Madge Viscardini's Memories of the Downham area (Circa 1930), Part 1

Downham, Ramsden and Wickford

Madge in later years

I wondered if some people might be interested in a few memories of Downham, Ramsden and Wickford in earlier years.

I hope that it is appreciated that my memory may not now be as good as some of my peers (was it ever?!!).  Since starting this ever expanding trilogy, several people have read it and added small amounts to it, which naturally means that I cannot entirely vouch for the accuracy of them – nor memory either.

I was born in Cox Green Cottage, (now ‘Como’) in Church Road, Ramsden Heath.  One of my earliest memories is of my mother and her sisters coming home from a fete and bringing ice cream (the first I had ever had).  I have since wondered if this was the first ice cream in the village as everyone seemed to look on this as a big event.

Madge as a child

One of the first fetes which I remember was held at ‘Kites’ (still known locally as such), by the kind permission of the three Miss Browns.  ‘Kites’ I understand was the earlier Rectory and rumoured to have a tunnel connecting it to Downham Church.  ‘Kites’ was burned down later when at that time (mid-sixties) I was living in Oak Road, right in line with it just across the field. Cox Green Cottage was a few doors from the present Primary School and at that time there was a coach house in front of the cottage.  Below that there was an apple orchard which my grandfather managed for 30 years, which, after sheds for grading and packing apples ran right down to where the School now is and in the other direction behind Cox Green and Cox Green Cottage to the top of the hill at Ramsden Bellhouse.  Here I should make mention of my grandfather’s jug of cold tea always to hand, and of his listening to his crystal set and asking for quiet while a naughty little grandchild used to say “noise, noise, noise”.  I remember the two lady travellers who used to call at separate times, one a buxom red-faced lady, Mrs Bibby and the other a little wizened leathery-faced Mrs Buckley.  Both were welcomed in for refreshments and a chat whilst showing us their wares, which they brought in large cases.  Unfortunately I have no recollection of how they were transported there.  Opposite the same cottage was a small copse known as ‘the moat’, with a pond and hazelnut trees.  This is now covered with houses (Moat Close and Manor Close).  Along from the cottage there were no buildings whatsoever on that side of the road until you came to Dovedale Farm, opposite the White Horse – in fact you could see to the butcher’s on the Main Road.

Across the fields opposite Cox Green Cottage, leaving the Moat on your right and going towards the railway line, was a 1914 searchlight base and in the same field a large range of rabbit warrens, which always called to mind ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as a child.

Going from the White Horse towards Billericay, on the left just before you reached Barn Farm was the Ramsden School, which I attended during my first school year.  For many years now it has been a house called, I believe, Eton and Harrow! (Sorry, I am behind the times – this has also now gone).  Further along, nearly opposite Barn Farm on the corner of Mill Lane, was Mr Hall’s scrap yard.  Going to school in that first year at Ramsden Heath, the only houses in Short Lane were the older Council houses on the south side of the road and opposite was a huge field completely bare of any buildings.  Being late for school one day, I took a short cut diagonally across the field to come out well up Park Lane.  On reaching a five bar gate at the other end, I think I must have been too small to climb it so I tried to get through the wider bars at the top.  I am not sure how I managed it but I do remember the teacher asking me why I was late and apparently I replied that “I got caught up in a cobweb”.  This large field has been covered in houses now for years, i.e. Brabner Gardens, etc.

White Lillies Farm, c1926

Mr Souden’s shop started in part of their old house, which was down the lane beside the present shop.  Mrs Souden herself was something of a character being a tiny, dark person, called “Tots”by some.  If you needed to buy something that was high up, she would in all likelihood tell you “to xxxxxx well get up there and get it yourself”.  Her father (Mr Knapper) was one of the postmen and also rang the bells at St John’s in Ramsden Heath.  I recently reminded Mrs Sainsbury that she was my first Sunday School teacher there.  Our coal merchant, Mr Mayell, had his yard between the garage and where Woods Coaches now are, and just before the said coal yard was the Peculiar People’s Chapel.  In the row of very old cottages (now gone) between the butcher’s and the garage, I call to mind the Clarks, the Bensons and the Borehams lived.  A little further on lived Mr Bass who made beautifully iced wedding cakes at the bakery.  He’d lived in Ramsden Heath for as long as I can remember and made cakes at the shop on the right just inside Dowsetts Lane which was then a post office and bakery run in my childhood by the Patten family who also owned the grocer’s opposite and the butchers which is still there today.  Coming up Dowsetts Lane from Ramsden Heath, opposite White Lilleys Farm to go to Stock there were some very old farm cottages on the right a little way along and no one would ever know to look at that area today.  Where the housing estate now is inDowsetts Lane was the farm known locally as Birds Farm.  Mr Miles the cobbler lived nearly opposite here.

