Oral History Interviews

Growing Up On Weymouth Seafront (1950-60s)

On this oral history interview you can hear Nick’s memories of playing and growing up on Weymouth seafront. Of learning to swim at an early age, of wandering off at a very early age and always being found at the punch and Judy man. Of building a sailing boat and of going sailing. Hear about going to St John’s school and buying sweets at the local sweet shop just behind the school.

Of catching the boys school steam train. Of how busy Weymouth station was in those days and of helping to move cars out of the way for the ferry train and of helping to turn these heavy ton trains around.

FreeTime interviewees portrait

As a very young child Nick remembers escaping from the garden that backed onto the seafront and wandering down the Esplanade to the Punch and Judy man. If His mum couldn’t see Nick in the garden, she’d send one of his brothers or sisters down to find. He knew Punch and Judy off by heart. Nick was five or six, and this is one of his earliest memories.

They was also donkeys & sand carving down there. This was 1949, 1950.

Nick frequently had his skin burnt off his back by the sun and he learnt to swim fairly early on. He’d swim out to the raft, this could be quite daunting as for a stretch his feet wouldn’t touch the ground as the sea would get quite deep. The beach was everything for his leisure. He would go out for walks with the family to Bowleze Cove. Nick talks about walking along Preston beach wall, as this was before the Esplanade went all the way along and there was a wall they’d walk along. The sea life centre was not there, nor were the beach huts at the end.

Nick talks about trying to catch eels where the sluice gates are at Lodmoor (next to where the beach huts now are). His parents banned him completely from playing here, but he still did. If they ever managed to catch an eel they would just let them go, but they were impossible to hold onto.

Nick talks about a man taken fishing boat out from Weymouth beach out into sea in a big circle with a net and then adults and children who run the beach would help him bring in the nets and they would be absolutely full of sprats. And then the fishermen would give you some sprats as a reward for helping and Nick would take these back for his mum to cook. Fishermen would take a van down onto the beach and his catch would be loaded onto this.

We talk about the landscape at Lodmoor and how this has changed. Nick talks about halfway along Preston Beach Rd there was a cottage, where a character called sugar and shorem, they used to call him, lived. He had a horse and cart and would deliver logs. And the kids would shout out to him sugar and shorem, he would then stand up in his cart and throw a log at you or gallop after you with his horse and cart, trying to catch you. He was probably a nice old man Nick is sure. This cottage was halfway along Preston Beach Road where the sluice is now. Nick talks about when the gates would be open and closed to control the marsh with freshwater.

There is one house on Preston Hill, a square White House, and this was the only house here then and would be featured on marine charts and it be used as a navigation point when out sailing.

The coastguard cottages at end of the Preston Beach Road would run all way along and out much further than they are now. Also used to be a nine hole golf course at the top, well as a child he remembers it being very large.

Nick talks about the Spyway pub, which was always there as far as he remembers. He would as a teenager take glass bottles into the pub and get money for retiring them, as in those days they get money back on the glass bottles. There was a return charge fee on the bottles. Nick could take the bottles from the pubs return shed and then take them into the bar and get a free drink.

Goes on to talk about Bowleze Cove. The art deco hotel was there but none of the amusement park. There was a landing stage here, which they would roll out on wheels and the puddle steamer would pull into. The embassy and the consul he thinks the two steamers were called. It was very exciting to watch these coming and passengers getting off  (possibly go up to the hotel for tea). He mentions a movable landing stage that used to be next to the pier bandstand in Weymouth as well.

Nick moved to a house in Dorchester road when he was a teenager. Went to Hardys school. Here he built a sailing boat from a kit. His dad later bought him a sailing boat for about £100. One reason he got the boat was that he’d made some friends at the amusement park at the backwater (the Swannary), which was over the bridge where Chipperfield had a permanent amusement park, so his mum thought the sailing club will be a better influence on him and that’s why they bought him his sailing boat.

Goes on to talk about drinking coffee at milk bars. They had a jukebox so could listen to the latest records.

He remembers you could sail during the day. He would frequently go sailing before he went to school. You could put up on the beach in the morning, go to school and then go sailing again after school. Safely leave your boat on Weymouth beach.

