Walks around Wickford in the 1960s and 70s
I lived in Wickford from my birth in 1958 until I got married in 1980.
I shall describe my memories of Wickford in the 1960s and 70s as a couple of walks around the Wickford area.
My first walk is from the Baptist church in Shotgate to the the C of E Infants School on Southend Road. Turn left out of the Baptist church, which I used to attend in my teens, and proceed along Bruce Grove. Most of the housing along here were bungalows built by Carter and Ward. A little way along on the left is Lucerne Walk where friends of the family used to live, the Bartlet family. My mother used to take me and my sister in her big Silver Cross pram to visit Ralph Bartlet and his sister once a week so that we could play.
Further along on the left was a fairly modern (at the time) industrial estate, where the Keilcraft factory was and also a factory the manufactured lengths of thin plastic tubing about 2mm in diameter and seemed to dump a lot of it. As kids we used to collect the waste and weave the tubing to make things out of. A bit further along on the left was an old junk yard, behind a sectional concrete fence. The junk yard had a furnace that belched flames and sparks in the dark evenings, walking back from the Bartlet’s house, which always concerned me as a toddler.
Further along on the left was a scientific glassware factory, again, where we used to help ourselves to the dumped rejects! Opposite this was a row of older houses where a school friend, Robin Alden and his brother lived. I remember going to one of Robin’s birthday parties which was had a Batman and Robin theme.
After these houses the road turned sharp right and became Wick Lane. On this corner a track led down to a level crossing where I often went to watch the trains. Over the other side of the crossing was the Wick where I spent many hours of my childhood playing in the fields and cycling the tracks. I also remember walking down here one winter when there had been a lot of sow when I was really small. This was also a short way home, via the Wick from Beauchamps School to Grange Avenue, where I lived from about 1969 onwards. Next to the level crossing was the old crossing keepers house, which had been abandoned and was later demolished.
Further down Wick Lane on the left was a row of old houses and some waste land that I used to play in. Near this point the railway line to Southminster passes under Wick Lane on a very big bridge. Next on the right was Glebe Road.
Further along on left was a road, which when I was young was unmade. On the opposite side of Wick Lane was a short track, between the houses, that led to a field and a large house. In the later half of the 60’s the field was built on and the track became the road into the estate, [name of road?].
Next to this track was our neighbour, Betty Beavis, our house was next, 33 Wick Lane, another Carter and Ward bungalow. I remember one Christmas a Salvation army band playing carols in the snow on the corner of Wick Lane and the road opposite. When I was young Wick Lane at this point only had a path on the west side of the road. The front path from our house lead down the bank right to the curb. Later on the bank was cut back with retaining walls and a path created.
Walking further along Wick Lane on the right was another short track that led to a row of garages, where my father kept his car for many years. A liitle further along you arrive at the junction with the Southend Road, opposite the C of E Infants School. On the corner of this junction lived another childhood friend Penny ??? The first walk ends here.
The next walk again starts at the Shotgate Baptist church and ends in the town.
Leaving the church, turn right in to Bruce Grove, then you immediately come to the junction with the Southend Road. Stopping at the junction there was a dairy depot and playing fields to the right where all the milk floats were kept. Turning left in to Southend Road, several yards on the left were a couple of shops, followed by a grassed area. On the east side of the Southend Road there were open fields with views to Rawreth Shot. Further along on the right was another shop.
Walking for another couple of hundred yard you come to the railway bridge that carries the Southminster branch line. Just before the bridge is a road on the left where a school friend, Stephen Bullock lived. The road dips under the railway line and then continues past a playing filed on the left and a row of trees on the left.
A little further along on the right you come to Hill Avenue, which leads to Beauchamps Comprehensive School, where I spent six enjoyable years before starting work. Next to this road is a row of shops. A little further on, on the right, is the church, where my sister was married.
Going down the hill from the church at the junction with Wick Lane is the old Wickford C of E Infants School, where I first went to school. The old caretaker who worked there told us that it was originally thatched, but caught fire. On of the class rooms was an old wooden weather boarded building. Up to my last year there we each had a small black board to write on.
The Southend Road goes slightly up hill again, just near the brow of the hill on the left was a plot that had never been built on and had become a small wood, but was later built on. The road now continues on down hill, with a big old house on the right, where I remember an old lady who used a bath chair and an ear trumpet used to live. Opposite this house was the original police station. A little further on, on the right, is Franklins Way where the ‘new’ doctors surgery was built. When I was younger this was just waste land.
