Memories of growing up in Swanage.
If I think back to the 18 years that I lived in Swanage from 1946 to 1963 almost the first thing that comes to mind is battling the east wind on Boots corner, holding tight to my mother’s hand in case I get blown clean away. Add to that the smell of seaweed permeating up from the beach, the quiet streets and the roar of the sea. Swanage in Winter!
We moved to Swanage from Salisbury when my father came out of the army after serving through WW2. It was June 1946. My mother was born and raised in Corfe Castle where her father was a signalman on the railway. She went to Salisbury as a nanny to the children of a squadron leader at Old Sarum aerodrome and it was there that she met a local lad who became my father. With a sister moving to Australia with her new RAAF husband and a brother moving away with his Scottish wife, my mother felt the need to return to Dorset. And so we did. My father was a pastry cook and confectioner by trade and was employed at the Trocadero in the Square which was first with Miss West, who I remember vaguely because she gave me ice cream when I went down to the bakehouse on a Sunday with Dad, and later with a series of managers after it was bought by Williamson and Treadgold of Bournemouth. Why did we go on a Sunday? The two huge ovens with their black cast iron doors were fuelled by a coke fire which was let down when Dad left on a Saturday and had to be restarted ready for Monday. I loved to go to the bakehouse with Dad as he used to open up the huge drawer full of sultanas and let me have a handful. I was fascinated by the mixers too and the huge wooden sink. On the way home in the Summer we would stop at the Fortes ice cream kiosk next to the funfair and Dad would buy me a cone with chocolate correlettes on top.
We were always up early as my father left to start work at 6 am. Sometimes my mother and I would take the dog for a run on the beach then, past the beach huts on the sand, going as far along as the second shelter. It wasn’t far from our home in Princess Road but later we moved to Herston and a semi detached in Hendrie Close that backed on to Herston House, the home of George Cox, photographer, a cousin of my grandmother. I remember him well and his wife Laura. Sometimes Mum would give me a shilling to go round to Mrs.Cox for a bunch of flowers. Other times I went up through the little lane on an errand to Knapp Stores on the High Street.
Another fond memory is that of visiting my grandmother’s sister, Alice Bryant nee’ Bowering, who lived down by the Millpond. She was a dear soul, my Auntie Gran, with her white cat Betty with a blue eye and a green eye. I was usually given some bread to feed the ducks and warned not to “fall in my booty”. We always visited on Christmas Eve and warmed ourselves in front of the range. Best was if it was gloomy and the lights went on, gas lamps that hissed interestingly.
Swanage Carnival/Regatta used to be a great affair, something to look
forward to almost as much as Christmas. I treasure a photo of myself sat
in my pushchair wearing my carnival bonnet with its extremely wide brim
fringed with a crepe paper frill because of the memories it brings back; the
warship in the bay, often HMS Vanguard, the power boat races, the
attempts to climb the greasy pole erected down near the Stone Quay,
the procession that seemed to last for ever but was still over too quick
and best of all being able to stay up late to join the crowds on the seafront
to watch the firework display, the climax of the week that always ended
with a tableau of two swans and the words “Goodnight Swanage”.
The Coronation caused great excitement. At the time I was in Miss Price’s class
at Mount Scar primary school and we put on a pageant in the old Rectory gardens.
High point of this was an enactment of St.George and the Dragon in which I played
a star role, dressed in my mother’s best purple velvet frock, as the princess, rescued
by gallant St .George [Robert Nichols] from the dragon [Jeremy Cooper with a
cardboard box on his head]. It was to be my only leading role ever! At school
Mrs. Shore, Chairman of the Town Council, presented us all with souvenier New
Testaments, blue ones for the boys, red for the girls! We also had ceramic mugs
from somewhere. There was a party too and I shall never forget sitting in the drizzle
in Sandpit Field amidst rows and rows of the children of Swanage. We shivered as
we received and ate our little bags of sandwiches and drank cold orange squash from
plastic coronation mugs that we were allowed to keep. It was a joyous occasion but
our faces didn’t reflect it! Much better was the barbecue down on the bomb site where
the library is now. There was a huge bonfire on which was roast a whole sheep and
a whole deer, both of which were carved up and devoured in bread rolls. The
atmosphere was jovial, the air aromatic and the food delicious. Not long after the
coronation the colour film of it did the rounds of the country and we had a school
visit to the cinema in town and it was then that I saw my first film in Technicolor.
There were two cinemas at first but the Grand was closed and a rather nice dress
shop took its place, which came just at the right age for me.
Bomb sites; My generation was well peopled as we were the end of the war children. In fact because we were so numerous I was nearer 6 than 5 when I was able to start school. Several of my classmates were fatherless due to the war. Our numbers never got less and the school building could not house us all. In my penultimate year we had Mr. Hill for our teacher and we had the Rectory Classroom as our schoolroom, with folding desks and tidy boxes to keep our things in. Playtimes we played in the road with a monitor at either end who blew a whistle when a car was coming so that we could all run to the pavement. The final year, 11+ time, we were with Mr. Selman in the Congregational schoolroom, PE in the Labour Hall. Much of our playtime was indoors but in the Summer we were taken along the road to play on the bombsite where the Health Centre is now.
