Gorses and grasses and grazes and glasses
Discards of carpet, iron, secret abode
Willow-tree wasteland we wandered with wonder
November firelight. We watched it explode.
Light the sky.
Forget the hour.
A year goes by.
Working wild words with a wish to weave wisdom
Scribbling songs about sunlight and dregs
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstyle
- the girl with the short skirt and silky brown legs.
but frozen tongue.
Shy shame. We part.
Decades dispose dusty deincarnations
Meaningless memories, Mungo & Midge.
Carelessly clocking the quickening countdown.
Tomorrow's waters downstream from the bridge.
Between Copsewood Road and Dimond Road in Bitterne Park, Southampton, England,
in the 1960s and early 1970s, lay an area of waste ground, the size of maybe 8 football
pitches. Presumably a brick factory had previously occupied all or part of it, since
it was known as "The Brick Fields". When brick production ceased there, I know not.
In my childhood, it was overgrown, the only evidence of its industrial past being
a couple of so-called "bombed buildings", collections of large concrete blocks (possibly
factory/kiln remnants?) and a tapering asphalted track from Dimond Road, almost opposite
Ashtree Road, towards one of them. That track was the site of the local community's
bonfire every 5th November (a date, celebrated as "Guy Fawkes' Night" in the UK).
The gorse bushes, the "bombed buildings", the glades of trees, the beaten paths,
the soggy marshy areas, the stinging nettles, the overgrowth & undergrowth, the clearings
and the steep slope up towards the secondary school formed a natural adventure playground
- punctuated occasionally, it's true, with broken glass. With sheets of discarded
corrugated iron and bits of carpet we built our secret dens amongst the willow trees
and the bushes. We roamed, we played, we injured ourselves, we survived, we grew.
Then the school claimed the area. The diggers moved in, uprooting the trees, clearing
away the bushes and the concrete, churning up dunes of soil before the land was eventually
flattened to form a barren, characterless and rather stony sports playing field.
Fences were erected to keep people out. We grew up, we moved on, we parted.
Light the sky. Forget the hour.
I am indebted to Guy and the Bitterne Park website, its readers and contributors
for filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge about the Brickfields.
Terry Grant, who lived at 107 Ashtree Road in the 1940s & 1950s, remembers the Brickfields
before the school was built. He tells of the 150-200 foot chimney that stood in
the middle and the various aeroplanes which flew over "almost constantly" on their
way to the airport at Eastleigh, including the Silver City Bristol freighters, Dakotas,
De Havilland Rapides and Auster monoplanes. "The Bristol freighters came in so low
that we were able to hit them with 'pug' from our pug sticks", pug being the blue
clay found in abundance on the small cliffs. "We would hit the low flying planes
and cycle like mad to the airport and onto the runway, where there was absolutely
no security, and admire our handiwork on the fuselage."
From the chimney, a railway track crossed to the base of the small cliffs, where
metal coal-mine type bogeys that had formerly run along the track were left abandoned.
Every year sand martins came to burrow and nest in the "big cliffs". About 30 yards
up Dimond Road from Ashtree Road was the entrance into the fields of the builders
yard of Bratcher's the Builders. The builder's family lived just opposite Terry's
home. Jazz trumpeter, bandleader, vocalist & mellophonist Nat Gonella lived in Copsewood
Road, while Southampton footballer Frank Dudley was another Ashtree Road resident.
Robert Bailey, a few years my junior, remembers the last days of the Brickfields.
"I think I was about 8 years old when the Brickies was flattened, and all I really
remember about it was we (Chris Hammerton, Keith Busson, Eric Stone, Gary White,
and all the other local kids) had a den at the base of a tree" which was just behind
my parents' house. He has vivid memories of climbing over the bulldozers & spoil
heaps along with the other local kids, during the course of the works.
I am grateful to both Terry & Robert for sharing their memories.