MEMORIES OF ROGER COX
I arrived, aged eight, at NCH Stokesmead, Alverstoke, with a party of other children and Sister Mary (surname forgotten) and Sister Helen (Fletcher?) in the autumn of 1949. We had all been transferred from NCH Southdowns, Doddington, in Kent, where I had already spent three and a half years, when that property was sold to Kent County Council. On arrival at Alverstoke, we were placed temporarily in Sunshine House, the hospital building, but in the early part of 1950 we were moved out of the main NCH site to Stokehurst, the old rectory opposite St. Mary’s C of E Church. For some reason that was never explained, I was separated from all my former Doddington colleagues in the early summer of 1950, and sent back to the main site to Sister Gertrude Stevens at Stephenson “B”. She and I soon formed a deep antipathy that developed into a mutual loathing that lasted until my departure in July 1952. I recall several unpleasant encounters with the Alverstoke Governor, Trevor G. Thomas. The cold, rigid, joyless, emotionally empty Methodist regime of harsh, often brutal discipline, that, at times, reached levels that, today, would be categorised as physical abuse, left me with an absolute distaste for my NCH period that has remained undiminished in the 55 years since my merciful escape.
I have other, lighter recollections of Alverstoke and Gosport, such as the emerald green Provincial buses, particularly the Guy Arabs on the Haslar route, with the splendid Red Indian Chief motif on the radiator filler cap. Some of these buses had lady drivers, unremarkable now, but very rare then. Anglesey Road then described a double bend between high brick walls beyond St. Mary’s Church towards Gosport. I see now that this has been “improved” and straightened. The Gosport ferries were vessels of modest size in those days, but, from Portsmouth Harbour, one could take real ships to the Isle of Wight; two of these, “Sandown” and “Ryde” were splendid paddle steamers. The floating bridge car ferry across the harbour was still in existence then, though it often seemed to be out of commission owing to chain breakages.
I have vivid memories of the superb Christmas parties that were thrown for us NCH children by the wonderful men and women of the Royal Navy. They brought immense happiness into our spartan lives and deserve a thunderous, heartfelt “Thank you”.
We went to Stone Lane Primary School,where the Headmaster was(I think) Mr. Frampton. The only other teacher I can remember was Mr. Civil, who appeared to get through more bamboo canes than sticks of chalk – the application of the cane to the hands or legs was routine punishment, for boys and girls, for the most trivial offence, innocent or otherwise. Whatever its disciplinary record, the academic standards of Stone Lane were not impressive. The school dinners were in a culinary class of their own. They were prepared off site somewhere, and delivered in huge metal containers. The distressing aroma that emerged when the lids were lifted would have straightened the hair of a poodle at sixty paces. Two of the worst offerings were the fish pie and the cheese pie. How could innocent ingredients be massacred to such an appalling end? Even allowing for the austerity of the times, the food was indescribably bad. How desperately we needed a Jamie Oliver 55 years ago. I am not mocking school dinners per se; those I had later when at school in Croydon were excellent.
The war damaged White Hart pub was rebuilt about this time, and from that point one could walk back to Alverstoke along the derelict trackbed of the old Stokes Bay railway line, that once carried Queen Victoria’s baggage for Osborne House. The short wooden pier formerly served by the steamers from Stokes Bay was still there in the 1950s, but by then it was used by Royal Navy MTBs on exercises. Much of the Stokes Bay beach and shoreline was still under military control, but it was progressively opened up as the landmines and other wartime defences were cleared. From the beach one could see the magnificent Atlantic liners making their way along the Solent to and from Southampton. One of my last memories of my NCH period is standing at Stokes Bay watching the SS United States steam past after its record breaking Blue Riband crossing. This was early in July 1952. By the end of that month, a few weeks short of my eleventh birthday, I had left NCH Alverstoke, without regrets, for good.
There used to be a church at Haslar with a leaning tower, and the Tower cinema at Lee on Solent was where we kids were taken to see “Treasure Island”; the Forum cinema was where we would sometimes see the Saturday morning pictures. Sadly, all these are now gone, I believe