Isle of Wight Nostalgia - Memories

From Andy Whittle who recalls trips with his grandfather in and around Newport of the early 1960s.

A Stroll with my Grandfather

"I am just off out for a stroll, Ethel ". That was my grandfather. That was his hobby and from my time as a baby whenever we were on the Island [there is only one] I was part of it. If my mother wanted a break from childminding, I was loaded into the pram and away we would go.

My grandparents Harry and Ethel Saunders lived in one of the bungalows, on St George's Lane, Shide on the way up to Newport golf course, named after J. M. Barrie characters in Peter Pan, the hero himself with Wendy next door, numbers 12 and 10 respectively.

On with the mac, cravat and trilby and away we would go. I graduated, from pram to pushchair to Shanks' pony. If I was exceptionally lucky, the first stage was by bus. From the inside pocket of his coat he would draw out his folded and well-thumbed copy of the Southern Vectis timetable, always purchased on the first day of issue and consult routes 9 from Ventnor irregular and always single deck, 17 from Ventnor every hour like the 12 and 22 from Shanklin and finally the 14 from Sandown. I suspect that he did not really need to look but it was part of the fun. We would leave at about the same time the bus was timed to leave Blackwater corner, it always struck me that we were cutting it fine, but we never missed one, we were always there at the Barley Mow stop well before the bus was visible down the Blackwater Road. There were two fare structures one for the winter and one for the summer, so what was a fivepenny ticket in the winter was sevenpence in the summer. He would take out his purse count out the coppers, look at the conductor, give him the money and say I am not buying the bus you know. My mother if accompanying us would try and master the art of invisibility.

There were the other frequent occasions when we walked into Newport, as nothing was running at the right time. Then I suspect that as a lad of around 10 or so, the pleasures were not so obvious, it was not a long walk just over 10 minutes but it could seem for ever.

Down the hill of the lane past Ratcliffe's cabbage field on the right past the lodge at the bottom where Peter the old black and white dog lived, sometimes he would follow us home on the return journey to collect the bone from the weekend joint. To my granddad he was never Peter but Scrooger. Over Pan Lane and onto the main road. A peer over the bridge into the waters of the juvenile Medina, over the old Shide level crossing. The railway was closed but the gates lived on, as did the station initially as Rarcliffe's storage yard. And then hard right by the Barley Mow and onto Shide Path as far as the Shide stores. Then Medina Avenue stretched out over the horizon and beyond, the bulk of the walk…. yet to come. Past Cypress and Avondale, past Hooper and Ashbys the builders merchant, past the advertising hoarding by the exit for Church Litten. the then home of Newport F.C. who were then a fairly successful Hampshire League side. Past one exit for Gould, Hibberd and Randall the distribution depot for fizzy drinks throughout the island. Then onto Church Litten, and though a little boy the park side was not for me. We always walked the industrial side, me staring into each unit to admire the lorries, especially the green and red of British Road Services with the AEC recovery unit always parked at the rear. Then on past the Saturday entrance for the football club and next the Tuesday market site.

In my childhood this thrived and it was a treat to walk around the bustle. I never thought about or even considered the end products but just looked at all the animals and imbibed the smells. Firstly there were the small animal cages with the rabbits and chickens I think, the sheep and the pig stalls and plenty of cattle. I may even have seen some of the auction, and finally at the bottom of the site were the cheapjacks, who later on had the place to themselves, as the animal market perished.

If it is not market day then we will walk up past the new bus station, although I am just old enough to recall when the buses had stops in St Thomas' Square to look at the buses especially in the summer when the older doubledeck Bristol KSs and KSWs were brought out to meet the demands of a more frequent service. The next treat was the possible purchase of the days main meal from Barnetts the pork butchers, famed throughout Newport for the quality of their homemade pies and the corresponding length of the queue outside their shop. Never before and never since……

Then Woolworths in the days when they had an extensive series of food counters, 6 tins of Tiny Tim for the cat and a perusal of the loose biscuits bought by the quarter pound, direct from their tins either malted milk or sports biscuits each with a different sport design baked thereon. If I had some pocket money it was then for the toy counter, where I can recall buying on one occasion a large red plastic ship on wheels for 2/9d. Now for the cakes Larbys was one such place, usual purchases a Coventry cake, and half a dozen iced buns.

