Half a Century of Memories

HALF A CENTURY OF MEMORIES (Mollie Coleman February 2007)

Mollie Coleman took a trip down 'Memory Lane' recently to recall aspects of her life in Old Portsmouth from 1957 when she and her husband together with their four children moved here from Wickham.

She said that she chose their future home 'Quaygate' in High Street after spending a couple of hours with a local house agent with her 18 month old son Jeremy in tow!

Mollie now lives in St Thomas's Court where, back in 1957, she was shown a house then newly built. She remembered how bleak it looked because none of the houses had front gardens as very few were occupied. These were then on the market for £2,500 – what a difference 50 years makes. Mollie really needed a larger house with more outside space so 'Quaygate' suited very well but was more expensive at £3,500!

Mollie recalled how very welcoming and friendly everyone was in Old Portsmouth – less of a social hierarchy than in her old village. 'You were accepted for who you were' she said. Soon after moving into 'Quaygate' she received a visit from a Canon of the Cathedral, followed by the Chairman of the Cathedral Ladies. Shortly after, Mollie started as a regular worshipper at the Cathedral, became involved with the Cathedral groups and the week the gift and card shop opened she was one of the very first volunteers – a task she only relinquished a couple of years back.

Life was pretty much self-contained for the family in Old Portsmouth. In those days many more shops existed, including an excellent grocery shop on the corner where Balfour's is today. However, it was much smaller because the left-hand side of the shop was the chemist's run by Mr Price – almost next to Lloyd's Bank. But in the early 1950's, the Bank was operating from the building on the corner of High Street and Grand Parade, as the Lloyds Bank building had suffered war damage and had to be rebuilt.

Across the road on Cathedral Green, where the rose beds are today, stood more shops and a dwelling which somehow escaped the bombing. Allan's the butchers, a greengrocer's run by Mrs Glazier and Freeman's barber's shop did brisk trade – all to be demolished in the late 1950's/early 1960's.

Mollie had to walk down into Broad Street for stamps, postal orders or to send a parcel as the Post Office was then where Cobbles is today – run by Miss Smith and her brother. Later it moved across the road to Lucas's (yacht chandlers) building, since developed as 'Spinnaker Quay'. Its final destination was where Cubitt & West are now situated until it closed in January 2005.

Opposite the Cathedral was the doctor's surgery located in the home of Doctor Eddings and his wife Joan. Joan still lives in Old Portsmouth. The house with the purpose-built surgery was completed and opened in about 1953. Dr Eddings and his partner, Dr Whitwham, provided medical care to Old Portsmouth residents until the early 1980's when Dr Eddings retired. Mollie's two younger children often went out sailing with the Eddings family and no doubt had a thoroughly good time 'messing about in boats'.

Back in Pembroke Road was the hairdresser's called Barbara Villiers, run by Mrs Daphne Fisher, in the premises presently occupied by The Beauty Retreat. Mrs Fisher was a great character, kind hearted and a 'larger than life' person. In 1966 Popingays dress shop opened in the premises occupied by Mellors today. It was run by Mrs Beth Miller and young Sarah Linington (later Sarah Younghusband). Mollie told me she purchased several dresses there and no doubt also dropped in for coffee and a chat with friends as the shop also had a coffee shop and provided light lunches – it was the 'in place' to go for the ladies of Old Portsmouth on a Saturday morning. The shop closed in 1980/81 when it was taken over by Pamela Legge as an antique shop.

The Lemon Sole restaurant was previously a furrier's which sold fur coats and provided an alteration and repair service. Dotted around Old Portsmouth were other retail premises including a grocer's in Oyster Street, a bakery in Peacock Lane and, outside the present west doors of the Cathedral, a marine store dealer.

Jeremy and Sally, Mollie's two youngest, attended the Garrison School in Cambridge Road, located in the building which is now the Armed Forces Recruiting Offices. Younger children were also provided for by Mrs Harrison who set up a kindergarten for pre-school children in a wooden hut behind the lodge Williamsgate in Pembroke Road.

One of the young family's favourite walks was up to the then recently erected Nelson Statue in Pembroke Gardens. Jeremy enjoyed riding his tricycle around the path whilst Mollie met friends and would enjoy a chat on the seats which she said surrounded the statue in those days. The statue was relocated in 2005 to Grand Parade.

Mollie's favourite local lunch venue is currently The Duke of Buckingham pub on the corner of High Street and Highbury Street. When she first lived across the road she looked out onto bombsites until the pub was rebuilt in 1969. The interesting 'modernist' house on the other corner was built by an architect, Mr 'Andy' Anderson as a home and business. Also in the High Street, where the three ultra-modern town houses were built in 2001, was Cambridge Garage run by the Bartlett family – very handy for the Colemans who bought a car there and could 'fill up' and get it repaired on the doorstep as well.

Eric, Mollie's late husband, was at one time Chairman of FOOPA and later on Diana, one of their daughters, was also on the Committee. Diana remembers the FOOPA tennis tournaments played on grass courts next to where the bowls club is today. At the end of the season a supper for players was held in The Pembroke. After the tennis courts were closed the land was used for hockey and the 'Southsea Ladies' played on it.

If Mollie needed other than day to day items from the shops or, as we would put it now, some 'retail therapy', then a walk along to Palmerston Road, Southsea would bring her to Handley's Department Store (now Debenham's). It had a splendid restaurant and café where a pianist played, just the place to go for afternoon tea.

Mollie enjoyed recounting aspects of family life almost 50 years ago and, although her husband's naval career took him away from Old Portsmouth for some time in the 1960's, when Eric retired they both threw themselves wholeheartedly into the social life of Old Portsmouth.

(Mollie Coleman was talking to Jackie Baynes who compiled this narrative. Some names and details of shops were provided by Julian and Marnie Linington. Joan Eddings confirmed the surgery details. Thanks to everyone who gave their time to make this article possible).