Runwell Remembered - (c) more memories of the 1940s

From the top of Brock Hill, down towards Wickford, on either side of the road were fields with thick hawthorn hedges, with gaps to enter the unmade roads. Now and again on the east side of Brock Hill you would come across brick or timber built bungalows.

There was a garage, well more an agricultural workshop, (this was a large farming area with a cattle market held every Monday in Wickford), where we used to take our accumulator, a type of battery, to be recharged; it was used to power our radio.  Don’t forget we didn’t have electricity.

Then there was Mrs. Frewin’s shop. Nothing in the shop window, only a black cat and some cardboard adverts. If we were sent on an errand to buy something my Mother had forgotten and the shop was shut, we would go around to the side door.  Mrs. Frewin would serve you, but would look up and down the road first to see if anyone about, and gave us our purchases in a plain paper bag because she was breaking the law.  In those days you could only buy things during the shop opening hours.  Opposite the shop was a farm entrance and public footpath where we would go to pick blackberries to help us be self sufficient. All of you of a certain age will remember that due to the war practically everything was rationed – petrol, clothes and of course food.

When you reached the bottom of Brock Hill you arrived at Wantz Corner (junction of Church End Lane/Swan Lane ).  Now it is a mini-roundabout but then it was completely different. There was a large kerbed triangle of grass with a hanging light over the top. In the middle of the grass a sign post pointing in three directions – up to Stock and Chelmsford, to the side Maldon and Southend and down to Wickford and London.  When we had heavy rain it nearly always flooded on this corner and at one time there was talk of building a pub there – we are still waiting!

In the 1940s Runwell didn’t have a school so all the children who lived in Runwell had to go to school in Wickford, including me.  I started school about 1942 attending Wickford Infants and Junior School in Market Road.  The infants were part of the Junior School, but due to the war the infants’ part was being used as an APR post and so a prefabricated building was erected in the playground for our small group. Then when we were older we went into the Junior School.  I remember the head teacher being Miss Sortwell. When I was in the Juniors I was supposed to go to school by bus, the fare one old penny each way, but in the morning if I ran to school early I could use the money to buy a Chelsea Bun; you wouldn’t get one for a penny now.  Then when I was old enough I crossed the road to the Senior School which was equivalent to the Comprehensive School of today. The Senior school is now the Junior School and the Juniors is now the Infants. At this time Wickford Senior School was the only  Senior School in the area so school buses used to bring children in from Rettendon, the Hanningfields, Woodham Ferrers, Battlesbridge, Bicknacre and of course Runwell Hospital.

At the end of The Chase, which is a very long road off the Runwell Road, more or less the whole area is due to be demolished and a new hospital has been built. The old hospital was self sufficient – more like a village of its own, with its own staff houses, farm, church, playing fields, and the sports facilities were and still are excellent, so I have been told.  It had a terrific ballroom which I was able to visit some years ago, and during the war years dances were held for the servicemen and local girls.

At the top of the Runwell Road (A132) at the junction with the old (A130) this was known as the Turnpike, and possibly still is, there used to be an AA Box, black with gold trimmings.  An AA man with his motorbike and sidecar would sit here and salute any vehicle with an AA badge on the front grille.  After the war when petrol came off rationing and more people had cars the Runwell Road (A132) was the main road to Burnham Steeple, Stone, St.Lawrence Bay and Southminster, etc. It was a bottle neck years ago and dangerous. (Nothing changes!).  Traffic would queue for hours through Wickford and along the Runwell Road, towing boats and caravans.  Burnham was the ‘in place’ to go.

Coming down the road back towards Wickford you pass The Thomas Kemble which years ago was privately owned and more like a stately home. It was surrounded by large trees and you can still see the sumps today.  At night when you cycled by or walked, it was quite spooky.  The owls hooted and the trees creaked and groaned and it was pitch black.  Eventually you would arrive at the Quart Pot.  There was a large Oak tree in the front by the door to the Public Bar.  In the 1940s there was also the saloon bar and private bar. The tree was hollow, I can remember after the war I spent many an evening playing in the tree and it did have fairy lights all over it.

The Runwell Horticultural Club used to be very busy during and after the war because everyone needed to eat and everyone was urged to “Dig for Victory”. Flower beds were turned into vegetable plots.  I remember helping my Grandfather deliver lime to people living up the unmade roads.  It was okay in dry weather, he would take his old Ford up the roads, but when it was wet weather, mud everywhere we had to walk up and down with barrow loads, it kept you fit.



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  • Thanks for all the work you must have put into the above article, Bob. All very interesting stuff. I attended the Market Road schools from ’57-’64, and the Infants pre-fab you mention contained my 2nd, and then 3rd classroom (teachers were Mrs Kay, and Mrs Whitelaw, who was Canadian, and made us pancakes one Shrove Tuesday). Miss Phillips was my Reception class teacher.

    My closest friends & I lived in the staff houses of Runwell Hospital in those days, which was indeed more like a village, with all the facilities you mention, plus a free cinema for the patients and staff families. Happy days!

    By Lyn Humphrey (20/02/2017)

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