Growing up on the wrong side of the Copnor tracks

The old road bridge over the railway at Hilsea
The old road bridge over the railway at Hilsea
Looking down London Road circa 1903. The Horndean Light Railway tracks are on the right.  Picture: Barry Cox Collection

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Philip Pyke’s great memory-jerker of last week – the photo of the old road bridge over the railway line at Hilsea station, sent one reader’s little grey cells into overdrive.

I asked how many of you remembered it and Graeme Jefferson wrote to say ‘not only do I remember the bridge, I remember it being built, about 1960’.

He also recalls the level crossing which preceded the bridge.

Graeme says: ‘There was a crossing keeper’s cottage by the crossing and he would come out and open the gates to let vehicle traffic cross the railway – but not us kids on bikes. In fact, he would chase us away.’

He remembers a similar level crossing on Burrfields Road, Copnor, which was operated for pedestrians and cyclists, but not cars and says the Burrfields Road bridge was built in 1965.

The Hilsea bridge joined Rat Lane to Airport Service Road and Graeme adds: ‘The level crossing was closed permanently when the bridge was built by, I believe, the Royal Engineers.

‘It was always intended to be temporary and remained until the new bridge was built – probably in the late 1980s when Anchorage Park was developed.’

I’ve republished the picture today and Graeme draws particular attention to the triangular supports around the outside of the bridge.

‘As children we had great fun climbing these supports and negotiating the whole span of the bridge around the outside, a feat that I accomplished on several occasions.

‘The gap between each support was just too big to stretch across so we had to leap from one to the next. Nowadays health and safety would have kittens.’

Graeme then plucks out other random memories of the area especially when Dundas Lane ‘was just that – a lane which, in summer when the hedgerows were full, a small boy (me) could stretch his arms out and touch the bushes on both sides’.

He adds: ‘I remember the bulldozers and steamrollers rolling out the Tarmac to create Dundas Lane much as we know it now. This was 1957 and I was four.’

He says he was recently involved in some of the work carried out to replace the main drain running through that area.

‘I was told it was more than 50 years old. I said, “I know. I remember it being laid”.’

Graeme lived with his parents on the corner of Burrfields Road and Dundas Lane until they moved to Portchester in 1970. The family home was where the McDonald’s drive-through can now be found.

He continues: ‘Before the bridges were built, most of the kids weren’t allowed to cross the railway, but I had to, to get to school. I really was a kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.

‘Consequently I had the whole area from Tangier Road to Hilsea Lines (or The Mound as we called it) as my playground.

‘Most of my time was spent on the playing fields where Admiral Lord Nelson School now sits, and the corporation tip – because it was right outside our front door.

‘Many a happy hour was spent jumping on discarded corrugated asbestos sheets which made a satisfying crack as they broke up.’

He remembers the Orange Stream – so called because it had that hue – which carried ‘some sort of vile industrial gunk from the gasworks to the sea’.

He concludes: ‘Even now, every time I pass through the tunnel under The Mound on the way to Fratton Park I love to bore people with tales of how, “I remember when all this was fields”.’