Graham Hewitt: A Political Whirlwind In Times Of Global Upheaval & The Problems Inherited

In his final months, former Mayor of Gosport and Freeman of the Borough Graham Hewitt (1939-2020) feared he was losing his memory. Nothing could have been further from the truth. His sons Jonathan and Phil encouraged to him to record his memories on tape.

Phil transcribed them in the spring after Graham died and found a remarkable insight into mid-20th century Gosport, Graham’s war-time childhood, his early memories of the town and his growing interest in politics.

With kind permission of Phil Hewitt

Publishing some of these memories in tribute to a Gosport man through and through, a councillor for many years, a leading light in the twinning association, a founder of the Gosport & Fareham MS Society and personnel director for Portsmouth & Sunderland Newspapers – publishers of The News – across many years.

  1. In part one, Graham recalls his days at Gosport’s Leesland School.

  2. In part two, Graham recalls the Gosport of his childhood.

  3. In part three, Graham recalls his days at Gosport Grammar School and his growing sense of social justice.


My earliest memories were of Leesland School and joining Leesland School as a four-year-old. It was a Victorian red-brick building and was one of the many church assisted schools in the borough. The first morning reminded us that the war was very much a feature of our everyday lives.

Our first responsibility was to learn the discipline of protecting ourselves should there be an air raid. Directly the siren was sounded we had to walk briskly from the classrooms to the air raid shelter which was situated in the southern end of the playground. The teacher took a roll call of who was present and we stayed in the shelter until the all-clear to the air raid warning was sounded.

Everywhere we went we had to take our rubber gas mask in the unlikely event that there would be a as attack. All of these activities associated with the air raid shelter became second nature and we automatically assumed the roles required of us.

Another ritual we soon got used to was the third of a bottle of milk which was given to all of us and continued so until the infamous Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ‘the milk snatcher’ cancelled it.

Most pupils stayed to eat their lunch with the others. At three pence a head, the school dinner was very good value and appreciated by all the pupils. The meals were prepared on site and were good quality and variety.

The pupils that I met at Leesland all came from the same sort of background. The majority of the parents worked for the government departments, mainly dockyard mateys. They all lived in small houses surrounding Leesland School since we all came into the catchment area of Leesland.

The teachers were all fixtures of the school. Miss Smith seemed to have been teaching at Leesland forever. Mrs Munes was a popular teacher and was well liked by all her class. Both Mrs Campbell and Mrs Long were well liked. Two very popular teachers were Mr Grigg and Mr Adams. Both were enthusiastic about their teaching and were keen to ensure that given the limited facilities the pupils had the best education they could.

There was one memory which is very very clear, and that was Miss Smith’s announcement that the war had ended. It was a normal morning when we were all told to assemble in the hall. There was a sense of anticipation. We all knew something special had happened. Miss Smith asked us to all sit down and told us that she was going to tell us something that was very, very important not only to Leesland, but to Gosport and indeed the whole world. She announced that the war was over and she then began to play God Save The King. Although we were only four and five year olds, I remember singing lustily God Save The King which was known by all over the children. We were given the day off the next day and subsequently there were a number of parties which by today’s standards would be very, very simple, but they were nonetheless very much enjoyed by the young pupils of 1945. Almost immediately houses were decorated with what flags and union jacks the householder had. This was the first time we had ever seen the town decorated.

Gosport commemorated the end of the war with a parade where the salute was taken by the Mayor of Gosport, Councillor J R Gregson who had been mayor throughout the length of the war. The parade consisted of the boy scouts, girl guides and youth organisation attached to the military. The end of the war caused excitement amongst the children because the majority of them had at least one member of their family serving with the army or the navy abroad.

Another strange memory of the period was the fact that trainloads of German prisoners of war were brought into Gosport. I clearly remember them marching down Hardway Road. Very soon the German prisoners of war ceased to be a threat amongst us and could be found working in the fields around Bridgemary and Rowner and on the building sites, the forerunner to the Bridgemary housing estate.

Sydney Road where I lived was a typical side street of Gosport. The houses were all terraced and were all limited three-bedroom properties. The houses had only one external toilet and it wasn’t until well after the war that inside toilets were fitted. We rented 43 Sydney Road from a local magistrate called Miss Agar. She was a pleasant enough lady, and I used to visit her every Saturday with the 13 and six rent. My parents eventually bought the property when my grandfather died and my father was left some money. I believe my father paid about £500 for the house, but it was not in good state of repair.

It wasn’t possible to buy fresh paint and wallpaper during the war, so it was not entirely their fault that the house was shabby. The lay-out of the house was very simple. There was the front room immediately on the left as you entered from Sydney Road. This led to the combined dining lounge. The lounge led immediately to the kitchen area which by current standards was fairly big. Each of the properties had a garden which by present day standards was considerably bigger than many you get today. All of the houses had air raid shelters at the bottom of the garden where we stayed the occasional night when there was the threat of an air raid.

Our immediate neighbours at number 45 were Mr and Mrs Webb. Mr Webb was a former naval writer and continued to work in the Navy throughout the war. Our relations with the neighbours was always a very formal one, “Mr and Mrs”. On the other side of our house, number 45 Mr and Mrs Hartfrey lived. They were from Birmingham with very strong Midland accents.

