Oral History Interviews

Growing up on Weymouth seafront part 2

On this oral history interview you can hear further memories about playing and growing up on Weymouth seafront. Of going to Milk bars; of mods and rockers; and the difference between a coffee bar and a milk bar. Of meeting the opposite sex being a scary occasion as he’d gone to a same sex school and hadn’t had any sex education.

Hear about his love of clothes and how his mother showed her displeasure in his choices. Hear about the 3 cinemas in Weymouth. And how drinking was a cheap night out, with cider a popular drink.

Before we move on to his leisure time activities after he gets married and gets a mortgage.

FreeTime interviewees portrait

Nick remembers the milk bar, the Victoria Hotel. You knew nothing about sex because there was no sex education. No access to television. The only girls you met were relatives and occasionally via school, so there was no great collection of girlfriends and what to do if you met a girl. It was exciting in a way but also quite frightening as you are moving into new territory.

The Victoria bar on the seafront was a coffee bar, but it was not a milk bar, which was in St Thomas Street, this had the first jukebox. They had a jukebox in the Victoria bar later.

Later they’d get into the Steering Wheel club where you could drink alcohol, they didn’t seem to worry about your age too much. They didn’t drink alcohol until in their late teens. Most the time spent with your boy friends. Later learnt from girlfriends that they were doing same as the boys. The sailing club was quite a good way to meet girls as you have a common interest.

Steering Wheel club was originally a taxi drivers club and teenager seemed to take over. In 1963 Nick met his wife who was hitchhiking from Dorchester and Nick was out for joyride with his friend in his new car and they pulled over to pick his-wife-to-be and her friend up. The first proper date after this they agreed to meet at the Steering Wheel club, a wonderful place to dance all night. But you didn’t tend to stay until closing time, you would go off after having danced enough, probably just drive around a bit.

Nick used to have a dancelet record player. He tried to form a group with some friends because Nick played guitar, which his mum insisted that he takes up music which Nick used to hate funny enough. This was in the days of Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran. The first few records he bought were 78rpm and then on they were 45rpm singles. If you caught the guy who changed the jukebox records you could quite frequently buy those cheap, but they would have a missing centre in the middle which you had to fill in to play.

Nick remembers the Steering Wheel club change the record smoothly and try to keep everyone on the dance floor, there was no talking, just one record after another. We talk about the Steering Wheel club and the change of venue from working men’s club to place the teenagers meet up in. You had to be a member but Nick and his friends didn’t have much money so the cost wouldn’t have been much, they were just waved in as they knew you. You’d go there knowing you’d know a lot of people. You’d know these people from the community around town, you’d gone to school with them, there was a broad social mix.

The difference between a coffee bar and a milk bar. The milk bar was a bar somewhere you can sit on a bar stool and get a milkshake and you could get a coffee if you want one. The milk bar was the first one to have a jukebox. While coffee bar got a jukebox later; here you’d sit at tables, not at a bar, and you got waitress service. In the milk bar generally had the Teddy boys and rockers, and the coffee bar would have the mods, in the sense that the was many mods and rockers around town they tended to split between the two places. There were scooters outside the Victoria bars and the motorbikes outside the milk bar. But mods and Rockers was not a big scene in Weymouth, there were some around. Every now and again you have huge crowd of mods and have scooters all along the Esplanade and other days loads of motorbikes would park up. Rockers also used to go to the amusement park over by Swannary, which was set up all year.

Nick was never really part of the mod – rocker scenes, he liked his clothes and with his first job he bought an Italian suit (describes the clothes in detail), which his mum quickly made sure she burned holes in these clothes so that he couldn’t wear them. He remembers them being so tight he could hardly get them on properly. One of his friends dads was a tailor and he used to thin school ties down to become a string tie. Each week his dad would slim the tie down a bit more until they were reprimanded and told to wear proper ties. Nick members when Buddy Holly died they all went to school with black ties, which they all got the cane for as they had been warned not to do it.

We talk about children pushing school uniforms.

We talk about use of the cane as punishment, Nick says it just become fact of life, a cane across the hand. Talks about one boy who got caned twice in a day and the second time the cane split his hand.

Talk about being part of Williston house, part of Thomas Hardy school. At Hardy’s you only got caned by the headmaster. At St John’s you’d get a slap on the back of the legs, it was a hard slap and would make you cry. Quite often if you went home and told you being caned you’d be hit again.

We talk about lying to his parents. Nick talks about chaining main gates at Hardys during a concert one day. And about the chemistry lab at school and they get these university lads come to teach them and they misbehave with these teachers. Talks about one incident happened in the chemistry lab.

