Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Balmy weather

Long before global warming was ever mentioned, Plymouth was being hit by balmy weather.
In the great storm of January 1814, the snowfall in Plymouth fell to a depth of twenty inches in just six hours. The snow lasted for six weeks.
During the great blizzard of March 1891, the people of Plymouth had a rare opportunity for skating when the Chelson Meadows flooded and froze over. Water supplies to the city were halted as underground pipes froze.
The photos shown here show a flood in Tamerton Foliot in November 1929. The heavy rains flooded much of Devon and Cornwall during the month and the story of Tamerton Foliot was reported in the Western Morning News of Friday 29th November 1929. It read:
'Waters invaded Tamerton Foliot yesterday and entered many of the cottages, the occupants of which had to move their furniture to drier quarters.
The river, which has swollen to a lake, is partially restrained from the flooded main road by a high wall, and on the stream side it is said that the water is about six feet deep. Planks span the gardens as improvised bridges.

The general traffic to and from the village is diverted to another road but several cars came to grief yesterday on the flooded main road.'
By Monday 2nd November 1929, the Western Morning News was reporting the ongoing plight of Plymouth residents under the headline 'Beleaguered by Floods.' The story read:
'A serious situation faces some of the residents in the Laira district of Plymouth as a result of the floods. They have been besieged in their upper rooms and have had to be conveyed to and fro in a large boat requisitioned for the purpose. Provisions and newspapers were brought to them by the same means. Today, two large lorries provided by the corporation will replace the boat.
Throughout yesterday, pumping operations were carried out by the fire engine.
The rainfall, which has caused so much flooding to the Westcountry during November, has broken all previous records. In the Plymouth area, the fall has been the heaviest since 1914.
In the lower part of Stenlake Terrace, Prince Rock, during the floods, the local postman carried out his duties wheeled in a bath-chair. Thanks to fine spells experienced this weekend, the floods have subsided in most districts.'

After the heavy rain, serious gales hit the area during December bringing down trees and causing much disruption.

On a brighter note, during the previous summer, in July 1928, Plymouth was enjoying a heatwave, which can be seen in the final photo, shown here, of two girls, complete with drinks and a parasol. There was much written in the newspapers about the warm, hot summer of 1928 including this article from the Western Morning News of 20th July:
'In Plymouth, the weather was brilliant. Bathing was popular among holidaymakers. The scene from the Hoe could not have been equalled. In the blue distance could be seen the white-sailed yachts drifting on a sapphire sea. The maximum temperature for the day was 75 degrees comparing favourable with the 80 degrees in the shade in London.'
Fashion also got a mention in the article:
'Noticeable this year at south-western seaside resorts is the variety of summer frocks worn. A feature is the large number of sunshades. Two or three years ago, sunshades went completely out of fashion, but have quickly come back into fashion again.'
Little seems to have changed over the years. Today's weather may seem balmy but, it appears, that it's nothing new!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

More David Soul

After my article appeared in Plymouth's Shopper newspaper, about David Soul's visit to Plymouth in 1977, Sheila Hodgson kindly wrote to me with an update:
'I was interested to read your piece about David Soul in the Plymouth Shopper. The film production company took over the Moorland Links Hotel for the duration of the filming. The Director, Producer etc. and the main stars all stayed there, including David and his then girlfriend - I don't think it was Julia - who stayed in the Manager's flat within the hotel. The Manager moved out and stayed with friends for the whole time. The car park was used for their production wagons and consequently the bar became the meeting point for all the crew. It was a very busy time for all the staff but also a very enjoyable occasion. Unfortunately we didn't get the opportunity to see Mud - although from all accounts we didn't miss much! The interior scenes were shot at the Astor Hotel which was in fact closed at that time. How do I know all this? I was the Manager's PA at the Links at the time, and was on duty on the Sunday when the company first visited the Hotel to discuss the possibility of taking it over, and using the car park for their production wagons. After further discussions with the Manager, the rest as they say is history.'

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Drake Circus in the 1970s

I love this photo from the 1970s showing the area in front of Marks and Spencers. At the time, many people met up in the spot after shopping or for a chat as can be seen on the right of the photo. The benches were a good place to sit and watch the world go by. Occasionally, buskers would set up in the area often raising money for charity. Nearby, the Salvation Army Band would play at Christmas.
In the background is the old Drake Circus with C&A on the ground and first floors. Up the escalator was Arcadia which was a newsagents as well as a seller of toys, stationery and those wonderful Pace posters that you used to get in the 1970s featuring your favourite pop and television stars.
Today, the area in this photograph is hard to recognise and has been replaced with the new, always busy, Drake Mall.
I sort of miss the way the town once was and it seems like it was a far more relaxing place to sit, have your lunch or just have a rest from shopping.
I think the photographer of this photo is probably Steve Johnson (Cyberheritage) who took some excellent photos of the town in the 1970s.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Colin Preston

