Madge Viscardini's Memories of the Downham area (Circa 1930), Part 2

Downham, Ramsden and Wickford

Madge in later years
Madge Viscardini's family

Downham School was finally placed opposite the Village Hall and holds one of my earliest memories of a library, which was open every Friday night.  This was run by the Head Teacher, Miss Stanley, and comprised of 3 small shelves in one of the many cupboards.  This is now a house called “St. Margarets”.  There was a rookery in the elms just below Downham Church, and they also surrounded the Church.  The Dutch Elm disease took these, but now we have the marvellous show of the lights of Basildon at night instead.  Apart from what I remember of the first buses to go through Ramsden Heath and Downham, run I believe by John Patten, we also had the school bus which took us at 11 years old to Wickford School.  This service was run by Ern Davies of Ramsden Bellhouse, and often driven by Len Barker, who was quite a character around Ramsden Bellhouse during his long life there.  Later Ern Davies ran a nursery in Ramsden Bellhouse.

Mr James T Eldridge was our milkman who did his round by pony and trap, and sold half pint and 1 pint measures of milk.  The measures hung down inside the churn.  Smith’s Stores, which is now gone, was started by the same Mr Eldridge selling fruit and cream, etc., from his house and dairy which was then next to the thatched “Kites Lodge”.  The bakers in those days used to deliver HOT, hot cross buns at about 5 am on Good Friday, the purchaser having arranged beforehand for them to be left.

Have no doubt that Ivy and Jim Dorking could tell a tale of their wood yard, and family, which was nearly opposite “Kites Lodge”, while next door but one to that, in a house that is still there, we had our own local village policeman.  In the same vicinity lived our district nurse in Lesley Cottages, and unlike today, we could call on her with our problems.

My mother and father resided for over 50 years in the last bungalow on the right going down Crows Heath Lane (the earlier one of which he built).  I lived there during my early years.   Until they dug their own well they used to get water from the pump behind the De Beauvoir Arms – I wonder if it is still there?  As a child I would wait for hours on a Sunday afternoon outside the De Beauvoir Arms hoping that the man with the 3-wheeled bicycle with box attached, who sold ice cream, would pass by.  Is anyone familiar with the pond in the pub grounds which is supposedly the cellars of an old pub possibly “The Cock”?  The De Beauvoir Arms name came about from the acquiring of building material from the old De Beauvoir House that used to stand in the Chase that still bears that name.  

During the time of my childhood here I went to the Brownies, held in the W.I. Hall (as it was then) and later to the Girl Guides, held in a barn at Downham House, which was laid out for the ball game FIVES, and about that time I was asked to be one of the ball girls for a tennis tournament held at Downham House by Mr & Mrs Gasgoyne Cecil.  The cook, who later became Mrs Newland Eldridge, had made some real home made strawberry ice cream for the guests, and at the end of the day I proudly took the basinful home that I was given, only to discover that no one there was to enjoy it as they were all ill.

In Ramsden Bellhouse opposite the Fox and Hounds pub was Marvins Cycle Shop, and on the left of the railway cottages, next to the Fox and Hounds, coal used to come into the sidings by train. On the other side of the pub was the old village hall.  Does anyone remember seeing glow worms on the right going up the hill?  Mrs Amey would probably have a tale to tell of the shop in the Bellhouse run by Mrs Holmwood, who subsequently lived in Crows Heath Road, the shop previous to this started by Mrs Clayden.

Near Harrow Farm we had petrol pumps and a garage run by Mr Ward, the derelict remains of which are still there.  We used to take our radio accumulators there to be re-charged.

On St. Margaret’s Day every year we school children were invited to the mansion house of Fremnells, where the reservoir now is, by kind invitation of Mr & Mrs Kirk.  There we had tea on the lawns and danced the Maypole for them and also did other country dancing.  Later in my life I worked there.  The Essex Union Hunt always met there for their first meet of the season (first Saturday of November).  Villagers were always welcome and this was quite a sight with the butler coming out of the gun room and serving the horsemen drinks, whilst the hounds milled around.  When I was about 11 years of age, I needed information about Fremnells for an American pen pal (a person I have since met 3 times and still correspond with).  I was sent to talk to an old lady called Miss Orton who lived with her brother, who managed the butcher’s shop in Ramsden Heath, in a little wooden cottage on the hill in Downham where Mayflower House now stands.  (Just below Miss Orton’s house, on the opposite side, was the water pump some used and is still there today.  Miss Orton told me that she had lived in Fremnells as a child and that it was then a farm house, the stairs of which went up the OUTSIDE of the building.  There was possibly a moat on one side of it at one time as there was a waist high wall with a big drop behind it and a stair going down in one place.  It may well have been used at one time as it seemed to be aligned with the brook on the old piece of road which was still there at that time.

