What with gloomy weather forecasts warning of storms and floods as we headed towards Southampton on Saturday morning, I decided to keep an open mind of expectation!
In fact, torrential rain hit us not long after we were on the M3 heading South and we wished we’d stopped in the service station we’d just passed by for a comfort break. As it happens the rain eased up as we pulled up at Winchester services beginning the positive pattern for the day.
Arriving in Woolston half an hour early we found a little cafe for a welcome cuppa, where I left my husband enjoying a bacon bap while I went to introduce myself at the library, a wonderful building of character on the corner of Oak Road and the Portmouth Road. In fact it is only a few doors away from where we think my Great Grandmother ran her guest house in the early 20th Century.
Martyn Basford from the Bitterne Heritage Centre was there to meet me and I set up to greet the folks who had braved the inclement weather. I was warmly received and my short talk about my family links to Woolston, Supermarine, my research and the inspiration for my writing prompted people to share their own memories, especially of the Floating Bridge or Itchen Ferry. Here are a few of them:
“Do you remember when the buses used to leave just as the floating bridge touched the hard? Wasn’t that annoying.”
“And if you were on a bike your feet would get wet because there was always a gap of water as the ramps came down.”
“My sister was on the floating bridge the day the chains broke loose and it floated down the River Itchen”
“It was great, just like you my sons were allowed to pull down the lever to start the floating bridge once. They were so excited!”
“When we were children we sometimes went over and back just for fun.”
“One of the floating Bridges is now a restaurant in Bursledon. It’s called The Ferry Restaurant.”
After signing books we followed Martyn to the Heritage Centre where we held more in depth conversations about Supermarine and its effect on the area and John had kindly made a display of some of the excellent resource books they have in their archives. It is a wonderful place for anyone interested in local history, of not only Bitterne but the surrounding area too. Time rushed on and Martyn prompted us that we needed to be making our way to our last venue at Bitterne Library.
Even though there were only a handful of people at Bitterne Library, including Barbara, the editor of Bygone Bitterne, it was nevertheless a lovely experience, not only to share my thoughts, but also to answer their many questions in an informal way. It was interesting to me that no one knew about ‘Ancasta’ their local Goddess! In fact no one knows exactly where the stone, originally found in Bitterne, with the unique inscription to Ancasta on it, is now. It was apparently in an exhibition in Southampton for a while. Any ideas? I’d love to see it and take some photos.
I want to thank Martyn particularly for organising the morning and ensuring that all went smoothly. It was so fitting to launch ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home’ in Woolston, just up the road from the solitary plaque which reminds us of the great times for Wooston, when the first ever Spitfire was developed and tested, under the shadow of the ‘new’ bridge.
After a busy morning we drove along Weston Shore, by which time it was raining quite hard so we didn’t stop, but continued to the Victoria Park for a bite to eat, after which we sat in the car for a while watching the Isle of Wight Ferry sail past, before heading home.
Next planned venue is at the Herald Offices in Hythe on 4th August. More details to follow shortly.