham’s paper shop at Riverside to do my paper round followed by a paper money collecting round, before being back home by about half past eleven. Then I would do chores or perhaps clean my bike. After a snack lunch I would be off into Eastleigh to meet up with my friends. Saturday afternoon was when we all met up in the Denny’s café to hang out drinking bottles of coke, talking, bragging, hotly defending the merits of our favourite singers and listening to their latest records on the glittery juke box.
Every so often a small group of us would get up, leave the cafe, and take a walk around the block. Straight along Factory Road, right into High Street and down to Leigh Road, right again and to Market Street and back up to the café; in, sit down with the others and order another coke. The whole circuit could be done in under 15 minutes, but we were there to both to see and be seen so were constantly stopping to look at shop window displays or pass loud remarks to any passing girls who always seemed to go around in pairs. Of course, the girls stuck their noses in the air and wiggled on by totally ignoring us, talking animatedly to each other. We all walked very slowly, legs slightly splayed in the style that was popular at the time, desperately trying to appear cool and casual. This walk was aptly described by someone later as walking like a constipated John Wayne with twisted underpants. Many of the girls had part time weekend jobs in shops like Woolworth’s. We could saunter casually in and out of the shops and try to make eye contact with ones we fancied or had heard fancied us. We were rarely put off by their tossing heads, their backs turned to us and their animated talk to another customer. Sometimes one of us would be dared by the others to make a trivial purchase from the counter. This usually ended up with both parties trying to look cool while being tongue tied and embarrassed with friends sniggering loudly outside. The Cosmo Cafe in Market Street, the hang-out of the Teddy Boys, was a run-down badly maintained place with peeling brown woodwork. The grimy windows had dirty nicotine-yellow net curtains sagging across the windows, which were lit from the inside by the bluish fluorescent strip lights. There was often trouble there as they fancied themselves as hard men and certainly were not people to lightly cross, as several of them were usually ‘tooled up’ with flick knives, knuckle dusters and bicycle chains.
One night I had been to the cinema and was walking down the quiet, dark High Street towards Leigh Road eating fish and chips from a newspaper. As I passed on the other side of the road from the Cosmo all hell broke loose inside, with shouting, screaming and the sound of splintering wood. I glanced across and, in what seemed like slow motion, I saw the café window bulge outwards then break with a noise like a gunshot and, through the tattered net curtains, a large juke box sailed out across the pavement and shattered with a jangling metallic crash in the gutter. There was an instant of total silence then a maul of fighting, shouting Teddy Boys spilled out on to the pavement and I rapidly disappeared off into the darkness.
As a post script to the story: a few doors away from the Cosmo was Jack Hobbs’ cycle shop, managed by Eric Fern. As keen cyclist I went in every week to catch up on the cycling gossip, get my cycling magazine and buy new bits for my bike. Eric Fern also sold second hand records and the week after the Cosmo fight Eric showed me a box full of nearly newly arrived ex-juke box 45 rpm records. They were the latest hits and were from the ruined Cosmo juke box. I bought several and still have them.
Many years later I heard an unsubstantiated story about the demise of Denny’s café. Denny also ran a small local car hire company. On a particular occasion a local police officer’s own car had been stolen. Shortly afterwards the officer was off duty, and he needed a car to go somewhere, so he hired one from Denny. On his journey the car had a puncture, and the police officer changed the wheel using the spare from the boot. To his surprise he saw on the spare wheel his own particular identifying markings and so Denny was busted. Apparently, Denny’s game was to get stolen cars of the type he ran in his hire company, strip them for spares and use them to keep his own cars running.
In the 1950s and early 60s Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was the icon of my teenage years in Eastleigh. To my generation, who had grown up in the grey post war years of austerity, shortages, and rationing, he represented the epitome of edgy teenage rebellion against traditional authority. The more adults disapproved of him, denounced him from the pulpit or wrote angry letters to the newspapers the more we loved it. He had charisma, style and talent and he took first America and then the rest of the western world by storm. In a few short years from 1954 he totally changed the face of the popular music industry and became the first worldwide pop star. In the racially segregated USA, he was the poor white Southern boy who sang like a black boy and fused their rhythm and blues with, among others, church, and country music to create his own original style. Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, Don’t be Cruel, Hound Dog, All Shook Up, Teddy Bear, Jailhouse Rock and Hard Headed Woman – in the six years from 1956 to 1962 the hit records just kept coming and we rocked in our fancy shirts, ‘Slim Jim’ ties, tapered black trousers or blue jeans with no turn-ups, coloured luminous socks and ‘brothel creeper’ suede shoes – preferably blue.
Elvis seemed to represent the ultimate rejection of conformity – of being seen but not heard and doing what you were told – and his colourful figure gave a voice to the newly emerging cult of the rebellious teenager. His music and presentational style were uniquely different – visual, dynamic, thrilling, and LOUD – the exact opposite of the sedate big bands and the static crooners and ballad singers of the 1940s and early 50s. When he sang and moved your own feet automatically started tapping, your shoulders twitched, your fingers snapped, and your hips gyrated. No wonder men of the cloth, politicians and other pundits loudly claimed it was the beginning of the end of civilisation as they knew it. Some TV shows would only film Elvis from the waist upwards while he was performing and his twitching legs and gyrating hips were branded ‘obscene’, but his music and songs were made to move to – they were impossible to perform standing still.
In coffee bars, on the radio, on the infant black and white TV and on records – when the King sang, we listened. We copied his dress, mannerisms, hair style and curled lip, bought his records and watched his films, particularly the iconic Jailhouse Rock and King Creole. Such was his phenomenal success that the careers of several English singers, such as Billy Fury and Cliff Richard, were launched on their being ‘Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley’.
There were singers before Elvis and those who were his contemporaries who contributed to breaking the musical mould, but he was the first one to put it all together and fuse various musical styles into Rock and Roll. Many singers, such as Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, ran him close but they did not have his unique combination of raw talent, effervescent energy, good looks, sex appeal and subtle air of danger. To the girls he was an idealised pin-up and to us boys he was our role model.
In his prime, which many believe was the decade from 1954, he spanned the Teddy Boy era which gradually morphed into the Mod and Rocker styles of the early 60s, before being submerged in the Liverpool Sound of the Beatles and the swinging (later) 60s.
After Elvis’s death his brand name lived on and it was said in a programme on the 8th of January 2010, commemorating what would have been his 75th birthday that his estate has made more millions from sales of his records and memorabilia since his death than Elvis ever made when he was alive. His early songs were released on Bakelite 78 rpm records, but by 1957 these had been supplanted by the smaller 45 rpm records. Last week I was listening to a radio programme about antiques and the expert said that a mid-1950s Elvis 78 record will sell for more than £100 to a collector.
The first UK hit parade chart was published by the New Musical Express (NME) in 1952. Until 1956 the charts were dominated by the more traditional singers who grew out of the Big Band and Swing era of the 1940s, men such as Pat Boone, Frankie Lane, Johnny Ray, Guy Mitchell, and Tab Hunter and women such as Doris Day, Anne Shelton, Kay Starr, and Winifred Atwell.
From 1957 fresh new singers appeared in the charts with their own modern and vibrant way of singing, spearheaded by Elvis Presley who had already had 9 previous records in the UK top ten charts before getting his first No 1 with All Shook Up. These newcomers soon dominated the charts and included American singers such as Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Conway Twitty, Paul Anka and Buddy Holly. They were closely followed by British singers; Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan. There were also novelty singers such as Wee Willie Harris, who used to dye his hair in a tartan pattern to match his jacket or novelty bands such as Lord Rockingham’s Eleven, who were musicians from a jazz and big band background and were the house band for a TV show called “Oh Boy!”
My sister Diane had bought a record player in the mid-50s, a traditional heavy wind-up gramophone that played the large 78 RPM records and had to have the needle replaced frequently. The 78 records were awkward to handle and were easily broken if dropped.
However, by the time I became interested in buying and playing records in 1957 things had changed quite radically. Now the records of choice were the small new plastic 45 rpm discs, and the first small compact electric portables were available at an affordable price. The smaller discs were easier to carry around and play and were far more difficult to break. Their only drawback was that if exposed to heat, such as being left in strong sunlight, they would warp and become unplayable. Another improvement was that the needles in the record player heads only needed changing every few months.
With my pocket money I bought a Dansette portable record player on hire purchase but, unlike this picture of the slightly later model, mine was blue and the white top was covered with tiny blue spots. At the time I had a fashionable white shirt with similar tiny blue spots, so I had no trouble in choosing which one to buy in the shop. These record players sounded very tinny and had no bass or treble controls but now we could listen to records when and where we liked. The gramophone moved from being a large, cabinet-sized unit in the ‘best’ or ‘front’ room to something that could be used in the bedroom, kitchen, and living room or even, with an extension lead, in the garden on summer days.
But the best place to listen to pop music was on a really good Juke Box, and every café worth its salt had one. They came in many shapes and sizes and all of them had either an Art Deco or Futurist look about them. Some were in bright chrome and stainless steel, but they usually had fluorescent light tubes behind the opaque colourful moulded plastic covers, with chrome strips and wood or Formica wood-effect panels. The best make was said to be Wurlitzer and certainly the one in Denny’s café belted the music out with a bass line that nearly shook the floor. Pop music is made to be played loudly – playing it quietly loses all the excitement and verve.
Records became much cheaper and widely available so even someone with a modest income from paper rounds could buy one or two records each month and I gradually built up a collection of the ones I really liked rather than those that were the most popular at the time. I still have these records today in 2010.
B11. CARNIVAL AND FAIR.
Every August since 1887 Eastleigh has had a carnival week at the end of which all the local bands, clubs, associations, industries, and businesses took part in a grand parade around the town. At the same time a travelling funfair came to town and set up for the week at the end of the Leigh Road recreation ground next to the Railway Institute, and it became a magnet for all the local teenagers. During the day the site looked seedy, run down and uninviting, with the fairground folk looking a badly dressed and shifty lot. But come the evening the lights came on and the music blared. The fairground girls in their garish make-up and clothes and the tattooed, faintly dangerous gypsy-looking fairground men, along with the heady smell of mud, straw, toffee apples, hot dogs and candy floss made it instantly magical.
There were swings, roundabouts, dodgem cars, side shows, fortune tellers, stalls for throwing darts or target shooting with air-guns for prizes, coconut shies, and a try-your-strength machine. There was also a machine like a roundabout that had cars whirling at high speed around on the undulating track while spinning on their own axes. This was a favourite with us all as the cars were either full of groups of girls screaming hysterically or held girls clinging like limpets to their protective boyfriends who were looking manly, holding them tightly around their waists.
The try-your-strength machine was also a favourite with the lads. It was a tall wooden post, perhaps 15 feet high, with a bell at the top. At the bottom was a heavy metal projectile attached to the post. This was cantilevered from the end of a short metal board with a raised lump at its other end. One would hit this with a large wooden mallet and the object was to get the projectile to whiz up the post and strike the bell. There was always a crowd of likely lads standing around watching the action, usually with their arms around some adoring girl.
As each boy stepped up to have a go, he performed the ritual of rolling up sleeves, flexing shoulders and legs, clenching and unclenching fists and a few gyratory movements of the hips until at last he picked up the mallet. There followed a few exploratory swings before the distance was measured, the feet set and, with a sharp intake of breath he would swing the mallet high over his shoulder and then bring it down with a mighty grunt onto the target. All heads swivelled upwards as the projectile whizzed up the post, followed by grins and nods of approval if the bell rang or grimaces and head shakes if it did not. If you actually rang the bell, which was not easy, you got a prize of a giant cigarette, which was about 6 inches long. This was not smoked then but either held in the hand or put behind your ear so as you strutted around the fairground all the girls and less successful males could see that you had done the business. Heady stuff when you did it and I only managed to do it once.
