Personal Memories of Wickford in the late 1950s.
Wickford around 1956-60
My Wife and I moved to Wickford in December 1955. In the August we had seen an advert in the National press about new properties being built in Wickford for £2000.
At that time we lived in Chingford and had looked at new builds, but they cost around £3500, beyond my means, I worked for the GPO, now BT and earned £7 10s per week. Fortunately I was promoted within a few months and my weekly wage went up to £9.
We came to Wickford on the August Bank holiday weekend and went to see the Estate Agent – Lewis Davis, he was located in a semi detached wooden house in the High Street just beyond the railway bridge, and this is now the Willowdale complex. He told us that he had no properties currently for sale, but would be building at Shotgatge in about 18 months.
We asked him if we could see some similar properties and he sent us up Swan Lane to Athelstan Gardens. At the lower end of Swan Lane on the other side to the Swan PH we passed Patmore’s meadow, a small fair was being held there. In Athelstan gardens we saw some newly built bungalows and in one of them a builder was working. We spoke to him and asked him confirm about the availability of bungalows locally. To our surprise he told us that he had one for sale. The builder that we spoke to turned out to be Ken Gunnet of K.A. Gunnet and Sons. He took us along Athelstan Gardens and down Hereward Gardens. This was a cul de sac and at that time both roads were unmade. He showed us the concrete foundations of a detached bungalow, selling at £2175. It was later that we learnt that it had been previously sold to a cash buyer for £1850 and the buyer insisted on it being detached. It transpired that the buyer had dropped out of the sale that morning. So we went back to Lewis Davies and put a deposit down.
Initially we had a problem getting a mortgage, as building societies were being tight with loans. However Lewis Davies made an application for us to Basildon District Council. After a while we found out that they lost our application and we had to reapply. This was successful and we were offered a mortgage of 90% of £1850, the bricks and mortar value of the property at 5.25% fixed for 25 years. This cost us (£9 per month).
If the application had not been lost the rate would have been 4.5%. The difference in value of the property was because Gunnet loaded our bungalow with the increase in costs that he should has passed on to buyers of the other bungalows he had built in Hereward Gardens. Because of the offer being less than we had expected we were short on our deposit, so we arranged a private loan for 2 years with K. Gunnet. As with all mortgages and loans we had to use a solicitor, Lewis Davies recommend one used by him and Gunnet, a chap called Romain whose offices were in Walthamstow. It transpired that Roy Romain had been an Olympic swimmer in the 1948 London Olympics.
Some weekends we visited and travelled by City bus from Walthamstow. If it was an evening the bus turned from the darkness of London Road into the High Street, which at times was lit up like a fairy land.
We moved in on the 9th of December and the Gunnets had lit our fire and also the coke fired boiler. The first words of the removal driver were “put the kettle on”.
Our plot had been part of an orchard of a large house in Swan Lane and there was a heap of good soil in the middle of the garden. Our garden backed on to a couple of large houses in Swan Lane; number 42 was the Methodist Manse and the Minister was a Mr Marles and the other house belonged to Dr Renton. Previously Dr Brown of that surgery had lived there. Renton had a large number of cats. The Doctors had their surgery in the big house on the corner of London and Nevendon Road, opposite Hall’s corner. Our garden was surrounded by trees in the gardens of both houses mainly Elm trees, one of them was the home of a couple of Owls who used to hoot of a night. Also between our garden and those of our neighbour’s was a drainage ditch – more of that later.
To get to work the wife and I had to go to the station, my “Workman’s return” cost 3s 4p per day and you had to be in Liverpool Street before 8 a.m. The wife’s monthly season was just over £4. To get to the station we could either walk up Hereward Gardens and Athelstan Gardens on cinder tracks to Swan Lane and then a footpath through to Guernsey Gardens and thence to the station, all unmade roads. Or, my neighbour and I used to go through a gap in the hedge to Patmore’s meadow and then to Swan Lane, down Jersey Gardens and in between one of the houses there was a “cut through” to the station.
Although our rates were £19 per year we had to take our weekly rubbish up to some bins on the corner of Hereward and Althelstan Gardens.
As I said the roads were unmade and I joined with neighbours and we bought a load of hard core and laid it down. One neighbour was a fanatic and could be seen many days on his own hammering down the hard core into the road.
One thing that we noticed was that people were generally more polite than those we were used to in Chingford. Many persons would nod across and wish you “good morning”.
There were several families who had lived in Wickford for many years:
Carter – This is an extended family, there are many Carter relatives in Wickford but the most noted one was Silva, who in conjunction with Ward became Carter and Ward builders. Note that Carter and Ward then, (and now) had their yard on the Runwell Road opposite to the Memorial Park. There was also an entrance to the yard in Harold Gardens. The bungalow opposite this entrance belonged to Carter’s and in the rear garden was a workshop where the Carter’s carpenter worked.
