ONE day recently, I was appalled by the amount of traffic there was in Newport, which virtually brought the town centre to a standstill.

I later thought back to what it was like 70 years ago ­— a time when buses came down Nodehill and drove up the High Street to the St Thomas’s Square junction.

It was, too, a time long before our stretch of dual carriageway was built, thus the main route to Cowes from Newport was via Hunnyhill.

For countless years, traffic to reach our northern neighbours were compelled to ascend this hill, and a very busy road it became.

Within one mile, three major establishments would be encountered ­— namely the workhouse, the army barracks and Parkhurst prison ­— and each of these on their own received great volumes of traffic.

All three had to be supplied with provisions by the town’s shopkeepers, and were the venues for many meetings by those who oversaw their day to day running.

The workhouse alone, for example, had since before 1800, held fortnightly meetings of the board of guardians ­— a body comprising more than 50 of the Island’s ‘great and the good’, who would each arrive in their horse and carriages and pony and traps.

The aforementioned barracks and prison also attracted many visitors, which occasionally included Queen Victoria.

Local gardeners had no trouble finding manure for their roses.

Going back as far as the 1820s, one drawback of Hunnyhill was its gradient.

It was not until 1826 that this problem was addressed, and the hill was lowered in height by some eight feet ­— the work being carried out by residents of the workhouse.

No JCBs or mechanical diggers ­— simply a good ol’ pick, shovel and wheelbarrow.

Previously, the poor horses were the ones who had to take the strain of the hill when leaving town, and they were still in great peril when descending with a heavy load.

Once these roadworks had been done, Hunnyhill became a more attractive area in which to live.

Houses and shops were built, and public houses opened up with the soldiers from the barracks being captive patrons.

At the top of the hill, there was a toll-house, while at Towngate, there had been for many years a water mill and a mill pond where cattle and sheep ­— who were driven into the town for sale in the beast market in St James’s Square ­— could quench their thirst before having to stand around all day, tied to the railings.

With the restoration of St Thomas’s Church in 1854, there was soon a call for a vicarage for the resident clergyman, and in 1860, Queen Victoria commenced the list of donors.

The vicarage soon followed and became known as the Grange ­— the house still sits on Hunnyhill to this day.

Then came a house known as the Soldiers’ Home, built at the bottom of the hill, where soldiers could relax, play billiards, snooker and read the newspapers, away from the barracks’ daily routine.

One final piece of later development was the construction of the railway bridge across the road, which took trains on their journeys to and from Freshwater and Yarmouth.

The siting of the three aforementioned buildings did, however, bring their problems.

The soldiers attracted to the barracks the town’s ‘ladies of the night’, and on one early morning in 1864, two dozen of these women were found sharing beds with them.

They were thrown out in a state of almost nudity, with an assortment of their clothes being thrown after them.

Hardly known for their genteel language, they no doubt exceeded their vocabulary that evening ­— scrabbling around in the dark for their own underwear must have been frustrating.

Soldiers, too, brought their own problems ­— especially after imbibing a few pints of beer in the town ­— and they never endeared themselves to the local residents, often relieving themselves in gardens on the way back to the barracks.

Thus, a gentleman’s urinal was provided at the bottom of Hunnyhill which relieved the problem ­— and of course the soldiers themselves.

The prison, too, contributed to the day to day life of the area, and often there was great excitement when a prisoner escaped, although they mainly headed for Parkhurst Forest.

However, more than one was known to break in to a local house, obtain a change of clothes and indulge in a feast of whatever was to be found in the larder.

The workhouse would also contribute to the problems, when in 1898, nine-year-old Percy Hayter was playing with two friends in a copse at the Newport end of Forest Road.

When it started to rain, the two friends headed for home, but Percy remained, and the lad sadly encountered a deranged inmate from the workhouse who killed him by cutting his throat with a pen knife.

Following his funeral, almost 1,000 of the town’s children each gave a penny as a contribution toward a headstone for Percy’s grave.

In addition to public houses, there was also at least three cemeteries in the area, which included a military one in Forest Road, another attached to the Workhouse, and we should not forget the Quaker cemetery, which was in 1953, adjacent to Downers shop at number 83, Hunnyhill.

Some liked to call the area the dead centre of Newport.