Basic essential foods and groceries were purchased from “the little shop”. Every road seemed to have at least one little shop which sold everything. For example, in Kings Road, there were five such shops as there was also in Sydney Road, Queens Road and the roads immediately adjacent. These shops were all privately owned, the majority run by ex-naval personnel. All food stuffs were rationed and it was essential to register with one of the little shops who held your ration book and ensured you got your fair amount of whatever you were purchasing, be it sugar, cheese or tea.

We purchased clothes on the rare occasion from the bigger shops in Portsmouth, such as the Landport Drapery Bazar, the Co-op etc. On the very occasional visits to the big shops, we usually had a small meal. I can remember these distinctly because there were so few of them! I remember that my first meal in a restaurant was at Lyons Tea Rooms in Commercial Road, Portsmouth. The menu was extremely limited and included mainly chips with a variation of sausages, eggs etc. Our other occasional treat was fish and chips. Every main little shopping area had its own fish and chip shop which were always popular and always had a queue.

In addition to all the “little shops”, Gosport had a thriving high street where branches of all the main stores could be found. For example, there were six different grocers in the high street including Liptons, Maypole, World Stores, Pinks and Co-op. Each of the shops were run by about six assistants. In addition there were individual branches of butchers, bakers, shoe shops and even a hat shop. There were even several shops which had clearly been left over from Gosport’s farming days. Millards Corn Merchants was well known in the town. It was not until the 1950s and 1960s that the traditional shops closed down as the supermarkets outside Fareham and Gosport developed.

An interesting fact about Gosport high street was the fact that many of the shops were second generation. None of them survived until a third generation. The Swiss Café in Gosport High Street was an eating place of all the businessmen who met up at 10am each morning to have a coffee. My memories of this coffee house were the filthy jokes that were told!.

All 11-year-olds were subjected to the 11-plus exam. All children sat exactly the same exam and were told within a month whether or not they were to go to the prestigious grammar school or whether they were to go to the secondary modern school. There was always a great deal of parental interference when a parent found that their child had not been selected. I still keep contact with half a dozen pupils that I passed the 11-plus with.

Going to the grammar school was a costly business for the poor parents of Gosport. The grammar school was the old traditional grammar school. Everything down to hat and tie had to be regulation school uniform together with appropriate trousers and blazer. This had particular significance with me. Far more emphasis was placed on whether the child had a tie than his or hers academic ability.

There is no doubt my first socialist thoughts were the result of Gosport Grammar and school uniforms. I recall on one Monday morning Mr Morrison chose six children immaculate in school uniforms down to the last detail and paraded them with six of us less fortunate who did not have the standard jumper and other items. I can clearly remember thinking this is wrong, I should not be judged by what I was wearing. The uniforms were of course a distraction and totally irrelevant to the running of the school.

All the teachers dressed in academic gown and wore them in class. When I joined the grammar school in 1951, there were 400 pupils and 30 teachers. The school outgrew its original site and moved into the old Clarence Square and St Matthew’s Square Schools with about 400 pupils. The original grammar school, situated where the museum is now, had changed very little since it was opened in 1902. All the pupils were divided into houses. There were four houses, three of which were Solent, Stoke, Meon – sadly I can’t remember the fourth. The majority of teachers had long and distinguished records of service to the school. Although we had a good share of decent teachers and interesting personalities we had more than our fair share of teachers who were sadists or bonkers, but I remember several of the teachers with great affection. Miss Millington, who was the deputy head, had taught English and was always kind and understanding, as was Harold Carman(?) who taught French and religious studies. Mr Wilson was a popular teacher, but one of our chemistry masters was a surprise since he although very young and very new decided to stand for the Communist party in Gosport.

This was an unheard of.

I had always been involved with the Labour party through my father who was chairman of the town ward group. My involvement at a very early age was delivery of leaflets. Harry Cooley, who was the

local councillor, organised this, and if I was lucky, I received two and sixpence at the end of the campaign. Politics were taken very seriously and we organised a full campaign to get our candidate elected. They were seeking to gain seats on the Gosport council. The Gosport council was divided into aldermen and town councillors. The aldermen were the longest serving and were senior councillors. The councillors were elected for three years and there were three for each of the wards, making 33 councillors and 11 aldermen.

When I was elected, I became the youngest councillor and I won a Conservative seat from a Mr Woodford. When I was first elected, the council had far more authority than it does now. For example, it was responsible for developing the massive housing programme which covered Bridgemary and Rowner. This plan was well advanced since the then Labour leader Alderman Bob Nobes had the foresight to plan during the war for peace. He knew that there were many civilians coming home expecting to find houses in the area. Housing continued to be a debated problem in Gosport since there were fewer houses being built than actually required.

The 2,000 council houses were administered by the council’s housing committee. This committee, headed by a chairman, consisted of a maintenance committee, a rents and rents arrears committee, a lettings committee and a miscellaneous committee. The housing committee was always the most difficult and controversial and politically coveted.

former Mayor of Gosport and Freeman of the Borough Graham Hewitt (1939-2020)

Comment (1)

  • Michael LaneFebruary 27, 2023 at 10:05 am Reply

    It was a privilege to know Graham. He was a good man who made a positive difference for so many. In his last decades he generously ‘nudged’ me towards good/better ideas – and he listened and freely offered his experience in support of community projects with which I was involved. I felt it a high compliment that he appeared pleased to see me, which returns me to the start ‘it was a privilege to travel with and know Graham a little’.

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