Dora R. Hannan (1909-2001): Fun and Festivities – Writing Lives

Dora R. Hannan (1909-2001): Fun and Festivities

“When we were on holiday from school or on Saturdays, we had various ways of amusing ourselves, other than playing in street.” [p. 12]

Dora’s family engaged in many activities together, often being free or cheap in nature due to the family budget (See Home and Family for more details). Many of these activities were outside because of this lack of resources, but also as Dora describes herself as a “Country lover” [p. 14]. The first of many activities that Dora discusses is walking to the recreation ground, in Kingston, Portsmouth. Within these times, the children would make a tent by perching an old tablecloth on the spiked railings, and then pegging it to the ground, which would become ‘the headquarters’, games such as cricket or rounders would then be played until they were tired, and wanted to go home for dinner.

The fountain in Kingston Cemetery.

Another one of Dora’s favourite walks was through Kingston cemetery: “Being a country lover, the long avenue of trees and in Spring, the crocus lined paths, with all the beautiful flowers displayed, appealed to me. There was an ornamental pond just inside the grounds and we liked to watch the goldfish swimming therein” [p. 14]. Dora explains that children were not permitted in the cemetery unless accompanied by an adult, or bearing flowers, so because of this the children would take flowers from the gardens on the street if allowed, or would walk along the lanes at the back of the railway to pick whatever they could get their hands on. “We were never stopped or turned back, and we did, of course, have a genuine reason for visiting the cemetery, as we wanted to put the flowers on Martha’s grave” [p. 14] (See Illness, Health and Disability for more details on Martha’s death).

Families enjoying Southsea beach in 1910

Living in Fratton, Portsmouth, the King family lived fairly close to the beach, and thus spent the majority of their summer days there. “This entailed a walk of about two miles, so Mum, … would pack up sandwiches, cake, and a large cold solid rice pudding made the previous day, bottles of water, home made lemonade and cold tea. This was put into the pram basket, with the baby at one end, and off we would go … we children would have our clothes removed and folded away into the prams ready for the return journey, as clean as when we set out. While on the beach we wore an odd assortment of older clothes and an outlandish selection of ‘bathing suits’ culled from the de’il knows where, some too long, some a bit tight, but we were all ‘decently covered’ to go into the water. This never appealed to me very much, I always came out shrammed and shivering, but I did learn to swim” [p. 14]. If the British weather was not suitable for the beach however, perhaps not warm enough or too windy, the family and friends would spend the day at the park nearby, where there was seats for the mothers too. Being specifically close to the beach, these parks could have been either Cannoe Lake, or Southsea Common, both still very important features of Portsmouth and Southsea, with Southsea Common holding the majority of Portsmouth’s biggest events.

Being on a tight budget, the family also could not travel to too many far away places, “We only ever went on one far away trip, and that is so vague as to be hardly remembered. It was when Dad took us to Birkenhead for the launching of his latest ship” [p. 16]. The family however did spend many weeks in a small village near Southampton, Bishops Waltham, with Dora’s maternal grandparents. In these times, Dora and her siblings could get a break from the ‘townies’ and escape to the country to engage in farming activities like gleaning and ‘oodin’ – collecting kindling.

The only British holidays that Dora mentions is Easter and Trafalgar Day. Good Friday was described by Dora as being more sacred than a Sunday, “No shops were open and no ordinary work was done, and only church services were held” [p. 30], and traditionally to this day, the family would sit down to eat a basic meat-free meal: “We always had a plain mid-day meal, the basis of which was saltfish, bought the previous day” [p. 30]. Easter Sunday however was inevitably more joyous: “We started off with boiled eggs for breakfast and usually had something new to wear” [p. 30] This is a similar telling of Easter to that mentioned in this post on Mary Hollinrake (Shea, 2016). Trafalgar Day in Portsmouth meant a parade through all the main roads in town, and was done by the Navy to collect as much money for their charities as possible, “Those taking part enjoying it as much as the onlookers, for those bluejackets with their skylarking kept people in fits of laughter” [p. 22].

My favourite fun activity and day out that Dora recounts however, is her trips on the Portsdown & Horndean Light Railway.

A photo of the Portsdown & Horndean Light Railway tram.

“We caught a tram which conveyed us to the village of Cosham, via North End and Portsbridge, a narrow wooden structure, over the moats which made the town an island. At Cosham we boarded another tram known as the P. and H. L. Railway. … The tram would grind its labourious way up the Hill, past the chalk pits till it reached the top. … from then on like an animal released from a restraining leash, the tram cavorted joyously down, eventually reaching its terminus and our destination. It was a very pleasant and pretty ride in those far off days. Alas! How different is that same route now, under the misnomer   ‘progress’” [p. 15].

This tram route began in 1902, and started in Cosham, just south of the railway station, and ended outside the Primitive Methodist Chapel, opposite Merchiston Hall in Horndean. Painted green and cream, the trams were locally known as the ‘Green Cars’ and were used in replacement of horse-drawn buses (Hantsphere, 2015). The family did not do much once reaching the destination, “Just played and wandered about taking in all the country sights and sounds, and breathing in the soft moist air which Mum said was good for us” [p. 15]. Despite the lack of resources and the scarcity of such days and trips out, Dora looks back on her childhood very fondly, reminiscing about the time with the family, and the homely area which she had grown up in, now, inevitably, a completely different town. For more information about things to do in Portsmouth in the early 20th century, see this post on Frederick Charles Wynne!

Works Cited:

357 HANNAN, Dora R., ‘Those Happy Highways: An Autobiography’, TS, pp.36 (c.20,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Hantsphere (2015) Portsdown and Horndean Light Railway 1903-1935. [online] URL: Date Accessed: 22/04/18

Shea, H. (2016) Mary Hollinrake (b. 1912): Fun and Festivities. Writing Lives. [blog] URL: /mary-hollinrake/mary-hollinrake-b-1912-fun-and-festivities Date Accessed: 25/04/18


Find A Grave (2010) Kingston Cemetery. [image] URL: Date Accessed: 22/04/18

Open Learn. (2005) Postcodes from the Past: Portsmouth and Southsea. [image] URL: Date Accessed: 22/04/18

Hantsphere (n.p.) Portsdown and Horndean Light Railway Tram No. 13 at Cosham About 1920. [image] URL: Date Accessed: 22/04/18

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