He remembers where Weymouth council building is now was then flattened and Nick’s friends would go over there and play. Most of the dangerous staff had been taken away. But they would have great fun hiding and chasing in the ruins. They won’t really allowed in though and if a policeman saw you in there he’d shout, but wouldn’t really do anything about it like chasing you.

Talks about what became the Grand Hotel on the Esplanade which is now flats and has got big Bay windows onto the front. This was derelict and empty and a great place to play in. It was dry and warm so on a rainy day it would be fantastic place to play. There were a lot of empty housing around town which you could get into. They were all a little uncared for really, he doesn’t really know why there are so many empty houses.

One day when he was at school he remembers that all school went down to watch the Pavilion burn down. The whole town turned out to watch the fireman battle with the fire. It was painfully obvious they wouldn’t be able to win. It was a stunning fire.

The passenger train run through the town to the ferries. If you took a big old penny and left on the rail, you’d end up with a penny twice the size. It was fascinating to watch it slowly get bigger and bigger and bigger as each wheel rolled over it. It was fun to go down there and help push cars out the way to allow the train to get past.

The back road from Weymouth to Dorchester, through Preston, used to be a small road and have a gate across the road, people would have to stop and get out the car to open and shut the gate, if Nick and his friends had nothing to do they would sit by the gate and open and shut it for people in the cars and being given pennies for their trouble. This was a way to earn little bit of money, which they promptly went off and spent.

Sweet shops – when they went to St John’s school, there was a sweet shop just behind the school where you got your sweets. They were all loose in jars and most things were sold by weight. The shop was called Denches. Nick talks about leaving school with a class of children walking in crocodile file and if you were at the front you would knock on a door and by the time the person got to the door you have got to the end of the crocodile line of kids and the person would slap the nearest child round the back of the head. You’d be looking back all the time to see who gets hit and you knew where the grumpy people lived and so which houses to knock.

Talks about Mrs Tipper who taught at St John’s School and whose husband taught him at Hardye’s.

Nick didn’t like school. His sister had taken him to the Convent of the Sacred Hearts, he only lasted one day there as the nun’s outfit had scared he so much he screamed so much that his sister said she’d never taken him there again. So he was withdrawn from Sacred hearts and transferred to St John’s. So he decided he didn’t like school. At St John’s at the start of his first day there he asked to go to the toilet, which were outside, and quickly left the school. In those days there was two main roads – Dorchester Road was a dual road and the road to Preston was a dual Road with Victoria statue in the middle. His mother had made it clear that he was not too be home when he should have been at school. So on the second day at St John’s he took his toys and hid them in the trough around Victoria statue, left home pretending to go to school and played all day on this strip between the two roads. Mike Wallace, the florist, told his mum do you know your child is sat in the middle of main roads playing? His mum took him home and caned him, the first and only time she hit him. She gave him a real caning and it was the last time he left school early, he settled down in school.

There was a petrol station there as well (this was later a tyre place), the garage had pumps where the hoses would swing out over the road and you would just stop your car in the road to fill up with petrol. So it was a busy area to sit and play as a child as cars all around him. We talk about the buildup of traffic and the type of cars on the road then, there was no MOT then and cars would often break down and you’d see people fiddling with them. When his Grampa died his dad inherited little bit money and bought a quality car, unfortunately Nick wrote this car off when he was 17.

Nick talks about who he’d go sailing with. There be young people around you would go with, but he also Crewed at the sailing club. Here he met at the sailing club a bachelor, who worked at County Hall, and Nick ended up often going out sailing with him and learnt a lot about sailing from him. The bachelor’s entire interest was in sailing and they’d go sailing across to the north coast of France, parents would be doubtful nowadays of a bachelor taken their child off sailing. But he was a great mentor to Nick and his son is named after him. He was a great friend of Nick’s and become a friend of the family.

Nick talks about an old lady called Angie Coleman, who was eccentric. First-time he went there she asked him what he’d like to eat, he was unsure and she said how about anchovies sandwiches, which he said yes to and from then on every day he visited he would get anchovies sandwiches.

