“We lived in a small world. Princes Street was our domain or rather our domain was in Princes Street, next to Victoria Street on one side and Sultan road on the other, flanked by Commercial Road at the top and a funny little street at the bottom. I could never remember the name.” (pp.1)
Frederick Charles Wynne, (known to his family as Freddie), was born in 1897 in the centre of Portsmouth and documents his childhood with a clear fondness and love for the city. I was initially drawn to this author as we both grew up in the same area, and so I am familiar with the places, roads and towns that he makes reference towards.
The second of two children (at the time), Frederick lived with his mother, sister and occasionally his grandparents whilst his father fought as a soldier in the Boer War. A working class family that lived comfortably; he reminisces on the delicacies they purchased, a very proud grandmother showing off a hat that was envied by her peers, and most intriguingly his early education that was paid for. ‘This two pence a week out of sergeant’s pay was not to be spent lightly’. (pp.2) . The fact that Frederick’s mother was able to spare this cash was remarkable as the majority of the families of the soldiers serving in this war had to rely on charitable aid or the work of the mother to support their family due to the low allowances. (documented by Reidi, 2017).
‘“Thank God”, grandma told us, “those wicked days are past and you should thank your luckystars we are so well off nowadays”. I believed her, but I still hoped that someday we would become rich enough to buy my tricycle horse’. (pp.45)”
When reading his memoir, the attention to detail, the humorous anecdotes and the innocent style of writing draws the reader in to experience his childhood alongside him once more. The undated entries and non-linear timeline here does not hinder the experience- you join him as he remembers his memories in the city that shaped him. Titled ‘Old Pompey and Other Places’, and approaching 80 pages, this memoir brings to life the hustle and bustle of the high street, the taste of the delicious food and the excitement of the dreadnoughts arriving in the harbour. Frederick shares the excitement of tea with Queen Victoria, the patriotism of the relief of Ladysmith in 1900, the first installations of gas and electric and his time spent at his grandparents’ pub, The Admiral Drake.
He looked at the children and said “Freddie will look after you. I won’t be long. I’ll leave the cart lamp so you’ll have some light but don’t touch it whatever you do or you’ll have the place on fire”. The responsibility weighted heavy on me especially the thought of the place catching on fire. (chapter 10)
Experiencing early 20th Century Portsmouth through the eyes of a child is not only heart-warming but in some cases shocking. Frederick has an extraordinary technique of making references to unemployment, illness and homelessness as he recalls what he spotted on the street- only to be quickly counteracted by something seemingly light-hearted. Whilst he talks in detail about general social issues or problems, his memory of particular events, such as homeless children taking shelter in his uncle’s stable, comes from what he had seen and what he had overheard from adults. Using the information that he does provide, alongside outside knowledge of the culture of that time we can begin to understand the world that Frederick was living in.
We sat on the shingle beach and listened to all that was going on. The beach was crowded- more crowded than ever I had seen it before. The rowing boats and the boatmen occupied the edge of the beach. They plied for hire and took boat-loads of the sightseers to near the great battleships forming a line about a mile out between Southsea and the Isle of Wight. (On the review of the fleet, at Spithead). Pp.18 (discussed further in Fun and Festivities Part Two)
I am looking forward to being able to bring Frederick’s childhood to life through this blog and to share his experiences. It is an endearing, humorous, and down to earth depiction of life in the turn of the century in Portsmouth, surrounded by ships and sailors. Frederick later joined the army at age 15 to serve in France, was discharged a few years later after losing a leg, and spent the next 42 years working in a hospital. He retired and spent the last years of his life in Cowplain. Hampshire. It is unclear when the memoir was written, however, we know that Portsmouth was heavily bombed in WW2, and consequently rebuilt and changed, so perhaps this was written as an ode to his fond memories, and to keep ‘Old Pompey’ alive through his records.
Gregory, G. (1907). The Royal Naval Review. [image] Available at: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-royal-naval-review-24903/view_as/grid/search/keyword:portsmouth/sort_by/object.lifecycle.creation.date.earliest/order/asc/page/14 [Accessed 31 Jan. 2018].
Riedi, E. (2017). ASSISTING MRS TOMMY ATKINS: GENDER, CLASS, PHILANTHROPY, AND THE DOMESTIC IMPACT OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR, 1899–1902. The Historical Journal, 60(03), pp.745-769.
Wynne, Frederick Charles. ‘Old Pompey and Other Places.’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection: 2:854