A brief Woolston reprise

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23 January 2016

Commando grew up in Woolston, or at least in Itchen on its outskirts, so, after my little wander last week, we were discussing all the things I’d seen and the changes since he was a boy.
“It’s a shame they knocked down Woolston School,” I said, “I’d have liked to see the building.”
“It’s closed but they haven’t knocked it down,” he told me.
“Are you sure? I thought they had.”
“I drove past the other day and it was still there, just boarded up. Unless they bulldozed it last week I’m pretty sure it’s still standing.”
“Maybe I should go and have a look while I still can then.”

Commando left for his eight mile run as I left the house for my walk. As both walk and run would take about the same time and Commando was starting from the feather in Woolston, we agreed to meet later for lunch in Annie’s cafe. In contrast to my previous walk, it was a dull, damp day when I set off along Spring Road. This time I would start from the other end of Woolston, coming at it from the top of Portchester Road where the school is, or at least was.

We left Woolston while Philo was at junior school and little Bard in his first year at Woolston Infants, CJ was still a baby in a pushchair so remembers little of the place. Had we stayed, they’d have all ended up at Woolston school but, as it was, I’d had little reason to ever visit it and barely knew where it was. As it happened, it was hard to miss. A huge, tower like, structure dominated the corner of the road. The bottom windows were boarded up and green algae crept up the brickwork. It looked sad and unloved.

Later, Commando told me this monsterous block and the austere metal staircase I found around the corner  weren’t even built when he studied there. The school he remembered started a little further along the road with a more traditional looking school building. From the little I’ve been able to find out, Woolston School began life in the 1930’s as an infant school. This building, with chimneys, sash windows and decorative bricks on the gable ends looks like it may have been built then.

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Like Woolston, the school has seen a lot of changes over the years. From an infant school it became a boy’s senior school, then a mixed secondary school and finally, in 2006, a specialist language college for 11 to 16 year olds. This last change is a sign of the times. In the mid 90’s government initiatives encouraged secondary schools to specialise in certain areas to obtain extra funding. It seemed every school in the city was turning into a specialist academy in something or other and I wasn’t sure I approved. Surely they should be teaching everything equally, giving the local children a chance to find out what they excelled at and build on it? Why should one child have a better chance at the arts, or languages just by an accident of locality? What if the local school specialised in technology or mathematics when the child was a budding artist? Obviously, the rich could pick and choose where they lived and therefore, where they sent their children, but what about the rest of us? The scheme and the funding ended in 2010, but the specialist statuses have remained.

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Despite the extra funding and almost eight hundred pupils, the school merged with the Grove Park Business and Enterprise College about a mile away in Weston in 2008. For Woolston it was the beginning of the end. The number of pupils doubled overnight and, at first, the school was operated in both buildings with the younger students in Weston and the older ones in Woolston. It wasn’t ideal and eventually, in 2011, with a new building in Weston almost complete, Woolston School finally closed.

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An empty school seems a sad sight. As I walked back the way I’d come I looked up at the boarded windows, half hidden by overgrown shrubbery, and tried to imagine a young Commando inside with long, flowing hair, wearing a crisp white shirt with inky cuffs, sitting at a desk, maybe doodling or flicking screwed up balls of paper. A man walking past looked at me a little strangely so I felt compelled to explain why I was taking pictures.
“My husband went here,” I said, “and I thought I’d take some photos before they knock it down.”
“I heard it might be staying now,” he said. “With all the new houses in Centenery Quay, the council think they might need a school here.”
So maybe Woolston School will have a reprieve?

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Apart from seeing the school and meeting Commando there wasn’t much of a plan. Maybe I’d take a wander down to the Archery Ground? When I got there though, the grass was slippery with mud. Commando would not thank me for muddy boots in the car later, so, yet again, I decided against a walk in the woods, much as I’d have liked one.

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Instead I thought I’d take a wander to Obelisk Road to have a look at something else I missed on my last visit. On the way there I came upon a mystery. In Church Road, nestled between two houses near the junction with Obelisk Road, I spotted a large corrugated iron building, it looked like a giant shed. Given how many times I walked up and down this road when I lived in Woolston it seemed odd that I didn’t remember it. Then again, I was usually in charge of a pushchair and at least one small child so I suppose I had other things to divert my attention. It was quite magnificent in its dilapidation and I felt sure Commando would be able to tell me all about it. As it happened, he did remember it vaguely and thought it might once have been a car repair shop of some kind but that was all he could tell me.

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Still wondering what the neighbours must think to have the massive wreck of a building beside their houses, I turned into Obelisk Road. This long straight road starts near the waterside on Victoria Road and runs almost as far as Mayfield Park. On my last walk I joined it about half way along which meant I missed out one rather splendid old building. It began life in around 1860 as Lankester’s store, owned by Augustus Lankester. Augustus’ grandfather was Henry Blomfield Lankester and his cousin William Goddard Lankester who ran an ironmongers. Later they would change their name to Lankester and Crook. This was to be the first of many stores in Southampton, selling groceries, wines, spirits and household goods. The shop was also a post office.

