Isle of Wight Nostalgia - Memories

From Debby Smith - (email D.Smith2@lboro.ac.uk) born on the Island and now living in Loughborough. Debby also has some interesting pictures of Newport which are on this site.

Ventnor in the fifties

I remember a cobbler called Pete Cortesi and a corner shop called Beasleys. I'm not sure of the spelling of these as I was only about 3 at the time! Both were in Upper Gills Cliff Rd. The Beasleys had a tortoise which frightened me.

One of the first things I can remember is going with my father and a friend of his to the site of the old Ventnor West railway station (the line shut down in the early fifties). I think the friend had bought the site and intended to develop it.

I remember the other railway station - Ventnor Town. Lots of steam trains which plunged into a tunnel through the undercliff. Also coal merchants had their stores in sort of holes burrowed into the undercliff at the side of the station - I remember one called Jollifies (which I think is a very typical Island name).

There was an International Stores in Ventnor where customers were served at a counter by a man in an overall and apron. I once put my teddy bear down on the chair shops always used to provide for weary shoppers, and forgot to pick it up. When my mother and I went back for it had gone. I will never forgot the grief and loss I felt!

We actually had a television which my parents had bought to watch the Coronation. When we moved to another house in Ventnor we couldn't get a picture because the Undercliff was right at the end of our back garden.

Sometimes the water used to come out of the taps a horrible rusty brown and we couldn't drink it. Yuck.

There were donkeys on Ventnor beach - I wonder if they are still there?

Newport in the sixties

We moved to Newport in 1958 when I was nearly 4, and stayed there until I was 13, so I have lots of memories of how it used to be.

Shops - proper family-owned shops:

Shutlers (general store and bakers) - the Shutlers were a huge Catholic family who lived in the big house on the corner on the right-hand side of the photo of Cypress Rd. Their shop never shut. Mr Shutler was a baker and used to bring warm doughnuts and wonderful iced buns to the school I was at break-time.

Ralph's' Nurseries - opposite Shutlers. Greengrocers.

Next door to Ralph's' Nurseries - Rooks, stationers and post office.

Next door to them, Snelgroves - wallpaper and paints.

Next door to them - Reynolds and Greengrass - stationers. We used to get our fireworks from them as well.

Opposite - a fish and chip shop and restaurant called, I think, Stotburys. And there was a monumental masons next to them. I think Bright & Minns, the dry-cleaners, were also on that side of the road.

Then a bit further down there was Browns, a tobacconist, and Wests, a greengrocers.

By the (new) bus station - Gustars butchers. There was a cashier in a wooden box so that the butchers didn't have to handle money. Lots of sawdust on the floor and dripping carcasses. The meat was held together with skewers (which I was astounded to see FOR SALE in blister packs the other day ). Gammons were wrapped in muslin. I wouldn't go in the shop because Perce, the butcher, used to threaten to chop my pigtails off with his meat cleaver and I hated him.

Next door to Wests - well there was a pub called the George, but next to that a wonderful shop called Sheath's. It was a sort of pet shop, chandlers and hardware store combined. My mother used to get dried dog food from there and I also purchased my first hamster there - it cost 8/6d (0.42), including cage.

Opposite Sheath's - a women's clothes shop called Grey's. I remember my mother buying a winter coat there.

Near Grey's - the Island Bakeries shop. The sliced bread came wrapped in waxed paper with the Island Bakeries logo (a map of the Island) stamped on it. They also used to deliver - the baker came round with a huge wicker basket over his arm, full of lovely bread and cakes - including an Island speciality called Lardy Cake, which I loathed.

Just down the road from them - part of a sort of stone arcade (was the bus station before the new one was built about 1962) - there was a Maypole shop - or it could have been Home and Colonial. Funny old-fashioned grocers.

On the corner of that building - Wadhams furniture shop. They had a wonderful device in one of their windows which showed the different sorts of wallpaper they had in stock. I used to love looking at it. It drove my mother demented with boredom. Wadhams seemed like a magical place to me - it was big and luxurious and pervaded with the lovely smell of new carpets (one of the few childhood smells which hasn't been sacrificed on the alter of packaging).

Well - you will see that I went shopping with my mother! Will send more when I have time. There were two toy shops - oh what bliss they were.

There were two lovely toyshops - one called Webbes which was near Boots. I used to buy Jennings books there. The other one was bigger, but I can't remember what it was called - it had a double-barrelled name and was near the Catholic church (one of my problems is that I never know the names of streets, just what was in them). I know I used to buy clothes for my Cindy and Tressy dolls in it, and also furniture for my dolls' house. Also - there was a Timothy Whites on the corner of the main crossroads in Newport - opposite Smeeds the wine merchants where my father bought his gin and angostura bitters. Also there was a lovely shop called Godwins - it was opposite the Home and Colonial or Maypole grocers in the main square (St James' Square? - anyway where the buses used to stop before the bus station was built). Godwins was bliss to me - my brother's Carisbrooke Grammar School uniform had to be bought there. There were counters and rather stately gentlemen working there, who pulled items out of wooden drawers and wrapped them in brown paper and then, joy of joys, produced sort of flat ribbon with the name of the shop running through it from a machine, wrapped the parcels and handed them to my mother (who would have been sitting on the chair thoughtfully provided for customers - many of whom (my mother included) would have passed out on hearing the amount of money they were expected to hand over for their purchases if they hadn't been sitting down).