No doubt we went elsewhere but those were the places which interested me. I would like to think that he enjoyed it as much as I did since when his own children were growing up, he was away in the Navy…China Station and the Mediterranean fleet… before the war and he missed it, so he was catching up whilst I was growing up.

Gateway to the Island

I am a Red Funnel man, the old British rail fortresses of Yarmouth, Fishbourne and Ryde Pier head do not even come close. I freely admit to bias. I am accidentally a Geordie by birth but most of the natural affiliations are to the South Coast and Southampton and the Wight in particular. As my maternal grandparents lived in Newport, so one or two holidays a year were spent on the Island and living in Southampton it had to be Red Funnel. The last year in Southampton (1965/6) was a bonus. My father was promoted and sent on detached duty with the Customs to Manchester airport and was rarely at home. So some weekends direct from school, my mother would gather up my sister and I, and march down to the Triangle in Bitterne Park. There we would catch the bus for the Royal Pier and stay over for the weekend, to rise early on Monday morning in time for the first boat from Cowes to go directly into school. I am too young to have ever travelled on the converted landing craft the Norris Castle, though I did see it once. Likewise I cannot recall ever sailing on the last paddle steamer, the Princess Elizabeth, though I can remember going down onto the Royal Pier to meet someone off this craft. I can recollect being impressed by the speed of its arrival.

Until the arrival of the first serious car ferry, the Carisbrooke Castle , the service was in the hands of three smaller ferries who also occasionally worked as tenders to liners which called at Cowes. There were three externally similar craft, the Medina, the Vecta and the Balmoral. My favourite was the racy and dashing Balmoral, a true galloper, able to sprint and cavort where the other two seemed only able to walk sedately. If you boarded the Balmoral, the Island was that much closer, and what was also true was that the ride was always that much more lively, riding (and drinking) the waves like a surfer. Nowadays I would be concerned in case the ship was unstable. I saw the Balmoral last year when she breezed up the Solent and Southampton Water in her latest livery, whilst I sat in the car-park at Calshot - it brought back memories. For those on board, it still looked as much of an adventure as it did when I was an under ten on the top deck, training my binoculars on the passing liners and tankers. The only ride across the Solent/Spithead that ever compared to the Balmoral were the ones after we moved away from Southampton and used to come to the Island for a day by way of a roller-coaster Hovercraft ride from Clarence Pier to Ryde.

Past the old docks, on the western shore, Hythe, where the Ton class minesweepers were held in reserve for the Russian magnetic mine blockade that never came, past the Hythe ferry and pier. Netley Hospital tower, Hamble refinery, just time to change sides to admire the Esso tankers and the chimney at Fawley. In the early days the moored and sleeping flying boats at Calshot waiting for their becalmed sister ashore and stranded at East Cowes. The Calshot lightship and that swooping light-footed dance across the Solent to the Cowes Pontoon…. none of that purpose built slipway at East Cowes, but the drunken uncertainty of West Cowes Pier. It even stole the heel of my mother's shoe on one occasion. The daring drivers, trying to escape the side entrance of the ferry on the insecurity of the makeshift wooden gangplanks.

We were normally foot passengers, and Southern Vectis was smiling, the green and cream waiting on our shillings and pence. The choice was ours. Normally outside the booking office was a number 2 (Newport - Cowes Pontoon) in the early sixties at least one of the last preserves of the single deck Bristol fleet. I always used to wonder how the driver ever got the bus from the slender street and under that narrow arch into its allotted space. The bus always seemed too long. The advantage of this service was that it was off the boat and on the bus. The problem was a connection at Newport Bus Station for Shide. There were other options, the rapid walk to West Hill Road, where the other buses stopped . The choices were the 1 and 1A for Ryde via Newport which might connect better at the other end but still entailed another change at Newport, or sometimes in the summer the service 14 was extended to Cowes from Newport which meant that the return journey to Sandown would call at our local bus stop outside the Barley Mow . If that ran, the uphill walk was worthwhile, otherwise give me the bounce of the single-deck pontoon bus any day.

