Edited by Allison Symes
Image Credit: All images were supplied by Peter Russell
I am Peter Brent Russell and I was a child of the Hook Road Hutments for the first five years of my life – June 1950 to Summer 1955. This is Part 2 of my series on The Hutments and, this week, I will be looking at my family background and how we came to be at there at all.
It would be lovely if memories could be shared and if there is further information that people have, please do send in your comments. It would be nice to fill in the “gaps” especially on hutment numbers and family surnames.
Planning and construction
The estate was built in 1940-41 for the wartime Ministry of Supply (MoS) or Ministry of Aircraft Production, following the bombing of the Supermarine factory at Woolston in Southampton. Given the urgency of re-housing these priority workers, the design and specification are likely to have been brisk exercises. The land may have belonged to the Hursley Estate or Cranbury Park, and would either have been requisitioned by or offered to the MoS.
The developers were probably either the MoS or Vickers, or both in partnership. The builders were Messrs. Tarrant of Wentworth, Surrey, who were more used to building fancy homes in the Surrey stockbroker belt, but had also made prefabricated (‘prefab’) structures to house military personnel in WW1, especially behind the front on the European continent. That was presumably a good marker for being awarded similar work in WW2.
(Editor’s Note: The Wikipedia article on Tarrant is interesting, especially where it mentions the building of wooden huts! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_George_Tarrant)
The writer’s parents, Jack and Ruth Russell, stand outside No.42 Hook Road, probably soon after arrival in 1947. Note the rustic pergola around the doorway, rustic fencing around the front garden, and the rear of the cul-de-sac hutments in the background. The central track was shared with No.40 to the left. © Unknown; cty. Peter B. Russell
Research in Hampshire archives has revealed no planning applications or building regulations applications being lodged with Romsey and Stockbridge Rural District Council (the local housing and planning authority) prior to the construction of the hutments.
That’s a pity, as a council file might have shown the planned and actual layouts, and any subsequent additions. For the time being, I can only assume that the MoS had wartime powers to acquire and develop land for the war effort, and guess that maybe a plan survives in the Vickers and/or Ministry of Defence archives? (If anyone knows more on this, I’d be glad to hear from you).
In a close-up, Ruth Russell stands outside No.42 Hook Road, probably soon after arrival in 1947. © The late J. F. Russell; cty. Peter B. Russell
Eligibility for occupying a hutment
There seems to be a general assumption that all the hutments were allocated to Supermarine/Vickers staff on some unknown basis of priority or urgency. This was likely to have been the case immediately after the Woolston bombing and perhaps for some time after WW2 ended. The MoS no doubt controlled access for priority wartime workers.
This policy may have been relaxed later to cope with general post-war public housing need. Although many hutments were occupied in the longer-term by the same residents, there was inevitably a significant turnover, allowing incomers who may not have been direct Vickers employees.
This is the rear garden of No.42, circa late 1940s, looking towards the rear gardens of the cul-de-sac hutments, beyond the fence. Note the vegetable beds laid out for planting. © The late J. F. Russell; cty. Peter B. Russell
At some point well into peacetime, the estate seems to have been jointly managed by the MoS and Romsey and Stockbridge Rural District Council (the RDC), as the local housing authority. Ultimately, it was transferred to the council, who managed it as a council estate and collected rents.
In my parents’ case, my mother had reported to Vickers the difficulty of living in a private, rented, second-floor flat in Winchester, with all shared facilities on the ground floor, and of having back problems exacerbated by her going endlessly up and down stairs. She obtained a supporting letter from her GP, and I expect that her wish to start a family when she was more settled added to her case. I think the offer of a hutment in 1947 may have been agreed between Vickers and the RDC.
The Russell Family background
My parents, John (‘Jack’) Frederick Russell and Claudia Ruth Russell (known mostly as Ruth), duly moved from central Winchester to hutment No.42 Hook Road in Summer 1947.
My father worked initially for Supermarine/Vickers at Hursley Park (moving to Winchester in 1946 from his parents’ home at Ipswich). I believe he worked initially on post-wartime developments of the Spitfire, but this was soon superseded by the dawn of the jet age. He then worked for Vickers as a stress engineer in the Design or Technical Office. There was a separate Drawing Office, where designs were worked up into proper technical drawings.
