Nostalgia: Risen from the ashes of war, the store which defined Southsea

Most of Southsea’s shopping area had to be rebuilt after the war and it took decades for it to look like it does today.

By Bob Hind
Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 5:19 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th July 2019, 12:47 pm
Knight & Lee on the reopening day in 1956. Note the waistline on the mannequin on the right of the stairs.
Knight & Lee on the reopening day in 1956. Note the waistline on the mannequin on the right of the stairs.

The new Knight & Lee store reopened for business at 9am on Monday, September 24, 1956, and was a success from the beginning.

The Men’s and Boys’ wear shop in Elm Grove, The Blouse shop and Children’s Wear shop in Marmion Road and the Fashion Departments opposite St Jude’s Church would all be retained.

This meant a gigantic game of Puss in the Corner with A being moved to B, C to D and E to F and so on to make it all fit in. An acquaintance of the general manager said to him: ‘What odd staff you have. They are all working on a Saturday afternoon and still laughing.’

The Piece Goods department of Knight & Lee on the opening day.

It was not so much an ‘opening’ but a ‘launch’ with bunting and five house flags broken from the masts on the roof.

Everywhere shone and the polished oak banisters were a special feature. The firm even had a funeral director on site although the business took place elsewhere.

Jon Cole, of Old Portsmouth, who worked in the menswear department, says: ‘Knight & Lee's boss was a former naval officer, Captain Tindall Cooper, quite where the connection was with a store escaped everyone. He was old school and  brooked no argument. He addressed staff by their surnames, was elitist, arrogant and lacked any empathy for staff.  

‘When I was married to a girl who worked in the store she was not allowed to call herself Mrs Cole but went  by her maiden name Mrs Colby!’ 

Jon Cole, who started his working life for Knight & Lee at the satellite shop in Elm Grove, Southsea.

Jon adds: ‘Promotion was slow and joining Freemasonry was a none-too-subtle hint that it would enhance my progress. Not for me. I shared my father’s distaste for this approach to 'getting on', too prevalent in the ’50s and ’60s and endemic In the dockyard too.’

The final part of the Knight & Lee story continues in my column in The Weekend magazine with The News tomorrow. 

• The final picture today shows Havant Road, Drayton, Portsmouth, a century ago.  A ‘today’ picture would have been ruined by parked vehicles and continuous traffic.

A century ago the road was narrow with a wide verge and pavement on one side. A Whitbread delivery van appears to be parked so perhaps there was a pub nearby. The far pavement has no kerb to protect pedestrians not that there was that much traffic then days. There’s not a white or yellow line in sight.

Looking west along Havant Road, Drayton. I tried to take a decent now shot but the traffic and parked cars spoiled it. Picture: Barry Cox postcard collection.

Telegraph poles with numerous wires dates the photograph nicely. On the right, by the overhanging tree was where Futcher’s Home for disabled children was. It is now modern residential apartments.