I moved to Wickford in August 1949, just before my fifth birthday. My father was a gas fitter and plumber by trade but a nurseryman by hobby, and in our acre of ground in Rectory Grove, we grew and sold fruit, salad stuff, cut flowers and plants. Dad also grew the family’s vegetables. It was an unmade road, very quiet, with a field next to us on one side and opposite was land owned by the Vicarage. It was very safe to ride our bicycles up and down.
I started school in September 1949 and attended the Voluntary Controlled Wickford Church of England School in Southend Road. The school was attached to St. Catherine’s Church and the Vicar at that time was Reverend Munson. He visited our school every Thursday, and led Assembly. The first lesson each morning was ‘Scripture’ and we were expected to learn the Catechism off-by-heart. On Sundays our family attended Ebenezer Gospel Hall in Jersey Gardens, in the morning, Sunday School in the afternoon, and the Gospel Meeting in the evening. Dad was the Sunday-School Superintendent and Mum took what was known as the ‘Bible Class’ (the older mixed class). Children attended the Church of England school from five to eleven years of age and we processed up the hill to church (an older child accompanying a smaller child) on a morning near Christmastime, at Eastertide, on Ash Wednesday and on Ascension Day, for a special service, after which we had the rest of the day off school.
There was only one class for each year, no grading made, and my teacher at the age of five was a Miss (Eva) Worster. I remember well my first day at school as she asked me about my dolls and teddies and I named them all and ‘drew pictures’ of them. She seemed to be fascinated and when I wanted, for instance, to play in the sand pit where some of the others were gathered, hearing about my dumb, furry playfellows at home kept her interested for quite a time. I must admit, I had rather a lot of furry playfellows.
Before the end of the Christmas term, on a particular afternoon, each class entertained the rest of the school with their own particular plays. It was usually the five-year-olds who performed the Nativity. (I don’t think I was cast in it). Each morning, we five-year-olds did not go into Assembly but just stood by our desks and recited ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. When we were six, our teacher was Miss Jones who lived in Wickford. She played the piano for the morning Assembly and for the musical lesson when we used ‘The Oxford Song Book’. At Christmastime, we used ‘The Oxford Carol Book’, a small red book, and I remember Miss Jones each year repeating her
direction that the lines ‘Oh Come, Let us Adore Him’ should be, firstly, sung softly, then louder, then loud. Our class play that year was: ‘Polly, Put the Kettle on’ (again, I wasn’t in it). When we were seven our class teacher was Miss (Vera) Ramsbotham (later, she became Mrs. Marchant). At Christmastime, we were the class performing the Nativity (not the 5s) and I remember the tea towels and dressing gowns being brought in from their respective homes for the shepherds and inn-keeper for the dress rehearsal. Also, at age seven is when examination reports were completed by the teachers (not for ages five and six) and I have all my reports from that age.
At eight, we went into Mr. (Fred) Beadle’s class and he was an inspiration to me. He was such a clever man and, on St. George’s Day, we went into class to find a drawing of St. George and the dragon on the blackboard. Mr. Beadle could tell wonderful ghost stories and, in a spare moment in lessons, we would request: ‘Tell us a ghost story, sir’. He would oblige, each one different from
the others and I was on the edge of my seat with each one. He would write stories, too, (I found out a lot more about him later) and I remember the names he called the boys: ‘halfwit, quarterwit, nincompoop, buffoon’. He had particular names for some of the girls in the class (one he called ‘Sally’ and another’Polly’). We were, however, fascinated by his artistic ability and his memory lives on in my mind. The Christmas play that year was ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’. One of his quotes of wisdom was: ‘There is no such thing as an accident, only someone’s stupidity’ and I think of him whenever anything ‘accidental’ happens.
During 1953 and in Mr. Beadle’s class, the Coronation took place and each class put on a play for parents and families. This programme was held in an afternoon in the school grounds. The only play to have a name was that performed by the seven-year-olds (which included my brother), being called: ‘The Battle of Blenheim’. My own class play was set in the time of Charles II and I was one of a group of four children let out from school and shouting: ‘Hooray, no school today’ because the King was passing that way following his Coronation. My Mum came to view the afternoon’s entertainment, with a neighbour. The classroom for the eight-year-olds also served as the dinner room and Miss Ambridge and her team of ladies served the dinners and, during the afternoon, the curtain was pulled across the back of the classroom so that the ladies could wash up behind it. This sound frequently accompanied Mr. Beadle’s lesson.
On to age nine and it was then that a new teacher came to the school to take over the five-year-olds. This was Mrs. Robinson and her nine-year-old son, Peter, joined our class. This evened up the number of teachers and classes as, until then, Miss Green, the Head Mistress, had taught two age groups in her daily round (the nine and ten-year-olds together). Miss Worcester permanently now took over the nine-year-olds so she was again our teacher. Miss Green now only had the ten-year-olds. She was a strict lady but fair and she ruled the school with an iron rod, but everyone admired her. During the time I was a pupil there, one of the previous boys had won a scholarship to a special London school, which was an honour, but Miss Green would not have special mention made of our school as she said that: ‘other children work just as hard’. Our Christmas effort (at the age of nine) had a cat as one of the characters and the remaining uncast girls (six of us, including me) performed a fairy dance to start the play off with Miss Worcester playing the music on a wind-up gramophone.
I moved back to Grays with my family in August 1954 so did not go into Miss Green’s class at aged ten. I missed Wickford very much after I’d moved, and still do and, therefore, visit it frequently. For the Coronation in 1953, each child was given a book, which I still have, entitled: ’Royalty in Essex’. There was a combined, inter-schools, after-school gathering arranged at the site of what we called the ‘other’ junior school and the senior school in Wickford village. We were each given a picnic and a Coronation mug and everyone mixed to play games. For the Coronation itself, the Congregational Church in the High Street installed a large screen in the church hall so that anyone with no television, such as us, could go and watch it. Dad took my brother and me, plus, our lunch. The ladies in the kitchen were working hard providing tea and biscuits.
When it rained heavily, the narrow river at the bottom of Southend Road regularly flooded and it must have been a representative of the Police who informed the school that the children who lived in the village should leave early in order to get home before the floods overtook the village streets. The school had no telephone or teachers’ staff room. There were five classrooms (one also being used as the dinner room) and when the new teacher came (Mrs. Robinson), evening up the number of teachers to classes, a new building was erected in the grounds to provide the missing classroom. Also, at a later stage, there was such an influx of new children starting at the school that temporary places in the village were found to house these extra classes of five-
year-olds. Two new teachers were taken on, Mrs. Newman and Miss Treadwell, and they walked the children each morning down to the village and back again in the afternoon. (I was nine when this happened).
Wickford market was held on a Monday and, at that time, there was a cattle section where the pens held sheep, goats, pigs and cows. We could only see the animals – or the market – during school holidays and Dad only on his time off from work. In the yard of ‘The Castle’ public house, the cages for the rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs were lined up, with the chickens nearby, and Dad regularly told us NOT to put our fingers in the ferrets’ cages. Of course, we did and got no sympathy. The market itself was sizeable then with a man whom my Mum always referred to as ‘the man in the market’ who sold toys and to whom she paid instalments through the year for our birthdays and Christmas gifts. She also paid instalments to the sweet shop next to The Picture House for our Christmas confectionary and, also, to Tilbury’s, the butcher’s she paid the monthly instalments for our Christmas meat. (The Picture House turned into Woolworths in 1954 and, that year also, they provided the first public toilet.) The only time I went to The Picture House must have been at the time of the Coronation when, for a sixpenny ticket, children could see the film and were given a picnic to eat whilst in there. I remember this being a cowboy film and I didn’t like it. I made the best of not watching it until it finished.
I remember the Doctor’s house and Dr. Frew Snr, referred to as ‘Grandad Frew’ (we saw him by choice) and his son, Dr. Frew Jnr., whom I don’t think many people liked as much. Dr. Frew, Snr., would sit the sick child on his knee and give advice: ‘Now listen, mother,………..’ He was always thought of with affection by a great many people.
The shops I knew I remember when I walk down the High Street – Mayes Bros., Co-operative Store (Wickford was part of the London Co-op); even though they are now replaced with such different stores I see the old shops in my mind. The open-air furniture shop at the bottom of Station Approach I still think of as ‘Fawcett’s’, as that was the site of the greengrocers used by my Mum.
At Sunday-School at Ebenezer Gospel Hall in Jersey Gardens, I remember some of the other children and I list those I remember here: David, Phyllis and Hazel De’ath, Vaughan Williams, Bruce, Trevor and Linda Revell, and their other siblings, Anne and Margaret Cook, Gillian Caulfield (who lived in Jersey Gardens), Yvonne and Yvette Sadler, Elsie Holland and her siblings, Jean Craven and her family members, Jean Rumble, Loretta Longman, Sylvia Trill, Neville Montague and his brother, Joy Faulkner and Pat and Valerie Brooks. (Mrs. Brooks, their mum, was a cleaner for one of our neighbours in Rectory Grove). At Sunday-School in January, we had a party which included the prize-giving when books were awarded to each child, according to their regularity in attendance. I still have my prizes.
More about Wickford could be written and there’s certainly more flowing in my mind. I hope this item on Wickford life demonstrates that it was a special place in which to live in 1949/54.
For information and interest, those in my class at school from five to nine years (when I reluctantly moved from Wickford) were: Suzanne Farrow, Sandra Baker, Carol Pratt, Joan Martin, Joan Carter, Carol Stinchcombe, Jean Clarke, Shirley Lapham, Pauline Nash, Hazel Nason, Jacqueline Elyard, Celia Vandergrift, Maureen Fox, Alan Jubb, David Gatland, Barry Hudson, Anthony Davies, Anthony Clausen, John Orrock, Stephen Kent, Michael Worship, Leonard Parsons, Alec George, Peter Robinson.