Memories of The Great Flood of Wickford (1)

5th September, 1958

It was a very humid day and I was working for a local builder, cleaning out and piping a ditch with 2ft (600mm) pipes.  It was hot and sticky as well as muddy.

At the time I was courting my girlfriend, now my wife, who at the age of 18 years had to be home by 10pm, “Dad’s Orders”, (things were different back then).

So I left my home in Brock Hill and left my cycle around her parents’ house in Runwell Road.  We caught the 7pm bus to Rayleigh, as being home by 10pm there wasn’t time to go to Southend pictures as the bus took nearly and hour to get there, plus we couldn’t afford much as we were saving to get married. We sat there in the Paul Pry Public House with a glass of lager, and sweet talking each other.

We left the pub just after 9pm to walk down to the bus stop in Crown Hill, in time to get her home by 10pm.  We had noticed earlier that there had been a very heavy black sky going towards Rayleigh and drizzling with rain.  It had rained whilst we were in the pub, but it did not seem that bad.  We boarded the double decker and sailed down Crown Hill, past the railway station and under the bridge, not realising we’d had heavy rain.  Down past the Travellers Joy pub the water started to lap the running board of the bus and the driver said, “I can’t go any further”, so he turned round and we got off at Rayleigh Station.  On going into the station we were told that there were no trains,  the embankment had collapsed in Brentwood, bringing down lines.  By this time Maureen (my fiancée) was panicking, saying “my Dad will kill me”.  As we left the station there were people standing at the bus stop and we decided to tell them of the problems, no buses and no trains.  Whilst we stood talking, a car pulled up and we realised they were school friends of Maureen’s.  After discussing the situation we decided that they would take us home via Rayleigh Weir and the A127.

The A127 was an up and down road, so every time we went into a dip it was flooded.  There being three girls by this time and two fellows, us two chaps pushed the car and the girls walked on the verge.  The water was about 12 inches to 18 inches deep but not enough to stop an old Ford Prefect.  By the time we got to Laburnham Avenue, off Nevendon Road, Wickford, it must have been past 10pm.  That was the lowest part of the flood and there was a Policeman there who said, “The town is under 5 ft of water”.

We decided to walk up Laburnham Drive into Deirdre Avenue and into London Road.  Maureen was still worried about getting home.  No mobiles and very few houses had telephones. We started to walk down London Road after leaving coats at a house in Victoria Road, but when water penetrated through her clothing Maureen panicked and went back.

By this time there was quite a crowd of us, so four fellows and three girls decided to walk through to Wickford spread across the road, the girls between us fellows.  So away we went not thinking of the surge of water when we went over river areas or manhole covers that may have been missing.  On we waded, in over 5 ft of water, girls hugging our necks and floating between us.

We passed the double decker bus half submerged at Halls Corner that had been caught in a surge of water that was rising so quickly.  By this time it must have been midnight.  The picture of the bus was in all the national papers.

The High Street slopes up from Halls Corner and as we walked out of the water we were not congratulated but severely told off. We were stupid, but being 21 years of age, having done three years National Service in the R.A.F., I thought I was the bee’s knees and worried about my girlfriend getting home.  The High Street then goes down and the Swan Pub was flooded in over 4 ft of water, in and over the Bar.

We walked the back way around into HaroldGardens and down into Runwell Road.  By this time the river was stretching up HaroldGardens, and outside Maureen’s house was a raging torrent 18 inches deep.

After all that, her father said, “What did you bring her home in this for?!!!!”

Thinking back 53 years ago we must have been mad, we could not swim.

Maureen’s father and I, after changing my clothes, spent half the time trying to catch crates of fruit rushing past from the greengrocer’s, with a nail in a clothes prop, but with no luck, the river was too fast.

The flooding of Wickford was a very very high tide up to Battlesbridge, and apparently lock gates were closed and excess water from hills at Crays Hill and Brock Hill etc. could not get away. It must have rained heavily but we did not notice.

Now Wickford was always flooded every time it rained. I can remember the times I went back from school telling Mum I couldn’t get there. It wasn’t very deep but that was my excuse.

Wickford is surrounded on three sides by the river and before the river was concreted it used to come across the Broadway lapping the Swan pub steps every time it rained.

Maureen and I married on 5th September 1959, exactly one year later.

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  • A comment from Mr Dennis Smith

    I recall this event. I seem to remember the rain started to fall during the evening – and did it rain! It rained very heavily from the start. I earned brownie points from my girlfriend’s mother because I went out into their shed and rescued her brother’s two guinea pigs as the water was rising that fast. One of the most vivid memories I have of that storm was of a motor cyclist, with a pillion passenger, going along Church End Lane towards Wantz Corner. I have often wondered what happened to them, as it must have been impossible to keep the bike upright in such bad conditions. I’d love to hear from you if you were the rider.

    By Geoff Whiter (19/02/2014)
  • Wonderful memories from Bob. In August of that year I had the use of my dad’s Zephyr 6 and put it in a ditch on the way to Stone. Mum and dad were due to go on holiday on the 6th of September and thanks to the efforts of the repair and paintshop of Carter and Wards dad got his car back on the afternoon of the 5th. That same evening, my sister and I went to spend the weekend in our caravan at Stone. A few days earlier Roy Carter had bought a DUKW and brought it to Stone on the same Friday evening with the idea of trying it out on the River Blackwater over the weekend. I guess the rest is history, in that on Saturday morning the DUKW was driven back to Wickford and helped in many escapades and is featured in many of the photos of the local and national press. At that time we were living in Nevendon Road, opposite the Fire Station. During that evening, before the rain started, mum and dad had gone up the London Road, in their “new” Zephyr, to “Spark Lodge”, the home of Joyce and Alf Everit. They were to go on Holiday together the next day. Our house meanwhile was flooded to a depth of three or four feet. We had a three legged cat. He escaped upstairs and it was weeks before he ventured downstairs. After the waters went down we had I think the R.A.F. with their hot air blowers helping to dry out the house and trying to salvage the many personal possessions. The damp smell lingered on and on. Over the weekend that followed Wickford was inundated with morbid sightseers.

    By Geoff Fairey (03/09/2011)

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