The Highbury estate in the 1950s
|Author: David Joyce||Published: 14th December 2016 18:16|
Having moved to the Highbury estate in 1949, I lived there throughout my school life, and indeed beyond those years until I left Portsmouth in 1970. I started infant school at St Philips Church in September, 1950, and by 1960 was in my fourth year at Portsmouth Northern Grammar School.
For a young boy, it was a decade of exciting events, a trip to Singapore and passing the eleven-plus to name but two. It was also a decade of a long, close-developed friendship with some great pals, all of whom figure in my memories at some stage or other.
The map above shows the Highbury Estate and its surroundings in the 1950s. This entire area, streets, fields, and waterway was the domain of my group of friends during those ten years. We all lived locally, went to Highbury School, knew the area intimately and could be found roaming all over it during that decade.
The Estate was built during the 1930s with the exception of the lower end of Hawthorn Crescent, which was never developed until after WWII when prefabricated bungalows - the famous 'pre-fabs' - were constructed to provide quick, economic housing. They lasted until the 1960s when a range of 'maisonettes' were built to replace them.
Our family first lived in a pre-fab, 330 Hawthorn Crescent, from 1948 until 1951, when we moved into No. 9 Dovercourt Road. Highbury school was opened in 1954 and one of our favourite locations was the Vospers playing fields, which lasted until 1960 when the new Highbury Technical College was built on the site of it. This in turn was replaced by student accommodation for Portsmouth University in the 1980s.
The creek was a tidal waterway that separated Portsmouth from the mainland, and was originally about 200 yards (60m) wide. It was, of course, partially filled in when the new M27 motorway was constructed along its length and today it is vastly reduced in size to about one third of its original width.
On the Portsea Island side of the creek was the man-made moat and rampart fortifications of the 'Hilsea Lines' as they were known. When we ventured into that area, we were at the edge of our 'comfort zone' and for a bunch of lads between the ages of eight and thirteen it was a major adventure to explore them. There was (as can be seen) only one access to the Lines, via the Pitreavie road causeway, and once we entered the area between the moat and Scott Road, we were 'off the map' as far as our local knowledge was concerned - not that it stopped us on a few occasions. That whole area of the Hilsea Lines was military-owned land in those days, although it was largely disused and wasn't fenced off (well not properly fenced off anyway), and none of it was developed until the late 1960s.
Now also covered by an industrial estate, the Farlington 'marshes' (as we knew them) were accessed via the underside of the railway bridge over the creek (at low tide) or via the 'Triangle Field' as the area of land within the rail lines of Cosham triangle was known. Halfway along the London lines was a farm crossing which would give us access to the wasteland beyond. It was a fantastic adventure ground for a bunch of lads such as us, criss-crossed by paths, with masses of wild vegetation, large concrete block 'tank traps' and even a concrete bunker (both built in WWII).
Then there was the 'Horses Field' (nobody knew why it was called that - we never saw any horses on it), along Pitreavie road and across the causeway over the creek. Another great area for games of hide and seek, and of football and cricket once the Vospers field was developed. It was wide at each end, with a narrow 'neck' in the middle, and to go as far as the Lido end, by the Southdown bus garage was a real 'trip'.
From ages 8 onwards, in summer evenings, at weekends, or especially Mondays, during school holidays, when our mothers 'wash-days' meant we were all evicted from home straight after breakfast and not wanted again until teatime, all these locations were our world, one of adventure and fun. It was great being a boy (girls apparently did not have anywhere near the same freedoms), and happy memories of those days have lived with me all my life.
On colder, winter evenings, when darkness fell early and the estate often became shrouded in the fog from numerous coal fires that every house had in those years, we would roam the streets, usually meeting up down by the railway signal box at Portcreek Junction and wandering our way up Chatsworth Avenue or Hawthorn Crescent (we hardly ever used Highbury Grove) to visit the local 'chippy' up at the Highbury Buildings which formed the head of the estate. We rarely got into trouble, and weren't that noisy, except when we sometimes passed one or two houses where local girls we knew lived, and made sure we attracted their attention (often it was their dads who responded - and not very politely). To be fair, some of the girls were really envious at the freedom we had, telling us at school how much they would have loved to have joined us, but it was a different world for them in those days, modern girls need only ask their mothers to realise just how restricted their lives were. Even the estate 'bobby' knew us all by name, and would often raid a chip from each of us if he passed us at, or after a visit to, the chippy. He was a good guy, but unfortunately he moved on in 1958 and the new one was nowhere near as friendly, calling us 'ooligans' whenever we met (or whenever he could catch us). He was so bad, he will get an 'memories' episode all to himself and was the only individual we ever had any bother with.