For the following week everybody spent every evening there as we knew our friends and all the girls would be there too. One bright, clear starry night In August 1958 I was standing with Jan Kosniowski in Leigh Road, just in front of the public toilets and next to the now demolished Railway Institute. Behind the toilets the annual fair was in full noisy swing. In May of that year the Russians had successfully launched their Sputnik 3 spacecraft into orbit around the earth. Jan was very knowledgeable about astronomy, and he pointed out Sputnik 3 – a point of light streaking across the sky. A memorable moment.
The high point of the week was the Carnival procession on Saturday evening. All the major firms and industries entered floats covered with lights and there was fierce competition to outdo each other. It was highly colourful with bright lights, marching bands, and pop songs belting out from each competing float. People came from miles around to see it and a tremendous amount of work had always gone into the design, construction, and costumes. The multiple entries from Pirelli and the various British Rail workshops were always especially good.
In 1960 British Rail had an entry that used as its theme the current pop song Chain Gang, sung by Sam Cooke. They had constructed a huge imitation ‘I’ section steel beam out of plywood, which was painted grey to resemble metal. It was some 30 feet long, 2 feet high and 18 inches wide. This was carried by 10 pairs of slaves with matted long hair, stained brown skins and wearing rags and chains, each man holding one end of a wooden rod fixed to the underside. On top of the beam stood a large, muscular overseer whirling a great whip with which he lashed the men on either side. From hidden loudspeakers the song blared out and the men shuffled along in perfect time to the beat, giving out great grunts at the appropriate places in the lyrics while the crowd roared their approval.
B12. IN AT THE DEEP END.
Gordon Brodie put his head through the partly opened door and nodded as a voice from within called out a number. Turning around he looked across at us and asked whose number it was. I nodded, slowly stood up and everyone seemed to be staring at me as, in total silence, I walked across the room to the door.
Until I started at Toynbee school I had never had much to do with girls outside the immediate family circle and, being at boarding school, meant I had rarely been in contact with them. At Toynbee it was different. The boys there had mostly all grown up and been to infant school with most of the girls at Chamberlayne Road Girl’s school and so they were part of the crowd.
I soon realised that I had no skills at all in dealing with girls in general and at the first record hop I went I was so overcome with embarrassment and shyness that I spent the whole evening helping the person operating the record player to select and play records. I did not know how to dance, and I felt totally unable to join in the exuberant party type games the others were enjoying so much. From then on, I avoided these hops and always made an excuse as to why I could not come until the day fate and Gordon Brodie took a hand. One weekend a classmate was having a party in the Railway Institute which was on the corner of where Leigh Road crossed Market Street. I, as usual, cried off, saying that I already had an arrangement to go to the pictures in the nearby cinema in Market Street. As I had nothing else to do that evening I went to the pictures as, fortunately, there was a good picture on that I wanted to see.
After the picture show finished about 10 pm and it was almost dark as I walked down towards Leigh Road to catch a bus back to Bishopstoke. Just as I got to the junction who should step out of the Railway Institute on the opposite corner but Gordon Brodie to have a crafty smoke. Seeing me he called me across, and we chatted for a minute or two about the film while he finished his fag. Then, on hearing I was just going home on the bus, exclaimed that the party was not over yet, and I should come in and join them. Over-riding my feeble protests he dragged me inside and before I knew it, I was thrust into a game of Postman’s Knock.
There were about 40 people at the party and the game involved all the girls and boys at the party who were either sitting around on chairs chatting or dancing. The twenty boys were each given a ‘secret’ number from 1 to 20, while each girl would be given a letter from the first 20 letters of the alphabet. The master of ceremonies, who in this case was Gordon Brodie, would select a boy to go into the next room and who would then call out a random girl’s letter to him. Gordon would then bellow out the letter and the girl that had that letter then had to go in the next room and give the boy a kiss, usually to loads of cat-calls or encouraging cries from the other boys, depending on if the boy was thought to fancy the girl or not. Then the boy would come back to join us and the girl in the other room would then call out a random boy’s number for Gordon to shout out. As the boy whose number had been called walked over to the door there were loud comments or warning cries to the girl in the other room- again depending on if the girl was thought to fancy the boy or not.
I had hardly said ‘hullo’ to everybody and sat down when, to my horror, I heard my number called out. To this day I do not know if it was Gordon setting me up or being very perceptive- one day, if we ever meet again, I must ask him. I had no choice; I was put squarely on the spot and there was no chance of ducking out. I can still recall my long, slow walk across the bare wooden floor to the partly open door, hearing the sound of each step I made while trying to appear nonchalant and cool.
Once inside I was faced with a wee girl all puckered up with her eyes slightly shut and realised with relief that she was as shy as I was. I gave her a quick peck on the lips after which she quickly opened her eyes, said ‘thank you’ and scuttled off through the door. I suddenly realised that girls were not so bad and, calling out a letter, was soon off and running- thanks to Gordon Brodie.
At Toynbee we went around in a gang with a group of girls from the local girls’ schools. Various girls came and went but the nucleus generally remained the same. Names I remember are Valerie Dacre, Brenda Clarke, Eileen Shepherd, Janet and Sheila Holding, Chris Brown, Jean Evans, Linda Jones, and Margaret Kemp.
Over time various boys and girls in our group paired up for shorter or longer periods; perhaps for only one or two dates, or for a week or two and for those deemed to be ‘going steady’, for several months. There was nothing very serious in the relationships and most of the boys in our group went out with most of the girls at one time or another. We danced with them at our hops and youth clubs, went to pictures as a group, hung around in the cafes or walked around Eastleigh together. Michael Derrick went out with Margaret Kemp for several years but eventually married a Winchester girl. Brian May married Janet Holding, David Rooke married Chris Brown and Linda Jones married Rod Noyce, a builder’s son from Chandlers Ford.
There were the usual teenage traumas of breaking up and making up, dumping, or being dumped, two-timing, or being two-timed, all part of the rich tapestry of growing up. Of the girls I went out with between 1957 and 1959 I only remember, in no particular order, Eileen Shepherd, Valerie Dacre, Jean Evans, Susan Benham, and Carol Hallett. Susan immigrated with her family to Australia in the late 1960s, possibly to Perth, but I do not know what happened to the others.
The longest lasting was Jean Evans, who had a Welsh father and lived at No 300, Desborough Road. We started going out in the summer of 1958 but after various teenage ups and downs she dumped me on 10 March 1959. We got together again on Sunday, 5 April 1959, my 16th Birthday, but only lasted a few weeks before I was told that she had been seeing someone else and so I dumped her.
The following Saturday when I arrived home for lunch, having finished my paper and money collecting round, my mother handed me a note which she said she had found taped to the letterbox in the front door. The envelope was heavily inscribed with various acronyms in capital letters, such as SWALK (Sealed With a Loving Kiss.) The note, in a handwriting I did not recognise and with many under linings and exclamation marks, asked me to meet ‘someone’ urgently outside Eastleigh Town Hall at 7 o’clock that evening. It looked interesting so I thought I would turn up.
However, I was out on a training ride in the afternoon and went on that evening to do something else with the lads, totally forgetting about my assignation. On Monday I was met after school by a girlfriend of Jean Evans who said she had written the note on Jean’s behalf and stuck it to my front door. Jean had wanted to make up with me and had waited for an hour outside the Town Hall before going home in tears. I was told that it was now all over between Jean and me and she never wanted to see me again. I felt a complete idiot, but Jean recovered fairly quickly and within a week I heard she was going out with another friend, David Upton from 4G.
How am I certain about the dates? Well, in 2010 I discovered an old box of photographs belonging to my late mother and amongst a bundle of photos of my schooldays I found this faded photo of Jean with all the dates written on the back in my handwriting.
Once I was walking around Eastleigh with a girl that I had been around with for a week or two, I forget her name. I was pushing my bike as we walked along arguing. The relationship was not going too well, and I was looking for a way out. She claimed I did not see her enough as I spent far too many evenings out at the Fireflies boys’ club or training on my bike or on weekend cycling trips with friends. If I really wanted to be her boyfriend, I should be seeing her several evenings a week and at least one day at the weekend. She finally exclaimed “You think more of your bike than you do of me!” I looked at her, looked at my bike and replied “You’re right, I do. Goodbye.” I got on my bike and rode away.
B14. GOING TO THE PICTURES.
Friday night was pictures night and there was a choice of two cinemas, the Regal, or the Odeon, which were directly opposite each other in Market Street. If you were taking a girl, it was crucial where you met up. If you said “See you at 8 o’clock in the back row” it meant that she was still on probation and a one night stand and so paid for her own ticket but might get an ice cream in the interval. If, on the other hand, you said “See you outside,” it meant she had moved to the next stage of being a possible girlfriend so would have her ticket bought for her. If two people were still together after a month she was recognised as a ‘steady’ girlfriend, and as such one went Dutch on cinema tickets, each paying for their own.
In these cinemas I saw such film classics as Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean, On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, Bill Haley and the Comets in Rock around the Clock and the iconic Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock. It was a time when the young audiences really got involved with what was up there on the screen, screaming, howling, and rocking and rolling in the aisles.
The cinema was packed on the night in 1957 when I saw Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, with the front rows taken up as usual by the Teddy Boys from the Cosmo Café, all dressed in their full gear and their girls done up to the nines. As the film went on the noise from the audience got louder and louder and the cinema usherettes were running around trying to keep order. Finally, towards the end, the place erupted with people starting to dance enthusiastically, rock and rolling up and down the aisles. The Teds began to rip the place up, somehow a fight started and soon the place was a heaving mass of people either punching each other or screaming and struggling to get out. Fortunately, I was sitting with two friends towards the back of the cinema, and we quickly got out into Market Street, just as the police van arrived and a posse of constables jumped out of the back and charged into the cinema waving their batons.
In 1959 we were in the Regal to watch a Cliff Richard film, possibly Serious Charge, when a whole gang of Teds from the Cosmo café stalked in. They were not guys to mess with and sensible people kept out of their way. They were impeccably dressed in the full Teddy Boy gear – dark blue or black drape jackets with velvet collars, black drainpipe trousers, leather belts with fancy buckles, white socks, “brothel creeper” suede shoes, and white shirts with bootlace ties. They had swept back Brylcreemed hair, with curling quiffs hanging down over their foreheads, and long thick sideburns. They marched down to the front and stopped at the second row, looked at the people sitting there and jerked their thumbs towards the back of the theatre. These people knew how to take a hint and rapidly vacated all the seats. The Teds settled comfortably in the second row with their feet draped over the backs of the front row seats to watch the film.
In 1960 we were all at the Gaumont, a large cinema near Southampton railway station. We had come to see Elvis in GI Blues and there were enough of us to occupy a complete row of seats in the centre section down towards the front. One of us had smuggled in an old brass car horn, the sort with a rubber bulb. When pressed firmly it gave a loud and satisfying ‘HONK’ but when pressed gently but rapidly gave out a loud and realistic panting sound. During the quieter moments in the film when Elvis was in a romantic situation with the lead girl, Juliet Prowse, we would make the horn pant loudly, or at an exciting moment it was made to honk. The usherettes were rushing up and down the aisles in the dark frantically shining their torches along the rows of seats to find the culprits. We kept passing the horn from end to end of the row and as we were all sitting their very calmly looking at the screen, they could not find who it was. Finally, the whole cinema erupted with a roar of laughter, and we stopped doing it and finished watching the film.