We talk about how they arranged to meet up. They’d talk with friends at school, but usually you just went to see of person and knock on their door. Cycle round until you found a friend at home. There was a lot of wandering round, Everybody had a bicycle. Or the busses you could hop on, hop off, and if the conductor was upstairs you could get away with not paying and jump off if you saw the conductor coming downstairs. It was also fun to see how fast bus was going when you jumped off, also did this on the train as well, as you could open the door by pulling a the window down and open via the door handles outside and you’d jump off the train while it was still going.

We talk about the school train that was laid on to take the girls to the Green school and the boys to Hardye’s. The schoolgirls one left at 8.20 and the schoolboys one was at 8.40, they try to separate the girls and boys and gave them separate trains from Weymouth to Dorchester. It meant that the boys would get to the station way before their train was due to leave and sometimes the girl would miss her train and have to get the boy’s train. They also learnt they could stop the train – they learnt somehow that if they all bounced in uniform that the bouncing gave extra pressure to the steam trains, which was already struggling to get up the hill and through the tunnel and as it left the station a monitor would organise the carriage of kids to jump up and down in unison. If the train did stop it would have to wait for another train to come up behind it and help push it up the hill. They all knew the locomotives off by heart and there were some you wouldn’t try it on.

Nick talks about turning trains around in Weymouth goods yard, where Jubilee sidings is now. The train would come into Weymouth then reverse into the sidings and be turned round by hand on this big roundabout thing, it was amazing to see this extra ton engine being turned around by hand, and then reversed back into the station. Children weren’t meant to be anywhere near this, but some would let you join them, some wouldn’t and you would know who the friendly ones were and who wasn’t. There were lots of good trains, engines shunting wagons around, it was a very busy station. in those days there were still trains going to Abbostbury and there were trains going to the port. There was a railway bridge across the Swannery.

We talk about the toys Nick would have. There were dinky toys and Matchbox toys, lots of lead soldiers and he had a lovely great fort. He mentions ducks, a great amphibious vehicle, which his dad had drove. Talks about the territorial Army and where they were based over By Harbor. Very briefly mentions Nothe fort, which was a great place to play in.

Talks about the firing range on the edge of Portland and about seeing a man firing from a gun and catching a bullet because he fired it through Barrow of water. Said the power of water to stop a bullet is amazing.

Mentions second-hand shop in Ranelagh Road. He remembers it took him months to realise his fort disappeared and that’s how his parents had afford to buy him his bike he got at Christmas. One of the advantages of being one of five children is that a lot of his toys would be handed down to him. Though his dad was a bank manager, in those days this meant he wasn’t allowed an overdraft and every month was difficult balancing the bills with the income.

He had a Meccano set and a train set, he had a different one to his friend who had a double0 Hornby. If you were really rich you had a Swiss flashman set (he thinks it was), which were smaller gauge, but beautifully made. They used to go Radipole bridge and attempt to chuck stones down train funnel, it was impossible to do as the train approached you’d be enveloped in this thick black smoke and you couldn’t see a thing. Nick talks about steam trains starting and that wonderful sound (he imitates sound) and the wheels would spin before starting, a very powerful thing. He talks about trouble with train sets is they needed a lot space in the home to set up. He describes two friends set up, one that went into the eaves would disappear and the other was on pulley system and you would put it up to the ceiling to keep out the way.

Talks about the type of the Meccano models he would make. He would make them as big as the amount of Meccano bits he would have. Frequently you’d go round friends and play together with each other’s Meccano and then would end up with arguments when you took them down over who owns which bits of Meccano.

Talks about being in the cadets, everyone at Hardye’s had to join one of the three  boys forces. This activity was part of school timetable and would take up an afternoon every week. run officially. The regimental sergeant major who ran it was very strict, if he said your hair was a bit too long you made sure you have it cut before next week. Talks about activities he got up to in cadets. A lot of drilling. He was hopeless at cadets; you spend all night buffing up your uniform, spending all night getting it spotless and the first thing you have to do was crawl through mud. Occasionally you go out to firing range and shoot ancient 303’s. Remembers one day having soldiers bright orange tea which is completely disgusting.

