The Highbury Estate in the 50s - Part 12
|Author: davidjoyce||Published: 10th March 2017 14:27|
My thanks to Dave H and Barry Farmer who's helpful feedback from my previous articles has jogged my memory regarding details in the notes below, and also to Barry's wife, Sandra for sending a lovely (if not slightly embarrassing) photograph of me around 15.
At the junction of two of the 'cross routes' with Chatsworth Avenue (Pitreavie Road and Dovercourt Road) were the two sets of local shops. At the Dovercourt Road intersection was Newshams (general stores), Smeeds (Off licence), Healeys (butchers) and Brookes (greengrocer), whilst Carrols (grocers), Purnells (post office & newsagents), The Co-op and Harfields (the hairdressers) were at the Pitreavie Road junction. Once our Highbury Junior School days were over and we split to different Senior Schools, the Post Office became the regular 'after-school' meeting place which kept our group together, and from about 4.30 onwards, and for the next hour or so, quite a group would congregate there.
At Harfields, when I was between the ages of 5 and about 8, I used to be placed in a 'high-chair' arrangement to have my haircut, and Dave Harding reminded me that Mr Harfield had, unfortunately for him, a 'built-up shoe on one foot as there was a disparity in his leg lengths, which also produced a pronounced limp. It is obviously irrelevant now, but when one was young and, as was the norm in the 1950s, nobody explained anything to a child about such a thing (how ignorant children were kept in those days), such a noticeable issue became something to be a bit wary of. When he traversed around this high-chair in a clockwise direction, each step produced a noticeable 'lean' of his body towards me, and with a pair of very sharp scissors on his hand, such a movement became a bit threatening and my mother was always telling me to 'Sit up straight' when my every tendency was to lean away from such danger! Trips to the hairdressers therefore, became a bit of nerve-racking experience until I was old enough to sit in the 'adults' chair. It was at about the age of 9 when my second cousin, Carole, dared me to get a 'crew-cut' the next time I went to the barbers as, in her words, 'He won't have to use scissors on you then David, it will all be done with clippers!' Just what her motive was in persuading me to adopt such a hair-style I have no idea, but two things; firstly being dared (as I've said previously, I was a mug for a 'dare') and secondly, avoiding the dreaded scissors, convinced me to try one and the style remained with me right up until the age of 13, when the use of 'Brylcreem' brought about a change to longer hair.
Harfields remained my usual barbers shop until I started work, when, under the influence of some of the girls at work, a rather more upmarket 'hairdressers' in Woking, Surrey became the place to get styled in the latest cut. After all those years of Angela saying how much she liked running her hand over my spikey crew-cut, I changed to a 'brylcreem' style which went out of fashion overnight as a result of one particular girlfriend at work saying 'I can't run my fingers through your hair David when it's all sticky with cream' (isn't it amazing the influence females have in one's life - well they did in mine anyway)! So, a short-crop cut made her happy, followed, when the use of hairspray became acceptable for men, by a sort of beatle-like 'fringed' style which eventually grew into a 'mop-head' look. In truth these last hairstyles belong more to the 60's than the 50's but it does reflect the changes one goes through, as the pictures above illustrate and, incidentally, give some idea of the outcome.
Incidentally, nowadays, I have hardly ANY hair!
Talking of changes, what else is noticeable - apart from me?
CHANGES AT THE RAILWAY BRIDGE
Well, from the photographs above, the most obvious is, of course the A27 roadway which carves its way across what was once my world. However, not all is lost, the road does indeed take up at least one half of what was the full width of Portcreek, but by the time it crosses the railway, it has curved away from the waterway, leaving it still at full width where the bridge is. The two views are fifty years apart, the old Signal box has gone, but the muddy, unofficial underbridge footway we used to access Farlington marshes has been upgraded to a concrete pathway (does it still disappear beneath the water at high tide I ask myself - it would appear so from the photograph), and lo and behold, a portion of the old scrubland still exists between the Creek and the earthworks of the new road. I don't suppose any driver, ploughing his or her way along the motorway today will give a thought to the fun and games that once took place on underneath all that tarmac fifty years ago.
THE RAILWAY COTTAGES
Before it was industrialised (left, above), the triangle field, as we knew it, was another accessible area for fun and, as well as providing the second access to the marshes when the tide was in, it also had the railway cottages on its southern apex. It is good to see they are still there today, as at least some continuity has been maintained but, apart from the buildings and the road bridge embankment in the right-hand photograph, the other, more subtle change is to the railway footbridge itself which was rebuilt when the rail lines through Cosham toward Fareham were electrified. Regarding the original footbridge, how many times do I remember not bothering with it and nipping across the tracks when no trains (or adults) were about. Not today thank you, not with 650 volts of electricity in that third rail. Interestingly, the left hand side of both the photos looks as though nothing has changed, but don't all of us who lived there know different!
THE HILSEA LINES
As mentioned previously, the man-made embankment of the Hilsea Lines and its associated moat marked the southern limits of our exploration expeditions during the 1950s.
