Memories of Kathy Racher.
Wickford in the 1930s and 1940s.
I was born in the 1930s in a house in Jersey Gardens, Wickford. The house is still there, and was opposite a small grocer’s shop owned by Mr Joslin. The shop changed hands several times and is no longer there. At that time Jersey Gardens was an unmade road along with most of the other roads in the area, these roads not being made up until the 1960s. One end of Jersey Gardens leads into Swan Lane, walkers only, and the other into Station Avenue and then down to the Broadway and High Street. At the corner of Jersey Gardens and Elm Road there used to be a small Public Hall.
When I was about 2 years old we moved to a bungalow in Louvaine Avenue, off of the London Road. Louvaine Avenue was a made road and at that time a cul-de-sac ending in a field that went down to the River Crouch; as a child I spent many a happy hour with friends playing in the fields and the river. There were cows in the fields and they would sometimes get into our garden.
I was four when the war started and everyone was issued with a gas mask which you had to carry with you. We had to queue in the pouring rain outside the Senior School in Market Road to collect them, and my mum told me that because of my age I would get a Mickey Mouse gas mask, but I didn’t, I had to have an ordinary one like everyone else. I was quite upset. At the start of the war lots of things changed. The Walls ice cream man on his bicycle with the box in front and the slogan ‘Stop Me and Buy One’ stopped coming around the roads. Air Raid shelters were built in gardens and there were special indoor shelters. It was now time for me to start school – I was going to the Wickford Junior/Infants school at the junction of Irvon Hill and Market Road, both of these roads were unmade. The Infants School was now an ARP post and no longer a school so I started school in the dining room of a neighbour’s house, sitting round the table along with other children. We were all infants, but various ages, and the teacher would come to us for a couple of hours. I do not know how long this went on for, but eventually two class rooms were made available for the use of the Infants School in the Senior School in Market Road, and this went on until the end of the war. There were brick-built air raid shelters on the school playing field where you had to go when the air raid warning siren went. In the April 1943, during an air raid, 8 UX H.E fell in a field on the north side of the Senior School, and about the same time 2 UX 1Bs fell and buried themselves in shelters at the Senior School. Damage occurred but no casualties. I understand that this was a night raid and 6 other nearby areas were hit at the same time. The school was closed for several days.
When I was 7, I went across the road to the Junior School, with its outside toilets; no matter the weather, pouring with rain, snow or ice, that is where you had to go, if you wanted to go, you did not linger. The head teacher at that time was a Miss Sortwell, all our teachers were ladies, no men, as they were all involved with some sort of war work. There was one other Infant and Junior School in Wickford, the Church of England school in the Southend Road. Also Shotgate and Runwell didn’t have a school. Wickford Senior School, the only one at the time, had to serve a wide area. The school bus used to bring in children from Battlesbridge, Hullbridge, the Hanningfields, Bicknacre, Woodham Ferrers, Rettendon and Runwell Hospital. When I was old enough to go the Senior School I just had to walk across the road. I had always lived within walking distance of the schools. In the 1940s you started school when you were 5 and left at 14.
When putting this piece of local history together I was asked what I could remember about local shops etc., so I will start opposite the school in Irvon Hill. There were two nurseries, very large greenhouses, one belonging to Mr Cork and the other to Mr Spencer; Mr Spencer specialised in growing Chrysanthemums. These have long gone and now Spencer Court stands in their place, which I believe are flats. At the bottom of the road, on the right hand side, at the junction with the London Road, Carters the Undertaker, still here after at least 80 years. Turning left and walking down the London Road, you would have passed a large sweet shop where, in the 1930s, my mum would have bought me a halfpenny ice cream cornet. Next door was Humphrey Green the tailor. Then either a property or a field with a very high hedge frontage. St. Andrew’s Church which was also used as a hall, St. Andrew’s Mission Hall and a cottage. Woodland Road, up this road there was a very small clothing factory. Cross over Woodland Road and you are now at Halls Corner, so named I believe because the shops etc. belonged to a member of the Hall family. This is the start of the High Street. As far as I can remember, it is about 77 years ago now, the first place the Ministry of Food office, a green grocer’s, a baker’s, a china shop, Mr Tilbury the butcher; Mr. Tilbury was also an auxiliary fireman. Another small shop, Mr Thompson who had the fish and chip shop and also sold wet fish. Next door was a large red brick house, either side of the front door it had steps going up, it now had soldiers billeted there. Because these were the war years quite a few soldiers were billeted in local large houses and at one time a small Army camp by the Railway Station. Wickford had its own Home Guard platoon and ARP (Air Raid Police) and one of their jobs was to look out for properties that had a light showing. Because there was a total blackout a small light could be seen for miles around; we had a light showing one night, this had been