B15. SATURDAY NIGHT RECORD HOP.
In the summer of 1959, I went on a short cycling trip to Dorset and stayed for several nights with my aunt Hilda and uncle George Limm in their cottage in Abbotsbury. On the Saturday I left Abbotsbury just before mid-day for the 80 mile ride back to Eastleigh as I was going to a record hop with friends that evening. These record hops were run by my class mate Michael Derrick. He had an aunt who lived with his family and every month she bought him the current complete top 10 records, so he always had the latest up-to-the minute songs and tunes. Next to Michael Vince’s house in Chamberlayne Road was the local Scout hut, a single story ex-army timber hut, which has now been replaced by a two-storey brick building. We rented the old Scout hut for two pounds from 7 until 10. A group of 12 to15 of my school mates from 4G and 5G and local girls from Chamberlayne Road and Barton Peveril Schools made about 30 to 40 in all. We each paid two shillings each to cover the rent and a supply of crisps and soft drinks. It was a mark of distinct favour or interest when a boy offered to pay the entrance fee for a girl or buy her a coke and packet of crisps in an interval between dances. In either case, if she accepted it showed she too was interested.
I can still visualise the inside now. The hut was at right angles to Chamberlayne Road, with the single wooden door in the gable end. Immediately inside was a long, bare, shadowy room. Both of the long walls were lined with small windows each with curtains faded by the years. There was no ceiling, but timber trusses every 6 feet supported the sloping boarded roof above, the floor was bare timber boards and half way along one long wall was a free-standing cast iron fire with a metal flue pipe going up through the roof. Down the length of the room, from the centre of each roof truss hung a shaded light casting a pool of warm, dim yellow light on the scarred and dusty floor. At the far end was a central door leading to a short corridor with male and female toilets on one side, the Scout leader’s room on the other and across the gable end of the building was a sitting room filled with old easy chairs and a sofa with the stuffing escaping.
Michael set his record player up on a table half way down the hall and played his records and the records we each brought along. We jived and rock-and-rolled, chatted up the girls, went outside for a kiss and a cuddle, and played various party games. Postman’s Knock was a particular favourite as both boys and girls could manipulate the results to have a snog with the current boy or girl they fancied. A well-worn joke at the time ran: “let’s play Dustman’s Knock.”- “What’s that?” – “Like Postman’s Knock, only dirtier!” – cue for laughs all round.
I was particularly keen to go to this record hop as I was hoping to chat up a 16 year old dark-haired girl, whose name I have now sadly forgotten. She had a fondness for wearing white blouses with large, pointed collars, pencil slim black skirts and black high heels with dark stockings – in our eyes the very essence of sophistication. I had previously been passed the word through a girl friend of hers that she was possibly interested and would be at the next hop, so I really fancied my chances.
It was a very long ride home. The day got hotter and hotter and for most of the way I was riding into a strong head wind and so it took me about nearly 6 hours to get home. I was hot, tired, and sunburnt but after wash and some food I changed into a white shirt with blue spots and dark ‘slim Jim’ trousers and caught the bus into Eastleigh.
The dance had only just started when I got there. We met outside and she allowed me to pay her entrance fee. Soon we were dancing energetically with the others, with our feet thundering on the floor to the loud beat of the music, raising a slight fog of dust in the air. After a few dances with me she said she had to go and speak to her friends and also to dance with one or two of the other boys she had promised dances to. This was the classic come-on, to keep me dangling but interested and to show that there were possibly other boys that interested her. However, she agreed to get together with me at the next music break for me to buy her a coke and crisps.
I was feeling very tired and a bit rough by this time so went out to the back room at the far end of the hut to sit down in the dark for a few minutes rest. The next thing I remember is someone shaking my shoulder and Mike’s voice telling me to wake up as everyone had gone and he was closing the hut up. I looked at my watch, saw it was past 10 and leapt to my feet. Mike said it was only by luck he had found me as he had decided to make a last check around to see if anyone had left anything. “We did all wonder what had happened to you, as no-one had seen you since quite early on in the evening.” I anxiously asked what had happened to a certain young lady, only to be told that she had thought I had publicly dumped her and so had gone off home with someone else. She never spoke to me again.
B16. HAIR AND CLOTHES.
In the late 1950s my hair was cut in a style known as ‘DA, Boston and semi-crew’. The DA (Duck’s Arse) referred to sweeping the longer hair back behind your head each side, finished off by running your comb down the back of your skull to the collar to make a vertical line. The semi-crew was the hair cut short, about 10mm long, and left standing up on the top of the head but not so short that the skull would show through. The Boston was a horizontal straight line cut across the hair at the nape of the neck, rather than feathering it off to nothing above the collar. Just like the character Cookie Burns in the American private eye TV series 77, Sunset Strip we were never without a comb, preferably of shiny metal and carried in the right hip pocket, never in your breast pocket. It was cool to comb your hair constantly, even while walking around the streets, using shop windows as handy mirrors. Comb out, sweep to the left, sweep to the right, line down the back, pat hair both sides in cupped hands behind the ears, comb back into back pocket: all in one smooth synchronised movement.
For 1s 6d (7.5p) I used to have my hair cut by an elderly man called Fred who owned a barber shop in Eastleigh. Fred was small, thin, and white faced with permanently rounded shoulders and silver, grey hair. He wore a grey nylon overall with the breast pocket stuffed with combs. He had been there a long time and was used by many of the workers from the Railway Works. Fred would always finish off a haircut by flourishing a large shiny cut throat razor to scrape the neck hairs, followed by a puff of powder from a rubber hand pump and a final spray of Bay Rum all over, making you feel you had had your money’s worth.
I often used to observe an odd thing while waiting my turn in his one-man shop. I would be idly turning the pages of a back number of Tit Bits, and he would be finishing off an army style short back and sides on some burly, blue overall clad boiler shop worker or ganger. Then he would spray the finished haircut with the Bay Rum before whipping off the once white cloth from around the customer’s throat and brushing the hairs from the back of his neck with a soft brush. He would then lean forward on the balls of his feet, and I would hear him murmur softly “And something for the weekend, sir?” and, if the man gave a furtive nod, he would give him a small brown paper bag with
his change. It was a long time before I realised the significance of this.
Clothing in the late 1950s was very limited without the wide range of styles for different age groups that is the norm today. Teenagers were not specifically catered for, but certain American influences were starting to creep in, such as jeans and coloured sweaters. As was typical in my peer group at the time for going out on special occasions, I usually wore a small collared white shirt with small red or blue spots, a plain ‘slim Jim’ tie of a colour to match the shirt spots, black slim fit Terylene trousers, with no turn ups, a black Marks and Spencer V necked lambswool sweater, black leather lace up shoes and either dark or luminous coloured nylon socks. If it was cold, I had a dark grey three quarter length duffel coat with a hood. My mother bought a lot of my clothes through a clothing club where the items were selected from a catalogue and the local agent would come around to collect a few shillings each week until it was paid off. Marshall Wards was one catalogue I remember. Alternatively, we went to one of the small family owned gents’ outfitters in Eastleigh to buy basic school clothes.
B17. FIREFLIES BOYS’ CLUB.
There were quite a few clubs in Eastleigh but the one I mostly went to was called the Fireflies Boys’ Club, and I probably started to go there because several classmates were already members. It was opposite the junction of Factory Road with Nutbeem Road, on a patch of land hard up against the boundary of the Pirelli factory. It was in an old and slightly run down wooden WW2 army hut with painted lap boarding sides and a black bituminous felt roof. I was told that the club had been started by local firemen during the war when they were on night-time fire watching duty. They took their sons along with them and gradually they acquired a dart board, a table tennis and a billiard table and then started a small canteen serving soft drinks, crisps, and bars of sweets. It was heated by an old rusty cast iron stove which became almost red hot in winter. It was run by Keith Pike, who was probably in his mid-thirties and was a part-time fireman and also worked in Morgan and Cole’s timber yard on Twyford Road. He was helped by Dennis, a quiet man who always wore a dark suit, white shirt and tie and looked middle-aged but wasn’t, who worked as a clerk with British Rail.
The Club was open several nights a week and was a place for us young lads to hang out in the evening. It was very relaxed and informal, with Keith Pike acting more like an older brother than an authoritarian figure, but he set the tone of behaviour that we all followed. We did not play records or listen to pop music, but went there to meet, talk, and play games. There were lots of fun, jokes, laughs and larking about of the schoolboy variety but if anyone went a bit too far Keith or Dennis would cheerfully tell the person to ‘pack it in, now!’, and they would. If someone really went a bit too far, they would be banned from the club for a week but that happened rarely.
Here I learned to play darts, billiards, snooker, table tennis and various board games. There were no official rankings for the various games, but we all knew who was better than whom, and there was no quarter given when you played a superior player with the aim of being acknowledged as better than him if you won. I was reasonably good at table tennis but was never came even close to beating the best player in the club, my class mate the late Philip ‘Chalky’ Brown, who went on to play table tennis at county level.
We did play pranks on each other which we all got involved in. There was a member of the club called David Upton, who was in the year below me at Toynbee, who was a dark haired good looking and good natured chap. On one occasion he was banging on about his next birthday and all the sorts of expensive or unusual presents he might get. Keith Pike found out that his birthday was on a club night and told him to come up to the club as the lads had clubbed together to buy him a special present. David arrived at the club and, with proper ceremony, Keith and Dennis bought out a large cardboard box, wrapped up in many sheets of paper. We all watched as David tore off the wrapping paper, only to find a smaller wrapped cardboard box inside the first.
This went on for a couple more boxes until the final shoe-box sized one was taken out. We all stood around expectantly as David tore the lid off to reveal – the box packed with steaming fresh horse manure. Keith said, “you have been talking a load of crap for weeks so we thought we would get you some!”- cue for big laugh from all of us. To his credit David took it in good part and joined in the general merriment, and then we gave him his real, much smaller, present. I heard in 2009 that David went on to join the Navy and retired as a lieutenant commander and was living somewhere in Spain.
There was an open air swimming pool on the Bishopstoke Road, on a piece of land behind the terrace houses on Dutton Lane. There was also a boys’ club alongside it but for some reason, now forgotten, I never went there. The pool was a popular place to go in the summer as it only cost a shilling (5p) to go in. It was a simple pool lined with white tiles with a shallow and a deep end. Around the edge there was a perimeter strip of smooth concrete about 8 feet wide and a line of timber cubicles either side, one for girls and one for boys. Here we showed our prowess in diving off the one low diving board or ‘dive bombing’ near groups of girl’s sun bathing along the edge of the pool so as to shower them with water. They would scream in outrage – but they never moved away, just tossed their heads and pretended to ignore us.