My mother told me that the first school in Downham was in a “lean to” built on the side of where Mr & Mrs Elvin now live, which is nearly opposite Downham Village Hall.  The first teacher was Mr Mason’s second wife.  Mr Mason, a lay reader, lived at the Croft which was then a large market garden nursery, mainly for cucumbers, tomatoes and chrysanthemums, and I remember a Mrs Attridge from Billericay collecting the latter in her pony and trap.  The greenhouses alone covered several acres; the bottom greenhouses stood where the Ramsden Heath Sports Centre now is, the other greenhouses being on the other side of the “Croft” dwelling, has remains of which I believe are still there plus a well underneath a stone slab.  There was a large pond at the Ramsden Heath end of the nursery close to the road, and there was also a ditch or small stream bisecting the property. There was also a similar nursery opposite the pond in Downham, although this was rather earlier I believe than 1927.

Ramsden Heath The Village 1920’s

While in the area near Oak Road (Joes Lane) the following might also be of interest.  Mrs Gentry, who at one time lived in Oak Road, told me that her daughter had either got, or had seen an old map of the area, and that map gave this road as a main road to Wickford.  She said that being a ditch on both sides of the lane was also an indication of a proper road.

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  • Thank you for this. My great grandfather was the Patten who ran the shops in the village.
    I spent much of my childhood in Ramsden Heath when staying with my grandparents at their house, Brambles.

    By Clare Brice (19/10/2023)
  • My father lived in Mill Lane, Ramsden Heath, Billericay. His name was Cyril Clark (Nobby). He had 6 sisters. The name of the house was Avoca and has still got that name to this day.

    By Janet Woodbridge (Clark) (02/01/2022)
  • I lived with my Grandma who purchased ‘Hillside’ in Church Road, Ramsden Bellhouse. Before that was ‘Westcroft’ and also ‘Deodar’. I drive past there occasionally, can always find the first two but not the third one. I was a bridesmaid in the village church in 1949. My family name Travers and Goodspeed. My school was Downham and if me and my Uncle missed the bus then we would have to walk many a time. Such happy memories as a young girl, doing a solo tap dance in the village hall and loving the country life. My Nan and Grandad were great friends with Mr And Mrs Whittaker from The Fox and Hounds. My Grandad even took a horse in the bar one night. My mother was in the Land Army and said she worked for a Lord Cecil Thorney but have tried to find some info about him and there is nothing.

    By Rosemary Head (12/10/2021)
  • Aww, so lovely reading this. My father was Malcolm Wood who owned Woods Coaches, and his father, Edmund Wood, (aka Gerry) and my Nanny Vera owned Sudens shop for a while, before retiring to Suffolk. My mother was also from the village, and my mum’s father built the Woods Coaches site and bungalows next to it, where he lived with my Nan until they died. The bungalow has since been demolished and new homes built on the site.

    I too was a Ramsden girl but now live in Suffolk with my family. Wonderful memories.

    By Emma Gravestock (03/06/2020)
  • Delighted to find some personal recollections of Ramsden Heath and the junior school at Downham. I emigrated to South Australia in 1963, at age 13, having lived the happiest days of my life in Park Lane (‘Elmhurst’, then un-numbered but now 78). I have fond memories of the two-room school at Downham, and (at odds with another of your correspondents) thought Mrs Harrington a wonderful teacher, dedicated and kindly. She called at my home when I was off sick – perhaps because she couldn’t believe I’d actually taken a day off – I enjoyed school that much. But then, I came to Downham from a much larger school in Surrey, where I’d struggled; I was in my element in the more intimate setting at Downham. I have fond memories of rambling through the fields and woods behind our house, with various mates including Robert ‘Pop’ Germon who lived across the road and was in the same class at Downham, and another lad named (I think) Steve Smith. (I managed to track Pop down some years ago – but sadly he didn’t recall me! Ah – as Ned Kelly said on the gallows – such is life.) My father drove an ancient Daimler to work in Southend, and he and Mum regularly drank at the Fox & Hounds, where their greatest friend was one John Gray (who drove, with equal reckless abandon, a battered Land Rover and a smart Austin Healey). There were also a couple of characters known as ‘Little Jack’ and ‘Big Jack’, who (my parents would later assure me) would delight in bringing a truckload of manure to the front of the pub to frighten off the occasional busload of tourists. They would also provide a tractor in heavy snow to tow stranded vehicles up Bell Hill. I’ve managed to find only one photograph of the old school at Downham – a grainy specimen showing one end of the building from the rear; I’d love to find a better one. I also have my class photo from 1961, with Mrs Harrington in a typically tweedy suit. The following year I went to Chelmsford Tech High – and hated it, which only made my memories of Downham school fonder.

    By Tony Porter (10/05/2018)
  • I am Madge Viscardini’s cousin; my mother was Gladys Ruth Collin of Cox Green Cottage (now Como) Ramsden Heath. Our grandfather was George Collin, a friend of the Voce family. If Bernie, researching the Ward family, wants to get in touch with me, I might be able to help him.