Eventually I started my married life at Fremnells Lodge and I remember a lot of the farm land around (now reservoir) was owned by Mr Pearce, Snr., and the house he lived is now renamed Fremnells, whilst there was another farmer living right opposite here, a Mr Kerr.   Fremnells Lodge was at the end of one of the 3 drives for Fremnells itself, this had been the main drive for the carriages in days gone by and was lined with rhododendrons.  The middle drive being fairly straight was lined with daffodils, and the third drive was further along the road that was there then, passing the brook, and led to the stables, cars and generator. Here also was the house of the chauffeur, Herman Oliver.

While living in Fremnells Lodge, one of the grocers delivering there was the said Mr Souden.  No one seemed surprised that when delivering he used to like to come in for a long chat. Having 4 children in 6 years, and not really any time to spare for this, I was driven to saving my ironing for Tuesday nights – flat irons of course which were heated on the coal range (the only means of cooking) – there being no electricity, no gas, no hot water, just a copper in the kitchen to heat water for baths and doing the washing.  There was no bathroom of course, so it was the old zinc bath in the kitchen where the copper was.  We lived in Fremnells Lodge until 1953, when we had to leave to make way for the reservoir.

Comments about this page

Add your own comment

  • Well done Mrs Viscardini.
    Great to read all about the villages I grew up in. My brother-in-law Eddie Bishop sent me this link. We went to school with your son Barry and have great memories of driving old cars bought from Dixons breakers yard.
    Mr & Mrs Chaney and their son Terry, being a good friend of ours, were so good to us all,
    allowing a fleet of cars to be driven around what was their huge back garden by a large group of 11 to 14 year olds from Ramsden, the Bellhouse and Downham. My brother Paul bought a Morris Oxford, the one that looked like an over sized Morris Minor. There was a Ford Prefect, a Hillman which we cut the roof off. 😆
    If I remember rightly your son Barry had a Mk 9 or earlier Jaguar, not bad for a 14 year old!
    Great memories of the 3 villages.
    I lived in Ramsden Heath went to school in Downham. We also went to school in Ramsden Bellhouse village hall. I have a great photo of a remembrance service in the Memorial Garden at the Bellhouse village hall, probably around 1959 I think, including Eddie Bishop and Paul Toy my brother. Thanks again.

    By Steve Toy (01/04/2023)
  • I have just connected Madge Viscardini’s comments to the “Miss Orten” who is a distant relative of mine via her Grandather, Edmund Low, who died 1850, following a hunting accident. She wrote a long description of life on the Fremnells estate, as recounted by her mother, Ellen Jane Low, in a letter dated March 1935, which I have inherited. In it she confirms that there was a moat and drawbridge.

    By Mick Prince (05/01/2021)
  • James T Eldridge, as mentioned above, was my grandfather, who moved to Downham in about 1920, and Mrs Newland Eldridge was my mother who loved working for the Cecils and said they were such lovely people. They loved entertaining and she loved cooking for them. Whilst working for them at Downham House she met Newland Eldridge (the son of James T Eldridge) and later married him, having 3 children – Derek, Valerie and me, Janet.


    By Janet Eldridge (03/01/2016)
  • I remember the Fremnels farm house in 1952. Having left school and gone to work at the Grange, Downham, owned then by the Keddies of Southend, another large house in the area.  As I was gardener’s boy my job was to mow the lawns, help in kitchen garden,un the dogs, but also to run errands to other large houses in the area, one of which was Fremnels, just before the reservoir was built, flowers and vegetables, also to the Miss Browns who lived on the left in a large thatched house, just near the Eldridge dairy, before Smiths shop, on the hill.

    By BOBCROOT (08/03/2013)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.