Denis Mitcheson's Memories of Wickford

When World War 2 broke out I lived with my parents in North London, near Hendon aerodrome. Hendon was well known because of its famous RAF displays so was an obvious target for German bombers, and was raided on a regular basis.

My parents decided to move to a safer location, and as my mother’s sister, Mabel Dunk, owned the Gresham Cafe in London Road, opposite St Andrews church hall, Wickford, my mother took me with her and we stayed with my aunt until my father was able to find employment in the area.

We had only been there a week or so when a German land mine landed on the other side of the river behind the cafe with a dreadful detonation.  Mother did not know that Wickford was more or less on ‘Bomb Alley’, the main route for German bombers on their way to London!  Later it was rechristened ‘Doodlebug Alley’ and I can remember seeing the V1s growling across the sky, the blue flame from their jets twinkling in the night sky.

My father eventually moved to Wickford, having bought a coal merchant business from a Mr. Green, complete with coal yard, a two-wheeled ‘rumble’ cart and two enormous Shire horses.  The yard was in Runwell Road, opposite what later became a large agricultural machinery depot.  I remember Dad hoisting me up on to the Grey Shire horse, Major, and the clopping of his hooves upon the frosty ground as we made our way to the blacksmiths for him to be re-shod.

We moved into a bungalow in Highcliffe Road that had no electricity or main drainage, although we did have gas for cooking and lighting.  In those days it was a private road, unadopted and unmade, with only five other houses along its complete length from Southend Road to the boundary of what is now the Recreation Ground.  Naturally it was very quiet but wonderful for a five-year-old, as I could play in the fields and along (and in) the river Crouch that meandered through the fields and fish for tadpoles that we would take home in jam jars.

Wickford was pretty rural in those days and we would range across the fields, occasionally getting in the way of the farmers, one of whom chased us off his cornfield with a 12-bore shotgun.  They were harvesting the corn and he had the gun to shoot rabbits – although we were not to know that and were all scared stiff at the time!  We were also in awe of Sergeant Brewer, the local police supremo.  He took no backchat from us lads and if we tried it on we could expect a whack from his police cape – and another one from Dad at home if we complained.  Those were the days!

I attended the C of E Primary School in Southend Road.  The headmaster was Mr. Bullock and the other teachers were Miss McKenzie and Miss Jones.  The Rev Munson, vicar of St Catherine’s, would come to the school and talk to us once a week.

In 1947 I transferred to the Secondary school in Market Road.  Mary Amos was our first form mistress and I never forgot her for being firm but kind to us new kids and for instilling in me a love for music.  I was sad to move on from her firm guidance to that of Mr. Phillips who was also an interesting and inspiring teacher and who, with other teachers, spent a lot of time getting me and Colin Wedderkop through the RAF entrance examination.

Mr. Rose, the headmaster, was also inspirational and I got to know him well through my frequent visits to his study with the cane and punishment book.  ‘Not again Mitcheson!’ he would say with a weary sigh before giving me a couple of good whacks across the palms of my hands.

Lunchtimes on Market Day were fun because we would rush down into town, buy a small crusty loaf, rip the inside out and stuff the cavity with chips plastered with loads of salt and vinegar.  Delicious!  There was also an interesting stall run by a Jamaican man who sold exotic things like ginger root that only cost a penny and you could chew it all day.

Out of school I was in the Cubs and then the Boy Scouts.  Later I joined the Air Training Corps that held its meetings in the School.  The cinema was also a magnet for us youngsters and we spent many a happy hour there, occasionally being sprayed by the usherettes with something that smelt nice but that we suspected was disinfectant.  When the cinema closed down it was converted into a Woolworths store and we then went to the Salvation Army Citadel (a corrugated iron building) where one of the local residents put on film shows for a couple of pence.  I remember having my bike’s lighting kit stolen while I was watching a film there.

The floods were quite something.  I recall one in the late 50s when a friend, Maureen Marsh-Feiley, had to get from Nevendon Road to Southend Road for her wedding.  The bridge was under water and there was a lovely picture of her on the front of the Daily Mirror the following day that showed her clinging on to the bottom part of a lamp post, resplendent in her wedding dress and Wellington boots.

When I married in 1959 I moved away from Wickford, but only as far as Harold Wood, and returned regularly to visit my parents in Highcliffe Road and saw it transformed from a country track bordered with blackberry bushes and with farmland on either side into the vast Highcliffe Estate.  My parents eventually moved to Berens Close and both spent their last years there.