Nick loved the cinema. There were three cinemas the Odeon, the Gaumant and the Bellevue. The Bellevue was situated down by Alexander Gardens and was a very old cinema, it had pillars and you’d get cheaper seats if you sat behind a pillar, it must have been an old cinema and theatre and remembers going to this cinema a lot because of the very cheap seats behind the pillar, which you had to keep straining neck to see around. The Gaumant was in St Thomas Street and Nick remembers going Saturday morning pictures here, someone would come along play the piano and you’d see Roy Rogers and Cowboys and Indian films; episode films that would roll on the cliffhanger at the end. Nick remembers them cheating in these films as the car would have rolled off the edge of a cliff and the following week it had managed to stop before the edge of the cliff. It was left so you had to go back and see what happened next. It was a very rowdy affair lots of noise and clapping and great fun for the children.

Later they’d go to films that you could go in only with an adult and so you’d go down the line of people queueing to see the film and asked to go in with them, you’d always find somebody that will take you in.

You did see a lot of evidence of the war with people with missing limbs. Nick talks about his dads experience from the war. I talk about a previous oral history interview where I was told American soldiers could freely use locals kitchens to cook and would leave presents of food and thank you. Interesting in hearing how open people’s houses were for people to wander in.

Nick and friends would go to Bovington to watch the tanks.

Leaving school and become an adult we start talking about how this changes his leisure time. Nick worked while at school and earnt quite a good wage. His dad signed him up as an article clerk after school finished and he earnt a hundred pounds a year for the first three years, Nick’s first car cost £12, 3shillings.

Could buy a black top, which is scrumpy with blackcurrant top, or get some Polish pure spirit for about Schilling. Then you’d get three shillings of petrol, which would get you out too Portesham and back, go to the White Hart and play bar billiards. You didn’t have very much money, enough to take you and a girl out and have two drinks. The trouble with the cinema you’d want to do something before and afterwards. Going for a drink was a way of spending a lot of time with very little money. Nick doesn’t remember going to the cinema very often in these days. Talk about 1964, 1965, years. Some people had started to get televisions. Nick could borrow his dad’s car, as his car was very unreliable.

You usually go out with a friend and girlfriends, make up a foursome. The best way to spend a lot of time cheaply was going to a party, or somewhere you could dance. Someone somewhere would always be having a party on Saturday night and this would be the cheapest night out. Very few had their own place so would use their mums and dads who had gone away, and some people lived in hotels, that parents would run. But they only put on occasional parties as they would always be some degree of damage to the house.

Nike had party when they lived on a farm. They had an old barn on the farm and they parked cars with lights shining on the barn and they concocted some music and got people from Pavilion show to come. Next to the barn was a dairy parlour with a big fireplace and someone managed to put battered old settee onto the fireplace.

It was the legal to drive and drink in those days, so no one worried about breathalysers. And everybody smoked and the popular drink was cider as this could be cheaply bought. Eldridge Popes beer was notoriously weak, it tasted like flavoured water, Devenish was pretty grim as well.  Nick liked Hall and Woodhouse beer.

The pavilion had dances for older people. The Prince Regent hotel used to be called the Burdon Hotel and they had a dance hall at the back that run the Tea dancers. Nick went to dancing classes at the Rock Hotel to learn how to waltz. He talks about offering to dance with a girl when he was in France and their waltz are very different to the English waltz, Nick had to concede he knew nothing about how to do the dance, it was a bit embarrassing. Nick didn’t like traditional dancing.

Nick joined the Rugby club after leaving school, which he really enjoyed going to. They put on traditional dances occasionally. He hadn’t been playing for long before he broke his nose. School rugby and town rugby were completely different rules. He took it in good spirits and it didn’t stop him playing. The rugby club was surrounded with the social life of being in the third rugby team, they’d all gone for good drink in the afternoon, a runabout, a good crowd of people, good exercise, a very good social.

Nick used to go hosteling, they’d cycle out on their bicycles, as a young teenager. It would be one of the few places you could all go out together and spend the night away. Also a chance to meet the opposite sex. This was very good exercise and a very good way to meet people from different social backgrounds. You could cycle out 15, 20, miles out and sleep in a hostel. Go to the local pub in the evening and then cycle home the next day.

Talk about the social experience of playing away in the rugby club and everybody get on the coach together and having a good drink and singalong on the coach home, spirited discussions.

Talk about cycling on the road as a group in taking over the road. You could buy a bicycle for virtually nothing.

