My Life as a Child in South Street Gosport

My Life as a Child in South Street Gosport


My Life – For bomb-damaged old Gosport-town, years of inertia after World War 2 came to an end in a frenzy of 1960’s & 70’s clearance and rebuilding. Ancient streets and alleys, with houses built over medieval cellars, pubs, shops, foundries, malt-houses, missions and tiny cottages were swept away. As high-rise flats mushroomed above Holy Trinity Bell Tower, much of old Gosport disappeared for ever.

But now and again “Talks” given by our gifted senior citizens brought vividly to life again the people and places of that overcrowded bustling little town. Such a one was gentle, white-haired Mrs Dorrie Cawte whose photographic memories of “My Life as a Child in South Street, Gosport, 1912-1926” made her a most popular speaker. Here she is:-


I think that Childhood, in the teeming South Street  area during World War I, and up to 1926, was a wonderful experience for all the children who shared it.  It was especially so for  my sisters and brother and me, even  when we had lost our father, and had only our dear mother to take care of us.


South Street had many alleys and courtyards and places leading off, with lots of little cottages.  There was a place called ‘Grey’s Alley !, named after a regiment that was stationed in Gosport long before my time.  And down the Beach Street end of South Street was  Sarah’s Place,  Trinity View and Wash-house  Yard, where we did all the big washing.  Then in Middle South Street, above Bemisters Lane, there was Child’s Court, and Wallingford Place.  This was where I was born in 1912.  Our bedroom was at the top and we looked out on to the back entrance of Gosport Theatre,  We used to love watching the ladies come down the stairs from their dressing rooms.  They had to come and go in whatever weather and it must have been very annoying when it rained, but it brought lots of imagination and colour to the lives of children watching them, with their furs and laces and lovely dresses.


When the gates to the back entrance of Gosport Theatre  were unlocked, this was our nearest playground.  I often remember playing cricket there; the bat was always a piece of wood from an orange box, the wicket any old coat or whatever was available.  There were arguments over being out, and the batsmen would seldom agree, especially if the bowler happened to be a girl  The game would often end with no results, but the quarrels never lasted longer than the next day, when it would all start again.


There was Slakes Engineering Works just opposite the Malthouse.  It was a source of noise and nasty smells.  As the front was wide open all the young men working there would give the odd cheek to any young girl passing by.  Also Wallingford Place ran along the side wall of the building, and I remember when they installed a Steam Hammer^ how it shook our poor little cottage and made a terrific banging noise, which we got used to in time, although we never thought we would do so.


Also lower down just past Bemisters Lane was Mr. Cox’s Slaughter House*  If we were in the street when these animals came in view, we ran home or to the nearest house, because they always bellowed loudly, in such a distressed way.  I am sure they must have smelled the Slaughter House, and sensed what would happen to them there..


That was all taking place in Middle South Street; then Upper South Street was a little classier, and different , with larger, more imposing houses .  There was also the Police Station and next to that building was the back of the Thorngate Hall .  This was made up of small offices such as the Registrar1 s Office of Births, Marriages & Deaths.  Also a little office place where the very poor collected, every Thursday, half—a-crown per week to keep and clothe three children.  I was often sent to line up for this , for my mother.  There was a school clinic there as well .  I thought it a cruel place, when I went there to be treated for chilblains.  The front of this beautiful building round in High Street, the lovely Thorngate Hall, was truly magnificent.  We all loved it, and it was so very different to what is now known as the Thorngate Halls.


Miss Gillard *s grocery store on the corner of South  Street and Haslar Street was owned by old Mrs. Gillard, and run by her two daughters.  I have a vivid recollection of old Mrs. Gillard, the mother.  She was a huge old lady, always sitting on a chair in the doorway leading from the shop into the living quarters.  She ordered everyone about in a deep voice, seldom taking her eyes away from her two daughters, Lizzie and Flo.  She had a very beady eye, and dressed in black.  Lots of people lived by the ‘book1 or, in the language of these days, ‘on tick’.  When the old lady died, the two sisters took over.  Although they were good business women, their hearts were too big, and within reason,no family went hungry if they were the very poor.  Food was always found for them and no question of repayment, or else a few pence was accepted towards an account.  They did not push for payment, and they were said to have hundreds of pounds owing them!


South Street was really dominated by Blakes Brewery, which was situated in four large buildings.  The largest, on the corner of South Cross Street, was for us the important part  of the Brewery,.  Every Saturday morning one of us would go into this building with a bucket (how useful buckets were in those days, we used them constantly for every purpose), and ask for hot water, piping hot*  We then used to scrub the floors, and toilet of our little three-roomed cottage, where I was born and lived, until I was fourteen years old.


On the other side of South Street, part of the Malthouse  went into New Road which led off from South Street.  Down here was a shed as we called it, these days it would be called a Garage.

In here was kept the old Foden Steam Wagon which took the barrels of beer out to various Public Houses in the Gosport vicinity.  This engine was a marvellous sight, puffing its way down South Street, rumbling along quite slowly down the little side roads.  Next to this shed was a big archway which was a walkway under the top floors of the Malthouse.


Once you got through this entrance there were two cottages with lovely, well tended gardens, full of coloured flowers. They must have been well-positioned workers who lived here. Once again, I remember taking washing here and not only receiving the laundry money, but very often a ha’penny for myself, also in the Autumn a bag of apples.  To me it was a secret fairyland of a place, with blossom on the trees, and  bright beautiful flowers and vegetables growing together there. We had no gardens in the courts and alleys of South Street.


On the other side of the garage was a large furnace with  a big iron grid and a high stone doorstep. We often sat here on a cold evening before it got too dark. I recall the pictures we saw in the furnace’s glow, and the truly wonderful stories we used to make up for each other – entertainment that didn’t cost anyone a penny.


