Edited by Allison Symes
Image Credit: All images were supplied by Peter Russell
Hello again. I am Peter Brent Russell and I was a child of the Hook Road hutments from June 1950 to Summer 1955. This is Part 3 of my series on The Hutments and, this week, I will be looking at my recollections of hutment life. I will also share my recollections of the other families there.
Once again, if there are further memories/information people would like to share, I would love to hear from you via the comments section. It would be nice to fill in the gaps wherever possible.
Recollections of hutment life
I have fond memories of our cosy hutment at No.42, the front and back gardens, and playing in the roadway and over in Hocombe Woods.
The hutment walls were apparently made of double-skin panels of asbestos sheet with compressed bracken insulation in between, which retained the warmth inside the house. There were narrow black wooden strips on the outside, probably more decorative than structural.
I can’t remember the exact internal layout, which was no doubt similar for all the hutments. The kitchen had a small, solid-fuel range near the west end of our hutment, judging by the chimney position. I remember two bedrooms (both beside the party wall with No.44), and a sitting room, but I can’t recall the bathroom (if there was one?) or the toilet (I think it was inside!).
Our back garden was already well cultivated when my parents arrived, with quite fertile beds of soil – no doubt to encourage family food growing during the post-war austerity and continued rationing until 1954. We had a garden shed, although that may have been added after the initial development.
The small front garden was mostly lawn. I can’t claim the plot made us self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit, but it certainly helped. Vickers’ wages were not great then, even for professional engineers!
This is the rear garden of No.42, circa 1954, looking towards the back garden of the cul-de-sac hutments, possibly Nos.54 and 56? Note the Andersen shelter in that garden. This writer is standing on the log, with his little girl friend, Susan Jay from Ipswich. © The late J. F. Russell; cty. Peter B. Russell
I understand there was one Andersen bomb shelter in every other garden, shared between two hutments; we didn’t have one but there was one behind us in the garden of one of the cul-de-sac hutments.
For those who had a telephone, there was also some form of shared arrangement between two households. If you lifted the handset, you might hear the sharing household in mid-call and know you had to wait your turn! Ours was installed partly because of my impending birth and subsequent wait for a major head operation in 1953, so the GP or even ambulance could be called if needed urgently.
Our regular GP during our time at No.42 was Dr. Brocket – a name that many hutment residents may remember and one mentioned in Joan Goater’s journal on the Chandler’s Ford Today website. The name reminded me of Davy Crockett, a popular western hero of the time, with a fur hat!
Dr. Brocket lived on Lakewood Road in Hiltingbury. My mother recalled that his wife kindly acted as a ‘runner’ – delivering messages and medicines. Dr. Brocket first identified a growth on top of my head in Spring 1951 and sent me to Winchester County Hospital, which passed me on to Oxford’s Radcliffe Infirmary to see neurosurgery specialists. These journeys involved my mother taking me from the hutments by bus to Winchester, and later by train to Oxford – a few times before the operation was possible in June 1953.
Mrs. Honeycomb from No.40 Hook Road stands in the front garden with Peter Russell (then aged 4 months) in October 1950. © The late J. F. Russell; cty. Peter B. Russell
From then until I went to school, nearly two years later, she had to keep a close watch on me while I healed fully. Photos of me at No.42 show me wearing a large cap that was stuffed with padding as protection. One incident seared on my memory is that one day I broke away from my mother and managed to get knocked down by a girl on a bike on the eastern service road, banging my head on the road surface to the horror of my mother and some neighbours. One neighbour near the incident kindly took us in while we recovered sufficiently to get home and contact the GP.
The hutments were not quite the only buildings in the estate. Does anyone recall the meeting room hall with its small round stove in the centre? The hall was located in the woodland strip between the eastern service road and Hursley Road. I can remember being inside there a few times. I don’t know if this was contemporary with the estate development, or pre-dated it, or was added later.
It was used for occasional C. of E. church services (as an outpost of Ampfield Parish Church) and also for social events such as whist drives. My mother was a Methodist and attended elsewhere in Chandler’s Ford. Ann Carter from No.72 played the organ at Ampfield Church and possibly in the hutments’ meeting hall.
All photos: © The late J. F. Russell; cty. Peter B. Russell
As far as I recall, the estate lacked any real communal play space or play equipment, so our gardens or the roadway sufficed. For greater adventure, Hocombe Wood was enticing and reasonably out of range of parental control!
