On bank holidays and on a few other occasions we had picnics on Portsdown Hill. There was a dusty road leading up the hill but we always climbed up the grass slope. From the top of the hill one could see Pompey and the harbour, but in between was a great area of grassland with very few people about. (p.26)
As I discussed in my previous fun and festivities post; Frederick’s childhood memoir is filled with happy memories of fun with his friends and family (unlike more work based memoirs such as Frank Prevett’s life on the railway, or RM Downer’s career as a seamstress.) In that post, I focussed mainly on his childhood games and past times, but he also recalls the festivities and places that he visited with his family. Through the memoir titled Old Pompey and Other Places, Frederick fondly remembers the city that shaped his early life and thus he goes into detail in recalling the exact events, people and places that he visited.
Being a close-knit family, they would often go for walks, for picnics or even get the tram to other places on bank holidays, such as Portsdown Hill for example. Frederick remembers a particular time in which they took the tram to neighbouring town Horndean, (which at the time only consisted of ‘a brewery and a few cottages ‘) and writes ‘It was a wonderful ride. […] the tram track was laid at the side of the road underneath, in places, large trees that made the ride like a trip in Cinderella’s coach except that the tram went by electricity and horses were unnecessary.’ (p. 27). These trips were not only examples of their family values but offer an interesting alternative to the places that were often assigned to the working class- i.e. the music hall, arcades and the pubs. Whilst Frederick and his family did frequent those venues, the quieter and low key activities seemed to be a preference, similar to Dora R Hannan’s family. This could be linked to the respectability that his family strived to portray- we know that his mother and grandmother often turned their nose up at ‘common’ activities- and he states that whilst it might seem strange, they did not go to Southsea Pier very much.
Frederick made the most of his rare trips to Southsea, and documents the animal rides that children could go on for a penny: ‘A large bird like a small ostrich harnessed to a two-seater go-cart […] They also had goats with large curled horns pulling little go-carts giving rides to children. (p.27). Interestingly, despite the seeming contempt that his family gave towards these places, Frederick loved them. Whilst this may have been simply childlike wonder, the memories are vivid and created a fond nostalgia toward his childhood, which his writing is filled with. These types of places grew massively during the early 20th Century all over the country, and even world, as Cross & Walton discuss the emergence, and importance, of the likes of Blackpool pleasure beach and New York’s Coney Island.
One of Frederick’s earliest recollections, and most likely proudest, was his visit to the Isle of Wight, with his mother and grandmother, in which he had the privilege of meeting Queen Victoria. His great-grandfather worked as a gardener at Osborne House, and so the three of them took a visit to the Isle of Wight. Again, this opportunity was very rare for a working-class family, so this was ‘a world shaking event’ for Frederick.
I was dressed in my best sailor suit and a wide brimmed straw hat, the same as the sailors wore in the battle in China. My mother and my grandmother in their best shot-silk dresses. My grandmother had bought a new bonnet from McKilroys with beautiful red roses and green leaves’ (P.2)
They travelled by tram to the harbour and boarded the paddle steamer, equipped with sausage sandwiches his mother had prepared for the journey. Frederick, having never experienced being on such a vehicle before became worried that the paddle-wheels would stop, and that they’d never get to land again. Unfortunately, the page which discusses the visit in detail is missing from the memoir, so perhaps we’ll never know the full story of what happened- but we do know that Queen Victoria made her own jam for the party to eat with bread and butter. Frederick was ‘considerably embarrassed’ when his mother told the Queen that she had used too much sugar to the fruit: ‘It was very rude indeed. I did not have much to say to the Queen after that. Come to think of it I didn’t say much before either.’ (p.5). Despite acting as respectable as possible, their working-class etiquette may have come to light here- Frederick was appalled by his mother’s rudeness, and he did not know how to talk to the queen himself. Frederick also remarked on the grounds and how they were disappointing in comparison to Victoria Park in Portsmouth. ‘There were no beds of beautiful flowers like Victoria Park and there were no peacocks. I thought they had to have peacocks in every park.’ (p.4). This again perhaps highlights the class divide; Frederick being a young working-class boy does not hold the same appreciation on what is remarkable or beautiful- in his opinion, no peacocks were very disappointing! Regardless, Frederick considers this one of the proudest moments in his life, and no doubt would his mother have proudly reminded everyone about the memory at any available opportunity.
It was decided that all those who could be spared would go to Southsea to see the array of naval ships that were being reviewed by ‘flash Teddy’ as grandpa called him. It was a great day out. We took sandwiches and bottles of lemonade and ginger beer and grandma took a bottle of her “medicine” to keep her going. (P.17)
Being a Portsmouth family, their festivities, of course, included watching the counting of the fleet, which became a much anticipated day out as it occurred every few years on special occasions. Frederick remembers a ‘great excitement in the air’ as the new King Edward was to review the naval warships. The beach was ‘more crowded than I [Frederick] had ever seen it before’ with boatman offering trips for sightseers to see the ‘flag-bedecked’ ships. As a young boy, however, the lack of direct entertainment sent him to sleep, but upon his awakening, he was astounded to see the ships ‘all lit up with fairy lamps’. A boatman had told Frederick’s family that they were electric, yet they knew that ‘it was impossible to send electricity all that way!’. Gas lighting was only just beginning to be installed in the houses during this time- and for a working-class family the capabilities of electricity were simply unheard of and any rumours would be dismissed as ‘cuffers’. The Wynne family would not have experienced electricity in their homes until after the first world war, so It’s no surprise that the concept of electricity on boats was ludicrous to them all- a naivety which Frederick looks back on with amusement and nostalgia. (For further information on the Navy and sailor culture in Portsmouth, please have a read of my second Habits, Culture and Belief post!)
Please check out some of the other authors on this website for more fascinating memoirs, and the hashtag #WritingLives on twitter!
Childerhouse, R. (2018). Downer. Mrs R., ‘A Bygone Age’ [blog] available at: /category/r-downer
Coupar, J (2018) Prevett, Frank. ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’[blog] available at: /category/frank-prevett
Cross, G & Walton, J. (2005) The Playful Crowd: Pleasure Places in the Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press.
Elliott, I (2018) Hannan. Dora R. ‘Those Happy Highways: An Autobiography’[blog] available at /category/dora-r-hannan
Robins, E. (1900). ‘The Old George’ Inn, Portsdown Hill. [Oil on Board] Portsmouth: Portsmouth Museums and Visitor Services.
Postcards of the Past (n.d.). Clarence Pier, Southsea. [image] Available at: http://www.oldstratforduponavon.com/southsea.html
Wootton Bridge Historical (n.d.). Osborne House. [image] Available at: http://woottonbridgeiow.org.uk/imapeastcowes.php
Wynne, Frederick Charles. ‘Old Pompey and Other Places’. Burnett Archive of Working class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 2:08