Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 7

Dad had now bought an Hudson Essex 5 seater saloon, an American car which was extremely comfortable, and a few taxi jobs were done, one job I did regularly was to drive the Sylvian band to their engagements. The next car purchased was a Morris Oxford tourer, which again was used as a taxi. It is difficult to realise in those days there were no locks on the doors or keys for the ignition, the starter switch was usually on the dashboard.

I do remember driving the family to Newport to hear the talkies for the first time, we had done some shopping before and left it on the back seat of this open car, how things have changed.

On one occasion Mr. Cox, who was a regular customer, came in one evening and bought petrol, dressed in evening dress. That particular evening we were playing at the White Croft Ball, one of the big social events of the year on the Island. Mr. Cox was the MC. He had come to me on several occasions during the evening to instruct me on the nature of the next dance. He said to me "Where the Devil have I seen you before?" I replied "I served you with petrol this evening." He had always seen me in overalls and now in evening dress was unable to place me. On another occasion when the Sylvians had a previous engagement they asked us if we would take their place at Osborne House where a silent film called Student Prince was being shown. So we went and played accompanying music behind the screen. What with trying to follow the film, the caption being backward, the result must have been a complete mess. It was the first and only time we played for silent films.

We later played for Bruce Norris and his band, he was a gifted player, Tenor Sax, Alto Sax and Flute. By day he was the Manager of the Co-op butchers shop and was always under pressure for time. So his change of clothes from butcher to bandleader was unbelievable. He lived at West Cowes and I lived at East Cowes. He always wore evening dress, long tailcoat and white waistcoat He would take off his coat, take out his false teeth, remove the false stiff white front, this would expose his striped butcher's shirt which he had not had time to take off, remove his glasses, he was bald and what few hairs he had were fulfilled, what a transformation.

When, at the age of 19 -20 it was expected of you to join a union, in fact we did not have much choice, it was 2s per week, which seemed such a hefty sum out of the 16s wages. I was in the union for about one year and thought that if I could save this amount per week it would go a long way to buy things. I somehow thought about the garage, I dropped the union and soon little problems came along. For instance if I went to the tool room to grind and sharpen my lathe tools they would crowd around the grindstones to prevent me from sharpening the tools. The other thing was, if one could not understand the drawing they would not help or tell you. This never worried me as it would seem that I could always manage and Frank Ball, who was also not in the union, was a very capable man, he would always help, he later became foreman. I left the firm before the real problems arose.

I was cutting a thread on some cast iron roses, something like a castle top end piece, to fit on a pipe some 3" diameter, 12 thread per inch, there was not enough metal left on those roses for turning, so the thread was being cut on the rough casting. The screw gauge got jammed, and in an effort to free it I cut my hand badly on the upside chaser. I was sent to the doctor's to have my hand stitched, but at the time they were experimenting using silver clips, to clip the cut together. It was in latter years I had to go into the Odstock Hospital in Salisbury to have the hand cut open and restitched. During the fortnight following the accident the Schneider Cup Trophy was held over the Solent. The Woodside Road was closed and a shilling was charged to go down to Woodside. This I understand in later years proved that the road was private and the money the Council had taken from the people who had bought building plots to make up the road, was refunded to the owners.

A chum of Dad's, Fred Groves, son of Ruben Groves a local vet was always in and out of our house. He was a little older than Dad, he was musical playing a banjo, and he made up part of the team that seemed to arrive most evenings. A most interesting, knowledgeable man. Fredi, as he was called, tackled and mastered several subjects, music, photography and Morse code. Also, at one time, he was mate of the pilot boat. At one time he taught us to semaphore.

During the First World War he was stationed in Egypt where he learned Arabic. It would be correct if I said at this stage he was to alter my life. During his stay in Egypt he studied the Pyramids and on one occasion spending an evening in the room over the cycle shop. During an interesting conversation he said "The time would come when food would be more valuable than money, and it would be possible that the end of the world would come in 1939." My Mother said, "that's in twenty years' time" and of course the War came in 1939, so there was something very uncanny. As a result of his thinking he purchased a building plot and a very big piece of backland about half way up Lushington, going up the hill towards Ryde.

He built a house and called it Marchwood, named after a village in the New Forest where he had his one and only Holiday. He planted the entire garden and backland with choice fruit trees and soft fruits in large numbers. My father, not to be outdone, bought a plot next to his. We cultivated the plot and on Sunday mornings would cycle out to collect the produce. It was just such a Sunday morning my father and I walked to the top of the hill behind the hedge to the comer of Gravel Pit Road and at the comer site said, just the place to build a garage. There and then we cycled round to farmer George Moody, who owned the field, and bought the comer site, paying seventy pounds fora size of 70'x 200' and the site next to it 60'x200' for sixty pounds, where a house and shop were built.

As stated the Hill was called Lushington Shute, later to be called Lushington Hill. The comer site was part of a disused Gravel Pit. The word Shute must mean (and there are several in the Island) a road cut through the top of a hill. Gravel had been extracted behind the hedge leaving a bank 12' high and 21' thick. There being no bulldozers in those days it took 4 persons in spare time (the family) 1 year to remove the bank and carry the gravel to the rear of the plot.

After lots of hard work the garage 50'x30' was duly built for £325. One hundred pounds I had saved in five years, one hundred I borrowed from my sister and the builder L. Gray of Lake allowed me to pay off the rest as I earned it.

  • The garage was 3½ miles from East Cowes.
  • 3½ from Newport.
  • 3½ miles from Ryde.

The house Meadow Croft built on the comer opposite the garage was a Daily Mail design house on show in the Ideal Home Exhibition and built on the original hill some 8' higher than the south side of the hill which had been excavated for Gravel. Built way back again because what is now the front gardens was excavated for gravel. Again the first three houses in Gravel Pit Road are built way back on the original hill, the front gardens had been excavated and filled in.

The main gravel pit was on the East side, (Ryde side) and had been excavated. There were great areas where half a dozen double decker buses could easily have been hidden. One day Ken Souter came to see me about some business and said with all this rubbish and paper lying about why don't you bum it. He bent down and with his lighter set fire to the paper. He did not know that the fire he had started lasted some nine months only to be outed by continuous rain we had one winter..

When the wind was blowing towards our home the smell was terrible. The ground had become like the crust of a cake, smouldering was still taking place.

One day a lorry arrived and dumped a drum of printers ink, this is what I was told, I did not know this was inflammable and whoof flames shot up and engulfed the lorry. The fire brigade was called but to no avail.

The garage was built in such a way that if it had not been successful it could have been converted into two bungalows. The sewers were built into both halves and house type windows were fitted: two bay windows and a door could be built where the two big sliding doors are. The house and shop next door was built for 750 pounds, my sister's name was put over the shop and my name over the garage. So Lushington Garage started in July 1933.

I was 21 and still working at J S Whites. It was the normal practice that when one reached the age of 21 one automatically received the sack and on this morning Teddy Baker the Foreman came limping up the shop (he always had something wrong with one of his legs) towards me. I thought "Here it comes," instead he said "You have been a good boy, I will give you three weeks' work". One of the main reasons was that I was a bit of a dab hand at turning oil fuel sprayer bodies and the firm had just received an order for 72 sets -about three weeks' work. As luck would have it another 72 sets were required, so again I was kept on. As time went on I became more involved with the garage so I had to sack myself. I was still playing in the band, and with working all day in the garage and nights with the band I became very tired and one late evening after playing , whilst driving home I nodded off and hit the iron railings on the bridge over Mill Hill Railway Station.

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.