‘The market in those days included many stalls on both sides of the street selling plants in full flower at ha’penny each. We used to walk to Charlotte Street in the early hours of the morning to buy the flowers when they were fresh and the best had not been sold’ (pp.1)
Titled ‘Old Pompey and Other Places’ it is clear that Frederick Charles Wynne wants to keep his childhood, and particularly the city, alive through his records of his memories of growing up. Similar to Dora Hannan’s Happy Highways, Portsmouth to Frederick is a city that holds the happiness and freedoms of youth that is lost when growing up. There is no direct person that this memoir could be written for, nor do we have a clear time of when this was written. However, the specific detail- and lack of in some cases- allows us to get a sense of why these poignant memories are so well documented. The title itself ‘Old Pompey’ not only relates back to the past, but the use of the nickname manages to situate Frederick, and the reader, back into the local community that he was integrated within.
Upon reading this memoir, and his detailed depictions of the market, the beaches, the entertainers and the locale of Portsmouth, I believe this memoir was penned not only for his personal memories, but also for the people of Portsmouth to remember, or learn about the days past. Frederick not only manages to provide a voice for himself throughout this memoir, but also cleverly writes for the voice of the city and community, saturated with his own nostalgia.
‘One of our favourite delicacies were chidlings and of course peas, pudding and faggots. There was a shop on the corner of Sultan Road that sold the best chidlings and peas, pudding and faggots anywhere in the world’ (pp.22)
There are many potential reasons why Frederick wanted to collect the memories of his childhood in Portsmouth. The first, and perhaps most common autobiographical reason, is that Frederick did not want to forget the times in which he was at his happiest and most free. Frederick joined the army as soon as he could, and consequently lost his leg in action. Living in Middlesex, he then married- but sadly his wife passed away a year later. This unhappy turn of events would have understandably left Frederick mourning his past freedoms- so much so, he returned to Portsmouth in his later life.
Secondly, a somewhat less personal reason for documenting is the changes that war brought to the city. WW1 left the country in a widespread depression, and later WW2 left physical devastation, particularly to Portsmouth. Historian Paul Jenkins explained that ‘Portsmouth was subjected to the worst air raid to be suffered by any city, apart from London, for the whole of the Battle of Britain’, and the city was said to have never fully recovered to its glory days. A rebuild effort took place, and locally became known as the ‘new’ Portsmouth. Linking this to the title, it seems that this could be a documentation of what Frederick always knew Portsmouth as. In his later life, Frederick took part in a local radio show in which he discussed his memories of the city, which could have been an influence to document it in writing.
Interestingly, Frederick chooses to omit any information that was unaffiliated with his life in Portsmouth. He accounts for one older sister, Nellie, yet records show that he had four other siblings, born in Middlesex. There is no written reference to the move, the war or anything past his childhood. Perhaps Frederick wanted to preserve his childhood in its exact nature, deliberately not discussing anything that did not exist during this time.
This memoir, however, acts not only as a memory bank, or a reminder of the better days, but as a useful documentation of working class life. A fun anecdote of children’s games and the boots they wear allows for an understanding of the different class systems in place- and whilst Frederick lived in the more comfortable end, his writing emits his pride about his past.
Regenia Gagnier explains that many working-class autobiographers wrote for ‘functional rather than aesthetic’ purposes (342). Whilst Frederick’s memoir acts functionally by immortalising the old Pompey, there is some level of aesthetic purpose present also: whilst the era had its issues, which Frederick acknowledges, the sense of nostalgia and love remains at the forefront of the writing: A reminder of a simpler life.
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