THIS ISLAND LIFE
LOOKING through some old school photos the other day, I started to recall just how Newport has changed since my youth.
The area around Coppins Bridge has always fascinated me from the time, around 1948, when I used to set out from my home in Fairlee Road and attend the two schools at Barton.
My first journeys were to the infant school, in School Lane, and to get there it was a simple walk along to the then police station and then across the road and up Staplers.
In those days, there was a large rookery up Staplers as well as old army Nissan huts that were used by Canadian soldiers during the war. Many of these men were sent on that fatal raid to Dieppe which was a forerunner to the D-Day landings, where many would surely have lost their lives.
The Nissan huts were later, for a short time, occupied by gypsy families.
Halfway way up on the right was the entrance to the vicarage, where the Rev Wheatley lived.
One abiding memory of that infant school was the prayer we would recite each day before going home. It was: "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
The headmistress never knew how close I came to departing this earth, as around this time I was knocked down outside our house opposite the petrol station by an army lorry stationed at Parkhurst. Four days in Ryde hospital soon saw me back to normal.
I later progressed to the school for the older boys in Barton Road. This entailed walking down Snooks Hill, passing the ship’s chandler’s premises of Hunter and Coombes, where I would gaze into the double-fronted shop window at two extremely large brass ships port and starboard lanterns that seemed to be there simply to catch the eye of passers by.
Next door was the home of Mr Snow, the first Labour councillor on the then Tory-dominated borough council, next door to what was once the Victoria Inn but by then a men’s hairdressers shop.
A rough pathway down to the gasworks separated this establishment from the Coopers Arms pub before the three well-documented shops.
They were Albie Fry’s greengrocers, Chippy Wright’s and later Mrs Snow’s unforgettable fish and chip shop, where I would take a bundle of old newspapers and be rewarded with a free bag of chips, and finally Mr Palmer’s sweet shop, where a cat could often be found sitting in the front window with the aniseed balls and pear drops sunning itself.
Often Jack Powell would be nearby, leaning over the wall looking down into the river while he smoked his Woodbine cigarettes.
Jack worked at the gasworks and went on to become Newport’s first Labour mayor, leaving me to believe this was the part of town where all the political left wingers lived.
Sometimes I would be in time to see one of Jack’s sons, school pal Raymond, returning from the gasworks with a sack of coke that was being transported in an old pram for ease of carriage. Collect it yourself and you saved money.
Across the road, where the White Lion pub once stood, had been erected a large advertisement hoarding where all the films for the forthcoming week were advertised.
Above us and spanning the road at that time was the metal railway bridge that took trains to the south of the Island.
One of our teachers, the loveable Papa Warder, came into Newport each day by train from Sandown and returned the same way each evening.
On one occasion, two boys who had suffered from the effects of Papa’s cane during the day, waited to wave to their teacher with two fingers reversed as he passed over the road on his way home in his railway carriage.
Nothing was ever missed by that old gent and the next morning those two boys received another introduction to "Sammy", the teacher’s pet name for his cane. Happy days.