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Now the old store is a dance studio, in fact I think it was when I lived in Woolston, but the imposing building hasn’t changed much. The rather grand brick and stone upper floor with a decorative clock as a centrepiece hardly seems to have changed at all and even some of the arched windows below remain. There was a branch of Lankester and Crook in Bitterne when I was a child, near the Red Lion, but I don’t remember ever going inside. They ceased trading in the 1980’s, probably because other, more modern stores had come along and people preferred the large supermarkets. People hark back to these lovely old shops and wish they were still around but they like to look at them rather than go inside and buy things.

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As I made my way down towards the High Street and my rendezvous with Commando, I couldn’t help wondering if Woolston School really will get a reprieve? I wonder too, if we will feel the same fondness for the supermarkets and superstores of today in years to come when everyone does all their shopping on line and real shops have ceased to exist?

Published by

Marie

Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

27 thoughts on “A brief Woolston reprise”

  1. Will there ever be a decision on Woolston school ? So many options and still its derelict after Oasis academy mayfield grew out of the grounds of the old weston park boys school playing fields . Not a ideal site for Woolston school especially with its add on extension , now being right at the busy junction of St Annes and Station road , and only a playground with no open field s adjacent . What ever happened to Harry Wilcox school of dancing , a part of Woolston for years .There use to be a walk many years ago from what was the Veolia waste management site just past Veals cash & Carry going up towards the Plough pub , a public footpath that took you across fields up a small embankment and over the train line , following the westwood s site that took you direct down onto weston shore , Ive not been that way for more that 20 years but it was a nice walk and you only had to cross 1 road, once started , there was a old concrete air raid shelter near to the junction on Grange road that sat back from the road where I use to exit and then cross over to enter Westwood s.

    1. I don’t know if that footpath still exists but I will try to check it out once the mud is gone I do like a new footpath.

      1. If you do ever get to find the Veolia footpath to Weston shore , please let me know . As a young lad growing up in Botley road , my back garden led onto open fields which were opposite Picador Vauxhall / Renault garage , and crossing the Portsmouth road it was then miles of fields . And wooded areas ! great adventures and very happy times , when we could roam free and play without worry

        1. I promise I will take lots of pictures and post all about it if it’s still there. I know there is a trail between Botley Road and Portsmouth Road up that way and it’s on my list of places to look at when its drier.

  2. I hope the day never comes when we have to do all our shopping online. I’ve never shopped online and don’t have any plans to start.
    It seems like it would be a waste to tear down that old school. Surely the building could be used for something else if not another school.

    1. I used to do my food shopping on line but I walk up the hill now. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to the school. Ut it would be good if they reopened it.

  3. I rather fancy part of Lankester & Crooks became a plumbing/bathroom supplies outlet. At least part of its mission was upmarket, as they were stockists for Villeroy & Bosch, but I never went in, so can’t recall if they served a lower stratum as well. This must have been soon after I ceased living and working in the suburb, so mid-90s onwards. I’m sure it survived for a goodly time (which would suggest it WAS serving a specialist market)..

    1. The company was called GE Harding I think. As their phone number was the same as our with just two digits swapped around. Hence we used to get plenty of phone calls from dyslexic diallers with central heating problems!
      After that it went on to be a cycle shop.

  4. Woolston School is scheduled for demolition, with houses due to be built in the site. According to the council, school places are needed for infants, and those schools will be expanded. They don’t seem to appreciate that infants grow up!
    The corrugated iron shed at present houses very old VW vans! Wish it could be pulled down……!

    1. It all seems a bit shortsighted regarding schools. They’ll be wanting to build a new one in a few years and there won’t be anywhere to build it. Thanks for the info about the corrugated iron shed. I’d like to see those vans.

  5. Interesting as always thank you. Yep a school was knocked down near us and now we are short. However I can’t see them building beautiful ones. It makes a difference. Some of the new ones look like the stock exchange or atriums for offices. And they wonder why they get trouble Too big, too high, too many kids in one class. Double the teachers and half the class size …oh don’t get me started I left all that nearly 10’years ago. In the meantime all I want is a working PC- mobile phone gives me a headache

    1. You’d think, with all the new houses and the population growing they’d need more schools, not less. Still, what do we know?

  6. Love your walks. I went to Woolston Secondary School as it was then. Boy’s on ground floor. It was a beautiful school with all the latest equipment.it’s amazing to think we took shorthand, typing and French in those day’s. As I haven’t been out for three years now it is so nice to see all the places in and around where I live.Thank you so much.Franx

    1. It’s a huge site. I get the feeling they will knock it down and build houses and then wonder where they’re going to put a new school 🙂

  7. Excellent post! I love that you found an old post card/photo of the exact same shot (or certainly close enough) to yours. The auto repair shop made for an interesting shot as well. The ebb and flow of the population should be enough to know that we will always need schools and no one is building them like this old one these days!

    1. I have to confess I had the postcard in mind when I took the photo. I’ve had it for ages and was waiting for a chance to use it. As for the school, if they do knock it down I think they may regret it, especially with all the new houses being built in the area.

  8. We used to live across the road from L&C, on Obelisk Rd, the first house after Longmore Ave. Of course we did a lot of shopping in there. I remember the old plank floors, which gave it a homely feel. The staff knew us, and when we were little and when sent for grocery items, and we forgot which one we were to buy, they’d know! We lived there from 1970 t0 1973, then moved to Africa!

  9. Interesting post, thank you. I have linked to it on the Lankester and Crook article on Sotonopedia, the local history site. Yes, I remember the corrugated iron building in use in the 1980s and 1990s as a busy car repair business.

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