Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 2

Most goods were brought to the Island in boats and several firms and companies had two or three boats, all named after towns and villages on the Island. These boats were 70 to 100 feet long. The three most popular firms were Crouchers, Sheppards and Curtis. They all had their own landing wharfs and warehouses. The Isle of Wight Steam Packet Co as they were known, had the largest of all. It was the packet boat called the Lord Elgin, which did one trip a day from Southampton to East Cowes and return. All the paddle passenger boats only called at West Cowes. Across the front deck about seven or eight cars could be ferried.

Apart from carrying general goods, livestock was carried in large numbers from the mainland. Hundreds of sheep and cattle were to be seen on the Island roads being driven to East Cowes to catch the boat. I have seen a minor stampede, sheep go overboard and much activity by crew, drovers and spectators as they tried to retrieve the animals.

The little steam launch called "Percursor" plied between East Cowes taking passengers to connect with the Southampton Paddleboats which operated from West Cowes. The boat could hold about fifty passengers and was crewed by the captain and deckhand who happened to be his son and the engineer. In turn the "Percursor" was met by three or four cabs and possibly two taxis, one a very large Opel Landaulet and a Model 'T'Ford, both belonging to W. Groves and Sons who operated from the floating bridge square at East Cowes. The name of one of the cab drivers was Joshua Jones and the boys of the town would annoy him by riding on the rear axle of the cab.

Ratsey's Lane came out into the High Street between the Pontoon and Trinity House Wharfs. When Cowes week was on royalty came and berthed at Trinity House in their little steam pinnace with its highly polished brass funnels. Sailors would stand in the bow and stem with their hooks above their heads in the horizontal position, ready to bring the boat alongside the pontoon. The crews of the sailing boats would walk around the town. The local boys and girls would adopt one of the crew of the Britannia, Shamrock, Westwood etc and follow the races to see if their boat had won. I remember once being at East Cowes, sitting on the sea wall, listening to a conversation between two old men. They were saying they had never seen such a sight before. Five liners in the Solent at one time - boats like the Acquitania, Mauritania, Olympic and Leviathan.

I became friendly with a fisherman Ruben Oakley. He owned a fishing smack, CS40 and a little fish shop in the High Street, opposite Trinity House. I went fishing with him mostly early on Saturday momings. I learned a little about sailing, no outboard motors in those days, and with the fast flowing tides to contend with it needed great skills to manoeuvre and moor the boats.

The old sailing barges manned only by two men brought in coal and discharged at the jetty where the national Sailing School now stands. It was a great sight to see these boats tack up the river, sometimes against the tide which runs faster near the floating bridge. many was the time we were late for work because of this. The coal was transfered from the barges by great scoops, which swung over the water near the quay causing some coal to spill over into the water. When the barges were empty and had left, Ruben would dredge for the spilled coal with great success. Another little job that was done every evening was to row out and hoist the riding light up the mast of Captain Guy Damant's sailing boat. The boat was moored at the mouth of the river and it took about half an hour, but it took muck longer when the tide was running out hard. Many wasthe time I went on this excursion. I remember going out with Reuben early one morning in the dark to Cowes Roads. We rowed out to meet a naval sailing ship called "The Racer" and delivered a suitcase belonging to Captain Guy Damant. He was considered one of the best divers in the British Navy. He was on his way to Ireland to salvage gold from the sunken liner the "Egypt". The East Cowes Coastguard Station was at this time operational and manned continuously by two men who raised and lowered flags, sending morse messages to passing ships. The staff lived in one of the twelve purpose built houses and always known as Coastguard.

On Saturday mornings hundreds of children made their way to the Empire Cinema situated in Cross Street, West Cowes. The cost of the floating bridge was halfpenny and the cost for entry to the Empire was a penny. At this time Tom Mix was the cowboy of the day, his horse trigger is well remembered Tarzan of the Apes was in serial form. The other cinema was "Pooles" just off the the floating bridge, West Cowes. Mr Poole was a short, tubby man always to be seen standing on the steps at the entrance. The film, I remember was the Lost City in serial form which went on for months.When the third cinema opoened it was called the "Royalty" in Birmingham Road. Its first ever picture was called "My Old Dutch".

