St. Andrew’s Church, 20th – 22nd September 2018.
Most people have heard of the great North Sea flood that inundated Essex in 1953 killing hundreds of people along the coast. In Wickford it was the floods of 1958 that caused most damage, fortunately with no loss of life, and led to the town being featured in the national press and the movie newsreels. Over the autumn of 1958 from September 5th the town flooded at least four times.
A contributor to the Wickford Community Archive has written:
“The night of the floods [Friday, September 5th] was quite extraordinary. There was a violent thunderstorm in the evening with [hailstones and] torrential rain. We just took it to be a normal storm, but at about 11p.m. we could hear voices and people going up the road, … by then, the water was flooding through the bungalows and London Road was completely flooded. The water did not reach our bungalow, but where the recreation ground was flooded the water lapped at the bottom of our garden.”
Before long the sheer quantity of rain had flooded the High Street, the London Road, the bottom of the Southend Road, Memorial Park and the Runwell Road. Over the next few days the press was full of stories of flooded houses, furniture floating around the living room, Boy Scouts ferrying people along the High Street in rowing boats borrowed from Lake Meadows Park in Billericay and Silva Carter’s amphibious vehicle, the DUKW, rescuing some from their houses or providing supplies for those who decided to stay put upstairs. A coffin was seen sailing along the Broadway, probably from the undertakers, and boxes of shoes floated out of the shoe shop. The double decker 251 bus to Wood Green and its four passengers (though it looks like more) trapped on the top deck featured in the national press, stranded in the flood at Hall’s Corner. Another bus had to be towed out of the water along the London Road. People are recorded as swimming home from the railway station or even to their wedding at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, while others walked along the railway embankment in order to get from one side of the town to the other.
According to The Times (Sept 25 1958) the Chamber of Trade sent a letter to the Ministers of Food, Health and Housing and Local Government demanding action to prevent further flooding, the cause of which was said to be the congested and overgrown state of the River Crouch. It has also been suggested that the lock gates at Battlesbridge had swung shut and excess water could not flow out to sea. It was a few years until the river was canalised.