Further down the hill on the left was a church which used to have a small nativity scene set in to the ground every Christmas. I also remember going to a small fire works display there one year. Opposite the church was an old bungalow which I believe belonged to or was at least lived in by a midwife. There was also some sort of memorial on the front of this bungalow.
Further along on the right, as the road levelled out was the post office. There was a row of about 5 red telephone boxes there, where my parents had to go to make a phone call, before they got one installed in the house. Opposite the Post Office was a row of dilapidated wooden shops, which included a men’s hairdressers, where my mother used to take me for my hair cuts when I was young.
Between the Post Office and the bridge over the river Crouch, on the right was a row of shops which included a wallpaper shop, a sweet shop, a toy shop and a garage. Crossing over the river on the left was a butchers. I always remember the carcases, chickens, rabbits hanging up in the shop and the sawdust on the floor.
You are now at the junction with the High Street. Turning left in to the High Street,, immediately on the right was a Coop, where my mother used to shop and next to it another old fashioned butchers with sawdust on the floor. Next on the left was an estate agents and opposite a hardware store (called Mayes I think).
On the left was the Castle Pub and opposite a bus stop where I used to get the 351 Bus to Southend. Behind the bus stop was a fish and chip shop, a green grocers, and behind then in a little shopping arcade was a florists, mens hair dressers and a sweet shop.
Next was the road leading up to the railway station and the railway bridge over the High Street. When I was young there were no tunnels for pedestrians, just the very narrow paths either side of the road. The paths were so narrow that one set of wheels on my sisters pram had to go in the road.
Under the bridge on the right was Martins bank, with a small track leading up to the market. The market was quite a big area, which was fenced in with corrugated iron and had big gates. There always used to be an old man selling balloons in the market, he had some form of skin problem which left him with large purple growths on his face. The market also sold livestock which I also liked to go and see as a young child. I particularly remember the pigs in their pens.
Next to Martins Bank was a record shop, where I remember going with my parents and standing listening to records in the small listening booths. Next to the record shop was a row of weather boarded houses, which were set back from the road a little further.
Opposite these was a row of old cottages and the Congregational Church, where my father was the Scout Leader. The church was a red brick building. Once inside there was a big area with pews, and an upstairs gallery, where I always enjoyed sitting. Towards the back of the church on the right hand side was the organ, which my father occasionally played in services and the pulpit. On the left hand side was a door that led to a small hall, where Sunday School was held there was also a room at the top of some stairs that was used for Sunday School. Also leading off this room was the play room, for the very young children and a kitchen. Beyond this was a door leading to another bigger hall which was used for Scout Meetings, Jumble Sales and the like.
Opposite the Congregational Church was Market Road, which lead to the other end of the market and the Community Centre. Further down was the Wickford County Junior School where I went to school between about i966 and 1969. The school was a big red building on two stories built around a quadrangle. The classrooms at the back of the quadrangle were made from wooden weatherboards and beyond those was a playground with some temporary classrooms. The headmaster while I was there was Mr Cole and some of the teachers that I remember were Mr Sinclair, Mr Morgan (PE) and Mrs Green.
Back on the High Street, next to the Congregational Church was a row of shops which included a newsagents and a travel agents. Outside the newsagents was the zebra crossing. Next was an area set back from the road with a china and cookware shop and then the only supermarket in Wickford, Finefare.
Opposite this area was the old Woolworths which sold loose sweets, and also test all light bulbs on a wooden box with all the different types of light socket, before they were sold. The building was used as a cinema before it became a Woolworths.
Next to Woolworths was a small road that led past the public toilets to a car park and Adrians Records. In later years this area was used as the market area.
Opposite, on the east side of the High Street, was an old house which was the original Frew doctors surgery, before the one just off the Southend Road was opened. Next to this was a row of shops leading down to Halls Corner. The row of shops included a pet shop.
On the west side of the High Street was a similar row of shops which included clothes shops, a Bata shoe shop and a chemist amongst others.
At Halls Corner, on the east side was an old wooden building that used to sell material for dress making. On the west side was Hall’s shop itself, which I thnk was a pet shop, there was also a newsagents.