Tells a story where at the firing range one day there was a corrugated iron shed where they would make up the targets and one of the cadets went in to have a pee and another cadet thought it be a good idea to put a shot through the shed and it made a great sound, so then the rest of the cadets all thought it was brilliant and all fired into the shed, and this cadet who was in the shed rushed out with his trousers round his ankles and jumped into the nearest trench. Vey dangerous and they were lucky he wasn’t hurt. Another game they all tried was you should fire your round at the target and a marker would come out to mark the shot and you would reload as quickly as possible with another shot off before the marker had finished.

They’d have an air gun as well and they’d stand 20 feet apart and try to fire between each other’s legs, the very worse usually was a big bruise.

Games in the schoolyard – in primary school play hopscotch and things. But in secondary school mainly sitting around talking, get up to a bit of mischief, sometimes football in the playground. talks about primary school to secondary school being quite a shock, from being a head boy to just another name, quite a change. At Hardye’s he had to wear short trousers and he was quite tall lad, he felt an absolute idiot.

Talks about building go-karts. Trying to build boats out of things and make them so they’d float, once had a galvanised washing tub flow across the river. Made up sledges when snow around.

13 Comments

  1. Dave K.

    Very much enjoyed this account as a fellow St Johns-ian and fellow-Hardyean. I also remember walking over the road from St Johns school (now St John’s flats) to have our weekly swimming lessons in the sea. How cold the pebbles were sometimes ! ..and what wonderful teachers we had, including Miss Hawker and Mr Curthoys.
    Yes, Weymouth was a most wonderful place to grow up in in the 1950s.
    But I must leave an account for posterity of November 5th in those days….
    Bonfire Nights in Weymouth in the 1950s were, for me, among the happiest nights of the year, and occasion which even now continue to give me great pleasure when I reflect on them. Nowadays everything has become so sanitised, with ‘health & safety’ rules largely preventing children from the wonderful ‘hands-on’ experiences that we had then.
    Gradually, over the weeks preceding the 5th, I would spend several pounds of pocket money on fireworks, looking after them carefully in a special box in happy anticipation. Then, children as young as 7,8,9 could buy fireworks in many of the corner shops, confectioners and newsagents. ‘Bangers’ with names like ‘Little Terror’, ‘Canon’ and ‘Mighty Atom’ could be bought for 1-2d (1/2p) and we boys would enjoy letting them off nefariously in the alley ways. For up to a week before the big day children in the town would organise themselves into groups, building their own bonfire along the beach – generally on the pebbly section between the Clock and Greenhill. The Cubs and the Campaigners would have their own bonfire but sometimes, as in our case, it was just a group of friends. As they grew, the bonfires had to be carefully guarded because sailors from Portland naval base were notorious for setting the bonfires alight before the due date. This happened to us once after much hard work and we children were heart-broken. The whole town joined in, turning out their rubbish, and various makeshift wagons were improvised to carry the assorted furniture, bedding, wooden crates, old wall-paper, shop packaging, up onto the beach. There was friendly rivalry as to whose would be the biggest bonfire. By the time the big night came there were usually about 15 bonfires ready to be set alight. It is difficult to describe to people nowadays the immense pleasure that we all had in making and setting alight these fires, tending them and watching them gradually die down. The intense heat, the crackle of the burning, the thick smoke and the way that the fires lit up the whole area, formed a backdrop to what was happening on the promenade itself. Families such as my own would be setting off their boxes of fireworks while crowds of people flocked along the promenade. Bangers and squibs were thrown among people’s feet; not only those but sometimes even rockets and ‘fliers’ were set off horizontally, quite dangerously, causing even more shrieks and screams. The smell of gunpowder, the smoke, the excitement, the crowds, the sheer fun of those occasions are memories that I will always cherish and be grateful for, only regretting that today’s children cannot have exactly the same experience. They would love it too ! Alas, an ‘organised’ bonfire, carefully cordoned off from the crowds and fireworks set off safely from barges in the bay, however spectacular, cannot come close to what we were privileged to enjoy in those carefree days.