Having re-married to a Liverpool girl, I now live in a village near Liverpool, and the last time I saw Wickford was in 1994 before I moved here from Welwyn Garden City.  I decided that it would probably be the last chance I had to see the place where I grew up and that held so many happy memories for me.  I drove across for that last look – and got lost.  The town had changed so much in the intervening years and now seemed to be just a part of the urban sprawl.

I still think back to the old days and hope that the friendly, neighbourly spirit of Wickford remains in the hearts of all of its inhabitants, both old and new.

Comments about this page

Add your own comment

  • Memories from above, I remember going to the infant school which seemed like a prefab building and was in a corner near the junior school, all in Market Road. All I know is did not like the first day as in like most people.

    Next, junior school next door, do not remember much apart from got the job as milk monitor and I did not touch the stuff. Also seem to remember something like chocolate or powder from Canada. What I do remember is making the long ice-slides in winter and things like playing cigarette cards against the toilet wall.

    Onto senior school across the road, remember a lot of the teachers names that have been mentioned. The main ones for me being Mr Gash and Mr Ross and of course Mr Crook.

    It was mentioned about the ATC. I did join for a while, I remember having cards of planes and having to name them by their shape on the card.

    A little bit about war time when we lived in Oakhurst Drive. One time at the end of our road we had a thicket and this day it had all this silver streamers in the bushes. People said it was to mess with the radar, don’t know if that was true.

    After all this did my National Service in Cyprus 55-57, got married in 63 and emigrated to Australia in 65.

    By Alan Beck (06/03/2017)
  • Reading what Denis Mitcheson with other comments it seems as though we were all at school around the same time.

    With the chips in the roll I knew that as a Vienna Roll, also the ginger root knew that as Spanish wood, and does any of you remember the Locust bean, bigger than a broad-bean but black. Do not know much about that though. I was in the A.T.C for a while and remember having cards of planes and having to name them by image, was not in very long, think soon after we moved to Highcliffe Estate. 

    During the war we lived in Oakhurst Drive, Nevendon Road, then on to Southend. My sister was evacuated to Derbyshire, myself I was too young to go. In Wickford we had the Anderson shelter but Southend we had the steel-cage in the lounge.

    As for school, remember a few names of teachers, but for me Mr Gash and Mr Ross would be my main ones, Mr Gash because I liked gardening, that came from my dad, and the only time I came top of class was for gardening which that year took me from class B to class A. Mind you my parents did wonder what the other kids must have been like in class. My bit of glory with Mr Gash was we used to go to the youth club at school and I beat him at a game of darts, (that was practice from the Castle on a Sunday playing killer).

    Mr Ross I liked for my love of football and in the end Dennis Arnold who was really good and myself was picked to represent Wickford in the South East Essex schools Team.

    Rest of school I was not really interested in – must admit I was not brilliant by any means. With teachers I have never seen any mention of a Mr Dobson who took history around 1953 time. Do not think I have it wrong but he gave me 6 of the best once which brought up bruise’s on the back of my hands (do not think they would get away with it now). Mind did deserve the cane especially when a couple of us decided to eat some Garlic in class or putting some Carbide in the ink-well.

    Always remember near the end of school they kept saying about New Zealand and Australia working farms with horses of course nearly always was a dream of having a horse. As life is never thought I would be here 51 years now.

    By alan beck (04/03/2017)
  • What a wealth of information in all the posts above. Trevor, as I’ve mentioned before, you and I were in the same class, and I also well remember David Hawes, who beat me in the final of the chess competition in ’63. We were part of Ian Stones’ ‘gang’ who used to play British Bulldog in the playground.

    By Lyn Humphrey (20/02/2017)
  • There was indeed much war plane activity over Wickford during the war. We lived in Carlton Road and there were deep drainage ditches at the front of our gardens, where we would hide and watch the planes flying around.

    When my mother took us for walks across the fields to Battlesbridge there was a very deep tank trap dug beside the railway line. We would slide down on our bottoms, have a picnic, crawl up the other side, then cross the line to continue our walk.

    During one dark night (the blackout) coming home from visiting an opposite neighbour in Carlton Road, the clouds suddenly covered the moon and we both fell into the hedge and ditch.

    By Lorraine Taylor (14/03/2015)
  • Miss Amos was my RI teacher at Beauchamps in 1963.  Other teachers were also Mr and Mrs Gash. Mr Ward was also headmaster at the time. I remember a Mr Barnes as music teacher and also a Miss Harcombe or Harker as our cookery teacher. Also in my second year there our form master was a Mr Collier who used to throw blackboard rubbers at us if we were too noisy, cannot imagine that happening now! 