1956 – Eastleigh Swimming Pool
The first bike I bought in 1956 was a BSA Tour of Britain Sports in shiny black with cream lettering. It had 10 gears, 5 gears at the back and a double chain wheel at the front, called locally a “double clanger.” It was second hand, cost me twenty pounds and while not being totally state of the art at the time it was a very good racing tourer. It had belonged to my friend, Colin Bird. About 2 years older than me he had recently left school to start work as a trainee motor cycle mechanic at Alec Bennett’s at Portswood in Southampton. Perhaps Colin was trading the bicycle in for another better bike, or as he was now earning a wage, selling it to get his first motor cycle. Colin had offered the bike directly to me and I was very keen to get it since it was always in immaculate condition and in good running order. However, neither my mother nor I had that sort of money to hand and no earthly hope of getting it, so it was agreed that Colin would sell it to the bike shop in Portswood and I would in turn buy it from them on hire purchase. As I was earning twenty-one shillings a week from my several paper rounds, I could afford this with care. So, for a pound a month over two years I became the proud possessor of my own personal transport. To say it completely transformed my life would be an understatement. It provided instant mobility, independence, and the freedom of the road. During the next fifteen years I became a keen cyclist and was soon ranging for miles around Bishopstoke and before long I had joined a cycling club.
Compared with today’s racing bicycles, with their space age lightweight materials and state of the art electronic touch gear changing our equipment was so heavy and cumbersome. Reynolds 531 tubing was about the best and lightest available for frames. While hand built racing bikes today (2011) can cost over £5000; in the mid-1950s the best bikes were rumoured to cost just over £100. How times and values change. The best hand built frames available in the area were from a firm called ROTRAX at Shirley, Southampton, and I believe they are still in business. To get one of these frames, even second hand, was something many serious local competitors aspired to. The best equipment was made by the Italians, with the Campagnolo brand being regarded as the best of the best. Racing saddles were still leather, made by such firms as Brookes, and it took hours of work with leather softeners and many sore hours of using them before they became satisfactorily moulded to the contours of your backside. Lots of work had to be done on the hubs and ball bearings, using all sorts of grinding pastes to get the wheels to run truly and smoothly with as little friction as possible.
The derailleur gears of the time were quite primitive hit and miss affairs. The gear changer was on the sloping down-tube while the changer for the double front chain wheel was a swivel rod fixed on the seat down-tube. Changing gear while racing in a bunch was not easy – taking your right hand off the drop handlebars you had to reach down and firmly grasp the lever on the down-tube between your thumb and first finger. Then, rapidly glancing down backwards between your whirling legs to the gears on the back wheel, you eased the lever up or down to the required gear. It had to be done by sight and feel. If you took your eyes off the road or riders in front for too long there was the danger of riding into them, particularly if they braked suddenly. Sometimes the chain either jumped a gear or came right off the sprockets and jammed solidly between the gears and frame, with spectacular results. When one rider went down, he usually brought most of the bunch down with him, resulting in buckled wheels, frames, nasty cuts, and grazes. If riding solo and a chain missed a sprocket you were usually dumped straight down on the crossbar, with painful results.
The other big concern was lightness. When riding a 25 or 50 mile time trial every extra ounce became important. All sorts of things were tried for lightness and for increased speed. For 25 mile events a fixed gear wheel was used, with the trick being to use a high enough ratio to get maximum speed but not so high that it became impossible to ride up a hill or into a headwind. Mudguards were taken off and the back brake removed, as the fixed wheel could act as a brake by backward pressure on the pedals. Some riders even tried removing every third wheel spoke or even drilling holes in parts of the frame to lighten it. The lightest tyres with the minimum of tread were used, but these were highly susceptible to punctures and became lethal on wet or greasy road surfaces. The lightest clothes were worn and, of course, cycle helmets had not yet been invented. Many riders even shaved and waxed their legs as this was said to cut down wind resistance. Riding positions were said to be of the greatest importance. The science of Ergonomics was unheard of, and many riders favoured having the saddles as high as possible and the drop handlebars as low as possible. Anyone who was not slimly built had to be a contortionist to ride like that, with your backside up in the air and your nose nearly on the front wheel. It is likely that in late middle age many of them have serious back problems as a result. I still have the silver grey sweater shown in the photo which my mother knitted for me.
Road time trials usually stared at some ungodly early hour on a Saturday or Sunday morning when little traffic was expected, in some out-of-the-way place that might be an hour’s ride to get to. So, it was usually up and off as early as 5 on a summer morning. At the appointed place there could be up to 50 riders from various local clubs, or from further away if it was a county event, all in their close fitting black shorts and colourful jerseys and ready to go. They were usually ‘there and back’ events, out on one side of the road and back on the other. Each rider had a number on his back, and they were clocked out at minute intervals. If you caught the rider in front, you knew you were putting in a good time but it was a point of personal pride not to be caught yourself. There were marshals along the route and a flag at the half way turning point. In this way you had any wind behind you on one leg and in your face on the other leg.
On one occasion my friend Bob Fowler was riding in a 25 mile time trial in the New Forest, out near Cadnam. He was going hell for leather, with his head down and bottom up, when he ran into the back of a parked van and knocked out his front teeth. On another occasion another school friend, the late John ‘Customs’ Collins, who was the keenest time trialer of the three of us, was riding in an event when he realised, he badly wanted to pee. As every second counted, he decided not to stop but to pee on the move. It was a conspicuous failure and he arrived back with wet shorts and waterlogged shoes.
With practice a respectable speed could be achieved and maintained, especially when riding in a bunch. On one summer day John, Bob and I were out on a training run and high tailing it together in a line along the main road in the New Forest from Lyndhurst towards Totton near Southampton. Perhaps it was a still day, or we may even have had a slight tail wind. We were each taking it in turn to lead for a few minutes and I was aware of a car following that did not overtake, despite our signals to do so. As we approached the final dip down to Totton roundabout the car drew alongside and through the open passenger window the driver shouted that he had clocked us at an average speed of 38 miles per hour all the way from Lyndhurst.
Time trialling was not my greatest interest as I was better at endurance than speed. 25 miles was OK for a training run, but I preferred longer distances, 50 or 100 miles. At a time when the really good riders were clocking around an hour for 25 miles my best time ever was just over 1 hour 6 minutes but was usually around 1 hour 10 minutes.
I still have the last Holdsworth frame I had built for me in Portsmouth in 1970 but kitted out now for general utility road use. Because of my Ménières Disease it is now not safe for me to cycle on the roads, so I have it mounted on rollers in my basement. Here I can cycle away to my heart’s content, with my headphones on, listening to inspirational tracks from the 60s and 70s rock legends. In these perfect friction and wind free conditions in 2013, it being my 70th year and after weeks of training, I was very pleased to clock 1 hour 10 minutes for 25 miles.
With benefit of hindsight, I look back with amazement at the casual way things were done then. Maybe they were simpler and less dangerous times. Either alone or as a small group we would go off for whole days, just casually saying to parents “We are off down towards Portsmouth (or Bournemouth or Salisbury or wherever), back sometime this evening.” And off we would go on round trips of up to 60 miles. We would perhaps have a shilling (5p) each in our pockets, a small pack of sandwiches, and a water bottle. Sometimes we even remembered to take lights or cycling capes. Very few of my friends’ parents had a telephone or a car and not even simple fall-back arrangements were made in case something went wrong. It was just assumed that everything would be all right or if there was a problem either we would sort it out ourselves or someone would help us. Can you imagine anyone today just letting three 15-year-olds cycle off up to 60 miles on their own? It is a stark contrast with the elaborate precautions and fall-back plans we and many parents insist on making with their children before letting them go off by themselves today.
B20. BATH AND BACK.
It was 1958 and we had never been to Bath, in the County of Somerset. Looking at a map we worked out it was 75 miles from Bishopstoke, so we reckoned we could get there and back in a day. So, early one weekend morning Bob Fowler, John Collins and I set off. Our route was Eastleigh, Chandlers Ford, Baddesley, Romsey, Salisbury, Wilton, across Salisbury Plain to Warminster and finally to Bath. It was a hot day, but the miles ticked off fairly quickly. The ride up the valley from Wilton to Warminster was particularly memorable, the more so because we discovered a transport café half way along and stopped for a much needed late breakfast of sausage and chip sandwiches and mugs of strong sweet tea.
Thirty years later I drove down to Warminster from Bristol with my 9 year old daughter, Caroline. I parked the car in Warminster, unloaded the bikes and we had a gentle circular ride down the back road through the chalk villages to Wilton and back up the main road to Warminster. Approaching Wilton, we passed a farm. A curtain of brown evil smelling spray suddenly drifted across the road in front of us and I realised that a farmer was spraying the field alongside us with foul liquid farm manure slurry. It was too late to stop, and it was moving towards us anyway, so we just put our heads down, held our breaths and sprinted through it.
Bob, John, and I arrived at Bath about midday and visited the spectacular Roman Baths and Pump Room. Because of the build-up of the ground in the last 1500 years the Baths are now about 15 feet below the present ground level. In the late 1970s, as the Principal Architect for the City of Bath, my office window overlooked these very Baths. We went in just leaving our bikes and gear outside, in those days no one locked their bikes up. It would not have occurred to us as people didn’t steal things the way they do today. We did the Roman Bath Tour and then decided we had to drink the waters. The hot spring waters had for long been reckoned to be good for you and were supposed to cure various ailments. After we had eaten our sandwiches, we had a quick look around the centre of Bath before starting back for home. On the long hill climb out of Bath, on the Warminster Road, I developed the most violent stomach-ache and felt really ill. I was barely able to turn my pedals, but we had to keep going as we had a long way to go. Bob and John took it in turns to help push me up the hills and I spent a lot of time coasting slowly in their slipstream. We were half way back before I felt well enough to start pushing up the pace. We arrived back in the early evening having done about 150 miles.
B21. OXFORD AND BACK.
On another occasion John and I decided to go to Oxford and back, as it was another place we had never visited. I only knew it as a University Town (whatever that was) and the home of the boat race crew I supported, as my preference was always for the dark blue of Oxford rather than the light blue of Cambridge. Oxford is about 50 miles due north of Bishopstoke. On the map it looked a fairly straightforward run, through Winchester and Newbury. John was very keen to see if we could get there and back by lunchtime, which we agreed was at 1pm. We hit the road before 6 on a fine summer morning. We cut across the back road from Bishopstoke to Twyford, finally joining the main road northwards on the dual carriageway of the Winchester bypass. Then we got our heads down and dug in for some serious roadwork. John had been doing a lot of time trialling and training and was far fitter than I. I had a devil of job to stay close to his back wheel and keep up his cracking pace when it was my turn to lead. With only a few brief stops for water we eventually arrived at Carfax, in the centre of Oxford shortly after half past nine. I was quite taken with the amazing stone buildings of the colleges and would have liked to look around, but I was told we had no time. Pausing only long enough to down an ice cream cornet and gobble our sandwiches we were back in the saddle and on the road home.
The day just got hotter and hotter. By late morning I was really struggling to keep up the pace, particularly over the exposed downland to the north of Winchester. I was sunburnt, had drunk all my water and was feeling slightly dehydrated and can barely remember the last 10 miles into Winchester. John had to do most of the work at the front and I just managed to cling onto his back wheel until we hit the Winchester bypass at 12-15pm. I was completely exhausted and, with only some 8 miles to go told John to go for it. He powered off ahead and eventually arrived back home 5 minutes short of the target, while I wearily dragged myself in about 25 minutes later. The next day I was so stiff and sore I had great difficulty in getting out of bed. Quite rightly, my mother was totally unsympathetic referring to us, if I remember rightly, as “A pair of young idiots.”
B22. HAYLING ISLAND.
