The Highbury Estate in the 50s - Part 4
|Author: David Joyce||Published: 17th January 2017 16:27|
MOVING HOME - 1951
In 1951, we departed the pre-fab in Hawthorn Crescent and moved about a mile to one of the 1935 built 'Highbury Homes' at 9 Dovercourt Road.
This road was a small cul-de-sac offshoot that crossed, at right angles, the three main roads that constituted the Highbury Estate and, at that time had the sports field for Vospers boat builders behind it, with a large piece of spare land at the road end. This piece of land was to eventually house the Highbury junior and infants school, construction of which had not started when we moved in.
The Vospers field was later used for the 1960s built Highbury Technical College, which itself has now een superseded by student accommodation for Portsmouth University.
The two photographs above show (left) how the house looked when we moved in, with walled and grassed front garden. There were no car parking facilities as they were thought superfluous when construction took place.
However, by 2015 (right), the wall had gone and the garden concreted over to provide hard standing for two vehicles (a sign of the times). With the School still present and a student village behind, the house is in a far busier environment than it ever was in my youth.
Note also the storm doors fitted to the edge of the distinctive porch, work not done on No.7 which shows the original profile of the main entrance.
The ground floor, front room was my grandmother's, who lived with us then. She had a bed, two comfy armchairs and, most importantly to me, a radio. I spent hours in that room, while she knitted, listening to my favourite programmes, and in the days before television (we did not acquire one until 1955), the radio was a source of great adventures to me. Journey into Space, Dick Barton - special agent and Round the Horn were my favourites. The great thing about radio was that each listener put their own imagination to the dialogue, something television took away. How often I imagined myself on some distant planet with all its inherent dangers, waiting until the next episode gave me the answer! Grandmother also had a passion for jigsaws, which she passed on to me and has stayed with me all my life. She also loved trains, we would often walk down to the railway lines and my love of railways grew from passing so much time watching them go by.
I lived at No. 9 until I got married in 1970, and moved out, initially to a flat in Southsea, followed later that year by the purchase of my first house, following a job move to York.
Houses on south side of Highbury grove, the north side of Hawthorn Crescent and the bottom portion of Dovercourt Road all had rear alleyways. Why only them, I don't know, except that originally, they bounded open land (to the south), and the railway lines (to the north), which allowed for the provision of an alleyway
The Highbury houses also had generous rear gardens, bounded by concrete-lattice fences, and the two photographs below show them quite well. There was considerable use of concrete for fencing, walls etc. on the estate and by the 1970s, some of these were beginning to show their age. 1930s concrete did not always last too long as the panels on the walling in the photos below are beginning to indicate.
These photos above are of me in the rear garden of our new home were taken during the summer of 1951, not long after we had moved in.
In the left one, I am sat playing boats in a large tin bath in the rockery that we had at the top end of the garden. The structure was single-brick walled with hollow square corner buttresses and a central semi-circular planting area (on which I am sat). To my memory this was not a general feature of the estate gardens but had been specifically built for the house by the previous owners.
I remember dad (who was not strong on d.i.y.) sawing a plank of wood on one of these buttresses one Saturday. It was hot summer's day and he was struggling to cut through this plank.
'Alright dad?' I enquired.
'B....y hard work this wood, son' He responded - dad rarely swore.
Suddenly, the plank of wood fell in two .... followed by a portion of the corner brickwork! He'd sawn through the wood and the bricks beneath it!
Dad just looked at the neatly sawn brickwork. 'B.gg.r' was all he said ..... I beat a hasty retreat, dad was not the best person to be around when things went wrong.
The right photograph was taken at the same location, but with dad. The large bush behind the rockery did not last long, it had gone by the end of summer 1951, although I don't think my dad had sawn through that by mistake as well!. The rockery (as we called it) disappeared later in the fifties, but I can't remember why ... or when. It had been a great play area when I was younger and we often used it as a fort for war games or cowboys and Indians.
This photograph of younger brother Richard, shows the extent of the garden looking toward the Vospers playing field that was at the back of the house. Actually, two rather dilapidated tennis courts with associated with cracked, weedstrewn asphalt and broken down mesh fencing occupied the area directly behind our house.
Apart from my brother, it also shows the high washing line made from joined-up scaffolding poles embedded in a large concrete base which later rotted at ground level and collapsed - luckily with no-one under it at the time. Also seen is the concrete rear fence, back gate to the rear alleyway, and part of the garden shed which, in 1957, became the stage for an unforgettable incident - of which more later ! Oh and yes TWO more 'rockeries' - the place was full of them .... no wonder they were all demolished later, perhaps dad had used them as sawing benches also!
TO SINGAPORE - 1952
In the summer of 1952, a year after we relocated to 9 Dovercourt, Dad was posted to the Naval Base at Singapore, and we sailed to join aboard the HMT (His Majesties Troopship) Empire Windrush. We left Southampton at 12.00 noon on Wednesday, September 17th, and travelled via Gibraltar, the Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal. Aden, and Colombo, arriving in Singapore some four weeks later.
I remember dad having access to a car whilst we were there, and they had some friends, the Charmans, who had a son, Roger somewhere near my age. He was a spoilt little brat, and I didn't like him at all. He always wanted (and usually got) his own way, and trying to play with him was a nightmare. He would wail and whine at the first thing he didn't like, and I was always being told to 'let Roger win' whenever we had some sort of game. One day when we were out in the car, he wanted to sit next to the window for the journey back, even though I'd been told he could sit there on the way out, with me having a go on the return trip (such arrangements were important when one was seven).
As usual, whining Roger wailed and complained to his mum, and Mrs Charman ordered me to get out and let her precious little boy have the window seat. It was pointless arguing, so I did, slamming the door in temper behind me. Unfortunately (or was it?), darling Roger was trying to scramble into my place, and the door slammed shut on his foot! God, he made a SUCH a fuss, it only needed a couple of stitches to hold his little toe in place while it healed. As usual, I got it in the neck ... but he never tried playing up to me again after THAT one !
We were supposed to be in Singapore for three years, but about nine months later, Dad retired from the Navy and we left for home in April 1953, or rather everyone but me did, as I was careless enough to fall into the monsoon ditch opposite our bungalow two days before we sailed, broke my leg, and was not deemed fit enough to travel by ship at that stage. I spent almost a week in hospital at Changi RAF base and was then flown, in an Avro York transport plane to Colombo, where I was duly reunited with the rest of the family for the voyage home. The flight was fantastic for me, especially as I was able to sit with the pilot for some of it, and he had a great time pointing out all the various places we flew over (these types of planes were not pressurised, and so did not fly at great heights). The plane was half cargo and half seating although the seats were not much more than canvas 'deck-chair style' types. Most of the passengers were Officers and female office staff/nurses being transferred to Ceylon (Sri Lanka now) for military duties, but they did make a great fuss of me, especially the nurses and I loved it!
The house had been left in the care of my grandmother whilst we'd been away and was waiting for us on our return. At the start of the Summer term in May 1953 I returned to school and, surprisingly, found myself reunited with nearly all my friends (including Angela) from my infant schooldays when I re-appeared at the temporary home of the Junior School, based at the Tudor Crescent Drill Hall, about half-mile from where I lived.
There was an even more amazing coincidence when I was placed next to my friend Tony once again. It was as though I'd never been away.