NOSTALGIA: Bert's wacky racers went for a spin in bid to beat juke box

Bikers at Bert's Cafe at Portchester
Bikers at Bert's Cafe at Portchester

THIS WEEK IN 1987: Eastney beach gets clean bill of health

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I mentioned Bert’s cafe in an article last week and the number of readers who contacted me about the establishment was amazing. It was liked, even loved, by so many an affection which appears to remain.

Bert’s cafe stood along the A27 Southampton Road where Mother Kelly’s fish and chip shop is now. Berthed at the back was the former paddle steamer ferry PS Solent and people's fondness for that too seems to remain.

Bert's was named after Albert Frost and he had two daughters.

Dave Shepherd, of Boarhunt, tells me he used to court one of them, Jean. He remembers the other was called Mury (not Mary) for some reason.

David believes PS Solent was bought for scrap by John Pounds who had his yard across the mud from the cafe where Vosper Thornycroft is now located. When the land was purchased he moved to the location where the M275 was later built across at Tipner.

Bert purchased the ferry and parked it up behind his cafe.

It was fitted out with beds and bunks and lorry drivers could spend a cheap night there. It appears to have been very basic. It was located across the road from the Smith's Crisps factory. Even that has been demolished and the site built on.

Barry Cox says: 'I recall that there were several other old steam ships adjacent to the old paddle steamer – possibly old minesweepers or trawlers left over from the Second World War.

'I also remember the considerable number of ex-Second World War coastal fast attack craft/torpedo boats which were berthed in the mid-1950s roughly equidistant between Bert's and where Port Solent now begins.

'I also vividly remember the old beached submarine that was berthed just off the backs of the houses in Southampton Road in Paulsgrove Lake. It was there until the construction of the M27 commenced in the late 1970's.'

David Wheeler says: 'When I was a young lad in the 1950s, my father was a home delivery driver of groceries for the Portsea Island Co-op. Saturday was the day scheduled for deliveries around Titchfield and I often used to accompany him in his van and sometimes we would stop at Bert's Cafe on the way to Titchfield for a cuppa, or maybe a lovely cooked breakfast. I can smell it now!'

Janet Bailey and Mike Nolan remember the bikers who used the cafe: 'There were many bikers who used to try to get from Bert’s to the Johnson & Johnson roundabout (just past the where the Marriott Hotel is now) and back again before the record on the juke box finished!'

Janet adds: 'As for Port Solent, I lived on Southampton Road – almost opposite Racecourse Lane and the C&A factory – and well remember when Paulsgrove Lake was blocked off and dried out to form the land for Port Solent.

'The houses along Southampton Road were demolished eventually but I will never forget the ghastly smell during the summer when the lake was drying out as it pervaded the house. This would be about 1970-1971 I believe.'

Arthur Nelson (what a superb surname for a Portsmouth boy) says: 'I remember Bert’s very well, as a schoolboy and after leaving school.

'My first job was with a firm that made blinds and shop awnings and whenever working that way we would call in for a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich.

‘After national service from 1953 to 1955 I worked for George Peters Wines and Spirits and other transport firms until Bert’s closed.

'The ship you mentioned was used for drivers to sleep on and was made into cabins.

'I remember seeing a price list in the café for ''cabin only'' and ''cabin and breakfast''. Anything fried was always running in fat. In the evenings and at night the cafe was always crowded with motorcyclists but seldom was there any trouble. '

There will be more about Bert's here next week.

• Ted Heath dropped me a line about his grandfather who was a Royal Marines bandmaster at Eastney Barracks.

He says: 'My grandfather was totally absorbed by the Royal Marines band, so much so that he rented the house where I grew up as it backed on to the music room in the barracks.

'From our garden he could listen to bandsmen practicing. I clearly remember the Last Post being played every evening and at other times the Milton Glee Club would rehearse and we heard the full concert for nothing.'

Ted adds: 'On certain occasions the full Royal Marines band in full regalia would march out of the barrack gates in Henderson Road by the church (where I was baptised), go down Henderson Road to Cromwell Road where they did a left turn and then march back to the main gate in Cromwell Road into the barracks to the parade ground. I also remember the centre pillar to that gate being in place and the wooden gates too.'