Grogan’s ghosts of Christmases past

The original Grogan's cafe in Broad Street, Old Portsmouth
The original Grogan's cafe in Broad Street, Old Portsmouth
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Readers might recall that I’ve recently mentioned Broad Street and Grogan’s cafe at Old Portsmouth – mentions which have attracted all kinds of stories.

But I must tell you about Sonia Merritt (née White), of Lower Derby Road, Stamshaw, who recalls many people who lived in that street, especially the Grogans who seemed to be everywhere.

Sonia was just a few weeks old in 1946 when her mother May started work at Grogan’s which was then owned by Mrs MacDonald, known to everyone as Mrs Mac. She inherited the cafe from her mother.

When May worked in the cafe Sonia and her sister Sandra grew up there.

Mrs Mac (née Grogan) lived in Bath Square but the back of the house was in Broad Street right opposite the cafe’s front door.

Mrs Mac owned much property and land in Southsea and there was a small piece opposite her house which she refused to sell. It allowed her a fabulous view across the harbour so she could see all the water-bourne comings and goings.

Mrs Mac’s house was shared with her sister who was also a Mrs MacDonald because the sisters married brothers. Both men had died.

Sonia says: ‘The younger sister was called Nippy and Mrs Mac was Kitty. She had a son named Malcolm who always seemed aloof and snooty.’

There seemed to be a Grogan clan down at Point. Across the road Tom Grogan, Mrs Mac’s brother, lived with his two children Larry and Molly. Larry went on to join the police force.

The Union pub at point was run by Ella Thompson who was also a Grogan, Mrs Mac’s sister. Mrs Mac’s mother started the cafe.

One day when Sonia’s mum thought she was alone in the cafe, she climbed the stairs to the dining room and passed an elderly woman. She asked Mrs Mac who the woman was and she was asked to describe her. ‘You have just described my dead mother,’ Mrs Mac said.

Another time the cafe was empty and Sonia’s mother was out the back and a waitress named Eve came through and told her there was an old man sitting at one of the tables. He refused to answer when asked what he wanted. The pair walked to the front of the cafe, but the phantom-like old man had vanished.

Mrs Mac was the first to have a television. She used to tell Sonia and Sandra they could watch it.

There was also a man named Tim Knighton living at Mrs Mac’s who seemed to be some type of manager. The Star & Garter was a derelict hotel at the time and used for storage by the cafe.

One evening Tim had to use the building and returned as white as a sheet and refused to go near the building ever again. He never revealed what he saw.