Boy among the brambles

The memories of Ronald Dean

The cover of Ronald Dean's autobiography.

Ronald Dean was born in 1920. In 2015 he published his autobiography with the title “Boy among the brambles” which included his memories of his early life in Wickford in the 1920s. These notes of Ronald’s childhood memories are taken from that book.

Ronald’s mother, Rose Greeno, married his father Cecil in 1914. She worked as a typist in the Columbia Gramophone Company in London. He worked as a clerk for a steel manufacturing company, the British Mannesmann Tube Company, in Cannon Street, for £5 a week, a reasonable salary at the time. The family moved to Wickford from Ilford shortly after Ronald was born. They lived in a house in Bromfords Drive opposite Rose’s parent’s house, a well built bungalow known as Sussex House, built by Ronald’s grandfather, James Greeno, who would become a well-known property developer in the village. The Deans later moved to a bungalow, named Eastleigh, in one of James’s developments in Ozonia Avenue. Such a property could be purchased for about £200 in the twenties.

Ronald’s father bought a small wooden shop adjacent to the railway station called The Chalet which sold sweets, tobacco and cups of tea. Run by Rose it did well and was able to take on some extra staff, including a manager, Miss Goodey. After a while a second shop was built nearby, expanding the business, selling snacks, drinks, sandwiches, home-made ice cream and lemonade, cigarettes, tins of loose tobacco, clay pipes (popular with the railway workers), matches, cigarette papers and so on. This building also had accommodation included to which the family moved. There are photographs of both buildings in Ronald’s book. The original Chalet was converted to become a place where commuters could store their bicycles for 6d a week or motor bikes for 1/-. This became a lucrative sideline and several extensions were added until over 300 bikes and motor cycles and even a few cars were being kept every day.

Ronald describes himself in his autobiography as a country boy. Wickford outside of the main High Street area was a country area with scatterings of small holdings, bungalows and more primitive structures. Families kept doves, pigeons, chickens, rabbits and goats. As a lad Ronald went collecting birds eggs, moths and butterflies It was an area of footpaths, bridleways and cycle tracks. Local roads were unmade, dusty in the summer and muddy in winter. Ron remembers times of “long, hot summers and cold, hard winters”. Flooding was common in and around the village in the winter. The family shop was surrounded by scrubby fields which sometimes caught fire from sparks given off by the steam trains. Wet sacks were kept in order to beat out the flames. Several pet cats, all called “Tiddles”, met their ends on the railway tracks.

Ronald joined the Cubs and learnt fire lighting, knot tying and field crafts from Miss Barker, moving on to the Scouts with Mr Philpot. Ron was keen on football and watched the Mayes brothers, future professionals, play. The Maplesons were local cricket stars. Among other memories of how leisure time was spent include Christmas parties when the whole family would gather at Sussex House, singing songs around the piano, which mother played, and grandfather told monologues. Saturday night parties, after The Castle had closed, were also a family tradition. Ronald was encouraged to learn to play the piano and had lessons with Mrs Fox along the Southend Road but sadly he did not practice and eventually gave up. Travelling fairs and circuses were set up in a field owned by the Greeno family several times a year. At weekends the family might set off for Southend and join a paddle steamer for a day trip to Margate or Broadstairs. Ronald also attended a weekly youth club in one of the church halls where young people played table tennis and danced to 78s played on an old gramophone.

The family obviously valued education and Ronald was privately educated initially in Mrs Hayes’s Preparatory School and later St George’s, considered a step up from the local council school. He did attend the local Primary School, where Mr Kitson was the Head, when St George’s closed. While his parents may have valued education Ronald did not share the enthusiasm and failed his 11 plus. He attended Clark’s College, a private school in Southend where Dr Sparkes was the Head. Ronald had to leave the school and get a job when his father’s business succumbed to the economic depression of the 1930s. The shop had to be sold to clear debts and the family moved to a rented bungalow in Church End Lane. Ronald managed to get a series of short term manual and clerical jobs. Eventually the family moved to a property, The Haven, in Avenue Road, Chelmsford where there was more work available for Ron and his father. With this move Ron lost touch with many of his Wickford friends, the village “might just as well have been on the moon” and life centred more around his permanent post with Essex County Council and his membership of the Territorial Army.

“Boy among the brambles” goes on to describe Ronald’s service in the Essex Yeomanry and his wartime service in Palestine, Egypt and North Africa, his time as a prisoner of war in Sulmona, an escapee and hospital patient. After returning to Chelmsford in April 1945 he resumed working for Essex County Council, retiring in 1980 as Principal Admin Officer in the Supplies Department. He moved to Saffron Walden to be near his family and became actively involved in local politics. He died in October 2016.

Reference: Dean, R., (2016). Boy among the brambles. Guildford: Grosvenor House Publishing Ltd.

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