  2. Ian Cook

    Brilliant stuff. I was born in Weymouth but only spent summers there in the late 1950s to mid 1960s as my grandmother had a B&B in Brunswick Terrace. As long as I was home for meals I just used to wander far and wide as described here. I remember local kids with carts and trollies heading off to the station on summer Saturdays earning small amounts for carrying visitors bags.

    M grandfather , Harry Cook and father Derek were also born in Weymouth and went to St Johns in the 1930s so there were always people to bump into. One relation, Freddie Cook, was involved with the motor which ran from the landing stage mentioned alongside the pier bandstand….as a kid I thought he owned them, but that was probably not true but I did get lots of free trips around Portland Harbour when it still had lots of navy ships in it. Even earlier my great grandad, Charlie Cook, was one of the Nothe ferrymen. in amongst other jobs fishing and around the harbour.

    Weymouth Woolworths was not happy when I found a stock of stink bombs in a toy/joke shop in St Alban Street – happy days!

  3. christopher white

    Hi ian i worked for your dad derek on his motorboat in the late 50s .and i remember your grandfather harry i allso worked for him i worked on the beach every year for about 5years and in the winter i would paint up fishing boats and the old chanel island steamers . I think your dad worked on one of them as a engener its nice to go back in time they were the good old days. By the way i am now 70.

    • Ian Cook

      Hello Christopher. Sorry for the long delayed reply, but I had a PC swap and didn’t copy everything I should have. It’s a small world isn’t it.

      Thanks for making contact. It is nice to know of shared memories especially as I am youngster of 63!

      With the passage of time things get a little confused. Harry was certainly my Grandfather and Dad was Derek. From about 1953 he had lived in Plymouth and no longer had a boat. On the boat owning fishing side the name of Freddie Cook comes to mind, but there were other relatives I met who may also have fitted the bill. there was Bobby Cook as well.

      Dad died in October 2014, but a boat used to crop up in conversations. He used to talk about Seagull Outboard motors as well, but I am not sure whether in the context of the same boat. I always had the sense this related to the time before he married my Mum in 1952, but he may have been keeping quiet about it!

      The last time I was in Weymouth was December 2014 when I scattered Dad’s ashes from the Stone Pier. In the absence of any specific instructions it seemed appropriate to me.

      My memories of boats in Weymouth mainly centre on free trips to Portland Harbour via the White? boats which departed from the jetty and pontoons alongside the Pier Bandstand. I have vague memories of these trips being via “Uncle” Freddie Cook who seemed to be involved in the business in some way. Questions I should have asked…….. I was also frequently told about my Great Grandfather Charlie Cook, who amonst other adventures was a one time ferryman on the cross harbour to the Nothe. Before my time, but Dad used to refer to the “Cook Steps”……….I suspect a lot of others claimed them as well.

      I have fond memories of my childhood times in Weymouth; probably the greatest freedom I ever had, although if you can remember my Grandmother you will know there were parameters!

      I have recently been going through the few photos that Dad retained; they also jogged memories.

    • Ian Cook

      follow on….I have just remembered going on I think St Patrick to Guernsey with someone I was told was a relative and who I think may have been a purser. So long ago.

  4. Susan Allen,nee Winter

    I moved to Weymouth when I was about 6,about 1948 .
    lived at 33 crescent street which my parents made into a Guest house,then moved to 5 Dorchester road until I was 10,then moved back to Bristol I remember swimming lessons in the sea,the open fires where you were dared to run your hands through the flames,the outside toilets,fighting in the playground,usually with Leslie Hallet who’s dad was in the police force I think.the sweet shop when sweets came off ration.I also remember having the ruler across my hands by the head master,was his name Mr Bennet.

  5. peter giles

    I was an army child. Was at Dorchester first memory, then Weymouth 1938. I was briefly at St Johns all boys school then. Clear memories including the sweet shop opposite, where they sold “bangers” A small metal “bomb” that was pulled apart and a cap inserted. It was thrown down and “bang”. Main reason for posting is I remember a Brian Hallet at the Grove School, Dorchester. Maybe related to Leslie.