It was the hot summer of 1958 and the weekend forecast looked good. I decided I would really like to have a swim in the sea, but Bishopstoke is a good few miles from the nearest bathing beaches. I had heard that a place called Hayling Island was good for swimming. I looked on a map and found it on the south coast, between Portsmouth and Chichester. It was about 30 miles away, so no distance. I set off on a warm Saturday morning, with a saddlebag for my swimming things, a few sandwiches, and a book, not forgetting the twin water bottles mounted on my handlebars. The day looked as if it would be hot, so I was wearing a light short sleeved blue cotton shirt, cycling shorts and a hat. It was a pleasant but uneventful run to Haying, through the green and tree-filled Hampshire countryside in full summer flowering. As the morning got hotter and hotter, I do remember it was a struggle to ride up the high chalk escarpment of the Portsdown Hills that run as a spine just inland and parallel to the coast. As I was climbing up the lee side, I was sheltered from the prevailing light sea breezes from the English Channel, so I was very hot and running with sweat by the time I crested the top. As I coasted down the far side towards the short road that linked Hayling Island to the mainland the cool sea breeze rapidly dried me off. It was now nearly midday and under the clear blue sky the sun was scorching down, but the slight sea breeze took the edge off the heat. I arrived at the beach that was lined with low dunes of brilliant white sand with grasses struggling through. I set up base in the dunes and was glad enough to get into the sea to cool off.
After lunch I settled down in the hot dunes to read my book and was really glad, I had a sun hat with me. I cannot remember what the book was, but I was so absorbed in it that it was nearly 4 before I realised the time. I packed up and cycled off back the way I had come. Now you will all know that spending time on a brilliant white beach tends to bleach out all colours and it takes the eyes some time to readjust. I had got to the top of the hills and was coasting down the far side into the lush green countryside before I became aware my legs were feeling uncomfortable. I put it down to having been in the sea and not being able to wash the salt off. The green of the countryside rapidly got my eyes back to normal and when I glanced down, I was horrified to see that the top of my legs were bright red, from the top of my kneecap to where my shorts started. I had serious case of sunburn. My legs started to hurt with a burning pain and the last few miles home were very slow going and sheer torture just to keep my legs turning. When I arrived home at about 7 my mother took one look at my legs and immediately got me to sit in a very cool bath and then slathered my legs with calamine lotion. By this time, I was feeling exhausted from the long ride, fresh air, sun, and sea so went straight to bed and flaked out. By the early morning I was not at all well, the tops of my legs now being covered in lots of liquid filled blisters. My mother was so concerned that she sent Diane to the local phone box to call our GP, Dr Boyle.
Arriving promptly, he took one look at my legs and started pumping medicine into me, saying it looked as if I had got third degree burns. Dr Boyle said I was “damn lucky it was only my legs” and that at least I had had the sense to keep the rest of me covered up. He wrote out a prescription and said if things did not improve in a day or two it would be a hospital job for me. Being the good family doctor that he was, the old fashioned sort that knows all his patients personally, he visited me twice a day for the next three days before he was satisfied things were under control. I remember it as one of the most painful times of my life, and it was a week before I could get out of bed. Since then, I have always been very cautious about sunbathing. Or, as my mother said, “This might teach you to use a grain of common sense next time.”
B23. DORSET TRIP.
In the summer of 1959, I was 16 and set off on another solo cycling trip to Dorset for a few days in Abbotsbury where my mother grew up. George and Hilda Limm, her uncle and aunt and both in their 70’s still lived at 35A West Street in the medieval thatched 2-up-and-2-down terrace house where they had lived all their married lives. It was about 75 miles away, a very easy day’s run, so I only took the clothes I stood up in, swimming things, a few shillings, sandwiches, water bottle, a cycling cape, and a map. I left early, with the aim of getting over Eastleigh railway bridge before the 7 o’clock hooter sounded from the railway works. At that time hordes of railway workers from Bishopstoke and Eastleigh would suddenly appear en masse on their bicycles. They all made for the main gates of the carriage and wagon works on Bishopstoke Road, making the road impassable for some time. Years later I saw an exhibition of TS Lowry’s paintings of the grim industrial scene peopled with little bent stick-like workers in dark clothes and caps which perfectly recalled the scene along Bishopstoke road at 7 each morning.
I rode through Eastleigh, past the still shuttered shops, up the hill to the swanky residential area of Chandlers Ford, a left then a sharp right across the main Southampton to Winchester Road and into a narrow side road. This road wound across country first to Baddesley and then to the small, historic, redbrick market town of Romsey with its lovely Abbey. The narrow bypass road skirts the very edge of the town, alongside the estate wall of Broadlands, the 11,000 acre estate and family home of the Mountbatten family. At the end of the tree lined bypass the road bends slightly to the left and goes over a small hump-backed bridge spanning the river running through Broadlands. Just beyond that and before a very steep hill towards Ower and the New Forest, the A27 branches off to the right towards Salisbury. (A few years later I had a serious accident here.) On up the hill to Ower, and to the Cadnam roundabout with its lovely, thatched pub, where I swung right onto the A31, into the New Forest proper, heading out across heath land towards Picket Post and Ringwood.
There is nothing finer than being out on the open road in the very early morning on a summer’s day with a good bike under you, a slight tail wind and heading westwards with the miles whirring away under your wheels. The only sound would be the Whirr of the tyres on the road, the faint clicking of the chain and the occasional clunk as I changed up or down a gear. It was so quiet that the loudest noise was my steady breathing, and I could hear all the countryside noises around me. One thing I learned very early on was when cycling always wear a pair of sunglasses and always breathe through your nose. Never open your mouth, even to pant. If you really have to, then keep your teeth tightly clenched. Once I was pounding away quite happily when, in a short space of time, a small insect flew into my eye and then, even worse, a larger insect flew straight into my open panting mouth and straight down my throat. I crashed out in a spectacular fashion, coughing my heart out and trying to wipe my streaming eyes.
In those days there was very little traffic about, no stench of petrol fumes and oil, and little danger of being hit by cars travelling too fast and too close. Even the main roads were only slightly wider than two car widths and it was quite normal out in the country to have 15 or 20 minutes between vehicles appearing. Across the Forest there was always a lot to see, with New Forest ponies, pheasants, skylarks, rabbits, and hares and even, sometimes, deer bounding away into the distance. At a decent touring pace of about 15 miles an hour, with the odd stop and depending on if I had a headwind or not, I always reckoned it was a minimum 5 hour run from door to door. It could take up to 6 hours if I dawdled or stopped to look at things too often. Having crossed the 11 miles of open heathland I then dropped down the escarpment into the town of Ringwood, and on out past Ferndown and Wimbourne Minster. Now having left the Hampshire and being firmly in Dorset the route lies past villages with the lovely names of Winterbourne Zelston, Bere Regis and Tolpuddle, the home of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. This was a group of local farm labourers who dared to stand up for the rights of working men, were convicted by the courts and were transported to the penal settlements of Australia. On past the villages of Burleston and Athelhampton, I then arrived at the small town of Puddletown. Approaching Puddletown from the Wimbourne side the road kinks to the right and, there on the left hand side stands a thatched roof garage.
It was here that my mother was born at the beginning of the First World War. Her father, James George Caundle, was ‘Caundle the Carrier’ from the late 1890s onwards. He first ran a horse drawn service but by the First World War had cars and lorries in addition to providing vehicle repairs and selling petrol. It was said that he never used a car horn. He just leant out of the driver’s window, stuck two fingers in his mouth and gave such a loud whistle that it startled horses several fields away. I have seen old pictures of my mother serving petrol there in the early 1930s on one of her half days off from being in service at the house of the local gentry. I was also told that the as the village is actually on the River Piddle the ancient name for it was “Piddletown”, but this was changed to “Puddletown” in the 20th century in the interests of good taste.
Finally, I arrived at Dorchester, the picturesque county town of Dorset and the setting of the book The Mayor of Casterbridge by the local writer, Thomas Hardy. It was also on the assizes circuit of the legendary Hanging Judge Jeffries, and a half-timbered pub on the main street up to the castle is named after him. I could always afford the time to stop here as I was only about 10 miles short of Abbotsbury. I knew there was a fierce leg-numbing climb ahead of me up to Hardy’s Monument on the hills above Portesham, so there was every reason to stop at a certain café. Situated at the top of the town on the left, in the row of shops just below the castle it was a regular stopping point for cycling clubs. It was known for their cheap but plentiful fried breakfasts of eggs, sausages, bacon, baked beans, tomatoes and fried bread with bread and butter and large mugs of strong tea. Just what is wanted to restore you after having got 50 or so miles under your wheels.
Feeling satisfyingly full I cycled on up the hill out of Dorchester on the A35 towards Bridport, turning sharp left onto a minor road to plunge down the hill into Martinstown. It is a pretty little grey stone village with a stream on one side of the road and the houses on that side each have little bridges into their gardens. At the end of the village street, it was left fork onto an even more minor road and in those days although surfaced, it had a line of grass growing up the middle. This was the start of the really killing climb up to Hardy’s Monument. I suppose that to a cyclist living locally it would just be a steep hill but, for me, each time I had gone that way it was always at the end of a long day’s cycle ride, and it was always very hard. As you leave Martinstown the road starts rising steadily and goes on and on and on for a mile or two, with the occasional slight downward dip to take the pressure off one’s legs. It is one of those in-between hills, to shallow for low gear but too steep for high gear so I just had to grind up in a middle gear, which took lots of sustained effort.
Just before the summit and just when you think it cannot get any worse, the road dips down sharply, swings around a tightish right hander and then goes straight up the last 50 yards to the top of the hill. Because of the corner I could not even get a decent run at it to build up momentum. It became a point of personal honour never to give up and walk. Every time I have ended up standing up on my pedals, with every muscle in my body straining. My legs would scream in protest as I inched my way steadily up, always on the very verge of stalling and falling off my bike, but I always just made it. The view from the top is absolutely spectacular and worth all the effort. On a good clear day, I could easily see 20 miles in every direction, from Weymouth and Portland Bill 15 miles to my left and right down the length of the Chesil Beach towards Lyme Regis, some 20 miles to my right. After a good break to catch my breath, it was back on the bike and tearing down the steep 2 mile drop along a narrow track with grass in the middle and into Abbotsbury. The road comes out in the square by the Victorian village school, opposite the village shop and the Ilchester Arms Hotel and pub, and from there it was only a few hundred yards to my aunt’s house in West Street.
The next day I was up and away by mid-morning, heading westwards down the coastal road to Beer, a small fishing port some 30 miles away. But first there was the problem of Abbotsbury Hill. In my early years of cycling, I can honestly say that only three hills had ever beaten me – Porlock Hill in North Devon, a brutish, short, and very steep hill on the outskirts of Southampton, and Abbotsbury Hill. Twice before I had tried and failed on this hill. I hoped that this time it would be different, but it was not to be. I foundered again short of the top and ignominiously had to walk the last few yards. It was quite a tricky business stalling on a hill. I wore lightweight leather racing shoes in those days, with a grooved metal plate fitted to the sole. This clipped onto the metal pedal and my foot was positioned in a metal toe clip, held down tightly with a leather strap. With my feet fixed in firmly I could thus achieve a simultaneous downward and upward pressure alternately on each pedal stroke. This gave more sustained power for hill climbing. The problem came when I ground to a halt. Each toe clip strap had a quick release but there was only a split second to reach down and release it. Many is the time I have ground to a halt and toppled slowly over sideways full length onto the road, with my feet firmly stuck to the pedals. The very least I got was skinned knees and bruised elbows.
