Memories of South Hanningfield

By the late Lily E. Sams

My first memories were watching columns of soldiers marching through the village en route for Tilbury and France, singing war tunes, but I suppose, sadly, never returning in such numbers and in such high spirits.

The village then consisted of our village school, the public house  ‘The Windmill’, the Post Office and General Store, the Blacksmith’s Forge, plus the Parish Church of St. Peter’s, and ‘Bearmains’ the big house lived in by Mr. & Mrs. Gray, employing many servants and gardeners.   There was also a scattering of cottages mainly occuplied by the farm workers and their families.

Our Church of England school had two classrooms, the large room built in 1874 and the small room in 1912, having two teachers.

There was no power nor light in the village, and the only supply of water was obtained from various springs supplying wells in the gardens or the side of the road.

Everyone had a kitchen stove indoors and this provided heat for cooking and warmth, and a paraffin oil lamp standing on the table for all to see after dark.

The Windmill Public House was a small country pub with a tap room, the floor of which was covered in sawdust, and run by a Mr. Tom Hunt and his sister Peg, together with a housekeepter, Mrs. Aspin.  All three were very deaf but managed to keep the locals happy, especially in winter time with a large fire in the tap room which had seats built in the side of the fireplace.

The post office and general store were run by the Clarence family.  You could always purchase lovely hand-cut bacon and cheese, and all perishable goods were kept in a back room with a brick floor, slate shelves and no heat.  The blacksmith’s forge was run by the two Smith brothers, who were kept busy with the farm horses.  When anyone wanted the doctor to call from Wickford, a white flag was placed on the smithy’s wall and the doctor on his motor-bike used to call there to see where he was wanted (there were no phones in the village until the 1930s).

After the First World War ended and the men who served in the forces came back, things began to alter.  Gradually the village had a Village Hall erected, this being an ex army hut.  Concerts, dances, Band of Hope, Women’s Institutes and then a Men’s club was held in it.

When motorized vehicles began to come on the scene the Church Choir hired one to take the members by charabanc to the seaside once a year.  The maximum speed of these was 15mph, so they left early in the morning arriving home late at night.  Gradually things began to improve, buses began to get more frequent, lads bought motorbikes, taking the girls on the pillion.  Water and electricity were laid on and generally life improved until war broke out again in 1939.

On the whole the village escaped lightly.  The end of the war was greeted with a hugh bonfire, and a social evening in the village hall, and things seemed to be settling down until a hugh reservoir was planned and built on many acres of farmland.  Completed in 1954, it completly altered the face of the village.  New houses were built and a new road linking West to South Hanningfield.  The school was demolished and the Windmill public house was rebuilt.

A new village hall has been built.  Children were taken by coach to the new school at West Hanningfield.  When they were 11 years old they were taken again by coach to the comprehensive schools in the towns nearby.


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  • I remember Reg and Lily Sam’s from when we lived in Warren Road Rettendon. My father worked on Poplars Farm in the 50s and early 60s. Reg and Lily organised South Hanningfield flower shows.

    By June Eardley née Jeffery (28/01/2022)
  • I worked at ‘Bearmains’ in the early 1990s, when it was a care home. I’d like to know more of its history but can’t find much online!

    By stephanie mckinley (19/07/2018)
  • I remember the Windmill pub. In my youth we used to go to dances on a saturday night in the village hall. It was not as good as it is now, but we had a good time, for us country boys and girls it was the highlight of the week. At 16 we used to go in the pub[Windmill] when it was the ladies’ excuse me – we wanted to choose them, not them choose us.

    By BOBCROOT (04/03/2014)
  • I knew Mrs Lily Sams. As a small boy I started school aged 4 or 5 at South Hanningfield.  I was in Miss Bright’s class, with Miss Bispham as head and in charge of the older children – up to age 11. I recall that as Lily Pitt she was a helper with non teaching chores at the school.  At sometime in the later 1940s we moved to Woodham Ferrers where we lived for about 3 years before my father bought the Post office stores from the Clarence family and became post master, and shop keeper for many years, until his retirement in the 1960s. I was then at Wickford Senior School, where I was one of the first pupils to stay on at the school in order to take an RSA exam in Maths, English and Science, which I am pleased to say I passed. My mother had a sister, Flo, who was the wife of Charlie Simpson. They lived in Alderney Gardens, and I recall that at the end of the War, Charlie was responsible for a huge bonfire and fireworks on a bit of land next to their house. Alderney in those days was unmade, as were all of the side roads, including Jersey Gardens. Charlie’s brother was Ben Simpson, a postman, who lived in the last house in Swan Lane in front of the tennis courts to which Miss Patmore (Swan) devoted a lot of her time, as a player.

    By Dennis Smith (03/10/2013)

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