    By Collin (24/10/2017)
  • Mr Halls scrapyard, I wonder if that is the same place where my father took me several times on his Ariel 1927 Brooklands racing motor bike ?

    It was on the road from Wickford towards Chelmsford and covered both sides of the road for a great distance, it had tons of war surplus  goods, vehicles, parts of war time planes, huge piles of tyres, it was guarded by an Alsatian dog at his kennel on the left hand side of the road.

    My father bought railway sleepers to build a bridge over the stream in our front garden, make me a swing, and also got aircraft fuel tanks that we used to store rainwater for the garden. All transported home on the motor bike and sidecar.

    My mother asked him to get her a garden roller, he came home with half of the double one that is pulled by Shire horses, that was used a the base of a see saw with a railway sleeper for the plank. One day my friend fell off the bottom and from the up position I came down with a great crash, the breath was knocked out of me and I was unable to speak for a few minutes, my Mother was very worried.

    Mr Hall had a huge St Bernard dog called Elizabeth at his home, when we went there she jumped up and pinned my parents to the wall. She was beautiful.

    By Lorraine Taylor (03/06/2015)
  • I am researching my family history. A relative, David Ward, died in 1907 at The Retreat, Ramsden Heath, and it would seem his widow and daughter were still at that address in 1911. Can anybody identify this location? There seems to be a bit of a mystery about this relative.  Is the retreat an institution of some kind as I note from other postings on the internet that others also died there around that time so I was wondering if this was not a private home.  Perhaps a sanatorium, hospital or some kind of workhouse.  I know that Mr Ward left nearly £500 to his widow (from probate doc) so it would seem that they were not penniless.  Was he a resident or working there?  Any help would be much appreciated.

    By Bernie (30/03/2015)
  • My great grandfather lived in Mill Lane, he used to have land small holding. There was a mill, it came down in a storm. My great great grandfather helped the miller get out of the mill. My granddad as a small boy used to help take the veg they grew out on the cart to Chelmsford around new London Road. I think he used to sell bits too on his small holding. Also my nanny came from there too, her father was a horse man doing the fields. My grandad was a postman. The stories he told me I remember well.

    By Gloria Hobbs (29/01/2015)
  • The picture of White Lillies Farm house in this item prompts me to write that my uncle Nelson Smith lived here, and farmed the land, as tenant until, he either retired, or the farm was sold by his landlord, Mr Lionel Lyster of Apps Farm in Stock. Nelson was my father’s brother, and was born one of eleven children, on the 2nd July 1900 to my grandparents, George and Jane (nee Francis). They farmed at Great Burstead Grange, and were married at Ingatestone Church, by The Rev. L Parkin on 25th October 1884.

    I have a bible given to my grandparents as a wedding present by a Mr and Mrs Pickering. Recorded in the Bible by my father’s sister Susan, known as Cissie, are all of the deaths of the family, up to my father, Ronald, in April 1983. The later years were recorded by myself. I also have a photo of the Smith family, taken in 1907. Two of the children recorded, Edith Maud, and Lance Bertram, sadly died very early in their lives.

    My father was Ronald Smith, and it was he who is referred to under another heading, about which I will write some other time.

    To go back to ‘uncle’ Nelson, he was married to Elsie, and they had two children, Leslie and Beryl. Les worked on the farm for many years, but his love was ‘steam’ and he was a prolific maker of model engines, mainly Traction, but he did make a few of the railway types, and he did, one year win a prestgious award for a model rail engine at the Model Engineer Exhibition held in London.


    By dennis smith (14/02/2014)
  • This story is what makes a website like this so interesting and a valuable contribution to local history that brings back many personal memories. My school days began in 1955, the first year infants were in one end of the old Ramsden Heath village hall (Y.M.C.A.?) Miss Mulby was my teacher, then as I remember, moving up a year to the other end of the hall. Next move was to Ramsden Bellhouse village hall for the start of junior school followed by a move on to Downham for last years of junior school in a building opposite the wooden W.I. hut. Miss Harrington was the teacher (she was very strict and used the cane) and Mr Ward was Head of the whole group of schools. These were the days of chalk and slate then those horrible nibs on the end of a stick that were dipped in the ink well located in the old desk top. As I lived in Church End Farm, Runwell someone used to give me a lift to school in a V8 Ford Pilot, but I can’t remember who that was. Later on in was a journey on the 34A Eastern National Bus, before finally being trusted to cycle to Downham via Brock Hill! Oh to be young, fit and energetic again. These were the days of 25 children in a class, maybe no more than 50-60 in the whole school, what I shock it was for me on moving up to secondary school at Beauchamps in Wickford, over 40 children in a class and 1100 in the whole school. As is often said, ‘schooldays are the happiest days of your life’. I don’t know about that but the last two or three days of my education before leaving for good were tolerable.

    By John Hawes (11/01/2013)

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