Exploring the Highbury Estate
|Published: 24th October 2007 10:14|
By Peter Keat, Manor Court Nostalgia Writer
Back in our school days at Manor Court every summer was one long sunny day with hours of interesting things to do - not a Playstation in sight. A recent wander down memory lane, well actually around the Highbury Estate revealed pastimes which would have had my mum hitching up her floral apron and wagging a disapproving finger. The Highbury Estate was built during the early 1930s and was a masterpiece of how not to design suburban housing. Three roads, 7/8th of a mile long with no bus service and no pub!
The Northern boundary was formed by the railway line, which included 'The Triangle' where there were some railway workers cottages and a footbridge, which allowed access from the Highbury side, but no footbridge to allow those intrepid explorers to reach the wild lands to the north. Nothing for it then but to risk all by nipping over the railway tracks, to be rewarded with the perfect place to find newts, frogspawn, blackberries and ride those bikes over the dips and dusty tracks.
The Southern boundary was Ports Creek and to adolescent boys this was the perfect adventure playground. Add to this a friend who was the owner of a rowing boat kept at the Tudor Sailing Club on the Eastern Road and it was truly a boy's heaven. Before the massive construction work associated with the M27 that swept away any remnants of the past, the main road into Portsmouth went over Portsbridge. Built in the 1930s it replaced a much older bridge. There had been a crossing over the creek at roughly this point for many hundreds of years. Until the M27 it was possible to make out remains of wooden quays and the piles for the old bridge. After the war, however, the creek became a real boy magnet - as was the German submarine which was beached off the shore at Portchester and remained there slowly rusting away. Picture our two intrepid explorers - in true Swallows and Amazon style - rowing out to the submarine, determined to mount an assault on its rusting deck, only to be deterred at the last moment, well there might be a dead German or two lurking below and we wouldn't want to disturb them or anything! Fascination indeed - but what would Mum have said?!
At the other end of the Highbury Estate where the houses petered out and the land became marshes once more, the railway runs over the creek. This was the swimming place, additional excitement being added by watching steam trains rumble across the bridge at intervals. Another place for watching the trains was the footbridge, which led from the Estate into Knowsley Road and standing on the bridge with the train passing beneath was a joyful moment, despite the smuts and smoke. Looking down from this bridge away from the Station the cattle pens could be seen, these held the livestock before taking them to the market at the top of the High Street.
The Highbury Estate may have had no pub and in the early days no school, but it did have a Church - St. Philips, designed by Sir Ninian Comper and built between 1936-38, it is masterpiece of interwar Gothic Revival and thought by some to be his most brilliant creation. It was one of the first churches to have a central altar, which is richly decorated, in contrast to the rather plain brick exterior and simple white interior. Perhaps money was short, however, or it was felt frivolous or at odds with the simplicity of design to have more than one bell in the tower. What a mournful sound that bell had, each Sunday as its dreary, toneless peal would attempt to call the faithful to church. To those who lived on the other side of the tracks it was the signal to pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep!
Because of its rather strange street plan, the Highbury Estate remained a rather isolated place, you only had to go there if you lived there. For this reason, however, it was very much a community with families all moving in at roughly the same time and growing up together through those long hot summers ~ well they were, weren't they?
What is the connection with the picture below? The answer is simple. It was taken in 1960 in the front room of a house in Highbury Grove and yes that is me!
Find more of Peter's memories at manorcourtupdate.blogspot.co.uk.