The Roads and Road Transport
On the Road
As an area of little wealth and relatively few people living in small settlements, south east Essex was, for many years, an area of poor transport connections. Wickford stands on a crossing of routes that go north-south, from Chelmsford to the coast and east-west, from London to Leigh and Southend. These would probably have originated as prehistoric trackways. Roman routes have been traced from Ilford to Latchingdon, and from there on to the fortress, Othona, at Bradwell-on-Sea. Another route would have connected Colchester and Chelmsford, both Roman settlements, with South Benfleet and Canvey, where tiles and salt were produced. With the end of Roman influence, roads often fell into a poor state of repair.
In 1555 parishes were made responsible for their own roads. The people of Wickford do not seem to have taken their responsibilities very seriously. In 1571, Bursbridge, apparently near Broomfords Farm, was broken and the parish was ordered to repair it. In 1572 it was “clene down”. In 1647 the parishioners were indicted for failing to repair the bridge.
Village bridges were repaired in 1716. It has been suggested that the original Southend Road ford was located further south along the river, behind the Castle Inn. It would then have linked to what is now Station Avenue, which may at one time have joined the village to Barn Hall, Downham Hall and Downham Church. From 1747 the road through Wickford became part of the Essex Turnpike Trust. Turnpikes were established to put the cost of road upkeep onto the shoulders of the road users. Little is known about the operation of the Trust in Wickford. There may have been a toll gate along the Southend Road for a short time. Most tolls on the route were collected at Hockley, Rochford and Leigh. There was a proposal to turnpike the north-south route but this came to nothing. In 1763 estimates were made for the repair of the Southend Road Bridge. The necessary poles, planks, piles and irons would cost £34 0s. 1d. In 1773 the river crossing may have moved to its present location but only 14 years later the road surface had worn through to the brickwork structure. The cost of repairs would be £29. The bridge had to be repaired again in 1820 and in 1828 with cartloads of stones. In 1869 the Highways Board could not trace who was responsible for the bridge and repaired it themselves. A plaque commemorating the 1915 reconstruction was incorporated into the bridge.
The early directories state that the River Crouch in Wickford was crossed by two bridges but in the 1870s three bridges are mentioned. The Nevendon Road bridge is not shown on the Chapman and Andre map of 1777. It was probably built in the 1830s. The suggestion was made in the early 1900s that the low parapet on the bridge may have been responsible for Mr Edgar Mann drowning there. The bridge was rebuilt in the mid-1930s.
On the Carriage
By 1761 a coach service operated between the King’s Head, Rochford, through Wickford, to Shenfield. In 1836 J. Tabor and Co. ran a coach, called The Despatch, through Wickford, to London in the morning, returning to Southend in the evening. J. Thorogood ran a service from Rochford to the Blue Boar in Aldgate.
From the 1840’s this was operated by Thomas and William Pease. Passengers were picked up at the Castle Inn. A coach from Rochford passed through Wickford on its way to Brentwood at 8.40a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, returning in the early evening.
Moses Murray ran a coach service to Chelmsford on Mondays. He is listed in White’s Directory for 1863 and the service was still operating in 1902. In the 1870s and 80s Collard Thomas operated a service from Nevendon to Chelmsford which passed through Wickford every Friday. Edward Cox ran a service to Chelmsford on Tuesdays and Fridays until the early years of the twentieth century when Charles Fox took over. The latter’s service survived until about 1912. Horse drawn coaches would meet trains at the railway station but in the long run the competition of the railway and the development of the internal combustion engine brought an end to coach services into London.
On the Buses
The provision of regular bus services was delayed by the poor condition of the roads. Laindon and District Motor Services ran a bus to Wickford on market days (Mondays). They ran a blue converted lorry and from 1921 onwards ran open top double-deckers with a light grey and yellow livery. “Old Tom” Motor Services, operated by Tom Webster and his sons from Brentwood, took them over in 1926. Edwards Hall Motors Ltd ran services from Southend and Eastwood to Wickford (the Blue buses). Major Albert Pearse’s company’s route between Wickford and South Benfleet was reduced to Mondays only when it was taken over by Benfleet and District Bus Services in January 1933. The City Coach Company based in London took over “Old Tom” in 1936. They provided the 536 service. The fare between Market Road, Wickford, and Shotgate on the brown City bus was 1d. Memories are that the seats were wooden and hard. There are some pictures here and here.
By the 1920s road traffic was increasing. There were complaints about speeding and the numbers of charabancs bringing Sunday visitors. Perhaps it was noise from these vehicles that sometimes interrupted services in the High Street’s Congregational Church.
Several companies ran buses through Wickford. From about 1925 National Coaches (which became Eastern National) ran the No 12 service between Chelmsford and Southend via Wickford. On Fridays Eastern National ran services between Grays and Chelmsford and Wickford. Buses ran to and from Benfleet on Market Days. Patten’s Coaches, with a garage in the Runwell Road, provided a service from Chelmsford to Pitsea. They took over the Wickford Omnibus Company which ran from Chelmsford to Tilbury via Wickford in 1931. Patten’s and other small companies, like Amos and Davies of Ramsden Heath and the Wickford Carriage Company, which started in 1929, were absorbed by Eastern National in the thirties. Campbells of Pitsea operated from Pitsea to Wickford and Basildon and other local villages. They too became part of Eastern National in 1956.
Until 1961, when the road was deepened, only single-deckers could provide the route between Wickford and Shotgate because of the low clearance on the Blue Brick Railway Bridge. In July 1933 the London Passenger Transport Board was granted a monopoly of transport provision in London. City looked for a new operating territory and acquired an interest in New Empress Saloons, which had run a service between London and Southend since 1928. Quest Motors ran a daily service from Maldon after 1929. In 1952 the City Company became part of Westcliff-on-Sea Motor Services which were later absorbed into Eastern National.
Traffic congestion became a major problem in the town until the town centre by-pass was built in 1979.
For more detailed information on the bus services please see: http://www.sct61.org.uk/