A trike, a small trolley and a small bathtub were useful play accessories. One Guy Fawkes night, probably 1954, I had climbed into our empty dustbin on the roadside, got dirty, and been caught by my mother. I didn’t see any bonfire or fireworks that night!
I vaguely recall the story of the peeping tom, sneaking around the estate at night looking through windows! There were suspicions as to who he was, apparently confirmed by the suspect moving away from the estate some time later and, I believe, a subsequent arrest. My mother heard something one evening, was sure someone was snooping around No.42, and recalled sending me out to check. I can’t recall the incident, but it seems the man disappeared on seeing me with a torch.
Recollections of other families
It’s interesting to read about the other families on the main hutments’ thread. We knew several, either through the Vickers work circle or by general acquaintance over the time we were living on the estate.
My parents were special friends with Brian and Ann Carter at No.72, their eldest son Edwin being almost an exact contemporary and friend of mine. We met them quite often at Swindon later on, but lost touch subsequently when they moved to Bristol.
Hutment families: A photo taken outside Ampfield Church in 1954, during the christening of Rowena Carter. The Carters lived at No.72 Hook Road. Ann Carter (not seen) played the organ at both Ampfield Church and the hutment hall. Rowena is seen in the arms of Ruth Russell, joint godmother. This writer is in the middle, with Edwin Carter at the right end. © Unknown; cty. P. B. Russell
The family name of the Keens is familiar, being our immediate neighbours at No.40. Prior to their arrival, No.40 was occupied by the Honeycomb family. Mrs. Honeycomb and my mother often helped each other out.
I am still in touch with another child of the hutments, Katharine Hannaford, whose parents, Ted and Joan Hannaford, followed a virtually identical path to ours from Southampton to Hursley, Swindon and Hurn. They lived in the short cul-de-sac in the centre of the hutments. Ted was a superb illustrator for Vickers, doing drawings and paintings of new aircraft for sales promotion, publicity and other purposes. Sadly he kept no copies; it would be interesting to know if any survive in the Vickers’ archives.
My parents were good friends with Bernard and Margaret Caiger, who lived partway up the western service road, possibly at No.23. They moved with us to Swindon and then emigrated to Canada, where Bernard progressed to be a top expert in Canada dealing with the on-board ‘black boxes’ that record data on plane crashes. Their daughter Caroline, who spent her early years in the hutments, lives in Victoria BC.
Opposite our hutment lived Tom and Iris Evans, with daughter Janet. They too moved to Swindon circa 1956, living a few doors along from both my family and the Hannafords. The council estate in Lower Stratton, Stratton St. Margaret, was new then and close to Vickers’ South Marston works.
My mother recalled some arrangement between Vickers and the local council to give priority to allocating houses to aircraft workers. The former hutment families often got together to socialise and support each other in the rapidly expanding town.
Peter Russell with Janet Evans in the southern service road outside No.42 Hook Road in Summer 1953 or 1954. The view is looking eastwards towards Hursley Road, showing hutments in the SE corner of the estate. The main service road turned left in front of the far hutments, with a short spur bearing right and leading to a footpath onto Hursley Road.
The Evans family lived opposite No.42. Like the Russells, they (Tom and Iris and Janet) moved with Vickers Armstrong to Swindon circa 1956 and lived near the Russells in Stratton St. Margaret. They stayed in Swindon thereafter. Note the vintage car on the grass, with its radiator and bonnet covered. © The late J. F. Russell; cty. Peter B. Russell
At the Hook Road end of the estate, No.96 was occupied by other family friends, Eiddig and Audrey Davies, who also worked for Vickers and eventually emigrated to San Diego, California.
Peter Russell with Alan Davies (in the pram) outside No.42 Hook Road in 1955. Alan was the son of Eiddig (‘Taff’) and Audrey Davies from Hutment No.96 at the north end of the estate beside Hook Road. The Davies family eventually moved to San Diego, California. © The late J. F. Russell; cty. Peter B. Russell
I gather that some hutment families who had worked for Vickers at Hursley, Swindon, Filton (Bristol) and Hurn (Bournemouth) subsequently sought posts in North America, or were head-hunted by firms there during the 1950s and 1960s. In the mid-1960s, my father was invited out by Sikorsky, the helicopter builders, to work in Seattle. He declined after consulting my mother and us boys, who if we had eventually become American citizens could potentially have been sent to fight in Vietnam!
If any of the stories, maps, photos and names above stirs any memories among readers of this post, I would welcome further information.