The recent story in The News about the new housing development on the site of the Twilfit corset factory in St Mary’s Road, Fratton, sparked many memories for John Lindsey.
His family made surgical corsets, among other surgical devices, for more than 100 years. They had shops in London, all along the south coast, and, of course, in Portsmouth.
In the mid-1890s this snippett appeared in the Evening News: ‘In this County Borough there is established a good Surgical Instrument and Truss Manufacturer who is favoured with the patronage and recommendation of the principal members of the medical profession in the town.
‘We refer to Mr Lindsey of 7, Commercial Road who came to Portsmouth nine years ago prior to which he had 18 years’ practical experience in London, and from what we hear, a great many sufferers who need such applicances are saved the unnecessary journey to London to obtain what they require.’
John, of South Parade, Southsea, said: ‘I well remember visiting the shop at 7-9 Commercial Road in the early 1930s.
‘A very steep staircase from behind the counter led to a small room where made-to-measure surgical corset-makers Grace Jones and Barbara Beeby worked.’
He said that in 1937 the premises were demolished to make way for National Insurance Offices. The site is now occupied by a cafe in the small precinct alongside St Michael’s Road.
John added: ‘The shop moved to 50 Elm Grove, Southsea, with the work room behind and was made uninhabitable after the blitz of 1941 when a move was made to 110 Elm Grove with a much larger corset-making room behind.’
When the NHS was created after the Second World War, Lindsey’s needed more staff and John said Grace and Barbara trained many school-leavers and other recruited from the many corset firms already existing in Portsmouth. These women were retrained to make made-to-measure surgical corsets.
In 1956 the corset department moved to a new, purpose-built factory in Clarendon Place where it joined forces with the Appliance Factory which had moved from Foster Road and more staff were recruited.
‘Our tenure there was short-lived as the council wanted to build Tesco and we had to move to Gunstore Road, Hilsea.’
In 1980 the business was bought by the Camp Corset company who had their own factory in Long Eaton, Nottingham, and a token surgical corset-making facility along with the appliance-making moved to Neville Shute Road, Hilsea.
· John says that Grace Jones’s father, Bertie, was the bosun on the then Royal yacht Victoria and Albert.
‘He lived in Langstone Road and I can remember my brother and I being taken on a tour of the ship and being allowed to blow his Bosun’s pipe, which the previous day had been blown by the two royal princesses.’
He added: ‘Barbara, later Barbara Martin, was very involved with the Guiding movement, was involved in charity work in the city and was a past president of the Portsmouth and Southsea Inner Wheel Club. She died two years ago at her home in Aston Road, Southsea.’