NOSTALGIA WITH BOB HIND: A Dickensian tale of harsh life growing up on a Portsmouth street

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I wrote recently about Emanuel Street in Landport, Portsmouth, and the houses that lined it. They were demolished in the late 1960s/early 1970s and today they would have been worth thousands.

One man who lived in the street as a boy was James Lawlor. I say ‘lived’,  but his life was one of misery.

James tells me the houses were of a very odd design and they all seemed to be different.

Where he lived there was a flight of steps to the front door which led into the hall. To the left was another flight of steps that led down to the living room.

To the right of the hall were another two rooms. It was in one of these that James slept, on a mattress and little else. He remembers all the rooms were lit by gas mantles.

James said his father would treat him like dirt and would not even let him eat at the same table as the rest of the children. He had few clothes and James could not work out why he was treated in such a fashion.

When he was 14 he had a row with his father who hit him and threw him out of the house and for the next five years James slept on the streets of the city finding food where he could.

On the occasions he did return home his father would roar: ‘Don’t let him in here.’

One day James discovered the truth. His mother’s niece had a child when she was 14. It was James.

To keep the scandal within the family his mother ‘adopted’ the niece’s baby and brought up James as her own. Her husband was never happy with the situation and showed it in the harshest of ways.

The strangest thing about this story is that I am not talking about the 1930s but the mid to late 1950s.

James lived on the street until he was 21 finding work where he could. He secured a position with Humphries furniture removals. The owner gave the crew money for lodgings when on long trips away but they all slept in the lorry and pocketed the money.

In 1964, when he was 21, James married a local girl in St James’s Church, Milton, and strangely enough moved back to 8 Emanuel Street. He tried to make it up with his family, but they visited his home when he was at work and abused his wife. The couple then moved in with her parents who owned a large property at Copnor.

James joined the ambulance service where he served for more than 20 years, His final position before taking early retirement was as a guard on the railway based at Fratton.

 If you like military music as much as I do then you might like to go to the internet and search for ‘German Pipe Band playing Highland Cathedral’.

Along with several other nations' military and pipe bands the whole event is superb. There are more than 500 musicians in the arena and they come from all over the world including Australia, South Africa and the Far East.

The star of the show is a young lad aged about 10 who kicks off the moving tune playing solo for several bars before a lone piper comes in followed by the entire arena of bandsmen and women and pipers. Turn the sound up for the rousing finale and you will, believe me, start to fill up.

n Most of you will have travelled along Clarendon Road, Southsea, and passed through a junction called The Circle.

At one time it was a junction with a large roundabout with five roads radiating from it. Clarendon Road ran east and west of it. Lennox Road North, Maple Road and Victoria Road South all had junctions with it. In the middle of the roundabout were Chester Cottage to the north and Lennox Cottage to the south. Tram lines made a circular route around them.

In 1906 the cottages were demolished and Clarendon Road built through the centre where it remains to this day. 

Only Victoria Road South makes a true junction where The Circle once ruled the main road.