Sunday 21 January 2018

Flamingo Marsh and the Wall of Death

Image result for brickworks photo

(This is Bursledon Brickworks at Swanwick - not that far from where I grew up).  It will give you an idea of the one near us.)
Today it rains - not just a little bit, but coming down like stair rods, as mum used to say.  I had planned a goodly walk to clear my lungs as I have an appointment with the Respiratory Nurse tomorrow, but it doesn't look like the walk will be happening any time soon unless I don my waterproof trousers and find a vaguely waterproof jacket.  A trip back down memory lane will be the drier option . . .

When I was growing up, we lived in what had been the Manager's house for the old Brickworks in the valley behind us (Weston Common).  A lot of Southampton was build on clay and before the houses were built, there were many Brickworks.  Ours was a working brickworks until about 1960 - and then it closed, leaving us with an amazing playground.

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The boys had built a raft.  Well, they called it a raft, but we girls were rather scornful - to us it just looked like a few scabby planks of wood lashed to two rusty oil drums - but they were very proud of it.  They announced their intention to sail their "galleon" across the "lake", and stuck a bamboo mast between the planks and tied a bit of rag to it which was meant to be a sail.  Tricia, Rosie, Linda and I looked at one another, and we weren't impressed. 

We climbed up the edge of the steep gravel cliff which overlooked the pond, a reedy place where Dragonflies hatched and flew, and where the boys would catch Newts.  The gravel slipped beneath our shoes, and we had to hold on to the gorse stems to stop sliding back down.  Our movement made a Heron on the Wall of Death pond fly off across the marshland which bordered the stream at the valley bottom.  From the top of the cliff we could see the gypsy ponies chained on the unfenced former field - the dark dappled grey we called Kismet and wanted to own, and a dark brown Forester at the far end of the field, where it bordered the busy Bursledon road.

It was hot, and we shed our cardigans and sat on them, clasping our arms around scabby knees and watching the boys pushing off from the bank with a long stick, and punting their way out into the lake.  They had got as far as they could away from the bank when it became clear to us that it wasn't going to be a tickety boo sailing, as the galleon had a distinct list to starboard.  The boys edged closer to the other side to right it and a line of bubbles appeared in the muddy water - the oil drums weren't watertight and were beginning to fill with water.  We stood up and yelled at them to paddle with their hands and make for the shore, but it was no good, the galleon was determined it would sink and we couldn't control our laughter when all three boys ended up to their waists in water, and then we realized that their floundering was getting more desperate as the claggy clay at the pond bottom offered no footing and instead was hindering their escape.

We scrambled down the cliff with our weight on our bottoms and heels shoved in front of us to slow us down, and one of us found a length of tarry rope which we flung towards the boys.  Keith caught it and tied it to the raft and they managed to hold on tightly enough whilst we began to haul them to the shore. They were a sorry sight when they dragged themselves out, and I think probably got a good walloping when they turned up back at home, covered in mud.  They were not amused at having to be rescued by us girls, I know that much!

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Flamingo Marsh was on the flat marshy ground to the right of the Wall of Death.  It was too boggy to walk across in ordinary shoes, but we would tie early plastic bags around our feet and venture out that way.  There was obviously a lot of water beneath the area, supporting a sort of raft of floating vegetation, as if you jumped in one area, there would be a sound like a wet towel hitting a wall and a big ripple of movement would move across the ground and an area several feet away would suddenly erupt with a watery belch.  Here grew the Sundews, insectivorous plants which we loved to tempt with a stem of grass, so that their sticky "jaws" would begin to close on the "victim" - they of course thought it was an insect. 

The pond of the wall of death was only a few feet across, and very reedy, with a couple of willow trees beside it.  There was a short steep cliff between its margin and the gorse-clad top.  We would dare one another to run round it without falling in.  Actually, it wasn't that difficult - as long as you ran fast enough, you made it in a few strides.  Mind you, we weren't beyond taking advantage of friends who didn't know how to negotiate it and I can still remember one - rather drippy - girl who ran a couple of feet, then slowed right down, and began to lose her footing and ended up in the edge of the pond, crying.  Mean weren't we?!