I now return to Swanage as a holiday maker and I see it differently, as a tourist, but I remember it as it was, still look for faces that I knew and consider the changes. The Grosvenor Hotel, that imposing landmark, is no more, and I miss it......The Troc with its blue room and white room and its smart waitresses; I worked there in the cake shop in my school holidays and remember the staff parties and the camaraderie, being part of a family almost. I remember going shopping for my mother, “go and see Mr. Hardy in Eastmans for the meat” or “Go to the Home and Colonial for sausages and to Robsons for other groceries”. I went with my list, the favourite was always Robsons where the sugar was weighed and put in a blue bag, biscuits taken from a line of tins at the front of the counter and weighed, cheese and butter, cut and wrapped in greaseproof paper. Then there were the trips to the little sweet shop in the Square that belonged to Mr & Mrs Riches, where my godmother worked. I well remember visiting there with Mum buying sweets for the week and handing up the ration books so that the little coupons could be taken out. But Swanage doesn’t have any of this now. It is a lovely resort with all that is needful for the tourist but to me the charm has gone, shattered like dreams.
We left Swanage in 1965, the year that I left Swanage Grammar school and returned to Wiltshire. The change had begun. Williamson and Treadgold sold the “Troc” to Misslebrook and Weston who did not require bakeries. With my father’s job coming to an abrupt end and my schooling over it was time to move. However, certain events will always remain with me. I shall never forget the day that Brian Brown was drowned whilst attempting to secure a boat set adrift by storms the night before. All morning the lifeboat trawled up and down the bay, locals watching from the shore, among them Brian’s Mum standing alone, torn apart by grief. Neither shall I forget the day that a group of boys from, I believe, Forres School, found an unexploded bomb on the beach, tinkered with it and were blown to pieces, or the day that the eldest MacDonald boy was blown off the cliffs at Ballard whilst birdwatching, the stormy Christmas when part of the footpath at Durleston got washed into the sea. The tragedies never leave us or the highlights. The unmade roads that twisted many an ankle are now smooth with tarmac, the shops all changed, some landmarks gone but the memories aren’t erased, like going to Bournemouth on the paddle steamer “Monarch” or on the MTB “Matapan” which was far less enjoyable as it rolled so much; hot Bovril in the Ice Cream Parlour on a cold day, travel by steam train to places near and far, browsing for books in Hill and Churchill, listening to the band up on the Rec, all part of the past now, no turning back. But the past is still there if you know where to look. I usually go into the old Northbrook cemetery where I easily find the grave of my great grandparents, Charlotte nee’ Cox and Levi Bowering and that of my great great grandparents, William and Mary Cox. On the war memorial my grandmother’s brother, Charles Bowering is listed among the WW1 dead. The one thing that really saddens me though is the sight of Swanage Grammar school. I was there from age 11-18, my mother was there on the day it opened, her sister and brother in following years. What would Jimmy Day ,who gave it for the children of Swanage say if he saw it now, such a benefactor to the town. One fact remains; Swanage is part of my life and always will be. Nothing lasts forever, the changes come and go but the ability to recall how things were is a gift I believe. Some things have changed for the better; part of the seafront being closed in part for the “season”, the reopening of the railway, the development of the area around the lighthouse. I remember we had a day off school when the Canberra was making her maiden voyage so that we could all go up to the lighthouse field to watch her sail by on the horizon, and most of us did. Another visiting ship prior to that was the replica Viking ship which anchored in the bay. I still have my mother’s photograph of it, a tiny mark in an open sea.
Mum used to buy my shoes in Tatchels where there was this big contraption that you could stand on and look down to see a kind of x ray of your feet in the shoes. I learnt to play the piano with Miss Powell in Linden Road and used to like to visit Shore’s music shop to buy the sheet music for my favourite pop songs. One window had a full display of all of the current hits that were available on sheet music so I could browse what was available before spending my pocket money. I loved it when we had to go to Smiths the Drapers, at least the bit when payment was made. The money was put into a cup which was screwed on to another part attached to a wire. A lever was pulled and the cup whizzed across the shop returning moments later containing the receipt. What entertainment that was! Big news arrived. Mr. Hancock had discovered a dinosaurs footprint in a stone in his quarry and it was displayed at his workplace where he made headstones and such like. It was there for a fair while so we were all able to see it an marvel at it. Now it is in Dorchester Museum.
I’ve been away from Swanage for many years, over 40 along the coast in Cornwall where I taught for 27 years. As a retired teacher I know the value of the formative years of childhood, the ones that set the pattern that influences life. Mine was in Swanage and my memories tell me that it was indeed a valuable part of my life.
by Gwendoline [Joanne] Thorn