Recently I was able to copy a friend’s newspaper cuttings from the time of the Wickford floods. I think these cuttings should be shared with others.
ARTICLE FROM 11 SEPTEMBER 1958
GREY DAWN FOUND WICKFORD A VAST SEA
Chaos amidst thunder; lightning and torrential rain
The comment below the photograph read: –
“This picture of fences and garden walls carried away in Nevendon Road, Wickford, indicates the force of the flood.”
The article: –
To a “devil’s fanfare” of thunder, lightning, torrential rain and hail the River Crouch rose silently and quickly on Friday night to burst its banks and pour into the town of Wickford, already inches deep In water from overflowing drains unable to take the heavy downpour. Soon after 9 o’clock the High Street was a raging torrent.
Cars and buses were marooned and people cut off from and in their homes. Traders, called hurriedly to their shops, waited anxiously as the ever-increasing volume of water rushed through their premises.
The worst had come: this was the day all Wickford had feared since its two smaller floodings earlier this summer. This water running savagely through shops and houses, creeping higher as the seconds went by, was what all the protest meetings had been about in the past few weeks: meetings calling on all and sundry powers to do I something to stop an occurrence which was becoming all too frequent.
All through the night the water rose as reports of people stranded came in to Police and fire stations in the area. Cellars at the White Swan and Castle public houses filled with water, but nothing could be done. Traders saw their stocks swept away in the yellow, swirling waters.
More trouble was to come. Electricity failed and the telephones went out of action. Householders, making use of candles and torches, tried to save furniture and pets. Bungalow owners had not much choice but to sit on top of sideboards and tables and hope and pray for daylight.
TOWN A VAST SEA
As a grey dawn broke, the town was a vast sea; and it was not only the centre that suffered. From Castledon Road. Shotgate, Runwell, in fact, everywhere, came reports of trouble.
Rescue operations were intensified Police-Sergeant G. N. Adams and his Policemen, who had been up all night, got help. More Police, including Special Constables, Civil Defence Volunteers – they came from as far afield as Colchester and Hornchurch – W.V.S. members, other voluntary organisations, and the townspeople themselves came out to help where possible.
Everyone had their own story and praise for a neighbour or someone else who had helped them, or they had seen do a good deed.
As the morning got under way and the sun came out, it was then that the tired faces could be seen; faces of people who had read of similar disasters in other parts of the country, but now had it on their own doorsteps.
It was now that the rescue operations got into full swing. An amphibious vehicle, “skippered” by Mr. Silva Carter, toured the area taking people home who had been stranded all night, finding people marooned without food or in need of urgent help.
The secondary school was opened by the W.V.S. as a rest and evacuation centre; plans were made for food and milk to be brought from Billericay to be distributed to those unable to leave their houses.
Calls were sent out for the Scouts to take a boat to some outlying bungalow for rescue purposes, and to add to the fleet of life-saving craft, lorries, using the back road through Ramsden Heath, bought the pleasure boats from Lake Meadows Billericay.
In Nevendon Road walls were knocked down, a child’s toy golliwog, wringing wet, hung outside a front window to dry.
On into the Runwell Road I went, he adds, and there was. a stream of cars and lorries waiting to reverse into Church End Lane and find another way to reach Wickford or their destination, for the flood waters from Wickford had reached the bottom of the hill. Here, too, was the same sad sight. People dragging furniture from water-soaked rooms, children’s toys lying on the floors, carpets hung over fences, steaming as they dried in the sun.
FOOD INTO THE TOWN
Back again to Wickford; and there was the same scene. Crowds standing on The Parade, others on the Castle Hotel forecourt, for by then the floods had dropped slightly. There were the Police supervising operations to get food into the town and people rescued. There were the gaily-painted boats from Billericay, swinging in the tide as they waited to be used.
There also were the Civil Defence volunteers with their vehicles, the amphibious vehicle ploughing its way on another errand of mercy.
There were the children, thoroughly enjoying themselves, paddling and swimming, to them it was a joy, not a tragedy. Men in shorts and rubber boots, women in bathing costumes, all were there to give assistance or just to watch.
As the waters slowly subsided in the centre of the High Street our reporter got through to Hall’s Corner. The bus still stood there the water nearly up to its top windows, and behind it, the roof just visible, a car.
I then went to the secondary school, he goes on. The floods had reached there as well. In the hall, set out for Wickford Horticultural Society’s annual flower show, which had to be cancelled, the floor was still wet. In the kitchen were the W.V.S., who opened up the school as a rest centre.
Back down Market Road to the High Street once again, there to speak to the people and hear their stories. To hear of the man who at one o’clock the previous morning stood in a garden in the High Street on the only plot of dry land, about two feet square, as the water rushed round him; of the aged woman in Castledon Road whose only thought was for her dog when rescuers reached her; of the man with a fish pond which overflowed and he caught some of the fish in a net before they swam away.
These were the stories of a flood besieged town, stories which, with many others, will be told for generations to come when the cause of the flooding has been checked and the nightmare which a heavy rain brings to the town are forgotten, writes our reporter.
He adds: There were almost audible sighs of relief as the water could be seen going down. The words Keep Left on the traffic bollard at the Southend Road Junction were now visible. It was getting well into the afternoon and a few a few hours before only the top of the bollard could be seen.
Through the water came Mr Bernard Harvey, of The Broadway Service Station Ltd. A resident for 50 years, he said it was the worse flood he had seen and he did not want to see it again. His premises had been two feet deep in water and it was four feet in his private house opposite. In offices above the garage he had given cover to stranded motorists during the night.
Some people needed treatment, mostly for shock. All except two were discharged later.
Remaining in hospital because their home was so severely damaged were Mr James Benton and Mrs Alice Benton of London Road, Billericay.
Those who received treatment but were allowed to leave later were Mr Arthur Benton and Mr Edwin Quennell, also of London Road; Mr Ernest Hunt and Mrs Ellen Hunt, of Rayleigh Road, Hutton and Mrs Susan Payne, aged 81, of London Road, Wickford.