Suttons – a family of general merchants and they are still trading in the town.
Halls– the family were in the Corn Chandler business and Hall’s Corner is named after them.
Leggetts – a fairly large family whose name often appeared in the press.
Playles – the Playle family lived in Elm Road, they were a family of two brothers and two sisters. I knew one of the sons John for over thirty years. His Grandparents came to Wickford at the beginning of the 20th Century. His Grandfather had a stall near Hall’s corner and sold vegetables. Old photos of Hall’s corner show that at about the turn of the century there was some open ground at Hall’s corner and the buildings appear to be wooden structures. John’s mother also lived in Elm Road, his father was a carpenter by trade and during the second World War worked on the radar towers at Canewdon. John told tales of his father being away at work for a week and when he came home he went to the Hawk at Battlesbridge for a drink, Then he would climb on his and trap and then tap the horse who would take them home whilst the old chap had a sleep.
John’s mother also referred to the stretch of the River Crouch behind what is now the Runwell Road Total Garage, as the “drinkings”. This is because on Market Days the traders would tether their horses by the river and then go into the Swan for a drink. The Swan had extended hours on Market days.
John’s house number 1 Elm Road was of wooden construction and his mother used to say that it was brought down from Battlesbridge on rollers.
There were other Playle relatives in Wickford and some worked on the local farms. However one lived in Swan Lane in a wooden cottage opposite Elm Road, This was Uncle Bob who was the local postman.
As I said earlier, when we first moved to Wickford we both worked and had to travel to London. The trains to London were hauled by steam locomotives. They started from two points; most trains were from Southend Victoria to Liverpool Street, however some others started at Southminster and terminated at Liverpool Street. The latter used the Wickford to Southminster branch line, and were additional to the regular branch line service from Wickford. This also used steam locomotives. I used to catch the 6.34am train which started at Southminster as it was emptier than those starting at Southend and got me into London about 7.30 am, ample time to walk to St. Pauls and be into work by 7.45am.
Wickford station had a small siding and a goods yard and coal yards. A few years earlier there had been a service from there to Maldon. All of the sidings have now been turned into the station car park.
The Station Master was Bob Jones, who lived at Ramsden Bellhouse. Bob was very much a “Mr Fixit”. He seemed to have his finger in numerous pies. A frequent site at station was station trolleys with boxes of “Cooing” birds in them. They were in transit for a race and belonged to the local Homing Pigeon Club who were very active in the area.
Currently the parking of commuter’s cars is a blight on the local area, but at the time we moved to Wickford it was much smaller and commuters either walked to the station or cycled. The station had facilities for passengers to leave their cycles at the station; alternatively they could be left in the cycle shed attached to the café just outside the station. The mother of the Pop singer “Alvin Stardust” owned this café. She lived in Swan Lane.
Steam trains continued to run from Southend to Liverpool Street for a few more years and then electric trains replaced them. At the outset they were very crowded, I had a folding fishing stool and some friends and myself used to take turns in sitting on it. At the outset the electric trains were sliding door coaches similar to those operating from Liverpool Street to Shenfield. Eventually “slam door” coaches replaced them and the service improved providing more seats. Many passengers were regular commuters and knew each other, travelling in the same compartment each morning. One of our companions used to be able to go to sleep before we left the platform at Wickford and we had to rouse him at Liverpool Street. Another lived in the London Road and used to regale us with tales about his geese. They used to keep his back garden lawn nice and short but would not go into the front garden because of the noise of the traffic. They were also sharper than a dog when intruders were around.
Buses operated by Eastern National, whose main garage was in Southend linked Wickford to Pitsea and Basildon. Buses also went to Romford and London and these were the City Coach Company, mainly double deck buses but from time to time single deck coaches were used, including the streamlined “G1” coach. I frequently saw this in the 1940’s on my way home from Walthamstow to Hainault via Gants Hill. Although it stopped outside of the school we could not get on to it, as our “bus passes” were restricted to London Transport buses. The G1 coach did the journey in 5 minutes less than the LT buses.
The main routes into Wickford were Nevenden Road from the Southend Arterial (A127) and London Road (A129) from Billericay. Nevenden Road was a single carriageway and had some sharp bends where the Darby Digger Roundabout now is. These days there is an Indian Restaurant (The Bekash ) just beyond the roundabout, this used to be a small general stores.