Keen fans of the rock group Queen will know the name Colin Preston who lived all his life in Plymouth. A story on the fansite '' (which is wrong, by the way) reads:
"Keep Smilin'" was written for Colin Preston, a young Queen fan who considered himself a Freddie look-alike. Colin was involved in a car accident and slipped into a coma, and Colin's parents asked if Freddie could visit their son. Instead, the vocalist took opportunity of studio time and wrote and recorded a song especially for Colin, then sent the tape to his family, who reported back that it made a difference; sadly, Colin died shortly afterward, and the family reassured Freddie that the tape would be buried with him so that no one could make a copy.
I knew Colin when I was about 10 years old (in 1971) and we both went to Knowle Primary School in West Park. For a while, we were best friends and would spend evenings searching for conkers and in the day, playing marbles, building dens and playing cowboys and Indians. He lived with his gran at the bottom of the road behind the fish and chip shop at West Park and I'd call for him on some days after school and we'd go out exploring the area (as kids did in those days). We ocassionally got into trouble like the time some lads set upon us while we were cutting through Honicknowle School. I had a bleeding nose so we went back to Colin's house and his gran then blamed me!
It's odd, when the school decided that, because my birthday fell in the summer holidays, that I'd be moved up a year, we were no longer in the same class and, from then on, hardly hung around with each other. I soon left for Southway Comprehensive ( which was dire to say the least) and I never saw Colin again. It's funny, when you're a kid, you can be such good friends with someone and then just move on.
Anyway, in about 1986, I had been seriously ill in hospital and when I came out, I read about Colin in the paper soon after and his battle with cancer (he hadn't been in a car crash as mentioned on many Queen sites on the net). I read in the Plymouth Star that pool and darts players at the Victory Inn had raised £580 for him. I looked in future papers for more news but never saw anything and assumed that he'd recovered. It wasn't until about 2010 that I'd heard that he died. He was certainly a great kid and a lot of fun and, even though I hadn't seen him for a very long time, I was upset to hear the news.
Recently his brother, Philip, kindly sent me the photos, shown here, as well as the newspaper story that I remembered reading all those years ago. Colin would have been about 26 when he died and not a boy as reported on some sites. Although it was also reported that Colin had the only version of 'Keep Smilin' the song can be heard on Youtube and elsewhere.
Finally, here's a photo of me and Colin Preston in Mr Thompson's class in about 1970. I'm fourth from the right in the back row and Colin is second from the right. The flame-haired Mr Thompson had a fiery temper to match but he looks quite harmless in this photo!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Plymouth On This Day

I was kindly sent a copy of Pitch Publishing's new book 'Plymouth On This Day.' Compiled by Rick Cowdery, it features key events of Plymouth's history for every day of the year. Included in the book are stories from the Blitz, Plymouth Argyle, the English Civil War as well as tales of pirates, explorers, seafarers and politicians such as Michael Foot, Nancy Astor and David Owen.
It is beautifully presented and includes many colour photos. Rick has written other books, both including interesting facts about Plymouth Argyle. It is a great read and is priced at £9.99 and is available from all good book shops and online retailers.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Universal Book Stores, Frankfort Gate

After my article about the various shops at the bottom end of town in the 1960s and 1970s, Mike Evans, the owner of Universal Book Stores, kindly wrote to me. I loved the bookstore when I was a boy but, for some reason, in my article, I mistakenly called it 'Bonus Books.'
Mike wrote:
'I've always enjoyed reading your articles in the Shopper newspaper but I must bring to your attention the second-hand bookshop you mentioned. The only bookshop in Frankfort Gate was Universal Book Stores which was owned by my father and myself.
My father opened his shop there in 1960, and I joined him in 1969, and we dealt in all kinds of second hand books. By the middle of the 1970s, we were selling new remainder and last of run books as well as second-hand. Sadly my father passed away in 1990 and I carried on with the business until 1997.The rent and rates had escalated so much by then that I had no choice but to finish with the business.