I do not recall that we ever patronised the railway from Cowes to Newport in those days, if for no other reason than that the station at Newport was a tidy step from the bus station especially with cases. This might have been different if the line to Sandown had been still open in which case alighting at Shide station with merely a change of platform which would have been perfect.

On one occasion I do remember going to Cowes on the train to catch the boat home, and the train was oh so late because it was the night of Ryde carnival. The boat had to be held for us, and I recall running all the way from the station down to the pier to catch the boat whilst inquisitive and impatient eyes watched us from the decks and saloon of the ferry!


Little boys travel upstairs, if there is an upstairs, and grandfathers have to follow suit. This is the unwritten law and grandfathers understand that. There were times when this was not possible, but by and large you knew in advance. The Cowes Pontoon bus [number 2] had to be single deck to get onto the pier, in which case the compensation was to be on first and sit right at the back to enjoy the full advantage of the uneven roads and bounce like india rubber.

The other certainty was the number 9, Newport to Ventnor, but this also had its attraction, to sit behind the driver and pretend to be him… change that gear and swing the wheel!

However, I digress. As I have said in a previous piece the precious green timetable was always folded in his inside mac pocket, the trilby was on and we were away for the afternoon. Those of you of my age or older will recall that Newport did not always have its bus station, so instead up till the early 60s it was the green ebb and flow of the tide that was St James Square, alive with the vibrancy of Southern Vectis. In truth I do not remember much about where the buses left from except I think Cowes was by the traffic lights and Sandown/Shanklin was under the arches on the other side, but I may be in error.

Then came the bus station. For the purposes of this memoire, it is Easter and there is a week's holiday. My Grandfather is in his early 60s and for most of the year not working. He has not yet received the call that will take him down to Little Canada or one of the other holiday camps at Wootton for a summer's labouring. I do not think that the summer timetable and the raised prices will have arrived either. So there are 6 days to ride aloft like kings and let the Island dreamscape flow by.

Firstly the choice, which bus to take, though in reality the decision was already made and the itinerary was set. We will start on the island platform and await the arrival of the Ryde bus, large, new and with automatic doors at the front. Please let it be the 1A and not the 1…. A far more interesting ride, it always seemed to me than the straightforward gallop down the racecourse to Wootton Bridge and Binstead. If we are lucky then its upstairs at the front with the Island panorama before you, especially the view from Staplers, to see the ribbon of the purposeful Medina make its way to Cowes and then the waters of the Solent and Spithead, and if you are especially fortuitous the chance to see an ocean liner silently seeking the open seas. All too soon back on the main road at Wootton, that brief stop at the Sloop to see whether the yachts and dinghies are skipping on the water or lie dreaming on the mud. A further brief glimpse of the sea by Ryde Church, then down the hill to disembark on the Esplanade and a quick look at the bus routes I don't usually see 4 for East Cowes 6 for Haylands ,8 for Shanklin, 16 for Ventnor. Not today though. Grandfather is a walker, the weather is good, and the tide is in. We will walk the pier and if the gods smile there may be a ride back for me on the tram. A third of a mile long, when you are 8 or 9 it seems to stretch away for the rest of the afternoon, but in reality a stroll 15-20 minutes. The fishless anglers in the shelters, but plenty of maggots in tins to admire, other promenaders, the keep-fit few who walk with their suitcases down to the Portsmouth boat, while the old tram marches up and down the pier bearing the lazy and the tired. There should also be at least one steam train bearing or bringing its cargo of bucket-and-spaders to their holidays end or dream's beginning. At the Pierhead will be the ferry ready to unload a surge of holidaymakers for the Islands southern resorts. A spectacle to stand and watch.

Back on the Esplanade, a wander amongst the elderly adrift on deckchairs in the Esplanade gardens, a look at the Fountains and Shotters coaches in the coach park out to seduce trippers into that mystery late afternoon coach tour [with tea]. Come and be beguiled by the destination boards. Perhaps we will get as far as the boating lake and back. Maybe an Eldorado or Nelson ice cream or perchance some Frys chocolate cream to which granddad was rather partial. And then the afternoon is gone and we need a bus swift and functional to be home at Shide in time to slice the small brown loaf for tea. Time for the 1 and not the 1A or the small occasional [3?] that leisurely parades through Haylands and Havenstreet, before remembering that it has an appointment in Newport.

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