Although the housing estates built by Carter and Ward had made up roads those around the Swan Lane area were unmade. The Council did not adopt these until about 1960. Hereward Gardens was made up in early 1960, the builders constructed the road in two half strips. In late February they had laid the strip on one side of the road and the other side was a mud heap. We had a “bulldozer” stuck outside our bungalow for weeks.
Although the roads were not made up until 1960 they had been planned at the beginning of the century with all of the plots identified. The measurements of these plots (Plotland) were not that accurate. My plot was shown on the plans with a frontage of 29 feet; but the builder built a wall to enclose the front up to the boundary of the Manse (42 Swan Lane). However when the council commenced to make the road up they measured my frontage of 45 feet. They said that if anyone else could produce the “Deeds” for the strip of land 16 feet wide they would have to reimburse me for the charge. Note on plans of the Wickford Garden Estate referred to above Runwell Road is actually marked as Chelmsford Road.
At the same time the boundary of the Manse with Hereward Gardens was a ditch, which the council filled in and eventually the ground became part of number 42 Swan Lane when it was rebuilt. At the same time the builders re measured the boundary between my property and number 42 and drew up a sensible straight-line boundary to overcome the errors in the measurements.
The built up areas of Wickford were primarily limited to area estates built pre war around the London Road area by Carter and Ward. There were also some very substantial houses in London Road, which had been built much earlier. The same situation existed in Lower Southend Road and Swan Lane. However the area off Swan Lane that is now the Barn Hall estate was “plot land”, further along Brock Hill were some well established houses but much of that area was farm land. My wife and I walked up Brock Hill in 1957 and turned towards Downham / Ramsden, then we turned back towards Wickford at the Grange and found ourselves pushing our young child’s push chair through a ploughed field, eventually returning to Swan Lane via Waverly Crescent. This was a misnomer of a name as when I did the Government Census in 1961 Waverly Crescent ended in a ploughed field, the land had been ploughed up during war to increase food production.
The name Brock Hill derives from the Badgers (Brocks) that were numerous around that area. It was built sometime in the 19th Century to divert the Horse Coaches away from Downham and the Grange. Apparently the wealthy residents were being disturbed by the sound of the post horn and the horses clattering up the track. The coaches changed horses nearby in the area. This track is now a bridle way.
In June 1956 a few weeks before our eldest son was born my wife and I walked along the River Crouch, starting off in Market Road and followed the river through across Castledon Road and de Beauvoir’s farm to the Fox and Hounds in Ramsden. At the start of our evening walk were joined by a dog and had to make certain that it did not get lost.
Another area of “Plotland” was Cranfield Park Road, now the Wick Estate. Apart from unoccupied bungalows the only place of significance was Yetton’s Yard. This was run by Yetton senior and his two sons, and they sold surplus building materials. Much of this originated from the prefabricated houses being demolished in various places. They even sold complete prefabs and their stock was stored in such buildings. It was an experience to go there to buy something, because the Gaffer would say go over the back of the yard and dig around and you will find what you want. This involved clambering over piles of things and dodging the rodents. Just think of the impact of today’s health and safety regulations. They also liberally used Red Oxide paint to protect bits against rust; you could take a 1-gallon can and fill it from thee old “bowser” which was filled with the paint. It was very cheap. On a Sunday afternoon we used to stroll up to Yetton’s and pick fruit from the trees in the gardens of the unoccupied bungalows. This as a circular walk exiting back at the end of the High Street near Hall’s Corner.
One of the large houses on Swan Lane was number 42, the Manse and was the residence of the Methodist Minister. a Mr Marles. In the late 1950’s Mr Marles moved out of the area and the property was unoccupied for some months. As previously noted my garden backed onto the Manse, and at this time our road was impassable for delivery vehicles, so I arranged with Warner’s, the coal merchant in Runwell Road, [that they] could drop a load off in the Manse’s front drive, from there I used a builders borrowed from Sadd’s to move the coal across into my garden. Eventually a new Minister, Mr Hodge, arrived. He had beehives in his back garden and also others around the district. A few years later it was discovered that the Manse was structurally unsound and it was demolished. The Methodist Church had two houses built on the ground. One was used as the new Manse and the other was sold. Some years later Mr Hodges moved out of the area and the Manse was sold, becoming a conventional property.
The Floods came to Wickford one Friday evening in Autumn 1958. It started off with hailstones and wind. I chose to move the family into the front bedroom of our bungalow which was surrounded by trees. However I had not closed the kitchen fan light windows and went to do it, I found that large hailstones were hitting the window frame and bouncing across the room. Later I saw that water was rushing down the unmade road and threatening to flood a neighbour’s place. I went out and joined several other neighbours moving tree trunks to block the flow of water. At that time our road was to be linked to another, thus ceasing to be a cul de sac. Carter and Ward had bought Patmore’s meadow and were going to build houses along Swan Lane and what is now Edward Gardens. He had erected a temporary fence from our road into the Meadow. So we eased the fence away to release the flow of water away from our neighbour’s place.