spotted and the ARP came knocking at the door and my parents were told to “Put That Light Out”. After all these years it is impossible to remember the names of all the shops, but next door to the large red brick house was Churchill and Johnsons, the builders merchants took up quite a space as they had a yard at the side. Then a long wooden bungalow with a front garden. Now we have the shops again, the North Thames Gas Board show rooms, Bata Shoe shop and a Chemist, and the last in this line the Content Café which was more like a Tea Room. Then there was a vacant plot. Laying back from the road was the Carlton Cinema; some years before when my parents moved to Wickford, before the cinema was built, a row of cottages stood there. Now to be back in line with the Content Café and corner ways on Mrs. Dudley’s sweet shop, then a Opticians, and a couple of Banks, one was the Westminster and the other Barclays. Green Stores grocery store, and a Gents Outfitters, on the corner of Market Road Mr.Ely’s Fish and Chip shop. Across the road and on the other corner another grocery shop Holiday Stores then a wool shop. A narrow fronted house, then the Willow Café and Mr Jepson the saddler, and more narrow fronted houses a bank on the corner then the railway bridge, under the bridge a very narrow pavement just enough room to balance the wheels of a pram. The Railway Approach road and a small parade of shops the first being a greengrocers, Billericay Urban District Council Offices including the place to register Births, Deaths and Marriages (Basildon hadn’t been built then), a haberdashers. We are now in Station Avenue, and now continuing up Station Avenue a newsagent, a bicycle shop and last a shoe menders. At the point where Station Avenue and Jersey Gardens meet was John Sadds, a large builders merchant with a yard stretching back between the two roads. Back down Station Avenue, and because we are the other side of the railway bridge we are no longer in the High Street, it’s now the Broadway. Mays large shop is on the corner, then a bakers, next Pardy and Johnson’s two shops, one had the Post Office counter in it and the post box outside on the pavement. Next the Co-op butchers, then Co-op grocery shop, a butchers, another house, and on the corner of Swan Lane, which is a main road, the Swan Pub, which is still there. On the other corner of Swan Lane and the Broadway, Darbys who sold farm machinery. Wickford was in the middle of a large farming community and at one time surrounded by woods and fields. The Broadway becomes the main Runwell Road, and on the left hand side the cricket ground and a couple of tennis courts. Back along the Broadway there are a variety of small shops then another main road, this time the Southend Road. Going up on the left hand side you would have found the War Memorial in the shape of the District Nurse’s Home where the Poppy Wreaths were laid on Remembrance Sunday. On the other side of the road, further up the Mala school of dancing Ballet and Tap, then going back down the road the Police House and Sergeant Brewer who rode around on his bicycle keeping law and order. Further down the road the Methodist Church and several small shops including the Al Fresco café. Back into the Broadway and the redbrick Old Bank House on the corner, still there at the moment. Estate agents Leyland and Thorn, and the Poultry and Rabbit Market, by the side of the Castle Pub, the burnt out garage and a small tobacconist called the Cigar Box, under the railway bridge, no footpath, two railway cottages, complete with front gardens, the Congregational Church that had quite a large space around it. At the back of the church a British Restaurant, so named because of the war, and although food was rationed it was possible to get a meal. Next to the church several small shops including a ladies’ hairdressers, dry cleaners, and Cramphorns, a seed merchant and supplier of things for gardens. Then an old house, its two front rooms having been turned into a shop, called Suttons, selling house wares, china, glass, cutlery, saucepans etc. It also sold paraffin, which along with coal was used to heat homes, no central heating in those days. Suttons had a front garden complete with a flowering Cherry Tree, that tree stood there for many years until the Council decided to remove it. There was also a house next door with a front garden complete with a flowering Cherry Tree. This was the dentists, before that it was Dr.Campbell’s surgery until a new house and surgery were built on the corner of the Nevendon and London Road. Next door to the dentist a few more shops, one sold radios (no television in those days), a gift and toy shop called the Fancy Shop, Wilcox shoe shop and the Electricity Board Show Room. A large house, with a wide frontage, with a large garden, complete with trees and flowers, belonging to Dr. Frew. The shops started again with a gents outfitters, next a double fronted shop selling ladies clothes, dress material and curtain material, plus a small sweet shop. Halls selling all sorts of things to do with gardening, farming, and animals; there was a covered yard at the side. Then an assortment of small buildings at one time one of them was the library. The end of the High Street became the Nevendon Road which eventually joined the Arterial Rd. which is now the A127. When you got to the end of the High Street you turned right, back into the London Road again. On your left a large bicycle shop, a couple of cottages, three small shops and the Fire Station, two houses one of them being a dairy. That completes a tour of Wickford, houses with front gardens their flowers and trees set amongst the shops made quite an attractive village in the 1940s.
