The very essence of Portsmouth

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Lieutenant Colin Churcher

THIS WEEK IN 1971: ‘Mine disposal officers get awards’

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I love this photograph. It seems to capture the very essence of what made Portsmouth – an industrial, northern city lifted up and plonked on the south coast.

This could be Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham...the atmosphere is solid. Working class. Back streets. A community thriving despite the harsh economic times. Ring any bells?

I’m not the only one. This picture appears frequently in books and at exhibitions to illustrate city life between the wars.

The year is 1929. The great despression is starting to bite and the residents of Cross Street, Portsea (on the northern side of Queen Street) are scraping a living.

Almost all the families here would have relied on the nearby dockyard for their income, but with that recession came big cuts in defence spending and thousands of men thrown out of work.

Children are playing in the street with that old stand-by – soap-box carts.

Traffic was almost non-existent in the smaller streets of Portsea, so youngsters could play in safety.

Other playtime favourites, for middle-class children at least, were marbles, whip and top, and hoops – and each of these had their proper season.

Children of poorer parents – and there were many of them – would make their own enjoyment.

Paper boats in the gutter water was a popular sport and one that would be impossible to play today.

This version of the classic picture also comes courtesy of Paul Costen.