    By Marion Mellon Née Carter (03/02/2015)
  • Hi Dennis, I didn’t leave 43/44 I left in 1952 aged 15 and went to the Grange (Keddies) at Downham. I too remember Mr Crook, the woodwork teacher; if you asked for a screwdriver he would give you a hammer, he called it a drivescrew.

    By B0b croot (01/05/2014)
  • I remember Denis Micheson as he was in the 4th year, when I joined, must have been in 1949. I also remember Bob Croot who must have left in about 1943/4. To answer Denis Micheson’s question about Mr Phillips I can tell him that he went on to be Head Master of the Helena Romanes School at Gt Dunmow. A senior school of high reputation. Also Denis mentions a master at Wickford who specialised in geography. His name was Mr Richards, another Welshman.

    I have posted detail of some events, worthy of mention under other headings, so I hope that I don’t repeat too much, but I find that once the memory starts to flow it is difficult to recall what you have already covered, or indeed to remember the heading under which it was dealt with.

    Denis also makes mention of the Doodle Bugs or V 1s as they were known. Does anyone recall the large Model of one of these ‘horrid things’ being on display for many years, in a garden at the bottom of Kembles Hill as you come from the Turnpike along the road towards Runwell. I think that a family by the name of Rushbrook lived there. Also a little story about another Doodle Bug I had experiance of. I was born at Poplars Farm and lived there until after the war. We were walking home from a Saturday evening at South Hannigfield Windmill–to explain Dad went to the pub and mother and we three children went to South Hanningfield post office/shop and spent the evening with the ladies of the Clarence family. It was a perfect evening, in terms of weather, the sky was full of stars, and all was very still, we were then walking along Warren Road just after the S bends, I heard a noise in the sky and turned roud to see, and hear this thing moving towards London, it was making a very fast ‘popping’ noise is all I can describe, with a ,plume’ of flame comming from its rear end, I insisted that it was a ‘shooting star’ and of course we carried on walking, and it was not long after that we heard avery loud explosion, and I can still remember my father saying to me”there goes your shooting star Den”. We do not know where it landed, or what damage, or who was killed, as it was so far away from us.

    Denis also makes mention of a GREY Shire horse. If the horse was grey in colour and a cart horse the it would have been a Percheron which is of French origin, but whether it would have been left or right hand drive I could not say–depends where  the driver sits–maybe. Shire Horses were always a dark brown, stood much higher than a Percheron and had the classic Feathers of white above its hoofs. I sugest that the cart was of the Tumbril type to carry the type of materials that Menis mentions. As for Shoeing them, perhaps they would have been taken to Mr Lodge at South Hanningfield who had a Smithy there for many years. I drove a pair of Percherons whist still at scool, helping Mr Hedley Millbank to get in his last harvest at Giffords Farm, South Hanningfied before the farm was ‘Drowned’  in what must be one of the deepest parts of Hannigfield reservoir.If the cart, that Denis refers to was lighter than a Tumbril, then it may well be that the horse was Grey, but it would have been a pony and not of the ‘cart horse’ variety.

    In Denis’s piece,  he talks about other teachers and I have partly responded under another heading but to continue’I recall Mr Rackham, P T I and some maths? Miss Amoss– Music, Mrs Rose– Remove Beryl Spencer– School Secretary. (She also played hockey for Wickford) Who could forget Mr Gash–Rural Science. I was always top of the school in this subject, and I helped him construct the green house shown under another heading. At the age of 14/15 I had been judged as having the best kepted garden, in the village of South Hanningfield. Mr Gash, along with Mr Richards, with my parents blesing,took me to the Chelsea Flower Show. As it has been said, Mr Gash was keen on Rugby and it was he who encouraged Freddie Greaves, and his cousin Jimmy White to join his Rugby club after they had run away from home, and spent the one or two nights living rough in the disused railway carriages stored on the old, and disused, South Woodham to Maldon East railway line. Freddie, I believe made quite a good player, but I’m not so sure about Jimmy. Referring back to my succes in the horticultural world, I took my first 1st Prize in the flower show at the age of 11. It was for shallots, and I think that my prize money was two shillings and six pence (22 1/2 new pence). The judge of the Best Kept Garden class was Mr Alec Hunter, Head Gardener at Runwell Hospital, so it was no surprise, that on leaving school, it was to work in the gardens at Runwell Hospital,

