Memories of Shirley James (nee Dines)
Shirley was born in December 1929 at Does Hill Farm, just off Borwick Lane. She had two older sisters, Alice (known as ‘girlie’), Phyllis, and a brother, Robert. In September 1930 her family moved to a bungalow called Tacoma, one of three located along the Nevendon Road, near Bromfords Drive. When she married in 1949 she moved with her husband, Bernard, to a bungalow in Shotgate. They lived there until 1954 then moved to Laburnum Avenue where they lived for 13 years. They then moved to Charlotte Avenue for a couple of years until moving to Billericay and later to Hockley where she has lived since 1973.
The Farm was originally weather-boarded and had a verandah where people sat and could see as far as Pitsea. Water had to be collected from a tap down the lane but Shirley’s mother, Mabel, always kept the place spick and span. Shirley’s father, Thomas, had a milk round.
During the Second World War Does Hill Farm found itself in the middle of an army site. The owner of Bentalls of Kingston, the department store, regularly brought detachments of Territorial Army trainees to the Chase. A group was there when war broke out so a permanent camp was established. There was a searchlight based by the camp. Shirley remembers standing and watching the dogfights between the RAF and the Luftwaffe over the Essex skies during the Battle of Britain (autumn 1940). On one occasion she saw a Spitfire hit and a parachute descending. In hardly no time Dr Campbell, Sgt Brewer and loads of children arrived. She remembers seeing german planes flying over to bomb Coventry and the allied gliders going over to Europe on the occasion of the crossing of the Rhine (March 1945). Several bombs, including one of the doodlebugs in 1944, came down near the farm, causing some damage but not hurting anybody. Shirley’s father would take the children out after the milk round to see the effect of bombs dropped in the district. He would usually know where they had fallen and what damage had been done. Craters affecting roads were usually filled in quickly. Like other children Shirley liked to pick up shrapnel and bits of metal from the mines and bombs that were dropped. Some of the main roads had large concrete blocks on either side with rolls of wire that could be streched across the road to delay traffic.
Shirley’s sister and mother would not use the air raid shelter because there was a mouse in it. This had apparently been attracted in by a sweet that Shirley had in her pocket while she slept there one night. So the family would hide indoors under the table. On one occasion her father was under the table trying to find a puncture in his bicycle wheel’s inner tube in a bowl of water during an air raid. As far as possible life went on as normal.
She does not remember a Prisoner of War camp in the Nevendon Road but says there was an army camp which was taken over by squatters when the army left. In the area nearby, near Keats Avenue and Laburnum Avenue, there were a lot of pre-fabs, temporary houses, constructed after the war by German prisoners. Prisoners also did a lot of work on local farms. She thinks that some of them stayed in the area after the war. They may not have been able to get back to their homes in Germany if they were in the Russian controlled areas.
Shirley went to the schools on Irvon Hill. Her Grandpa had taught her to read before she went to school. At secondary school, where she was younger than most of the others in her class, a lot of time was spent in the air raid shelters which were simply brick buildings. Her parents were able to pay 1/- a week for her to go to a ‘school’ in Nevendon Road. The class only had 6 or 7 pupils. The teacher was Eileen Shynn. This was full time but closed down after about a year. Then she went to a class of three taught by an ex-headmistress called Miss Bott in Park Drive for 2 hours a day, 9-11 in summer, 9.30-11.30 in winter. Shirley thinks she learnt a lot from the individual attention but she missed being with other children so in 1943 she returned to the main Wickford School. There she was initially put into the C class by Mr Rose, the headteacher, but she worked her way up to the A class. Her favourite class teacher in the junior school was Miss Brewster who was also the history teacher and Shirley has always liked history. If they were ‘good’ Miss Brewster read the class stories on a Friday afternoon, fables and myths, some of which Shirley can still remember. Shirley’s first job on leaving school was as an office junior at the Hallmark Hatchery on Nevendon Road. She would have liked to become a florist but she made a career for herself in office work.
Miss Bott also ran the town library for a little while. It was in the High Street, a downstairs room in a brick house near Hall’s Corner. Later it moved along and across the road. The library was really quiet and children had to be a certain age before they could join or prove they could read. Shirley remembers they had books by Arthur Ransome, which she didn’t like. She would read bits from her brother’s encyclopaedia at home and discovered where Miss Brewster got her stories from.
When she got married in 1949 Shirley moved to Bruce Grove in Shotgate. There were still a fair number of empty plots there. The house was called Changi. She got the impression that people in other parts of Wickford looked down upon those in Shotgate but Shirley quite liked it there.
Dr Campbell, a scot, was the main doctor from the 1930s to the 50s. His surgery was Ryelands on the corner of Nevendon Road. Dr Campbell worked every day except Tuesday evening. He ran a surgery on Sunday mornings and also ran a clinic in Pitsea. Before the NHS the cost of a call out was 5/-. Shirley’s mother always made sure to pay the doctor promptly. He called Shirley his “wee ginger”. Dr Frew had a practice in his house, Ladybrow, which later gave its name to the Ladygate shopping centre. The nearest hospital was Chelmsford. Shirley had good treatment at the Billericay Hospital which was partly the old workhouse and partly an old army hut. The only dentist used a room in a house next to the Swan Hotel a couple of days a week until Mr Cockram set up in the Southend Road and later to Dr campbell’s old house in the High Street.
Shirley remembers that the shopkeepers would go to the bowling green behind the Castle Inn on Wednesday half day closing. She also remembers her father coming home one day to announce that the thatched cottages in the High Street were to be knocked down and a cinema built. When this opened in 1937 her mother said that Shirley was too young to go. Shirley felt she sometimes missed out by being the youngest in the family. The family regularly attended the cinema and during the film shows she remembers seeing flakes of paint falling from the ceiling within the projector beam as bombs dropped nearby. Shirley made sure that she got in to the last film to be shown before the cinema closed; she remembers it as being Genevieve.