Near Godwins was the National Provincial Bank where my mother used to get her house-keeping. There were big blotters and ink-wells, and customers used to dip pens into the ink to write their cheque and then blot the cheques before handing them over to the cashier. This always rather intrigued me of course. It seemed terribly grown up - but of course by the time I was grown up and had a bank account everything was done with biros and computers!

First traffic lights on the Island

One thing I remember really well was the chaos caused when the installed the first set of traffic lights on the Island at the Canning Day corner (by the bus station - I think there is now a Safeway there). Lots of Islanders wouldn't drive on the mainland so they didn't know anything about traffic lights. I recall sitting on the bus on the way home from school while the driver desperately tried to circumnavigate confused Islanders as he attempted to make his way into the bus station!

Newport Carnival

Every year in August (I think) the main towns on the Island held a carnival. There was always great rivalry between Newport and Ryde as to which was the best. It involved floats and bands winding their way through the main streets, and there was always a funfair on the football ground, which I believe was at the back of the Xixie drinks factory near Church Litton (the last time I was on Newport I saw that the factory was no longer there and had been replaced by -well, I can't remember what).

The best thing about the carnival was a game that you could play. The shops used to put a small black spot in their windows and you had to do something involving the black spots and the carnival programme. I completely forget the mechanics of it but it was good fun.

The Old Tennis Courts

There is, or was, a tennis club on Mount Pleasant Rd near the Vicarage. However, before that it was in-between Cypress Rd and Shide Rd - down a little path opposite our house in Cypress Rd. It was wonderful fun playing on the old courts, which gradually got covered by gorse and grass and which were full of grasshoppers we used to catch. There were also lots of blackberries there. That was where the Sun Trap was - now it occurs to me it may have been the old pavilion. It was a wooden house lived in by two old ladies, one of whom was a bus conductress. It got burnt down in about 1961 and I remember the fire engines - funny old things even for those days, I think.

The Railway Station

I remember going to the railway station in Newport with my father to collect a package. We put an old penny in a wonderful green machine on the station, turned a pointer to make the letters of my name, and out popped a little metal strip with my name on it. You got 12 characters for a penny so I only just managed it.

Another thing I remember about the railways - the Best Kept Station Competition. This was ALWAYS won by Havenstreet!

Buses

I lived in Newport and went to school in Ryde. There were (maybe still are) two bus routes from Cowes to Ryde via Newport, the 1 and the 1A. The boys who went to Ryde school had to catch the 1A and we Convent girls had to use the 1. Every so often, inevitably, fraternisation would occur, and the headmaster of Ryde School (Mr McIsaac) would write to our headmistress, reiterating the point that her gels should not attempt to corrupt the morals of his pure young charges by sitting next to them on the bus. These letters were read out at assembly, amidst much tittering, and their injunctions were widely flouted.

We used to call the one-man operated coach buses "piggy buses", because they had snouts like a pig. Our weekly tickets for the school run cost 5/- (0.25 ed.). I think that must have been quite a lot of money then. Seaview Services - this was a little bus company who ran buses from Ryde to Seaview. Their buses were white.

All the double-decker buses had conductors, who had the most fascinating machines for producing tickets. They had a series of dials in a sort of pile, one on top of the other, which they turned in order to make sure the right price and stage were printed out (in blue) on the little orange tickets, which were produced by the conductor turning a handle on the right of the machine. The conductors had lovely leather pouches in which they kept the money.

In summer the conductors changed into summer uniform - white jackets and white caps. I think the white caps might have been their winter caps with a sort of white cover stretched over them. Also in summer the white open-topped double-deckers used to appear, but they weren't used for scheduled journeys - I think they were for the tourists. I never went on one.

Every so often, if our luck was really in, our school bus would be something from, I should think, the thirties. We loved them because the seats upstairs were all in rows, enabling us to make more noise and trouble than when separation was forced upon us by boring old double seats.

Trains

My real love. Unfortunately I can't remember much about the Island trains as we hardly ever used them! However, one thing I recall really well, which is when they shut the Ryde-Sandown line down to electrify it. We could see the trains from our form room and our form mistress told us to look at the last steam train on the Island leaving Ryde St John's Station. So we did, and it seemed very sad. I think this was in 1966. The line was closed for a few months and then they brought over a whole load of 1930s tube rolling stock and re-opened it.

I also remember the little green trams that used to run up and down Ryde Pier. We were rather proud of them as at that time I think they were the only trams left in the country.

Ferries

I remember the smell of the engine room on the Ryde/Portsmouth passenger ferries and the Cowes/Southampton car ferry. We used to stand at the open door and watch the stokers working. Everything gleamed and smelt so lovely. We used to go on school outings to various places on the mainland. There was one bit of the Ryde ferry which we really liked - it was on deck and you slid a door open and stood right at the front (?bow?) and IT WAS SO WINDY. There was of course the added spice that we weren't supposed to do this.

In the summer they used to run really old steamers. I remember visiting the Island during one of the Pop Festivals and seeing this steamer practically sinking under the weight of people attending the Festival. Probably lots of Islanders wouldn't have minded too much if it had sunk, since I seem to remember that not a single bottle of milk was left on a single doorstep in Ryde the next day.

At some point in the mid-Sixties they got rather smart hydraulic companionways to get people on and off the Ryde ferry, but until then they had daunting green wooden step things that they casually leaned up against the side of the boat. We used to have to wait for the boat to bump in to the dock and then they would erect these frightening things which we had to walk down.

One of the car ferries they had a turntable which each car used to have to drive onto, then a couple of men kicked it round so the car was facing the right way to drive off. IT TOOK A VERY LONG TIME!


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