It was a grand ride on the high open coast road to Bridport, past Swyre, and Burton Bradstock, then on down to Lyme Regis, Seaton and finally Beer. It was another scorching day and I sat on the beach by the harbour, paddled, and skimmed stones across the mirror smooth water before having my sandwich and starting back. I remembered that it was at Beer, some 9 or 10 years previously, where my father had left me here on the beach as a punishment. We were on a family holiday at Weymouth with my Uncle Fred, Aunt Helen and their children Peter and Valerie. We had come down to Beer for a trip. A local fisherman was offering trips around the bay, and it was decided that we should all go. Unfortunately, my father discovered that I did not have a handkerchief with me. This was such a crime that I was told to sit on the beach in a certain spot and not move, while all the rest went for a jolly trip on the boat around the bay. It quite spoilt my holiday but since then I have never been without a handkerchief.
The ride back from Beer was hard going all the way. The light intermittent wind had increased to a steady breeze, and it was blowing nearly straight into my face. It is very tiring pushing against a headwind, especially on exposed open land next to the sea with no cover or shade. It was very hot and getting hotter. Later I heard it was one of the hottest days of the year. I had refilled my water bottles at Beer but by the time I was on the high coastal road between Bridport and Abbotsbury they were empty. I was feeling rather dehydrated and hot when I spotted a cattle trough in a field. Smartly I nipped over the fence with my water bottles, refilled them from the tap and plunged my head and shoulders in the trough to cool off. It was a lifesaver. From there back to Abbotsbury I stopped at every tiny stream or trough I could find to wet my head and then my handkerchief, which I then hung wetly around my neck. As I free wheeled down Abbotsbury Hill, I tipped the last of the water from my bottles over my head. I would have dearly loved a bath after my long hot ride. Unfortunately, the cottages in the village had no mains services or bathrooms, only a cold tap in the yard, so all I could do was a cold but thorough strip wash in my tiny bedroom using the china washing bowl and water jug. They always ate at 6 so after an early cooked meal I went up to bed, sank into the white sheets and soft feather mattress and slept the sleep of the dead.
The next day I spent around the village revisiting the places I knew so well – the largest surviving tithe barn in England, the church, and ‘chapel tower’, the chapel on the hill where, 34 years later I would scatter my mother’s ashes.
No visit to Abbotsbury would be complete without a visit to both the tropical gardens and the famous Swannery. The swan herd then was still Fred Lexter, who had grown up with my mother and was said to have been an early boyfriend of hers. In 1976 I was visiting Abbotsbury with my wife, Christine, to show her the place. In the bar of the Ilchester Arms I spotted someone whose face I recognised. It was Fred Lexter, now retired. I introduced myself and Christine and we joined him for a chat. With the pints of beer on the table I caught up on the local news. It really made Christine’s day when, after we had talked for some time, he leant across towards her. With a twinkle in his eye, he patted her firmly on the knee and said loudly in his broad Dorset accent “It’s a fine pair of stampers you’ve got there m’dear!”
The next day I was up and off to see Weymouth and Portland Bill, where the Portland Stone Quarries are. Weymouth was an early seaside town, made famous by King George III who came to stay. Where he went the fashionable sorts soon followed and a Georgian seaside town was the result. I cycled down to the promenade beside the beach and leant my bike on the railings opposite the clock tower. The beach is about 10 feet below the promenade and the tide was coming in. To my right I saw the towering rock of Portland, looking in some respects very like the rock of Gibraltar. The enormous Portland Harbour had been and at that time still was one of our major naval bases. To my left the deep blue of Weymouth Bay swept around to Chaldon Down, Lulworth Cove and, in the far misty distance, the Purbeck Hills.
It was here at Weymouth that my father met my mother and had married her in 1940 and where my sister, Diane, was born in 1941. My 26 year old father was a site foreman at the time and was working in London for either Wimpy or Wates who were the two largest construction firms in the UK. He had been sent down from London to supervise the construction of naval fortifications on an area called the Noth on Portland Harbour. According to my mother, at the time he was thought to be the youngest site foreman they had ever employed on such a large job.
My mother talked about the air raids here at the start of the Second World War. It was before the invention of radar and Portland Naval base was a prime target for the German air force. She said that the Germans used to come westwards over Lyme Bay, cross over the Chesil Beach and circle inland back eastwards towards Weymouth. They would throttle their engines back, coast in silently over the town then blast down onto the harbour from the landward side, machine gunning anything that moved. On one occasion my father was working on the harbour when the fighter planes suddenly roared in over the town. For some reason most of them attacked an armed merchant ship that was anchored in the Bay. The people on the shore watched helplessly as the ship was hit time and time again. All the gun crew was soon killed, except one young able seaman. Although he was mortally wounded, he kept firing the gun until the ship sank under him. My mother had understood that he had been awarded a posthumous VC for this.
As I went down onto the beach for a swim my eye was caught be a cinema poster advertising The Longest Day. I was soon in the water, and it was one of those hot, still days when even the water seems too lethargic to make waves. There were quite a few people in the water so I swam out about a hundred yards where I could be alone to enjoy the experience. I was doing a gentle breaststroke, moving quietly along, and gazing into the far distance when I felt things bumping against my hands and shoulders. Rapidly coming back to earth (or sea!) I glanced around my and to my dismay found I was swimming in a vast slick of vile smelling raw sewage. I struck out for the beach at full speed and holidaymakers must have thought I was mad. On a day nearly too hot to move here was this idiot swimming like a maniac, then rushing up the beach and towelling himself down as though trying to rub his skin off. There were no showers on the beach so I had to use what water I could spare from my water bottle to clean myself down. However, I soon calmed down, changed, and headed for Portland.
The Chesil Beach, a narrow bank of stones and gravel, separates Portland from the mainland. Chesil starts at Portland and stretches for some 40 miles around Lyme Bay. The stones are quite large at the Portland end, but they get smaller and smaller until at the far end it is fine gravel. It is a bay of dangerous currents and sudden fogs. People do not swim there. I was told that local fishermen knew the bay so well that they could land anywhere in the darkest night or thickest fog, pick up a handful of stones and know to within a few hundred yards where they were. It was also very useful in the 17th and 18th centuries for the local smugglers evading the excise men. There was a narrow 2 lane road connecting Portland to the mainland, lined on one side with oil storage tanks. From the base of the rock there was a very stiff zigzag climb up to the top and although at 16 I was very fit, the 500 foot (150 m) climb up the steep winding road from the Chesil Beach was very hard. However, I made it without getting off. From the top there is a stunning view back over Weymouth and all along the Chesil beach. I was told that in times past on fine day’s fishermen kept watch up there because they could spot the shoals of mackerel out in the bay and direct the boats to them.
The Isle of Portland is a limestone tied island, 4 miles (6 kilometres) long by 1½ miles (2 ½ km) wide, in the English Channel. It is 495 feet (151 m) high at the north end and falls to just above sea level at the narrow promontory at the south end. This, with its light house, is known as Portland Bill and is the southernmost point of the county of Dorset. The permanent population of Portland then was about 6000 but, in the summer, there were many holidaymakers staying in the boarding houses or caravan and camping sites for their two week annual holiday. It was still the period before package holidays and, later, cheap air fares leading to the rapid decline of seaside resorts from the 1960s.
The largely flat and barren top of Portland gently slopes southeast for some two or three miles, the road passing through the hamlet of Easton before arriving at Portland Bill and the lighthouse at the far end. As well as the world famous Portland Stone quarries there was a prison there for over 150 years. The only way off the rock is the narrow link road to the mainland and the waters around are very dangerous even for ships. The currents at the lighthouse end are particularly fierce. It is a bleak, windswept place with very little vegetation and only one or two trees. Even though it was the height of summer it was not too crowded, with only a few cars parked in the small car park. I walked down to the lighthouse and close by it I had my photo taken by a photographer who had a signpost with a swinging arm on which he could show the place where you came from and how far away it was. Looking at the 1959 photo I am reminded that I had left my bicycle leaning up against the wall of the lighthouse enclosure, with the saddlebag with all my things in it. It was out of my sight and not chained up, but it was unthinkable that anyone might steal it. How times have changed.
Nearby was the Lobster Pot Café in a slightly run-down green wooden ex-army hut with small cream painted windows. It was near the edge of a low cliff and overlooked the sea and tide race below. Leaving my bike propped up against the wall I went inside and, for 2s6d (12 ½ p), treated myself to a cream tea – a pot of tea, scones, jam, and fresh cream. The small wooden tables were covered with patterned oil cloth and the seats were folding wooden ones. The crockery was thick and white, and the knives and forks were solid and heavy. The café served simple meals with everything being cooked to order, pre-cooked or frozen foods being unknown at the time. In the 1940s my parents had taken us on holiday to Dorset two or three times, when we stayed either at a boarding house in Weymouth or with our relatives in Abbotsbury. We had come to see the lighthouse had always visited the café and it did not seem to have changed much since. I climbed on to the top of Pulpit Rock before cycling the 15 miles back to Abbotsbury.
B24. HILDA’S STORY.
When I got back to Abbotsbury, I told Hilda and George where I had been and about my tea in the café by the lighthouse on Portland. In her broad Dorset accent, she said “we’em bin there b’aint we, Jarge? He nodded and she went on “mind ee – I did feel bad seeing all they pris’ners working in the hot sun in the quarry. Those chains must be real hard to drag around.”
I looked at her, puzzled, and ran my mind’s eye back over where I had been, but was unable to recall seeing any signs of prisoners, although I knew there was a prison on Portland. I asked her where this was, and she replies that they were in the quarries at the end just along from the café. I remembered some big, excavated holes near to the café but they were long disused and overgrown with grass and bushes, so I assumed there must be another café and quarries further along. She went on to talk about the meal she and George had had, the sunny day, walking down to Pulpit Rock and George chipped in with various other details. They then started to describe in detail the fine ladies there in their big hats, long dresses and parasols and I got even more confused. Finally, I plucked up courage to ask when this was, exactly. They looked at each other and thought a bit, then Hilda that she couldn’t rightly remember the date, but it was to celebrate having become engaged. The penny finally dropped that they were talking about something that had happened before the First World War, yet they were talking about it as if it had been the previous week. They said they had not been back since, as there was no reason to.
B25. CARDS AND LAMPLIGHT.
Abbotsbury was a village in a time warp. There were no street lights, no electricity in the houses, no hot and cold running water and there was a chemical toilet in a shed up the garden, emptied once a week by the ‘lavender jims’, who came around in a vile smelling lorry with a tank on the back into which human waste was emptied. There was a cold water tap in the yard ‘out back’ of the house and public taps in the street. Cooking was on an open fire, alight summer and winter, and there was always a blackened kettle heating on the metal hob. It was at the far end of the small downstairs room that served as both living and dining room. Every morning the milk was delivered from the local farm on a horse-drawn cart. Each house put a jug outside the front door and the milkman would fill it with a dipper from the open milk churn. The horse knew the round so well that it moved from house to house along the street by itself, with the milkman just filling the jugs and putting them back on the steps.
The villagers generally tended to get up as the sun rose and go to bed when it set however one of the main evening activities in winter was to visit each other’s houses to play cards, talk and drink endless cups of tea. Taking up the middle of Hilda and George’s room was an old wooden table with the top scrubbed almost white, around which were six unmatched old wooden chairs. In the middle of the table was a paraffin pressure lamp, the only source of light at night besides candles.
I can still see them now. I would be sitting off to one side in the semi-darkness on the worn old black leather sofa, with horse hair stuffing coming out of every hole, just underneath the small window to the street. The gloomy interior would be barely lit by the red glow from the fire and on the table would be the lamp with its glass shade, casting brightness on to the light table top. Around it would be clustered six elderly people playing cards with their wrinkled faces lit from below by the reflected light from the table.