Next came Church Path and the old ramparts with those beautiful green banks to roly-poly down, and of course the moat where we learnt to swim.  In summer time they provided an idyllic playground.  We used to take a picnic of bread and jam sandwiches and bottle of cold tea.  We must have eaten quite a few  ants during those summer days, but we never tasted them!


Then coming back to Lower South Street, there was the old Bethel Mission Hall where I went to Sunday School.  The  most impressionable memory of that actual hall was the beautiful scrubbed floor boards, really white 1  Whoever did them made it a work of art.  We always had a lovely Christmas Tea and prize-giving, after this was a concert; singing was done by the Sunday School teachers, also with the help of older children.


And, of course, there was our summer day treat.  How we looked forward to that day, with our tin mugs tied around our necks with tape or string very often, and our ticket pinned on our garment.  There was always lots of noise and pushing, all trying to be the first one on>*  Eventually order would be restored, and much to the boys* annoyance, girls would get on first, not, let me tell you on a bus, but a brake drawn by horses*  They belonged to a Mr. Tutt, who in later years had buses.  Off we would go, cheering and shouting out to our mums, or anyone else who might be seeing us off from our dear old South Street.  You would have thought we were going to Timbuktoo. But no, we were off to a field in Little Anglesey Road alongside the creek, which belonged to St. Mary’s Church, for the day. How we bumped and rocked on that conveyance.  I don’t know how we never suffered any broken bones, but X can’t remember any. There was always a table laid out with ha’penny sweets at the far end of the field.  These ha’penny treats we had saved for in different ways, doing all sorts of jobs to earn these small amounts.  We always bought some small item for our dear Mum, who worked so hard single-handed, to keep us fed and tidily dressed.  She was a lovely woman.  We had races to run and different games, and of course there was the tea.  Never was there such a lovely cup, often cold, but always sweet, and often full of floating grass.  Then long before it got dark, all tired out, but happy, we all piled back into the brake. This time it didn’t matter if girls got on first or the boys. We were too tired and happy to argue.  We all managed to give a cheer for Mr. and Mrs. Cook who ran the Mission.  What devoted people they were. I might add if it rained on these outings we all went into a big barn, and still had a lovely tea.


Also during the summer evenings we would sit down along the big doorsteps with our mums, and watch the rats having great fun running and playing on the roofs of the Malthouse, and indeed on the roofs of the houses as well.


The games we played during fine winter evenings were various.  We played mostly outside the Brewery wall next to the Robin Hood, because there was a lamp post there.  We played leap-frog and hide-and-seek, hiding in doorways, and alleyways, and sometimes running to our homes,- the doors were always open, wait a few minutes and then run back quickly. Also another game called “Oory, oory, who-can-do?”  Don’t ask me what it meant !  Someone would put his hands on the wall and lean down, put his head on his hands, and then we would all put our hands one on top of the others on his back and say the little rhyme, adding something like “where shall this little man go to?”  All this time we were moving our hands, taking the bottom hand to the top.  When we finished saying the rhyme the one whose hand was still on his back was told to go somewhere, like down to the Post Office and back*  This continued until we were all told various places to run to and back again«  Whoever was the last one back had to put his hands on the wall, and start all over again. “Oory, oory, who-can-do?  Where will this little man go to?”


During the day time, whilst on holiday, we took the games as seasons came around, cricket, running races, hoops, whip and top, marbles, five stones, ‘tag1  and skipping etc. I can’t remember football, but no doubt the boys played somewhere around the green places.  We also played a ball game called “Caddy”.  It was a game the boys took over, but we all played together in most games.  We must have had very well behaved brothers.  There were times when arguments started and sometimes the boys would fight, and the girls would run away, perhaps a girl might get pushed, but that was the limit of the violence.  In my memory they were all very innocent happy days.


There was also the water cart that came around, especially in summer time, to lay the dust of the streets.  Whoever used to drive these carts with their old horses must have been good tempered to put up with all the,yelling we children produced.  Sometimes he would swish his whip over his back, but when we ran, he would turn on the water again and we would rush back to play in the fascinating jets squirting out on either side.


Sometimes at the Holy Trinity Church there was another  event to set your heart pounding and your blood tingling’. This was the Church Parade of the Royal Marines, from Forton Road Barracks.  The sight and sound was really thrilling, with the Band playing so loudly and all the handsome young Marines marching along together so smart and upright.


As the years went by, and we grew a bit older, things  changed, places changed, and even our simple fun changed. A charabanc replaced the horse-drawn brake for our summer outings.  My next sister by that time had left school and went to work at Flux’s Laundry, just as I did when it was my time to leave school.  Eventually my two eldest sisters were engaged to be married, and my brother went into the R.A.F.  Mother decided we needed a bigger house with an extra  bedroom for when ray brother came home on leave, as he was too old to share our bedroom.  So, we moved to a three-bedroomed terraced cottage up in Joseph Street.  I was most unhappy to leave, but my older sister was thrilled as we were going to have a front room !


It is 6O years since we moved away from South Street,  but I remember it like yesterday.  I have tried to tell some of the sights and sounds and smells of those dear familiar courts and alleys, and the pubs and breweries and shops and factories that were crowded together so closely, inside the ramparts, in that South Street area.  No child could play in safety on the South Relief Road of today.  But equally, no child has to collect 2/6d a week Poor Relief for her mother to bring up three young children with…

All I can say is that I would never have wanted to be brought up anywhere else except South Street.  No place could have been more lively and interesting.  But of course we had the advantage of being looked after by the most loving mum  in the whole wide world.

    • Written for Gosport Living History
    • My Life as a Child in South Street,
          • Mrs. D. Cawte 20th March 1986