Horses and carts played an important in those early days There was Lord and Lady Gort, parents of Lord Gort who was famous in World War 2. They had a pair of big black horses, coachmanand footman valet complete with top hat and crest. These horses could trot up York Avenue as fast as some of the early cars. Home was at East Cowes Castle complete with lodges nd gates at the entrance at the top of York Avenue and Old Road. There was also Lady Percival who lived at the lodge near the corner of York Avenue and Adelaide Grove. She also had a coachman and footman with top hats and crests. Her pair of horses were much smaller than Lord Gort's but very impressive, high stepping, short tail bays. These sets of a carriage and pair were always about the town and a sight to behold. Mr Kellaway, the milkman living in Old Road, East Cowes, had a light brown horse, which was always frisky. and came into his own when the East Cowes Carnival was held. Mr. Kellaway always wore his cowboy outfit. The horse seemed to enjoy the new role, prancing in and out of the crowds collecting money, usually for East Cowes, Frank James Hospital. The two Oakley brothers were always in the carnival, with their Hurdy Gurdy, collection for the hospital. There was Bodge, the coal merchant with a big, dark brown horse and Joliffe, the chimney sweep with his horse and cart. Mr. Joliffe was a cripple and sat sideways on the platform of his cart. Gregory, the Wootton farmer from Mouse Hill farm, also had a horse and cart. It was interesting to note that when deliveries of milk were being made the horses knew exactly where the customers lived and needed no guidance when to stop and go. Groves and Sons in the early days always kept two horses for their funeral business. There was great activity one morning. There was going to be a state funeral and I can just remember the soldiers lining both sides of York Avenue, dressed in their red tunics and black busby hats. The body was taken to Trinity Wharf and taken then to Whippingham Church for burial. Something to do with the Mountbatten family.

My Grandfather Harwood was clever at making toffee and great fun was had by all in the making. First, someone was dispatched to go to the chemist and buy whatever essence was required for flavouring, mint being the most favoured. Next, someone was detailed to scrub with clean water the large flagstone in the back yard. When this was done, the cooking was now started. The ingredients were placed into the pot, sugar, treacle, butter the essence and so on, and when it was near to being ready a penny clay pipe was dipped into the mixture. If it came off in the shape of a cylinder it was considered to be just the right texture. Half of the amount in the pot was now poured onto the clean flagstone and with buttered hands the mixture was kept from spreading too far over the flagstone. Again, with buttered hands the other half left in the pot was pulled over and over the coat hook on the back door. Gradually it would change colour from the very dark brown chocolate to a straw colour one now rolled into long strips. The mixture on the flagstone was also rolled into strips but it had not changed colour. These two differently coloured strips were now twisted round each other making a pattern and now with a pair of scissors cut into about I inch lengths. By now the toffee had nearly set and was ready to eat. What a nice toffee.

Uncle Tom was a general dealer, and at one time he ran a general store, a paraffin round, a garage and later was a builder. Uncle Arthur was in charge of the gravel pits. Having no mechanical digger or bulldozer the gravel was dug out with pick and shovel. When dug out it was graded and then wheeled by wheelbarrow and placed into rectangular blocks something like 85ft by 15ft by 3 ft with 45% sloping sides. The gravel was now sold to contractors and again shovelled by hand into the gravel carts. These carts were pulled by horses, and because the gravel pits were some 25ft lower than the main road, connected by a bumpy and unmade road, it was impossible for one horse to pull the cart. A trace horse was used, one horse in front of the other, and if the road was very bad two trace horses were used. When the main road was reached the trace horses were without any driver and would return to the pit to help pull out the next load.

Tree felling and the carriage of trunks was another very interesting occupation. The timber carriage as it was called was pulled into the forest by one carthorse. The carriage comprised of a pair of shafts and wheels. The rear wheels were connected to a very long rectangular shaft so that they could be adjusted according to the length of tree trunks to be carried.

Picture of Harwoods fruit shop  c1900
Percy Harwood's grandfather outside his shop probably 1897 (Diamond Jubilee year) as the shop appears to be decorated.