    Back to the school staff, Mr Ryeman was woodwork master, who had taken over from Mr Crook on his retirement. Mr Hibbs came in as deputy in Woodwork, and also took Technical drawing. Mrs Gash was I/C Cookery. Mr Lovelock was I/ C Maths, Mr Fountain was Science master, who didn’t teach us all about reproduction. Mr Pelmear was Art master, and it was he who caned all of the boys in the dinner hall one day, after ‘porky’ Bloom from Woodham threw a dish cloth at him, and no one would own up. Mr Ward came to the school as Head Master on the retirement of Mr Rose. He was tall and thin and wore brown suits, I recall. it was he who got me a job at Frizzells in the City. This was in the insurance world, and after moving to a similar job in Chelmsford for ten years, I decided to go back into the world of horticulture, but as a company representative, where I remained until I retired in 2003

    By dennis smith (02/04/2014)
  • I read Bob Croot’s comments but sadly I must be a little older because I left Wickford County Secondary and joined the RAF as an Apprentice in 1951. I agree with all the comments about Mr. Gash. Not only was he an inspirational teacher but he also introduced Rugby Union to us (much to the chagrin of Mr. Ross who preferred soccer!). I believe he actually played for Wasps at some stage. Does anyone remember Mr. Phillips? His speciality was history but he also regaled us with tales of his war experiences when he was a sergeant in the Black Watch seconded to a Gurkha regiment and fought throughout the Burma campaign. Also there was a teacher who, I think, specialised in georgraphy. He had been in the RAF, shot down and spent days in a rubber dinghy before being rescued. A great friend of mine during those happy years was Laurence Cork. His father owned and ran the nursery in Irvon Hill and I would often be sent by my father to him to collect boxes of tomato plants. Mr. Cork, like most of our fathers, had been called up during WW1 and had been a military photographer. Laurence and I would spend hours looking at his pictures of all the horrors of the trenches, crashed aircraft, etc.

    By Denis Mitcheson (26/08/2013)
  • I do remember Mr Rose, the headmaster. Because of my birthday I had to stay on at school for an extra term and I became his “odd-job boy”. I took the milk money down to the bank every week to pay it in. I got the job of cutting grass round the edges of the playing field (where it sloped too much for a mower). I used a sickle for that job. In my final school report (23rd Dec 1943) he wrote: ” He is a very useful fellow”.

    By Arthur Cox (05/08/2013)
  • I remember Mr Gash at school, and I have seen him many times since. He could cane you hard, as I found out to my pain. I missed afternoon register whilst damming up the river at the bottom of slope to river.  We often did it but kept an eye on playing fields for sign of the bell, but so engrossed in what we were doing we missed signs, thus three lashes on each hand, ouch!!!

    By BOBCROOT (04/11/2012)
  • Oh Mr. Gash, yes he taught Rural Science, and his good lady wife Cooking, for the girls and boys, but Mr.Gash was truly one hell of a teacher. He loved nature and I remember a school chum by the name of Ronald Webb, who was the artist of some truly wonderful water colours. Mr. Gash liked them so much that he had them framed and they hung in our class room. My memories come from probably the same period as Mr. John Hawes. I had a David Hawes in my class who lived at the top of Park Drive, but I don’t know John. A last and very funny memory of Mr. Gash is the day he brought boxes of strawberries in for the class as a treat. This is from a long time ago and I cannot remember the pupil’s name that came with me. But Mr. Gash called me to the front of the class and said, “Take these keys and in the back of my Morris Traveller you’ll find several punnets of strawberries in a wooden box, go and get them please, and bring them back to class”. Off we went. I put the keys in the lock, undid the door, which promptly came adrift in my hand. Oh crumbs, or words of sort, he’s not going to see the funny side of this. But he did when one carried the strawberries and the other of us…..his door !!!!….

    By Trevor A. Williams (27/09/2012)
  • A mention there of a teacher, Mr Gash brings back memories. He taught Rural Science in my final year at Beauchamps. An incredible teacher who controlled a class without threat of the cane. He was so good with us lads, some of us even came in on one particular Saturday morning to help assemble a greenhouse.

    By John Hawes (24/05/2012)
  • Reading this brings back memories. Did we go to school together, because everything you did I did at about the same time? The School teachers Mr Gash, Rackem and Ross etc..The A.T.C. and RAF 1955 to 58 .This brought back memories.

    By bob croot (30/03/2012)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *