Runwell Remembered - (a) the late 1930s

My first recollections of life in Runwell must have been when I was about 3 or 4 years old living in Waverley Crescent, Brock Hill.

I was born in May 1937 when my parents were living in Downham Road.  In 1938 my father built our bungalow in Waverley Crescent and we moved in.  Like all the other side roads in Runwell at that time Waverley was unmade and as a small child I thought I was living in the middle of a field; in fact I probably was as other properties were few and far between.  Although I did not know this at the time, Runwell was probably what was known as ‘plot lands’.  People, probably from London , purchased small plots of land in the fields and built small wooden sheds in which they spent the weekends; as the railway station was not too far away, it was quite easy to do.  These sheds were lovingly called weekend bungalows.  Like most of the other homes in the area we did not have any electricity or main drainage but we did have mains water and gas supply.  We also didn’t have a bathroom, as the outbreak of war in 1939 put a stop to my father’s building work.

What was life like without electricity or main drainage?  My Mother must have found it very hard.  Every drop of hot water had to be heated in galvanized buckets or kettles on the gas cooker or coal fire.  Baths were taken once a week in a large tin bath in front of the coal fire; youngest first, oldest last.  I always got to go first and the rest of the week a strip wash.  In the winter it was so cold – no central heating then, or double glazing, and in the 1939s and 1940s we had some harsh winters.  The frost made lovely patterns on the inside of the windows and you had to breathe on the glass and then rub to see what the weather was doing outside.  When you had a call of nature, it was a 20 yard dash to a brick built sentry-box style lavatory in the garden; it was a very draughty place because of the gap above and below the door.  You did not linger for very long.  We did have a very nice polished wooden seat, with a large bucket underneath which was emptied once or twice a week in the garden. We didn’t have the luxury of soft toilet tissue, we had cut up squares of the Southend Standard and thread onto string.

In he evening when it started to get dark the gas mantles had to be lit, what a performance that used to be.  You needed three hands; one to hold the torch, one to hold the match box and one to strike the match and light the mantle.  You had to be very careful, if you were heavy handed you would put the match through the flimsy mantle.  You also had two chains either side to adjust the flame.  If there was too much gas the mantle would flare up and you would have to find a new one and start all over again – more hassle.

At the time only a few people had fridges; we didn’t, for obvious reasons, so a hole was dug in the garden under the greengage tree and a large tin box put inside in which my mother kept milk, cheese, etc. during the summer months.  It is surprising how cool everything kept.  We had to put a large slab over the top to stop the foxes getting into it when they came visiting most nights to raid the chicken run.  As well as our hens we also had rabbits and with our very large vegetable garden and fruit trees you could say we were self sufficient.

As I have already said, Waverley Crescent was unmade, no problem in the summer months and dry weather, but in the winter it was another story. We made a footpath to our bungalow with ashes from fires, and tin cans were burnt and flattened (recycling).  The road could only be used in dry weather and coal would be delivered in early winter by the Co-op, sometimes by steam lorry.  The Co-op also delivered bread, milk and other groceries, which during the winter had to be done on foot.  Our entertainment was a radio, which ran off an accumulator (a type of battery), a glass box with acid and copper plates, which, when charged at the local garage, provided the power.

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