I wonder how many of you remember Stanhope Road and the city centre offices of the Portsmouth Evening News & Telegraph (before it moved to the News Centre at Hilsea and became The News)?
I have special memories of the old building as I worked in the dispatch department before leaving school. When the papers started to roll off the press, to me it was the most exciting place to be.
For how and why I ended up there, I’ll have to go back a few years. My late father, Jack, was an Evening News vendor on the streets of Portsmouth and very well-known to many.
He began his working life in the dockyard in 1936 as an apprentice driller. During the war he was sent out to Egypt and for four years worked in Port Said and Alexandria repairing battle-damaged shipping.
Sometime in the early to mid-’50s he walked out of the dockyard (why was never explained to me) and started selling papers. Just like that.
Of course, my older, and late, brother and I were dragged in to assist. I don’t think I was ever young as I seem to have been working since I was eight years old. I kid you not.
When I was about 11 I was taken with dad into the opulent, panelled and highly-polished front offices of the Portsmouth Evening News. It was quite the most wonderful place I had ever been in.
The whole of one wall had built-in pigeonholes full of mail. An air of importance hung over the place and everyone spoke in hushed tones as if it were a library or chapel of rest.
Breaking the quietness, to the rear, someone was clacking away on a large manuel typewriter.
Later I was taken into the despatch department which was entered by a yard farther on past the front office.
As you entered the yard rolls of newsprint were stacked in a warehouse to the right. The entrance to the dispatch office was to the left. What a hive of activity.
The foreman at the time was Mr Ernie Wiggins and I was introduced to him.
‘Alright boy?’ he asked, a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
‘Yes sir’ I replied.
My father then went about his business, talking to people who were busy but could pass the time of day at the same time.
When the papers came off the press they came through, as I remember, four square openings in the wall on rollers. There, they were picked up by workers who took them off in quires (two dozens) and stacked them into piles of eight to 10 quire, reversing each set.
These were then tied up by other men.
I could never work out how the boys taking the papers off the rollers knew where to pick up a quire without counting. I watched closely and then I saw that every 24th paper had been flicked an inch out of line by the press. Easy.
I wandered around and saw a manual crushing machine of sorts. All around heaps of discarded sheets of newspaper and cardboard littered the floor. ‘Pass that string through that hole,’ I was told. A man grabbed hold of the string as it came through a hole his side and he tied the bale. He then released the lever, the top sprang up and there it was, one bale of old newspapers.
I ended up with a job there in the school holidays, working on despatch. Part of my duties with another lad was to send the Evening News to all parts of the world.
At this time, 1962, there were several editions of the paper. Early, Midday, Late, Late Extra, Final and, if something important occurred, a Late Final Extra.
To send papers global I was given sheets of paper with the addresses typed on them. I then laid them out face down, all overlapping. Glue was pasted on the inch showing and then the newspaper was rolled and placed in a wheelie bin. When full, this was pushed to the sorting area of the Post Office on the corner of Stanhope Road and Commercial Road to be sent worldwide. I can remember papers going to South Africa, Ceylon, Hong Kong and Australia.
Wonderful times with some super people, but it all came to an end in June 1966 when the navy called.
And that’s another story.