The next morning we found out about the flood, it had stopped about 100 yards from our road.
My friend John Playle and his wife arrived at Wickford station at the height of the flood she stripped down and swam / waded through to their house in Elm Road.
I will say no more about the flood as others have covered it in more detail.
Wickford Memorial Park
The Memorial Park this had been opened before we arrived in Wickford and in the past had been farmland; it was some of the land acquired by Carter and Ward. They had an office block built outside the main gates of the park and Silva Carter had a bungalow built on the opposite corner. The Crouch flows through the park. We used to go into the Park, which in 1956 still showed signs of it past use, there were three horse drawn farm carts of various sizes and types, left as memorabilia, obviously without any horses. They remained in the Park for several years.
Wickford was known as a market town and people came from near and far to Wickford on Market days. There were three market sites: –
A “Fur and Feather” market held behind the Castle public house now the site of the Aldi super store.
A cattle and animal market held on one side of Market Road, now the site of part of the Willow Dale shopping precinct and its car park.
A general Market held several days of the week on the site of the current market,which was very thriving.
Both the Swan and the Castle public houses had special opening hours on Market days.
Wickford Shops circa 1956
Type of Shop
The Broadway – East side
Newsagent & Coach ticket agency
Family owned shop
This had at one time been a bank
Castle P H
The Broadway – West side
Pardie & Johnson
General hardware shop
Family owned business. Sold a wide range of products, household goods, screws, garden tools, electrical items. Very helpful staff
Lower Southend Road
Fuller & Gaddsons
A family owned Garage
An old fashioned sweet shop selling loose sweets. Later became “Rolands” selling sweets.
A Wallpaper / decorators shop
(now the Marco Polo restaurant)
Sold off-cuts of wood
Scrap metal dealer
High Street – East Side
Later to become a travel agency
General hardware store
Family owned business
In an old wooden house. It sold a wide range of products including loose vinegar and paraffin
Father & 2 sons (James & Tom)
Essex County library
Occupied two floors of an old building, upstairs floor was rickety. This later became Essex Security
Owned by Hall family
This was part of some wooden buildings and at some time this had been an upholsterers
High Street – West Side
Radio repair & other electrical items
Owned by Egan brothers
Baby Wear Shop
Owner was a Welshman from S Wales Valleys
|In 1956 Basildon town centre was predominantly a building site with very few shops. Woolworths’ used to send a mobile shop over to Basildon on some days of the week. At other times it was parked behind Wickford Woolworths, in the market.|
Men’s wear shop
Cobbler / Shoe maker & shoe shop
Sold Gas Appliances and Payment of Accounts
Owned by Hall family
Family owned shop
This was a wooden structure, opposite what is now the police station.
Other Businesses near the Town Centre
- At the bottom of Swan Lane, behind the Swan Garage was Everett & Barnard, an electrical shop and electricians, they did work for the local builders. Subsequently they moved to the London Road. This block of shops still exists near the Police Station.
- Harringtons: a family owned newsagents in Station Road, opposite to Sadds.
- Bookies: J Newton – next to Harrington’s – Johnny Newton lived in a bungalow in Athelstan Gardens. This was later sold and 5 houses built on the ground.
- Darby’s: an old established Agricultural Equipment Supplier, it was located in Runwell Road next to the Swan Garage. In earlier years it had been a significant name in Essex Agriculture, manufacturing all types of farm equipment. However by the late 1950’s it had moved into the domestic gardening and DIY field.
- Swan Garage: This was on the corner of Swan Lane and Runwell Road opposite the Swan Public House and owned by the Harvey family.
- Sadds: a General Builders Merchants, part of John Sadds at Maldon, the yard was on the corner of Jersey Gardens and Station Avenue.
- Hales Stores: in Swan Lane near Wantz Corner This was a family owned food store and “Off Licence”. It was later converted into a house.
There were two other significant businesses not far from the town centre, in the Nevendon Road (close to where the small group of shops is now located)
- Hall Mark hatcheries: Specialised in hatching chicks for sale to farms.
- Marks: a wholesale butchers, it did a significant trade in poultry.
- On the same side of the road as Marks was a sign “W G Lamb” Bricks. This was my father’s name but unrelated. It had been a brickfield and some of the last production batches were still around. There were several deep ponds there, the site of where the clay for the bricks had been excavated. These were attractions for the local youngsters, including my own, to go catching “tiddlers”, etc. This is now all part of a housing estate near the Wickford Park Cemetery.