One of our favourite "toys" was something rather like a gargantuan mincer, with spade lugs spread around the central barrel, designed to mix up the clay for the bricks.  Once it was abandoned, we would climb in and tread on the lugs and push down, so that the barrel would move around.  When I think back on that now, the potential for a broken or severely mangled leg was fairly high, and we were very fortunate to survive unscathed.

Now much of this valley has housing on it, although there is a pathway which runs the length of the valley down to what used to be Miller's Pond (now filled in) beyond Botany Bay - where we used to put our arms in the water to "catch" leeches - sludgy green and deep red things. We must have been mad!  When I think of today's children and their sedentary and gadget-filled lifestyle, I feel so sorry for the fun times they have missed out on.

We made dens in the gorse and the bracken, though the boys made the best dens as they dug several feet down into the clay and covered their den with branches and laid bracken over the top.  These were brilliant hideaways until it rained and then they just filled with water!


  1. In thinking of childhood escapades I marvel sometimes that we didn't come to grief--there were no small boys in our rural neighborhood, but we girls qualified as 'tomboys.'
    'Games' unsupervised can go sadly and suddenly wrong--but none of ours did. I daresay we were kept safer by the realization that we couldn't swim.

  2. Golly gosh, I was a tomboy too (I think I probably still qualify in that department!) I remember talking to a neighbour who said she and some friends were at boarding school near the coast, and had gone out too far and gotten cut off by the tide, and one of them nearly drowned, so I guess sometimes we all push our luck a bit too far.

    We would climb tall trees - we had Mountain Ashes at the edge of my garden and I was so skinny I could climb literally up to the twiggy bits and be blown around by the wind. Happy days.

    Hoping to write another Trish and I adventure tomorrow, which will have more of the gypsy camp style to it.

  3. Wonderful writing and memories. So brought back my childhood - I was a "tomboy" too! What freedom we had in those days to explore and have adventures. As you say I feel so sorry for today's children with their gadgets and not being able to explore freely with all the health and safety issues there are these days! Mind you I think we had some lucky escapes too!

  4. Part of the reason for moving to Wales was we wanted to try and give them the sort of childhood we had enjoyed. We succeeded I think. I can remember telling our son and his best friend to go exploring up the stream by the woods - as if they were soldiers - and I would meet them back on the road. They took me at my word and came out soaking and filthy and grinning like loons!

  5. I. Love. Your. Blog.

    Love, love, love. My paternal grandparents emigrated to the US (via Canada) from Wales around the turn of the century. My husband and I made a trip to the UK a few years ago and I got to see the village where they lived. I met a local genealogist and got so much interesting information from her. My maiden name was Morgan, so you can imagine there were many Morgans to search through!

    Thanks for writing!

  6. Correction: paternal GREAT grandparents! They sailed through Liverpool.

  7. Hello Viola (lovely name btw). I am so glad that you enjoy my blog. I will try and get some more bits of Welshness into it for you. Which part of Wales did your folk come from? There were many emigrants and who can blame them, when life was so difficult here. Morgan isn't too bad a name to look for - it could have been Jones, or Williams - plenty of those too!! Let me know if you have any questions about Wales and living here in the past, and I will try to give you answers.

  8. Viola Briles is my nom de plume - my paternal grandmother's name. Her middle name was Blanche which is what she went by. Funny thing - her entire family all went by their middle names, not their first names. No idea why...I'm really Jean!

    My paternal grandfather's family was from Shirenewton in Monmothshire. My paternal grandmother, Catherine, was a Thomas from England. When we were in Wales, we had the chance to go to Shirenewton. My GG, Charles Henry, went into the mines at the age of 8 and opened a mine here in Iowa after he emigrated (which he operated on his own until the coal seam was mined out). He was a thrifty man and managed to buy a farm with the money he saved from the mine. The mind boggles at the industriousness. My maternal grandparents both emigrated from Croatia around the same time and also were miners turned farmers. I find all of this so interesting!

    I write (wrote? it's been awhile!) a travel blog for our Britain trip and other jaunts, including a 3 week trip I took to India for work a couple of years ago. Take a look at it if you have a chance - I fell in love with Wales and Scotland. Especially Scotland!