Runwell Remembered - (e) the 1950s
I had been born in May 1937 and lived in Downham Road until in 1938 my Dad built our bungalow in Waverley Crescent. In 1950 I was 13 and nothing much was happening in Runwell. Although the war had been over for 5 years rationing was still in place for some things and times were hard. In those days Runwell was really unknown and we usually said we lived in Wickford. If you mentioned Runwell someone would mention the Mental Hospital because it was possible that the population of the hospital village, with its staff houses, farm and patients was more than the population of Runwell Parish. until the 1960s when the building of Runwell really took off. The hospital provided many jobs for the residents of Runwell and Wickford but it also had a marvellous dance hall and during the war years it was a very popular place to go to dances for the local young women and servicemen; dances were still being held there in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the 1950s the Essex Hunt used to meet at the De Beauvoir Arms and I used to go up on my bike to watch them gather. It was quite a sight. The men in their red jackets, with their horses and dogs, and I would follow as far as I could on my bike. You must remember this was 60 years ago. Hard to imagine that most of Runwell was open country and most people had vegetable plots and kept chickens, so supported the hunt.
In 1952 the reservoir at Hanningfield was built. Runwell and Brock Hill took another hammering of the roads, so instead of the tanks and army lorries of the war years we now had conveys of cement and ballast lorries etc. for weeks until the job was done.
In 1952, aged 15, I left school. I wanted to go to Writtle Agricultural College as I thought I might like to be a farmer, but I was told I was too young. I had been a Scout and then an Air Training Cadet and knew the Commissioner of the Scouts, who happened to be the Head Gardener to the Keddies, who lived at the Grange at Downham, and he offered me a job. At that time the Keddie family owned Keddies, a large department store in Southend High Street, which only closed in recent years. They employed a cook, other indoor staff, two gardeners and me. After a while my job was to mow the lawns, 6 acres, and it took me between 2 and 3 days walking with the mower, no sit on mowers then. In 1953 they had a seat on roller which was hard to navigate around the shaped borders and you had to keep getting off to put mowings into the trolley to cart off to the compost. My other jobs included putting red polish on the tiles of the veranda, taking the dogs for walks, sawing and chopping logs from the trees brought in by the tenant farmers, helping the gardeners in the walled vegetable garden and helping the head gardener, changing the flower borders and in the greenhouse, propagating and growing superb chrysanthemums and salad crops. Then when I was 17 I joined the R.A.F.
Now more properties were being built and the unmade side roads were being made up – the face of Runwell was changing forever.