Portsmouth bomb site was our unusual playground – Retro

The children of Regent Street, Southsea all seem happy at this party for the coronation of the Queen in 1953.  Photo: Frances Farmer.
The children of Regent Street, Southsea all seem happy at this party for the coronation of the Queen in 1953. Photo: Frances Farmer.
Share this article

The map of Portsmouth with many now demolished streets I put in last Tuesday has caused much interest. 

Many, if not most, of the streets have long since been demolished but there are still former residents, children then, surviving. 

Letters From Victorian Portsmouth, another superb publication from  Paul Newell.

Letters From Victorian Portsmouth, another superb publication from Paul Newell.

Frances Farmer, who lived in Regent Street in her early years, said: ‘My family lived there from 1949 until 1955. I was born at St Mary's Hospital in 1950. My brother was born at 12, Regent Street in 1952, pictured above. 

‘I have a few memories which are quite clear, especially our unusual playground. There was a large area of at least three houses at the end of the street which had been bombed during the war. We called it the Bomb Building.

‘Some parts of the houses were still intact, albeit exposed to the elements. I remember seeing upstairs and downstairs rooms, complete with wallpaper and fireplaces.

‘Many of the children from the streets congregated, climbed, played hide and seek, sat on piles of bricks and just enjoyed playing there. No health and safety then. 

Here we see a spotless mess deck at HMS Excellent, Whale Island. To the rear are hammocks stored in racks.

Here we see a spotless mess deck at HMS Excellent, Whale Island. To the rear are hammocks stored in racks.

‘We lived in the house with the white rendered ground floor.

‘My mother stands at the door with my brother in her arms. We shared our house with another family, to help with the rent.

‘I can't remember how the house was split but I think we had the ground floor and the other family had the first floor – I certainly don't remember going upstairs.

‘The bath was in the back yard and it was brought into the back room, filled with water and heated on the range for our weekly baths! 

In June 1920, International law delegates from around the world gathered in Portsmouth for a conference. Photo: Michael Harris collection.

In June 1920, International law delegates from around the world gathered in Portsmouth for a conference. Photo: Michael Harris collection.

‘My father was in the army and we moved away from the area in 1955 when he was posted to various places in this country and around the world. We never went back to Regent Street which was demolished while we were abroad, so it was nice to see exactly where it used to be, thank you.’

The girl in the cardigan, centre, is Olive Jones, Frances’ mother’s cousin. Frances’ maternal grandfather, Henry Banks, worked for the Portsmouth Evening News in Stanhope Road.

You may have read Paul Newell’s first book Shocking Tales from Victorian Portsmouth.

He has followed it up with Dear Sir, Letters from Victorian Portsmouth – a superb collection of more than 250 letters to local newspapers, below. There are complaints, congratulations, gripes and groans about life in the town from 1840 to 1900. It will make an excellent bedtime read.

Pick up a copy at New To You Books, Cosham High Street or call (023) 9232 1089. 

Seen, below, in their spotless mess are sailors in HMS Excellent, Whale Island. The mess deck would have been polished by hand.

In June 1920 a convention was held in the Guildhall for lawyers from across the globe. I have had to crop the photograph owing to the width of delegates in the scene.  I’ll be writing more in this convention this coming Saturday.