There were all the home deliveries, the milkman, bread van and coal merchants, the postman, chimney sweep, window cleaners; it must have been quite a challenge down the unmade roads especially in the winter, and must not forget the road sweeper, all part of Wickford life. If you lived on an unmade road, and most people did, you had to take your household rubbish to the communal bins at the end of your road for the dustman to collect. You were asked to save paper and other items for the ‘War’ effort, and if you took empty lemonade bottles back to the shop you got several pennies for them. So not much litter, everything was important, anyway children got pocket money by collecting the glass bottles and taking them back to the shop.
The River Crouch flows round Wickford, first under the London Road Bridge then under the Nevendon Road Bridge and then under the Southend Road Bridge then finds its way to Runwell before meandering through the fields to Battlesbridge. Most winters the river burst its banks and the fields and roads were flooded. If this happened when we were at school and it was time to go home, we were taken through the flood water on a lorry. I’ve already said I lived up the London Road, all the children from infants, juniors and seniors who lived along the London Road could get on one lorry, not many of us, no body worried about health and safety, don’t think anyone ever fell off. At the time we all thought it a great adventure.
Monday was market day in Wickford; this was held up Market Road in the area now known as the Willowdale, it was quite a large market most of it under cover. It was also a livestock market. As my Dad did shift work, and before I was old enough to go to school, he would take me to see the animals but I must admit I can only really remember the pigs. I don’t know when it stopped being a livestock market possibly when there were not so many farms and lots of the land became available to build on at the end of the war. At this time there were quite a few weekend bungalows in the area, mainly built of wood. The owners of these came and lived in them all the time to escape the bombing in London, but sorry to say there was no escape as Wickford had quite a few air raids, with sadly casualties and property damage. I understand the first air raid was 25th May 1940 in South Beech Avenue. I do not remember it but I certainly remember the last recorded 3rd December 1944. A long range rocket (V2) exploded in Sugden Avenue, glad to say nobody was killed but 24 injured, 2 properties demolished, 6 seriously damaged and slight damage to 130 properties. But what I really remember apart from the noise of the explosion were pieces of the V2 falling out of the sky, it was raining metal spread over a large area. Some days later after this had happened everyone joined in to find these pieces and the MOD came and collected them. A very large spindle fell in our front garden and broke the path, it could have gone through the roof we were lucky it didn’t hit anyone, as at the time my dad was in the garden feeding the chickens. Writing about chickens has reminded me about the Salvation Army Captain who used walk about in Wickford, mainly in the Broadway area, followed by a goose and a dog. I was told the goose had been the Christmas dinner but had become a pet.
At the end of the war in 1945 parties were held for us children, several of the roads joining together to do this. We had a tea party in Louvaine Avenue and we had some of the children from the London Road as there were not enough children there to have a party by themselves. Mums made the sandwiches and cakes, they must have been saving the rations to be able to do this. In the evening we had a huge bonfire, complete with a guy and fireworks, to which all the neighbours came; fireworks were not allowed during the war for obvious reasons.
When the war ended oranges and bananas could be imported again. I can remember queuing for bananas with other friends, being late for school, in fact I think every child in Wickford was late for school that day. I have mentioned food rationing several times, sweets were also rationed plus clothes so mums had to make do and mend. Also petrol was rationed but not many people had cars, so those who did had to join the walkers and cyclists . The evacuees went back home, the weekenders improved their properties and stayed. Life went back to normal, whatever normal is!
Although Wickford was small there were all the organizations and clubs to join if you wanted. Brownies and Cubs, Girl Guides and Scouts, clubs organized by the various churches, British Legion, St. John ‘s Ambulance and British Red Cross, W.I. Horticultural clubs had sprung up as the Government encouraged every one to ‘Dig for Victory’. Youth Centres opened in the evenings and the yearly carnival was reinstated, along with summer fetes and gymkhanas, which were once again held in local fields near the High Street and enjoyed by the residents especially the children.