There were lots of parks and in the parks were lots of park keepers. Nick would often go and help out. He take home some of the plants they ripped out afterwards. Here he met a wide section of community they wouldn’t normally make meet. And they were always happy for him to help out.

Talk about parks with the roundabouts and swings and a falling off, they were great fun as always your fault for falling off and it’s a shame to see roundabouts that seem to be slowed down nowadays, shame that they don’t go too fast.

Nick talks about making home-made bomb out of explosives and chemicals he could buy freely at a shop. He buried this under the pier bandstand, which still jutted out over the sea. The idea had been to bury it, to shovel sand on top and run a safe distance away and watch it explode. But when Nick stood on the lid he got his shoe stuck and his foot jammed in, so he quickly whipped the foot out the shoe and got away promptly. They watched and saw the shoe exploded and had to go home and concoct a story for his mum about what happened to the missing shoe. Nick talks about using old keys with a hole in they could buy cheaply and filling the holes with the heads of Swan Vista matches and then tying string to key and swinging around to hit the floor or a wall and it would explode; a the basic banger. He talks about being able to buy material from Mrs Evans Harris at a shop on Abbosturbury road. She’d sell them the materials needed and it all come in paper wraps. She had big jars full of all these materials and transfer it to her paper wraps.

Nick talks about how he feels we have become overprotective of a childhood. No one in those days would dream of suing the council. Nick talks about his perception of differences between then and now.

Nick never got rollerskates, they were quite expensive, but  he did borrow some occasionally.

Nicks mentions that they had a marvellous flood in the 1950s, when the Park district was all flooded out. Flood went down to were Dentures sweet shop was.

We go on to talk about how Nick’s leisure changes as he grows older. He moved away to London. At this time his wife was living in London and they got married. He gave up playing rugby. We talk about how he communicated with his wife to be while she lived in London and he lived in Weymouth. He’d drive up to London in his old car and they wrote letters a lot. They ended up getting married and getting a mortgage. They now they would socialise in other people’s homes a lot and have friends over to their house. When the children are old enough to go out for walks in the countryside. Always a favourite to comeback to Weymouth. Nick took up fishing. Nick talks about his wife’s passion in studying shells. Nick sails but doesn’t have a boat of his own.

We talk about his wife and her job what happened after she had children.

One thing he still loves doing is going out to Chesil Beach: to Portland end at the Cove and watch the weather and the waves crashing in.

He worked on the mackerel boats with; Bill Caults. Weymouth was a very busy tourist place in the busy harbour. One reason why Nick thinks the town was not a big scene for mods and rockers, was it was always locals versus sailors. The boats would be moored out in the harbour and there would be liberty boots that would come into the harbour to take the sailors back to their ships. They had to get back to the boat for 11PM or they’d be in trouble with military police. The sailors were quite scared of military police. Many trainloads of people from the Midlands would be on holidays here.

1 Comment

  1. Bruce Bagley

    My first memory of the Steering Wheel Club is in 1966 with Roy C’s disc “Shotgun Wedding”.
    Good crowds in a good mood. It was the time of Soul and R&B . Otis Redding ,Wilson Pickett and others at their height of fame. A band that had a large local following in Weymouth and Bournemouth based, were the ‘Nite People”. They were the backing group to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas of ‘ Dancing in the Street’ fame. Long before Jagger & Bowie did it. The Nite Peoples sax player was Pat Bell who was from Weymouth. He was just as good as Junior Walker with a rasping raucous style. I understood his father was one of Weymouth’s past Mayors. Pat I heard decades later, ran family owned care homes. Where is he today ?
    My take on why Mods & Rockers were fewer in numbers in Weymouth, than such resorts as Brighton, is the distance from London. You could reach Brighton and Margate by mid morning without getting up early. The Memories of growing up on Weymouth Seafront (part 2) are very similar to my experiences. My trusty first car was a 1963 Beetle. It enabled me to go clubbing and pubbing all over the south. From the Marquee in Wardour Street to the Blue Indigo & Concorde, Southampton, Adriano’s, Bournemouth to The Steering Wheel. My severe deafness I put down to these clubs and the’ Lesley’ speakers that blasted away.
    Fine days indeed. We grow older and mature. From that first 6volt VW Beetle that carried me and friends from Winchester/Southampton to the Weymouth Steering Wheel., I have now owned ten VW’s continuously since then. Even shipping my latest to Napier, NZ where I now live.
    Stumbling upon your article of Nick’s memories inspired me to have my pennyworth’s say !

    I hear that Weymouth still retains great charm and retains it’s beach sand sculptures. Long may it continue.

    Best wishes to all. Bruce Bagley 73rs

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