Apart from the tree level along the top of the lines embankment and some subtle changes to the bridge decking, not much appears to have changed in the 42 years between the above two photographs. The main alteration today, however, is off-picture to the right where a new footbridge has been provided across the creek. This would never have been possible during the 1950s as the Lines Embankment was still military land. An intrepid group of five of us DID cross Pitreavie Road Causeway one day during the 1956 summer holidays, and entered the moat area to spend the day on an exploration mission. We didn't risk crossing the moat at the Pitreavie Road end, but used the shorter railway bridge that spanned it and then clambered up amongst the vegetation to the top of the bank, across the bridge over the railway to discover a plethora of old brick-built stores built into the southern side of the banking. The were all kinds of rusted military hardware (nothing explosive thank goodness) and we fought through the vegetation all the way along to the Eastern Road end before dropping down to access it, following the road over its bridge across the creek and home via the more familiar ground of the marshes. We daren't risk the crossing at the railway bridge in case the signalman had seen us earlier and used the gated crossing into triangle field. Whilst we were up along the lines, we occasionally heard voices of other people and we hid at least twice when some guys passed nearby. Who they were we never discovered, but to a bunch of eleven year-olds, it was an exciting day, full of adventure and perceived danger. It was, however, an exercise we never repeated.
Behind St Philips Church is Cosham Junction, where the rail lines from Portsmouth and Brighton meet. Today there is no evidence that anything significant was situated here, but before the days of modern signalling, a manual signal box existed.(as shown left). My parents had friends in Jesse road, Fratton whom we often visited. Their eldest son, Russ (who was ten years older than me) had a job on the railway as a signalman in 1957, and in January of that year he was posted to Cosham Junction Signal box. I would often visit him, usually at a weekend when less railway staff were about, and got to know the routine of the box quite well. I could pull all the levers, save one, which controlled a signal round the curve toward Portcreek Junction (he always operated that one), I also knew all the bell codes to communicate with adjacent boxes at Portcreek, Farlington, and Cosham Station, and the only thing I did not do was to fill in the register book which noted all the train passing times as this was the signalmans prerogative. When, as occasionally happened the Cosham Stationmaster paid the box a visit, I would disappear into the brick built locking room (below the operating floor) and wait until he'd left. However, the stationmaster was no fool and knew I was there and, as Russ had told him I was a relative, my presence was tolerated.
'But for no more than an hour at a time' He had instructed Russ (this was often ignored when he was off duty on a Saturday afternoon). The Stationmaster also got to know me quite well as a result of this clandestine arrangement. This fact was to come in useful that coming summer.
ANOTHER RAILWAY FOOTBRIDGE
Although the track layout has altered, here is a bridge that has NOT changed! The one across the approach to Cosham station that I used so often to access the Halletts shop in Lonsdale Avenue (when I worked there) and later the Salisbury pub (our regular meeting place in the early to mid 60s). Any pupil from the Highbury Estate that went to Court Lane (or later Manor Court) school will also be familiar with it.
Tony Nuttall and I used to regularly train-spot from that bridge on a Saturday morning, watching the shunting activity in the station goods yard whilst waiting for any unusual engine to pass (which often happened on a summer Saturday). Cosham station goods yard was the regular 'drop-off' point for bricks during the 1950s rebuilding of bomb damaged Portsmouth and had at least one delivery per day. The entrance track to the goods yard was behind the engine in the left-hand photo, and one Saturday in 1957 we were sat on the base pillar of the bridge on that side as a train was being shunted into the yard. Suddenly, a wagon became derailed right in front of us. The shunter had not pulled the points properly and they had not locked correctly. When one pair of wheels went over the points, they sprung open behind it and the next set of wheels of the same wagon went the wrong way, eventually falling off.
The unfortunate man tried to blame us, and the told the train guard who made us stay where we were while the engine driver went to fetch the Stationmaster.
He then came up from the station and instantly recognised me 'Hello young fella-me-lad' He said to me 'What happened?'
Tony told him what we had seen and the shunter said 'They're lying, they put something in the points that blocked it.'
As usual, I had something to say, but this time, being known to the Stationmaster, it worked to our advantage.
'If we'd put something in the points, where is it now ?' I asked 'And why haven't we run away .... and anyway, how could we put something in the points when wagons were running over them .... I was watching and you never pulled that lever properly, and they sprung back under the train!'
The Station master appeared to be quite impressed - he KNEW I understood exactly how points worked.
'WELL' he said to the unfortunate shunter 'What do you say to THAT ... what these lads say seems perfectly reasonable to me !'
He said nothing after that and we thought that was it, but Tony told his dad who went to see the station master. He came round our houses a few days later with a letter of thanks from the railway for our help in the matter.
Interestingly, many years later, when I was Track Engineer at Doncaster, I had to investigate a similar derailment that had occurred in the yards at Scunthorpe and my memory of what had happened at Cosham that day provided me with exactly the methodology for the second incident! The shunter at Scunthorpe finally admitted he hadn't pulled the point lever properly, saying he been distracted by an angry wasp.
Isn't it amazing how there's always something or someone else to blame when things go wrong !