Cuffs and collars needed changing every lunchtime while working in Portsmouth coal depot

JE Smith's fuel buildings in Goldsmith Avenue, Fratton, with James Edward Smith's Rover 2000 parked outside
JE Smith's fuel buildings in Goldsmith Avenue, Fratton, with James Edward Smith's Rover 2000 parked outside
Portsmouth in 1717 (from William Gates History of Portsmouth, 1900)

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Peter Whyatt was inspired to ‘remember when’ by the 1976 picture earlier this week of Goldsmith Avenue, Fratton.

Taken by Philip Pyke, it showed the old coal and fuel suppliers JS Smiths.

Peter, of Sunderton Lane, Clanfield, is 65 and retired last week, but he worked at Smiths as one of his first jobs after leaving school.

He says: ‘I started as junior clerk and ended four years later as manager.

‘James Edward Smith ran the company, and after I had written an informal letter asking if they had any vacancies, he turned up at my house at 7.30am one winter’s morning, interviewed me and offered me a job. How times have changed.

‘Head office was at Goldsmith Avenue and there were some six depots around Hampshire at railway goods yards, and some High Street offices. They also ran some coal club rounds and clothing club rounds around the Portsmouth area.

‘The manager at the Fareham depot was Jack Bishop, the boxing trainer and manager/promoter, who is well respected in Boxing circles to this day.’

Peter continues: ‘The Rover 2000 in the picture, right, was owned by Mr Smith, and the company owned all the offices, yards, weighbridge, shop and garage shown. A fleet of vehicles, all in the company’s black livery, delivered coal throughout the area, loading from the yard at the rear of the premises, while pre-packed coal, the small plastic bags, was delivered in a grey van formerly owned by Dewey, which Smiths then owned.

‘A lovely chap did this work, Mr Benfield, who was in his 80s and was incredible at his job, putting us to shame.

‘Smiths was a really good company to work for and it was the only job I ever had, where I had to cycle home to Eastney at lunchtimes to change my shirts as all the cuffs and collars were black with coal dust.

‘Few of the companies in the area that supplied solid fuels now exist, but I expect a lot of people will remember the company, the lads delivering coal on their backs from the vehicles, and the clouds of dust that would blow from the gates into Goldsmith Avenue on warm but windy days.’