When the cards had been dealt and while each of them was arranging the cards in their hand someone would casually start a conversation off. In their broad, slow Dorset accent they would say something like “I saw Bessie Dunford today.” Then someone else would say something like “Wasn’t she the daughter of ‘X’, who married the woman from Portesham way?” – and on it would go around the table with them all chiming in to sort out Bessie’s genealogy and family relationships until I realised, they were talking about people who had probably been dead for more than 100 years. They spoke as if they were telling a story about people who were still around and could remember minute details of some long dead person, that he or she was a fine singer, a dab hand at thatching, or a hard worker. I suppose before reading and writing came to villages this was the only way their history could be passed down the generations, but as a sixteen year old I found it slightly creepy.
B26. NEW BEGINNINGS.
On Friday, 24th July 1959 I left Toynbee School for the last time having had a very good time in the three years I spent there, and I still rate it, next to Honiton House School in Margate, as the best school I ever went to. I was lucky to be taught by a group of inspirational teachers led by a good headmaster.
We had all done reasonably well in our exams. As a run-in to the GSE exams we had all taken some Royal Society of Arts exams for practice and I had achieved passes in my 4 subjects. I had also passed all six of my GCE exams including, to my surprise, just scraping through at maths. I was the only one of my year to pass all my exams. None of us had jobs and had no idea of what we wanted to do but with the optimism of youth we all felt that the future would not be a problem and that something positive would turn up.
However, quite soon after leaving school our group drifted apart. We were all very busy with our new lives as we started work, met new people, developed interests outside Eastleigh and had numerous other calls on our time. Now that there were no longer the dances with the local girls’ school, the Saturday meetings at Denny’s café or the Boys’ Club to go to there was no particular place where we all met regularly. Private houses, especially working class ones, had no telephones; we only had buses to get around on, so it was difficult if not impossible to keep in contact with those living in widely different areas around Eastleigh thus our paths seldom crossed.
Thanks to our mutual interest in cycling, I regularly met John Collins and as by the autumn both he and I were both working in Winchester, every day for two years we cycled to and from work together. Roger Burlinson also got a job in Winchester, and we met occasionally during the lunch hour. When I got my next job in Southampton two years later, I lost touch with both John and Roger. I saw Brian May several times during 1960 but by this time he was heavily involved with Janet Holding, whom he eventually married, and so we gradually drifted apart. I have always been in touch with Bob Fowler and was his best man when he married Pat in 1965.
Within a few months of leaving school, I had I lost all contact with more than three quarters of the class and had no idea of what eventually became of them. Over the following decades they gradually drifted from my mind and into the distant past.
B27. 50 YEARS LATER.
In March 2008 I pulled a faded black and white photograph from a box and looked at ten faces of people that I had last seen over 45 years ago and whose names I could barely remember. Written on the back, in my handwriting, were their names, the place and date: Horse Guards Parade, London, April 1959. Immediately the memories flooded back, and I was back at Toynbee Road Boys’ Secondary Day School, Toynbee Road, Eastleigh, Hampshire. The group was my fellow classmates of form 5G taken in April 1959, just before we sat our GCE ‘0’ level exams, while on a day trip to London. My memory even told me the photo had been taken by a young teacher, Mr ‘Sherlock’ Holmes.
Studying the young faces from long ago – how trendy and grown up we had considered ourselves then – I wondered what had become of them all, and then realised that next year, 2009, would be the 50th Anniversary of our leaving school. I might have put the photo back in the box, but I didn’t – I decided to do something about it.
In 1959 my class was only the second year at Toynbee to take GCE exams and as a group we had all enjoyed each other’s company both in school and outside. However, once we had left school and started work, we scattered to the four winds and soon lost touch. I left Eastleigh in 1965 and had only been back infrequently. Communications in the 1950s and 60s were poor and it was hard to keep in touch with anybody once they had moved away from the place where you had seen them daily.
Over the years I managed to stay in contact with Bob Fowler who was now living just outside Winchester. I told him that I was aiming to trace all my classmates and, if successful, would try to organise a 50th reunion. With his help, using local telephone directory and the internet, by August I had found Mike Derrick and Jan Kosnioski, both still living in the Eastleigh area. Soon we had located Brian May and Michael Jenney, who also still lived locally. Eventually I traced Hugh Bulpitt living in Somerset, John Brown in Oxfordshire, David Rooke in Yorkshire, Michael Vince in Kent, and Adrian Ward in Warwickshire.
I was sad to learn that two of our class mates, John Collins and Phil Brown had died, and this left only Gordon Brodie to find. He had emigrated to South Africa and was last heard of in 2000 living in Johannesburg, but I was unable to trace him. I learnt that our class teacher, Ian “Maxi” Millen had, with his wife Faith and their three children, had gone to live in Australia in the early 1970s and I eventually traced him as a 79 year old living in retirement in George Town, Tasmania.
As the actual anniversary of our leaving school in 1959 was a Friday it was agreed by everyone that a reunion should be held at Eastleigh on Saturday, 25th July 2009. Mike Derrick found that Toynbee School, now renamed The Crescent and used as a primary school, would be delighted to open up on the Saturday for our celebration. We would all meet outside the old Town Hall at 2 o’clock, walk the 200 yards to Toynbee Road, and visit the school for about an hour before going on to the King Rufus public house in Chandlers Ford for a buffet lunch. Jan also confirmed that the local evening paper, the Echo, wanted to do a follow up story on the reunion and would be sending a reporter and photographer to the pub.
On the day the whole plan came together perfectly. Christine and I set off from home at half past eight on a lovely sunny summer morning for the 85 mile, 2 ½ hour drive to Eastleigh. I wanted to get there early to walk around the town to see what changes had taken place in the previous 50 years and to take a few photos before we met the others.
At 2 o’clock we all assembled outside the old Town Hall, worked out who was who and introduced our wives. Within a few minutes the conversation was flowing, with anecdotes, memories and laughs traded before we set off for our school visit. It was remarkable how the years fell away, and we almost carried on the conversations from when we had last spoken 50 years ago.
Toynbee Boy’s School was opened in 1929 in an existing Victorian school building which had previously been called the Derby Road School and which, much later, was renamed Barton Peveril Grammar School. In 1932 Toynbee School was relocated to a new purpose built school on its present site in Toynbee Road, facing the police station. Toynbee Road itself was named after Arnold Toynbee, the mid-Victorian Economic and Social Historian who is said to have coined the phrase ‘the industrial revolution’.
Mr C Hartnup was headmaster from 1955 to 1971 and during his time the school steadily grew larger and offered more courses. By 1956 it had grown to 449 pupils, by 1958 to 556 pupils and 593 by 1960. In July 1964 Toynbee Boy’s School came to an end when it was amalgamated with the nearby Chamberlayne Road Girls School and became co-educational, with classes spread between the two existing schools and pupils shuttling between the two buildings at the end of each lesson.
At the school we were met by the caretaker, an old boy of the school, who had left in 1964. I found it quite strange going back into a building that I had not set foot in for 50 years. From the outside it looked much the same as I remembered, but inside the rooms seemed much smaller. Gone was the standard institutional paintwork of the 1950s. Now each classroom was decorated in bright colours, with carpet on the floor and modern lighting. On the walls of each classroom were pin boards with photos of the class and displays of their project work. It being a weekend there were no pupils there and several of the rooms were being redecorated. Somehow, without the bustle of school life around us, the building seemed strangely quiet and soulless.
As we walked slowly around the empty building memories soon came rushing back to us all and there was much cheerful chatter and banter about long forgotten incidents and anecdotes of the “Do you remember when…?” and “I remember when Maxi Millen did…” sort. We all had our photograph taken in our old 5G classroom before going on to the rear playground, past the staff room at the end of the corridor. Our wives came around with us and were kind enough to listen to our incessant babble of conversation about the long-forgotten past.
I particularly wanted to see not only our old 5G classroom but also the woodwork room where, under the patient guidance of Mr Hamlin, the woodwork and technical drawing master, I had learned how to use a drawing board and ‘T’ square, valuable lessons of how to handle, use, care for and sharpen a whole range of hand tools and how to design and make things in wood. I still have the oak record cabinet with glass doors, made as my first complete furniture project in 1959 – the first of many pieces of furniture and fittings I designed during my working life as an architect in the subsequent 50 years. The woodwork room was still there but was now a classroom and was an empty shell as it was being redecorated.
As I walked around with my classmates, I realised what an amazing social revolution had taken place since 1959. More than half of us live in other parts of England and the majority of us have had careers vastly different from that of our working class parents and grand-parents. We have been senior lecturers, paramedics, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, architects, or have run our own businesses. Several of us had degrees or other qualifications from polytechnics or universities. In my own case I was the first member of my family ever to go on to further education, first at a polytechnic to become an architect and then to a university for a master’s degree in Urban Design. Many of us have worked abroad, travelled to many countries, had married wives from other parts of the United Kingdom and we could now all be accurately described as middle rather than working class.
Before we left the reporter from the Southampton Evening Echo took a photo of us lined up in the approximate order as in the 1959 photo although, sadly, the first three in the original photo are dead and the seventh, Jim Brodie, I was unable to trace, but was last heard of in South Africa in the late1970s.
On leaving the school we drove the two miles to Chandlers Ford for our lunch at the King Rufus, which in 1959 had been named ‘The Mount’, where we had been allocated a room with its own glass double doors opening directly onto a sunny terrace outside.
Once everyone had a drink in their hand I made a short welcoming speech, read out the message sent by Ian and Faith Millen from Tasmania and finished by proposing a toast to the memory of our two deceased classmates, John Collins, and Phil Brown, before handing over Mike Derrick. Mike ran through the careers of those present and made many complimentary remarks about Ian Millen and the staff of Toynbee in 1959 before proposing a toast to absent friends. All of those present remembered Maxi Millen with great affection and several said that he was not only the most inspirational teacher they had met but also had been a major influence on their lives.
On the drive back to Bristol I reflected that we were unlikely ever to meet together again but this once in a lifetime occasion had been worth all the effort.
C. WINCHESTER. Autumn 1959
C.1. Youth (Un) Employment Office.
How I got the job and ended up as an Architect was completely by chance. I left school on the 24th July 1959 with 4 RSA and 6 GCE ‘0’ level exam passes but had no idea of what I actually wanted to do. I only knew that I had to get a job soon and start bringing some money home. In those days there was no career advice at schools or anyone to ask advice from. Generally, boys followed their fathers into the same factory or trade where possible or via some relative or friend in some other business that needed young lads.
For those without help from their family, friends, or personal contacts the (almost) last resort was to sign on at the local Youth Employment Office, which was on Station Hill in Eastleigh. It was in an old Victorian shop with a central doorway recessed between two dirty windows. Inside was an area six feet across, covered in dirty brown lino and bounded by a waist high counter stretching the full width of the shop. All the woodwork was finished in dark brown varnish and the plastered walls were painted a shade of nicotine yellow. Stuck to the walls were various stained and torn posters that looked as if they had been there for a long time.
Two people manned the office and, because they were always behind the counter, I only ever saw them from the waist up. The first was a blowsy middle aged woman with greying hair, smudged lipstick and hair on her top lip who was always dressed in a light blouse and a dark cardigan. She dealt with the girls. The second, who dealt with the boys, was an overweight younger man with thinning greasy hair, several chins and a white crumpled shirt with the sleeves rolled up exposing his hairy forearms. He usually wore the collar open, and the collar often looked grimy. He was a chain smoker who coughed and cleared his throat before saying anything and breathed heavily while thumbing through my file.