My father started the business in 1947 in Tin Pan Alley in Plymouth, wheeling his books down there every day from his basement flat, eventually finding shops to run his business from. The shop he was mostly known for was in York Street. I can remember, in the early 1950s, working as his Saturday boy and people would be queueing outside the door for opening time at 8.30am.
Most of his stock came from service and merchant navy personnel returning home from abroad, hence the American comics and science fiction magazines, which are now collectors pieces.'
Mike kindly sent me some lovely photos which are shown here. I'm sure that many Plymothians will recognise both him and his father.
An article about the shop appeared in the Evening Herald of Christmas 1989 under the heading 'Heading for the Record Books.' It read:
A long established Plymouth shop proprietor is Peter Evans of Universal Book Stores who started his business during the dark days of World War Two.
He remembers the make-shift shops erected after most of Plymouth's city centre was bombed out in the blitz.
'I started a book stall in Tin Pan Alley (called Drake Street before the blitz). It led though from the bottom of Saltash Street to the old Plymouth Pannier Market.' he said.
'I used to wheel the books down in a couple of tin trucks and wheel them home again every night. The stalls in Tin Pan Alley were constructed out of sheets of galvanised steel, the same as was used for making air-raid shelters. As there was no covering to protect the stalls, everyone erected their own canvas awnings strung across the alley which gave pedestrians and stall holders a little protection from the rain. I used to advertise even then and always bought the Evening Herald. I used to buy my stock for the stall and eventually saved up for a car to collect my stock from houses. After several years and various shops (including many years at 30 York Street), due to the construction of Western Approach, I received a compulsory purchase order to move but luckily was offered a shop in Frankfort Gate. This was in December 1960. Business was fairly quiet for several years.
My son joined me in 1969 and through those last 20 years we have built up a really good selection of remainders and second-hand paperbacks.
Unfortunately, Peter died three months after the article appeared but Mike carried on with the shop for another seven years with the help of his wife.
Incidentally, I'd forgotten about the shop next door which sold remote controlled helicopters and planes, which can just be seen in the photo from the 1980s. My dad always wanted one back in the 1970s but they were hundreds of pounds which seemed a fortune back then (he never got one!).
I'm really pleased the Mike took the time to write to me and it was a a great reminder of the many happy times I'd spent visiting the shop, first as a boy buying comics and annuals and, later, buying photography and movie books in the 1970s and 1980s.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

David Soul's appearance in Plymouth in 1977

Nowadays, it's hard to imagine  the excitement that took place in Plymouth when David Soul turned up one evening at a boxing match in the city early in 1977. The story was exclusively revealed in the following day's Sunday Independent. At the time, Starsky and Hutch was incredibly popular on the tv and any programme that featured David Soul or Paul Michael Glaser was watched by millions. The seventies was a time when thousands of fans would turn out at airports and bring everything to a standstill. Other acts who'd experienced this during the 1970s included the Osmonds, David Cassidy and, of course, the Bay City Rollers (who also appeared in Plymouth).
David was soon interviewed by Westward Television and it was revealed that he was in the city to make a movie, which was originally called 'Mud.' He was so popular at the time that it had to be kept secret where he was staying but, as Westward had interviewed him in his hotel room, it soon became apparent to many that he was staying at the Holiday Inn and soon the area was deluged by fans. He was quickly moved and stayed at the Devon Tors Hotel, just by the roundabout at Yelverton.
I was at school at the time and many kids said that their dads had been drinking at the Moorland Links Hotel in the evening and David had been there and had a chat with them and even sung a couple of songs.
The local papers were full of stories about the film and the Sunday Independent regular featured photos, one of which showed David skinny-dipping at Denham Bridge. Soon after, he contracted pneumonia and the story was reported in the Times of 20th May 1977. It read:
'Actor and singer David Soul, co-star of the television series Starsky and Hutch, has been admitted to a London hospital after suffering from pneumonia.
Work on the motion picture 'Mud,' in which the blonde actor is starring, came to a halt when he was taken from the film's South Devon location to London on Thursday.
Soul had been feeling ill throughout the week but said he thought he had been suffering only from influenza. On Wednesday he flew to Glasgow to top the bill in the Scottish Jubilee Royal Variety show attended by Queen Elizabeth.'
One newspaper story reported how a girl from Plymouth had begged her parents to take her to Hollywood and the set of Starsky and Hutch to hopefully meet her heroes. However, when they arrived, they discovered that Soul was filming just ten miles away from her home.
At the time, I would have loved to have seen the filming taking place. One day, I was out with my parents in our car and there was the film crew gathered near the cricket club at Yelverton. My dad wouldn't stop the car, so that's all I saw. The next day, I decided to catch the bus and travel to the same spot to see if filming was still taking place. There was nothing going on, so I stayed on the bus. A few seats away from me was the actor, Tony Melody. I recognised him from comedies on the television but, at the time, had no idea that he was also in the film. He got off the bus at Dousland presumably to continue filming and I missed my chance to see the film in production. From the newspaper reports, it appeared that shooting was taking place at Maristow, so I walked from Yelverton to Lopwell Dam, which seemed endless. I saw nothing, realised there was no bus service and had to walk all the way back home! It was certainly a long day.
Westward Television showed occasional clips from the movie, most of which showed David slipping up in cow manure!
As far as I remember, the movie had its premier in Plymouth the following year. By then, its name had been changed from 'Mud' to 'The Stick-Up.' Unfortunately, the movie was panned by critics and seemed to be hardly shown anywhere afterwards. I still have never seen it and, unusually, it's never been shown on tv in the 37 years since! I see recently, however, copies of the DVD, previously unavailable in the UK, have been popping up on ebay so perhaps, one day, I'll get around to watching it.
I never did get to meet David Soul but a few months later, my mum gave me a copy of his album which had been signed by him. The Music Box at St Budeaux had managed to get copies of his LP signed at the Moorland Links for various customers but several never picked them up for some reason. My copy said 'to Julie' but that never really bothered me! Like most things I had in the 1970s, it's long since disappeared!