On the opposite corner was a big house which was used as a doctors surgery, and there was always a big boat kept in the drive, but I remember it being damages in a fire one night. In the grass outside this house was an old milestone.
Halls corner was where the High Street, London Road and Nevendon Road met. Turning right down London Road there was a row of shops on the south side that included a cycle shop, a Chinese restaurant and I think a music shop as well. Opposite was another row of shops and St Andrews church and church hall. Next to the church was the new police station. Next to this was a sweet shop and a fabric shop. Beyond this it was all housing from what I can remember. About a mile or two further on is Crays Hill where there used to be a couple of traction engines parked in a yard and then when out in the country there was a private zoo on the right with a lion that was kept in a cage, adjacent to the road.
Going back to Halls Corner, turn right into Nevendon Road, cross the bridge over the River Crouch and immediately on the right is Wick Drive which led over a small bridge to the Wick. A little way down Wick Drive, on the right, was a DIY shop where I worked for a few weekends, standing in for a school friend. Also, when I was young, there was a house that was used by the Abbey National as an office where my mother to go to pay the mortgage.
On the opposite side of the Nevendon Road was the recreational ground, which was used for the annual fair every September, part of the Wickford Carnival celebrations. Also in the recreational ground was a small play area, behind the fire station. There was a small hut in the grounds, which was used by the Play Leadership organisation, which my mother became the leader of in later years, she also helped to raise sufficient funds for a much bigger hut.
Next to the entrance to the Recreational Ground was an old peoples home, where I remember seeing the Blue Peter bus several times and next to the home was the fire station. The fire station had a big tower for drying the hoses and on top was a siren which called the firemen when there was a fire. The station was a part time station, which was unusual for such a large town.
On the south side of the fire station were a few houses and then a footpath that led to the other entrance to the recreational ground. Also in this area, Laburnum Avenue, were a lot of war time prefabricated houses, which were later demolished.
A little further on, on the left hand side was an old village hall type of building, Im not sure what it was for but I remember that is was used for child clinic, as I remember going there for my various jabs when I was really small. To the side of the hall was a track that led to the brick fields. These were some fields where they had extracted the clay to manufacture bricks, obvious really! There were some of the old buildings and machinery left standing that were used for the brick making process. But best of all there were several ponds where you could catch newts, tadpoles, sticklebacks, water beetles and all sorts of aquatic creatures. Some of the dragon flies were so large and colourful.
Further along Nevendon Road on the left hand side was a row of old terraced houses, presumably Victorian. Along this section of the road there used to run an open ditch, which was later covered in for most of its length.
Walking along there was a garage on the right, next to Grange Avenue, where I lived until I got married and moved to Colchester. The Nevenden Road then went round an S bend with some shops on the left, including a post office and newsagents. A little further along was the Marks family house which had a monkey puzzle tree outside. There was then housing until Cranfield Park Road where there was then open countryside all the way to Rayleigh to the east and to the Southend Arterial Road and the outskirts of Basildon to the south. This walk ends here.
Going back to Wickford town centre where the Southend Road joins the High Street I start my next walk down memory lane. Starting to walk along the Rettendon Road towards Rettendon there was a cake shop and newsagents on the right and on the left the Swan pub. After the junction with Swan Lane there was a garage and a hardware store where my mother worked for a little while. The sop was made out o wood an burnt down sometime during the late sixties. Behind this was a playing field and opposite a new row of shops. Further along on the right was the Carter and Ward offices and next to that the entrance to the Memorial Park.
The entrance was along a road way, through some gates, across a bridge over the river Crouch. There was a path that led between a two rows of trees. Each tree had a dedication plaque to a soldier who died in the First World War. Several hundred yard further along was the playground with two sets of swings, a slide, roundabout and one of those cone shaped things that spun round a oscillated in and out while you sat on it. Behind that was another playing field with a big mound, next to the river. We used the to race our bikes down the mound as fast as we could and had to stop before going down the river bank, not always successfully. In this area was the original Play Leadership hut where you could borrow stilts, footballs, cricket sets, bats and balls, all free. Next to that was a small wood, again we used to race our bikes around the paths within the wood.
Returning to the Rettendon Road and proceeding east you eventually came to Runwell Church, which was supposed to have the devils claw marks on one of the doors, though I failed to ever find them! A little further along on the opposite side of the road was a pub called the Quart Pot.
That concludes my stroll down memory lane and the environs of Wickford.