There was no unemployment benefit for school leavers in those days, so I still had to keep on with my paper rounds to get a little money every week. At the age of 16, and knowing nothing of the real world, one assumed that the people in the employment office knew what they were doing but it did not take me long to realise that they had very little clue about jobs either. There was no attempt to find out what you were good or bad at, your strengths or weaknesses or any preference you might have. Their sole concern was to get you into any sort of work and off their books. It did not matter to them if it was labouring on a building site, filling shelves, or working in a factory. If a job came into the office anyone who was remotely suitable was sent along for an interview. If you did not co-operate with them, you were classed as ‘difficult’ and, on the twice weekly visits to the office would be repeatedly told there was “Nothing for you, try again next week.” Having been advised by other friends that I should never refuse an interview I was therefore sent along to such diverse ‘opportunities’ as a trainee store man in Caustons the Printers, a production line worker in Prices’ bread factory, a clerical assistant in a shop and a trainee office worker in the Pirelli cable works. The Pirelli interview was quite interesting since at its conclusion the office manager said that although he could offer me the job he wasn’t going to as he was sure with my qualifications, I could go for something far better with more prospects. I was totally dumbfounded to be told I had passed the interview but was not getting the job. Hell! I needed the money. What else did I have to do to get a job?
In September I was sent along to the British Rail engineering drawing office at Eastleigh, and I quite liked the idea of this. My friend and ex-classmate Brian May was sent to the same interview and he got the job, and he retired in 2009 having spent his entire working life on the railway. However, more knowledgeable friends told me later that I had not had a chance going for the same job as Brian since he had been bound to get it as both his grandfather and father already worked for British Rail. The railway had an unofficial ‘closed shop’ policy, or at least preferential treatment for sons of existing employees. However, apparently the British Rail drawing office people told the employment office that they liked me and that as another job was coming up shortly, I would be invited again to an interview. So, the man at the youth employment office told me to go home and wait and he would contact me as soon as the job came through.
By mid-October I had heard nothing and was getting pretty desperate so went back into the employment office, as I really needed to get a job and start bringing much needed money home to my mother. After the usual heavy breathing and snorting and coughing he finally agreed that as he had heard nothing more from British Rail I should look elsewhere for other jobs. After another long pause, while he puffed wearily and thumbed through some papers, I was suddenly asked, “You draw a bit, don’t you?” I agreed that I had both Technical Drawing and Art qualifications for both RSA and GCE “O” level exams. He then told me that there was a job up in the Winchester Council Offices that was something to do with drawing. Winchester was ‘a bit out of his area’ and so he knew no more about it than that, but I might as well go, just for the interview practice. So, I said “OK” not realising that the course of my future had just been set.
C.2. The Interview.
Dressed in my best school clothes and belted grey mackintosh, with my hair slicked down with ‘soldier’s brilliantine’ I set off for my interview at Winchester. Getting on the bus at Eastleigh bus station I discovered it was nearly empty, so I was able to go upstairs and get the seat right at the front with the best view. Clutching some technical drawings and school art work I sat nervously in the Hants and Dorset green, and cream painted double-decker bus all the way from Eastleigh to Winchester, a journey of 7 miles through the Hampshire countryside. I had only been to Winchester once before and never by bus. From so high up I was able to see over the hedges all sorts of things that were invisible from ground level on a bike.
The drawing job I was going to be interviewed for was at the Guildhall and I was very relieved to find when I got off the bus that the bus station was directly opposite the building and soon after my arrival, I was being interviewed by Mr C C Steptoe, the Assistant City Architect of Winchester. I was very nervous about being in a Council office talking to a ‘high up,’ in my mother’s phrase but he was able to put me at my ease and soon we were talking about drawing, and art and looking at my work. I had been asked to bring any drawings I had done at school, so brought along those I had done for my Technical Drawing course, the painting I had done of the J A Cole building site in Bishopstoke and also the picture I had done for my mock GCE “O” level exam in 1959, a picture of an imaginary ghost town in America. Mr Steptoe asked me why I had chosen to paint that scene, so I said that my idea was that to show an imaginary place that was falling apart, and he was kind enough to say that I seemed to have a good eye for detail. He was very nice, and we seemed to get on and, a week later, I had a letter to say I had got the job. On Monday, 16th November 1959, at the age of 16, I started my first job as office boy/ trainee draughtsman at £5 a week, before tax and deductions.
Ghost Town. 1959
C.3. My First Job.
The City of Winchester Architects’ Department had its offices on the attic floor of the Guildhall. My boss Charlie Steptoe was a thin, nervous, narrow faced man with a small moustache and receding dark hair, who drove a new green Morris Minor estate car with wood framing on the outside. He was kind and encouraging to someone who knew little about drawing and even less about building and architecture. There was no City Architect, the real power being wielded by the distant and unlikeable Mr Perkis, the city Engineer who, like many teachers I had known, had the gift of making you feel guilty by just looking at you. He thoroughly disliked anything remotely ‘arty.’ The department had one assistant in his early 20s, Mike Bryant, who had passed his RIBA Intermediate exam and drove one of the new Mini cars. Under his guidance the first job I ever did was to trace some lettering to be put on the glass entrance door of some council flats in Water Lane, Winchester. At the end of my first day Mr Steptoe kindly let me take a print of my work to take home as he said I would probably like to show my family what I had done on my first day at work. As I said, he was a kind man.
At the far end of The Broadway from the Guildhall was a statue of King Alfred and overlooking this was the office of a local firm of architects called Sayers. Soon after starting work, I discovered that another Toynbee classmate, Roger “Dodge” Burlinson, had been taken on there as a trainee draughtsman, so we often met up at lunchtime. We would walk up the High Street to the traffic lights and turn left into St Cross Street where on the right was the Black Swan Café, naturally called ‘The Dirty Duck’. It was said to be owned by a popular local hero, the Southampton City footballer and England striker Mick Channon, who later went on to a successful career as a racehorse trainer. There was a popular car sticker at the time which read “Jesus Saves- but Channon gets the rebounds!” The Duck was where office juniors met for a lunchtime cup of tea and a sandwich while discussing the merits (or de-merits) of all the young secretaries as they passed the café windows in their high heels and tight skirts.
I cycled to work in Winchester every day, a 14 mile round trip taking half an hour each way. It was a pleasure to find that another friend, fellow cyclist and ex-Toynbee class-mate, “Customs” Collins, had also got a job in Winchester in the county council building regulations office which was on Romsey Road opposite the prison. John lived above his father’s paper shop on Fair Oak Road in Bishopstoke, and every morning he would arrive outside my house at a quarter past eight and we would set off on the back roads by Stoke Common and Twyford to Winchester. At 5 each evening he would cycle down St James Lane to meet me on the corner of St Cross Street and Canon Street and then we cycled back home together.
The ride home was made more interesting because of the bus to Bishops Waltham. John and I always cycled home by the same route, dawdling at a certain point because we knew the 5 o’clock Bishops Waltham bus would overtake us. This bus was always full of girls on their way home from work in Winchester. From the traffic lights we would accelerate and try our best to keep behind the bus as the girls all waved and cheered us on from the back windows. It was perhaps three miles to our turn-off beyond Twyford, with a stiff hill to climb, so it was pretty hot work as the bus was doing at least 30 mph. In time the same 5 or 6 girls commandeered the rear seats in the bus, and they held up encouraging messages scrawled in lipstick. I rather fancied a blonde haired girl who often wore a light blue coat and John fancied a dark haired girl. We sprinted behind the bus every day and in all weathers for the next two years but never met or spoke to any of them.
After a month in my new job Mr Steptoe told me that as part of my terms of employment, I had to start a course at the Art College at Southampton in January 1960. The course was to study to become an architect and was one day a week and three evening classes. I did not really understand what it was all about, but he said that I must, as it would improve my drawing, so from January 1960 I had a heavy work and travelling schedule. As it was difficult to fit in my work, studying, hobbies and leisure activities I had to be very well organised. I attended Southampton School of Art all day every Thursday, and from 7 to 9 on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Most evenings after I got home from night school, I would be working on my RIBA Testimonies of Study until midnight or later.
Tuesday evenings I was back at Winchester training at the Judo club from 7 to 9pm. From 7 to 9 on Friday nights it was ballroom dancing class at the School of Dancing in Chandlers Ford, run by the parents of a friend, Chris Braby. After dancing class Chris and I would meet up with other friends at one of the nearby local pubs – the Tabby Cat, the Railway Inn, or the Mount – for a pint or two before we all went on to the pubs and jazz clubs in Southampton until midnight. I still did a Saturday morning money collecting round for the newsagent and a double paper round on Sunday morning. Saturday was taken up with bike maintenance, working on the house and doing homework, and Saturday evening was out with the lads. On Sunday I was usually out on a bike ride and in the evening doing college work until midnight.
My only means of transport was my bicycle. If I had used the train or bus my weekly wages would not have covered all the necessary travelling, even if they could have got me to where I wanted to go on time. (Nice to know some things don’t change!) On a typical day I would leave home at 8.15 to cycle the 7 miles to Winchester, back home again by 5.45, quickly eat a cooked meal, back on my bike for the 7 miles back to Winchester or 6 miles to the college at Southampton for evening classes from 7 to 9, then back home again by 9.30 for a late supper usually of a cup of tea with bread and butter, cheese, pickle and raw onion dipped in salt, then to bed or more work. With all this I was regularly clocking up 90 miles a week in all weathers and adding in training rides or weekend cycle rides it was often nearer 150 miles.
I worked best late at night listening to the pirate radio stations and especially Radio Luxembourg. The trendy disc jockeys then were Dave Freeman, David Jacobs and particularly the outrageous and eccentric Jimmy Saville, with his blonde hair, jewellery, large cigars, and quick-fire patter. I knew he was an ex-racing cyclist who in the early 1950s had competed several times in the Tour of Britain cycle race. As part of his radio programmes, he started the “TTDC” (the teen and twenty disc club) and “UBC” (the under the bedclothes club) for his dedicated late-night listeners. Between eleven and midnight on Sunday the week’s new Top Twenty was revealed to keep teenagers up to date on the all the latest “hit” records with the new No1 record for the week being played at midnight. I could not possibly go to bed before knowing what it was.
C4. THE FUTURE.
By the end of the year things were looking up. Both Diane and I were in regular work and able to give my mother a few pounds a week to help with household expenses. There was still very little money but what we had was regular and, as our personal outgoings were very small, we were able to manage quite well.
Christmas of 1959 was very jolly. We were able to afford some small presents for each other and had the usual tree with fairy lights and all the decorations up. My mother had ‘pushed the boat out’ and used the money she had carefully hoarded over the year in a savings club to buy, for us, a lot of good food to take us through to the new year. In addition to our usual bottle of green ginger wine, we also bought some crystallized ginger, which both my mother and I were very fond of.
Things could only get better, and they did. The next decade would bring throw up many new challenges and opportunities for me as a teenager growing up in the swinging 60s. There were many highs and lows, ups and downs, successes, and failures as I gradually expanded my horizons beyond Bishopstoke and Eastleigh to establish an independent a life of my own. It was to be a ten years of very hard work studying architecture, taking examinations, involvement with a student action group, a student trip around Europe, being awarded ballroom dancing medals, learning a martial art, my first motor bike and car, nearly being killed in a motorcycle accident, new jobs, achieving my goal of going to collage full time, my first marriage and qualifying as an Architect in 1970.
25th December 2021.