My parents were born in Woolston, Southampton and were married in Holy Trinity Church on Weston Lane, in fact my mother became a Queen’s Guide there. My uncle and grandpa both worked for Supermarine and for my grandpa it was following a variety of jobs including running a grocer’s shop and working as a stevedore. He worked in the library, the place where they stored plans of aircraft, and must have brushed shoulders with RJ Mitchell in his early days, before my grandpa was relocated.
My earliest memories of Woolston were of staying with my grandma, that is my mother’s mother, in Newtown Road, visiting the playground at Mayfield Park or taking a stroll down to Weston Shore. We often walked down Weston Lane and returned through the woods. If the tide was out we would venture a little way along Fisherman’s Walk, a path out into Southampton Water only visible when the tide was low. We would often pop in to see Aunty Bell on the way back to see her budgie, passing the allotments near to her large and rambling old red brick house. I must have been very small indeed when my grandfather took us girls to watch the steam trains go by at the nearby crossing, before he went to the pub to play his favourite game of dominoes. We would stand on the steps of the style, impatiently waiting for the unmistakable sound of rushing air escaping the funnel and the whistle as the train came into view.
During the summer we would sometimes spend a week in Newtown Road and I remember the excitement of seeing The QE2 go by, out of the back bedroom window. Sometimes we would take one of the various busses into Southampton. Grandma always knew to the minute at which bus stop it was best to stand to take the trip either via Northern Bridge or the Floating Bridge at Woolston. If we travelled one way, we would invariably return by the other route to make the trip more fun. I loved going on the Floating Bridge and when I was only five years old the skipper let me pull the long lever to start it on its slow motion, chains clanking as it made its way to the furthest shore of the Itchen River. I wrote in my ‘news’ the following Monday morning, ‘On Saturday I started the Floating Bridge near my Grandma’s.’ My teacher didn’t believe me and I was mortified.
If we were just going to Woolston to shop then we would usually walk. My grandma often walked even when she possessed a free bus pass and she passed a love of walking on to me. You get to know someone in a very natural way when you are strolling along chatting and I always felt very close to my grandma.
Thinking of Woolston always evokes happy childhood memories; The adrenaline rush of waiting at the top of the mighty slide in the park; learning to skim stones or eating ice cream on Weston Shore. It was a sad day though when the Floating Bridge was finally obsolete due to the newly built bridge and I hope the inhabitants will forgive me for saying that Woolston has suffered since, with the majority of people driving through, rather than pausing to shop or reflect on Woolston’s place in history. But times are changing. Eventually, as the site of Thornycroft is finally developed, then maybe the heart will be drawn back into rejuvenating the little row of shops running down to the hard. As the trend of people shopping locally is encouraged and the local environment improved, with industrial wastelands cleared and pleasant access made to the riverbank, I believe that Woolston will find its place once more. This is thanks due to the many local people who do care, including the recently formed ‘Friends of Weston Shore’.
For anyone interested in aviation history, a short pause at the recently placed memorial by the crossroads and the plaque down on the hard next to the silent chains of The Floating Bridge, still have the power to evoke pride in our national heritage.