Creatures from the black claypit emerge in village

Diving suits at Swanmore, April 1982
Diving suits at Swanmore, April 1982
The new trackbed for the Horndean Light Railway looking south across the bridge over Southwick Hill Road, Cosham, about 1903.

NOSTALGIA: Ready and waiting, the shiny new tracks climbing Portsdown Hill

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It’s April 1982 and in a quiet Hampshire village a trio of aliens has dropped in for a cuppa.

The village was Swanmore, near Bishop’s Waltham, and the creatures pictured on the right were, as you’ve probably guessed, part of the Royal Navy kit kept at a little-known establishment called HM Salvage Depot Swanmore (once the Salvage and Balloon Depot).

Eddie Amey, of St Michael’s Grove, Fareham, has provided the photo from his time as a dockyard engine fitter apprentice to his stint in rural Swanmore.

Eddie says: ‘As part of my training I had to visit many outlying MoD establishments in the area. In 1957 a parliamentary answer reported 15 “stone frigates” in the Portsmouth area, from Botley to Funtington and south.’

The Swanmore depot was on a former brickworks site with a flooded naturalised claypit.

‘During the Second World War a number of Wrens were employed there repairing barrage balloons and eventually it became the principal repair depot for MoD(N) marine salvage equipment – not waste paper and rags as some thought,’ he adds.

In addition the depot repaired all Admiralty navigational lights fitted to buoys within sea approaches at home here and abroad.

Eddie continues: ‘Many of the workforce were local and several were well-to-do, owning farms and smallholdings which they rented out because they didn’t like farm work.

‘Some of these were real characters like the security guard who was frightened of the dark and another who could double as Benny Hill’s character Fred Scuttle. His spectacles were so thick he couldn’t see the gate he was guarding.

‘Another had a new car each year but still rode a bike and said he hadn’t been to Portsmouth for 22 years because he couldn’t deal with roundabouts.’