Ruth and Jack Russell outside No.42 Hook Road in July 1950, with Peter hidden in the pram, aged about one month. The maturing tree was a rowan (mountain ash) and was probably planted during the construction days of the estate.
© Unknown; cty. Peter B. Russell
On work days my father cycled from the hutments northwards along the Hursley Road to his office. One icy day he crashed his bike at Ladwell, between Hook Road and the Romsey-Winchester road. He was struck by the following works bus to Hursley Park, badly injuring his lower back and ending up in hospital and recovery for six weeks. That put paid for some time to his sporting activities at Hursley Park (hockey, running, archery, etc.). The accident story is related briefly in the book: Ampfield through the Ages (p.196).
(Editor’s Note: The book is listed on Amazon, The Book Depository UK etc but is unavailable – does anyone know differently?).
My mother obtained a job in 1948 as a draughtswoman with the then newly-formed British Railways (Southern Region) at Eastleigh Works. She worked in the locomotive design and drawing offices just off the south side of Campbell Road Bridge, preparing technical locomotive drawings for the design team under the Southern’s legendary mechanical engineer, Oliver Bulleid.
(Editor’s Note: There is more information on Oliver Bulleid on the Wikipedia link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Bulleid
Although my mother was married by August 1947 (an event that normally disqualified women from such jobs in those days), her skills and experience were in such demand that she remained in post until sometime after October 1949, when I was “on the way” as her first child.
Like my father, she also cycled to work each day from the hutments. I blame my lifelong obsession with railways (and the Southern especially) on that daily immersion in Eastleigh Works at such a formative stage, with steam seeping into my foetal bloodstream from the Waterloo-Bournemouth main line and the locomotive sheds!
The front (south) elevation of No.42 Hook Road, taken looking northwards from the southern service road, with No.44 attached to the right. © The late J. F. Russell; cty. Peter B. Russell
My Early Life
I was born in Winchester County Hospital on 23rd June 1950. We lived at No.42 Hook Road until Summer 1955, when we moved to a newly-built detached house (Merravay or No. 263) on the opposite (east) side of Hursley Road, just south of the Hiltingbury Road/Baddesley Road junction.
I attended Hursley Primary School for just over one year – from May 1955 to June 1956, travelling by bus (possibly Mr. Jones’s coach service or Hants and Dorset double-deckers?).
Naturally, there were other hutment children at the school at that time – notably my friend and contemporary Edwin Carter, whose family lived at No.72, and another friend Katharine Hannaford, who was three years above me.
My brother, Stewart William Russell, was born in August 1955 at Rookwood Nursing Home, Eastleigh, so he was only a few weeks old when we left the hutments and obviously had no memory of life there.
I attribute my good memories of the hutments to my mother, who retained her sharp memory nearly to her last days.
Jack Russell with Peter, aged 2 months, outside No.42 Hook Road in September 1950. Hutment No.44 is to the right, and No.46 beyond. © Unknown; cty. Peter B. Russell
This writer stands beside the family’s garden shed at No.42, in school uniform, ready to set off for the bus on Hursley Road and his first day at Hursley Primary in May 1955, aged just under 5. In the right background are the rear elevations of some of the hutments in the SE corner of the estate. © The late J. F. Russell; cty. P. B. Russell
We were all at the new house only until late Summer 1956, when Vickers effectively ‘required’ my father to move to its South Marston plant at Swindon, on an old airfield later occupied by the Honda car factory. I gather many other Vickers staff from Woolston and Hursley followed the same career route via the hutments to Swindon.
Our Swindon stay lasted only until 1958, after Vickers had once again confronted some staff in 1957 with moves to other plants, notably Weybridge HQ, Surrey; Filton (Bristol); or Hurn (Bournemouth). Happily, we chose Hurn and we moved to Ferndown, East Dorset, in June 1958. So I remained a Wessex lad! I went away to university in Edinburgh in 1968, stayed there for 10 years, then moved to Herefordshire to work, where I’ve lived ever since.
Our family’s new house – Merravay on Hursley Road, on the east side of the road, just south of the Hiltingbury Road/Baddesley Road junction. It is seen nearing completion in Summer 1955. It still stands and looks much the same. © The late J. F. Russell; cty. P. B. Russell
(Editor’s Note: Just sometimes there are lovely, for want of a better term, “coincidences” and this is one of them. I can confirm the house known as Merravay does look much the same today. I live next door to it!).
More next time when I will share recollections of hutment life.