Archive for the ‘Len Strong’s Memories’ Category

Alresford’s Fire Service

A memory from Len Strong, now resident in Derbyshire:

“The fire brigade in Alresford was manned by a part time crew in the 1930s. The method of summoning them in an emergency was to telephone the police station in Station Road and notify the duty constable of the whereabouts of the incident. He would then fire off two rockets, (maroons), which exploded in the sky with loud bangs and these would alert the crew who would be going about their normal daily employment. They would then race to the fire station on foot or by whatever means of transport was available.

The fire station was at the bottom of Broad Street and at the side of the big red doors was a glass panel let into the wall and behind this was housed the key to the doors. Any member of the public who happened to be passing when the maroons went off was expected to break the glass, remove the key and open the doors in readiness for the fire crew.

My Grandad, whose bakery was just across the street, made this his unofficial duty, and he would run across the street, often with hands covered in flour or dough, and open up the doors. Most of the fires turned out to be haystacks or barns on outlying farms and if we boys were off school we would race after the fire-engine on our bikes to the location of the fire. But one Sunday after going to morning service at church, (I sang in the choir at that time), I and two of my pals went for a walk in the afternoon. We were strolling by the river about a mile out of town when we heard the maroons go off. Curiosity made us hurry back and to our dismay we found that the church vestry was on fire.

It was quite a blaze but fortunately it was brought under control before spreading to the main body of the church, but not before it had destroyed all our choirboy gowns, surplices and numerous hymn and prayer books. So that evening at Evensong we had to sing in the choir in our Sunday suits and with the smell of burnt timber in our nostrils.

It was suggested, but never proved that someone was smoking a crafty fag and had discarded the end without putting it out, but I guess that is another story.!

The fire station in Broad Street served the town from the 1800s till 1940, when a new modern building was built at the bottom of Pound Hill.

[And in 2012 there are plans to move the Police Station in Station Road into the Fire Station itself!]

The old station still stands in all it’s red painted glory as a listed building and is a ‘must’ to the many visitors who visit this beautiful little Hampshire town of Alresford. But in 2018 the building was repurposed, and now houses the first part of the Alresford Museum! Where the old Alresford fire engine once stood, in 1910, another vintage Merryweather fire engine is now on show. Originally the Tichborne Park Fire Service engine, this is the same model that once looked after Alresford, driven to the fire by two horses, and the steam boiler on the back drove the pump that sucked water from anywhere available, into hoses to put out the fires. First Open Day to display this appliance, and many other fire history items, was 15 September 2018!

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Fair night in the 1930s

Len Strong sends another story:

“Growing up in Alresford, a small Hampshire town in the 1930s, life was placid and easy going, but one of the highlights for us school-children was the annual pleasure fair. The nearest Thursday to Oct 11th was fair day [Editor’s note: this still goes on every year at this time] and we looked forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of the big steam engines and Foden lorries towing a variety of gaily painted caravans and wagons.

By a charter granted by the Bishop of Winchester in 1573 to the Bailiff and Burgesses of Alresford, he gave them the right to hold a yearly pleasure fair. We learned this in school, but our only interest was to see the various rides and sideshows erected and opened for our pleasure. It was always in Broad Street and pride of place at the top, by the Horse & Groom pub was the big steam roundabout with its galloping horses and cockerels whirled round and round and up and down to the strident music of the steam organ. Also at times there were the chair-o-planes, similar to the roundabout but the chairs were suspended from chains and seemed to swing out farther and higher, which brought screams and shouts from the people brave enough to go on it.

Then there were the swing-boats in which you manipulated yourselves by pulling on the thick plaited ropes. Coconut shies where Dad usually managed to knock one off for me, unless the man in charge had seated them a bit deeper down in the cup in a bed of sawdust, then he would buy me one for sixpence.

Other sideshows were for darts, ring the teddy bear, roll-a-penny, and the ‘prize every time’ stall where you paid sixpence and picked a number from a basketful of rolled up numbers and you got the corresponding numbered prize from the shelf. It was usually a small cheap toy from the front row or maybe a goldfish, but never one of the big dolls or teddy-bears from the back. There were various sideshows where you could see the ‘bearded lady’ or ‘the cow with five legs’ and other dubious phenomena, and the boxing booth where some brawny farm lad with a few pints of beer inside him would take on the shows prize-fighter and finish up with a bloodied nose, and a pat on the back from the promoter and the parting words, “Better luck next time , son!”

Also, in later years, the Wall of Death came, which was a tall wooden circular construction in which motor-cyclists roared around the inside, defying the law of gravity and climbing higher and higher up the wall. The public had to climb up the outside to a viewing platform and look down at the performers. It always amazed me that they didn’t come over the top. We boys would try a similar feat on our bikes on the vertical grassy banks of local Fobdown, but we always came off and suffered many a grazed knee and bruised elbows.

The fair was only on for one afternoon and evening, but it was eagerly enjoyed by us all and the amazing thing was, that when we went to school the following morning it had all been taken down , loaded up and taken away and the streets were left clean and quiet as before.

As I sit here noticing that it is ‘Fair time again’, I wonder if the kids of today get as much pleasure from it as we did in those far off days before the war.”

What did you do at the Fair last time? What do yopu want to do this year? Let us know: send to nick@nickdenbow.com.

The Alresford Dray man…..

Len Strong from Derbyshire sends this story from his early days in Alresford, where he was born in 1925.

Len writes: “Gran & Grandad White, my Mums parents, lived in one of the oldest houses in Alresford. The middle one of a row of flintstone and brick cottages on Tanyard Hill, now called Mill Hill. [Editor’s note: This is the second cottage on the left, just after the open garden space and fireplace down Mill Hill, on the left, having entered from the bottom of Broad Street]. It had no bathroom or toilet facilities. In the back place was a well from which they had to draw water, and the ‘privey’ as Granddad called it, was a bucket lavatory half-way up the garden.

What it did have was a big cellar under the front room which was reputedly used to house French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars, but as I remember, I was always scared to go down there as it was a haven for spiders and their webs hung down from the ceiling. However, granddad kept pigs up the garden and there was always a side of bacon hanging in the cellar, and a supply of coal and firewood which the merchants used to tip into the cellar from a chute protected by an iron grill at street level.

My earliest memories are of sitting on granddad’s knee and eating ‘soldiers’ of toast dipped in a boiled egg, and of Gran in her long black dress protected by a starched white apron, busy preparing a meal at the scrubbed bare wooden table in the kitchen.

Grandad worked as a dray-man for Amey’s brewery situated in Broad Street. He had two big Shire mares which, when harnessed to the dray, he delivered barrels of beer to the outlying village pubs. And now and then he would take me with him. I used to love sitting beside him and listening to the clip-clop of the horses hooves as they trotted along the country roads.

At each pub Grandad would roll the required number of barrels off and trundle them into the bar. His reward was always a glass of ale from the landlords so by the end of the day he would be feeling quite ‘mellow’.

He would say to me,” Get in the back “, then he would join me, lie down and cover us over with a blanket, and give the horses the order, “Home girls”, and they would do just that. Trot back the four or five miles to the stable yard, while grandad had forty winks during the journey. He would feed and water them and then say, “Come on, we’ll go and have our tea, then I’ll come back and take off their nose-bags and put them to bed, and then it will be your bed-time too young feller!!”

Those were “Happy days”, as seen by Len.