  6. Christine McCarthy

    I was born in 1949 in Germany -post war – but grew up in Weymouth where my dad had always lived. He returned after his posting as a GP, setting up his own practice (slowly) in Holland Road, Westham, and also at Lanehouse. For years he was the Littlesea Camp doctor for people on holiday. I also remember the boys with their carts trundling luggage to the guest houses on Saturdays, learning to swim in the sea, and the ferry across the harbour. My sister and I went to Westhaven school in Radipole Lane and then to the Grammar School. Summers seemed to be endless, playing in the fields near Littlesea, and only coming home for lunch and tea – staying out til 9 o’ clock in the height of summer in friends gardens. Nobody worried about you – apparently you were always safe then. Funny how those days were the best of your life. It was a rude shock, however, when at 18 you went off into the world – in my case to college in London, never to return to live in Weymouth, but only coming home to visit my parents with my own family, who also incidentally, loved Weymouth.

  7. Martin A

    I also went to Hardy’s (and generally hated it). Mr Tipper (mentioned above). however was a very good physics teacher. He had a car with number plate *** RJT. (RJT were his initials). I remember the incident with a kid deciding to shoot at the tin hut with his 303, rather than at the authorised target.

    I remember the trains running out of steam in Bincome tunnel. In the end they put a Great Western banger loco on the train which would leave the train once it had passed out of the tunnel. We used to get up to tricks such as putting out the lights on the train (the old coaches had a circuit breaker you could access) and letting a bog roll stream down the side of the train. The prefects would futilely try to discover who had done it.

    • I would hazard a guess, Martin, that you were in the year below me at Hardye’s School. I recall both R.J. “Jack” Tipper (there was a mutual dislike but I agree he was a good physics teacher) and the rifle range incident (at Sydling, I think) to which you refer. As a small, very myopic child rather lacking in confidence except in conversational excess, our family trips from Dorchester to Greenhill were among my fondest memories of the 1950s as I was taught to swim at an early age and having two older, quite sporty sisters (went to the ‘Green’ School, helped) ‘tho I regret in a way that I’d not been a pupil of Charmaine Ross Mackenzie (her two sons were also at Hardye’s a year or two above me) whose class and private swimming lessons at Greenhill must be remembered fondly by many a ‘senior’ citizen! Dad disliked the beach so mum would rive us down in her old, snorting Austin 10, which never recovered from its saturation in the great rainfall and ensuing floods of 1955, which she usually parked outside the Melcombe Avenue bungalow of that eccentric composer of doggerel, Weymouth’s own McGonagall, Cyril Carter, who would gently rebuke mother (who enjoyed an argument) for not using the car park. I was soon able to swim out to those venerable wooden rafts moored well off shore, with their slippery, seaweed coated coconut matting and diving and joining in the general hurly-burly in order to establish my ‘sea cred.’ was freedom from a quite restricted life -the eye specialists advised against playing Rugby (almost a ‘religion’ or one of the three ‘R’s at Hardye’s) and I was confined to touch judging and X country. Once, emerging from a chilly sea, I dimly espied some folk executing a ‘war dance’ on my pile of clothes which were well alight as some prat had chucked a lighted cigarette on them. Happy days!

  8. What a brilliant article.I grew up in radipole and recall lots of those places and mischief we used to get up to.we had freedom to roam in those days.

  9. Keith Jones

    Nick’s comments remind me very much of my own childhood in Weymouth, except I attended Weymouth Grammar school. I remember my mother talking about suger and shorem, he used to take visitors around rthe town from Upwey “Up the Wey, Over the Wey, Through the Wey”. Steering wheel club was the local venue for a night out, you needed to be a member, but they never asked your age. Weymouth was a very safe place, due to the Naval “Shore patrol” who roamed the streets to make sure the sailors were not misbehaving, but were also known to giving a local a clip around the ear if warranted – they could do thinks the police were not allowed to do. Sailors were not the only ones who respected the Naval patrol.

    • Juliet-Ann Burgis

      What a wonderful account .I remember.most of this .

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