Brought together by darts, a pub and a twist of fate

Doris Masters, the legendary landlady of the Blacksmith's Arms in Lennox Road North, Southsea, 1970
Doris Masters, the legendary landlady of the Blacksmith's Arms in Lennox Road North, Southsea, 1970
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Clare Ash rekindled her youth when she read recent Remember When stories about the destruction of properties in the Marmion Road area of Southsea.

It brought back memories of the Blacksmith’s Arms in Lennox Road North run by Doris Masters, and pulled down to make way for Waitrose.

Clare met her future husband there in a story which has a dramatic twist.

It was 1969 and 18-year-old Clare was a graphic design student at Portsmouth College of Art and Design. In the evenings she played darts at the ‘Blackie’, a popular students’ haunt.

She says: ‘I met a lot of lovely people there. Doris, was a great character. Her husband George was an ex-Dockyard worker. Doris was a real lady. She dressed finely, spoke the Queen’s English and generally presided over everything. Now and again, her wig slipped. She was great. Her word was law. We all knew our place, especially George.’

It was a time of long hair, tie-dye T-shirts and pink loons... and they were the boys.

But one student caught her eye. ‘Adrian. Long-haired and bearded, he reminded me of Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. He played a mean game of darts,’ recalls Clare.

Boyfriends came and went but Adrian never chatted up Clare and she wondered why until a trip to the Isle of Wight where his parents lived.

She continues: ‘Adrian met me off the boat. As we walked down the jetty, he began to tell me things about my mother that I hadn’t told him. That her name used to be Queenie Futcher, that she was the eldest of eight girls and how they all went around together, especially at Ryde Carnival, raising money for charity.

‘The Futcher girls were famous in Ryde. How did he know these things? I certainly hadn’t told him. Then it all came out.

‘Adrian’s mother Gladys had worked in a hairdressing salon in Ryde with two of Queenie’s sisters, Julia and Connie. Adrian’s grandfather Charles Ash worked for a company supplying stock to pubs, among them the Marine Hotel on Ryde Esplanade where Queenie worked as manageress and who gave him the orders.

‘But, to cap it all, Adrian’s other grandfather Arthur Tolman had rescued my mother from drowning off Ryde Pier in 1938.’

Queenie loved swimming and had been with her youngest sister Connie, when she got into difficulties.

She adds: ‘Arthur Tolman was a bus driver on a break at Ryde Pierhead when Queenie got into trouble. He went into the water to rescue her.

‘Connie, aged about 11, looked on in horror at this strange man pumping water from her big sister. Queenie would have been 26 at the time. The entry in her diary for August 14, 1938, simply reads ‘Went swimming with Connie – self saved from drowning.’ The next day, she was on a date with James Bayes. ‘Deckchair and tea with J Bayes – lovely afternoon.’

The Evening News of August 15,1938, wrongly identified Arthur as a Metropolitan policeman on holiday. Arthur had walked away without leaving his name.

Clare and Adrian celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last January. They have a son, Matthew, 26, who graduated from Portsmouth University in 2008. ‘His course was based at the same site where both Adrian and I studied, the old Portsmouth College of Art.’

And what of Queenie? She met and married James Bayes, a journalist, who worked for The News for more than 40 years, and they had three daughters, Anne, Ruth and Clare. She died in 2009.

Clare says: ‘The Blacksmiths Arms is also no more. A supermarket car park has replaced it.

‘I don’t suppose there are many people who can say they met by chance and married the grandson of the man who saved the life of their own mother, but I can.’