Thursday 20 August 2015

Memories of a Spike-Islander

No photos with this, but I will give a link to the name which will show one.  I grew up in Southampton, although the area I lived in still had plenty of wild bits and was close to the eastern edge of the town, so we were just a 10 minute walk from where the countryside proper began.

Spike Island was the name given to an area of common land - widely used by the Botany Bay road gypsies for tethering their horses when I was a lass - at the end of Botany Bay road, where it led onto Millers Pond (more of that later).  It got its name because it was apparently where the convicts were kept in the early 19th C before being transported to Australia.  The spike part of the name comes from them being chained to spikes in the ground to stop their escape.  You can see how Botany Bay road got its name too.

These memories have come about from conversations recently with another Spike Islander, so I am back to around 10 years old in my head!

Anyway, I guess I am a Spike Islander still, though a long way from home now.  When I was growing up there, children still roamed around in small friendship groups (boys usually in small usually friendly gangs).  When we were at Secondary school we walked for absolute miles - out as far as Hedge End and Botley, down to the Solent at Western Shore, and then on to Netley sometimes.   Even when I was only 8 though I can remember catching the bus to Woolston to change my library books and buy a tuppeny bag of boiled sweets from the very well stocked shop next door to it.  My teefs are living proof of this!

The house I lived in had been the brickwork manager's house, and the old brickworks was still there and in business when I was young.  The trackway down to it was in a gully behind our garden. Sholing was an area where there had been several brickworks, and prior to those, gravel pits, and there was much common land here before it was built on, largely from 1900 onwards.

When the brickworks closed down, it became our playground.  The other side of the track you climbed steeply up onto a field which had one side gouged out to provide clay for the bricks.  At the bottom was a pond beloved of wildlife, and a smaller pond which we called the Wall of Death. We used to run around this, a couple of feet above the water level and never fell in.  The secret was in running fast enough that you had a good grip on the edge.  Of course, we didn't let on to those outside our group, and can remember a few duckings - usually of the "drippier" children in our area.

The boys were always building rafts with left over planks of wood and barrels, but I can remember one occasion when they began to sink and we, the feeble girls, had to Rescue them by hauling on a mooring rope tied to the raft and we were the heroines of the hour!

Then there was Flamingo Marsh.  This was a rather damp area to the right of the Wall of Death.  Here, with the earliest plastic shopping bags tied over our shoes, we would walk, looking for Sundew plants to annoy with a piece of grass.  If you jumped, when you landed there would be a suitably impressive heaving of the marsh a few yards away, and so the whole boggy area must have been literally floating.  Fortunately we only ever got "booties" rather than disappearing from sight.

Then there was the machinery which remained from the brick making process.  Our favourite was a sort of gigantic mincing machine, with spade lugs around a central roller.  Of course, we would stand on the spade lugs and get the roller  to turn, never for a moment considering if you lost your footing you could have your leg trapped beneath and splintered in moments . . .

We learned to run very fast down in the brickworks too, as there were always goats tethered down here, although I can only actually remember Billy goats, and of course they sported a good set of horns and although they were tethered, we would dare one another to get close enough to stroke the goat (our mothers must have despaired!)  If we weren't running away from the goats, we were running away from the boys - on one memorable occasion my very flakey throwing (of a brick, naturally!) actually got its target and with a huge bellow of pain and anger, my target flew towards me like a bull elephant.  Fortunately I was skinny and nimble and managed to outrun him, but I had to keep out of his way for a good week after that.

On another occasion I was the victim of a well-aimed (or not!) flint which hit me on the side of the head.  It didn't hurt particularly, but when I put my hand up it came away covered in blood and I was terrified and ran home to my mum,.  Of course, head wounds always seem to bleed a lot but everyone was terribly impressed at the time, both with my blood and Alan Burgess's accuracy . . .

Talking of blood, and returning to Botany Bay and Miller's Pond, we used to go down to the pond to mooch about and in bored moments would stick our arm in to catch leeches.  Yes, you did read that properly, leeches.  They were a sort of sludgy green and maroon in colour and didn't take long to attach themselves to your skin and get stuck in.  I never seemed to have any ill-effects from them, though you would think it was not exactly "safe practice"!!!


  1. Nowadays those sort of urban wastelands are probably the best places to find wildlife locally in a rather sterilized outdoors

  2. Very evocative Jennie, I too played on an urban wasteground, more industrial in the 'Black Country', lots of coke, and various mysterious piles we used to ride our bikes up and down. Still got that wretched coke in my knee.

  3. A lovely look back at happy childhood memories. I grew up in Birmingham and we too played on wasteland, I can remember rats, bike riding and running fast. We used to get the bus and walk to the shops when we were little, it was all so safe in those days and I think our childhoods were much happier than that of children today, who watch the wretched tv and complicate life with Facebook!
    We had no phone, no central heating, not much money, a tv that you had to put money into, but I wouldn't swap it for life these days!