It’s nearly 60 years since Pat Arnold first moved to Portsea and she has no intention of ever leaving.
She has become one of the cornerstones of the tight community which has changed beyond all recognition in the six decades since she was first forced to move to the area of Portsmouth neighbouring the dockyard.
She didn’t want to move there, but back in the 1950s single parents had no choice – they took what they were offered and were grateful especially as homes in the bomb-wrecked city were few and far between.
Pat was thankful and she and her four-year-old son thrived on the ties built up in the close-knit neighbourhood.
Today, now 82, she looks back fondly on her decades in one of the toughest areas of the city which, in the past 15 years, has undergone a gentrification unimaginable to the generations of dockyard workers who lived there and the tens of thousands of sailors who frequented its seamier side.
‘Why on earth would I want to leave?’ she says. ‘Portsea and Portsmouth have been so good to me.
‘Portsea has changed hugely. It might have lost some of its old character, but it’s gained a new one – who would ever have believed that we’d have a university in our midst or that the dockyard would become a tourist attraction?’
Pat knows what it is like to struggle, but in the fashion typical of her generation, shows absolutely no sign of self-pity. That was her lot and she got on with life.
‘I had to,’ she adds. ‘What else could I do?’
She was brought to Portsmouth from Guildford by her first husband who had found work in the city as a car mechanic.
That was in January 1951. Pat was 21 and their son Kevin was born six months later. When he was four the couple divorced.
‘When we first came to the city we lived in a flat in Victoria Road South. The landlady looked at me and said ‘‘I see you’re with child. I’m afraid we don’t allow children here, but you can stay until the baby is born.’’ In the end she didn’t turf us out until a few weeks after Kev was born.
‘Then we moved to a horrible house in the middle of a bomb site off Kings Road. It was 1, Great Southsea Street. It had already been condemned. I’d seen it before we moved there and always referred to it as The Sad House. It lived up to its name – it was damp, had no facilities and the lavatory was in the back yard.’
After she split from her husband and The Sad House was demolished, she and Kevin were offered a flat in Barham House, Bishop Street, Portsea. It was 1955.
‘It was luxurious compared to The Sad House, but of course it was unfurnished. I got everything on tick – furniture, carpets the lot. The man would come for the rent every week and quite often I was short.
‘Kev started at the Beneficial School before he was five which meant I could find a job. I got several to make ends meet.
‘I was an usherette at the old Troxy cinema in Fratton Road and worked at the Brickwoods brewery in Queen Street on the bottling line, checking the bottles as they went past. It was monotonous, but it was work and I needed the money.’
It was there that she met her second husband Denis, a Portsea lad from Kent Street. ‘We lived so close to each other, but we never met until I went to work at the brewery.’
They were married for 19 years until he died in 1982. Pat, who has lived in Britain Street, Portsea, since 1991, is a doughty survivor. Her mother died when she was four and her father placed her in ‘an orphanage for waifs and strays’ in Harrow, Middlesex.
‘I went there in 1934 and although I was well looked after it’s not the same as having your parents. I was known by a number – I was 20. I’ll never forget it.’
When the Second World War started she was evacuated to a series of safer homes before she and nine other girls were sent to a place in Shropshire where girls were trained as domestic servants.
‘It was strict, but I learned a lot there. I was 11 when I was summoned to the office one day to be told, quite coldly, that my father had died. They were so abrupt. But looking back I suppose it stood me in good stead for what came later.’