This is a spin-off from my article “A long cold winter” wherein I mentioned the heating in my nan’s flat in Cromer Avenue. I feel it is worthwhile to write the history of that complex.
My nan, Jessica Devine (née Clements), moved from Bethnal Green to Laindon in 1923. She and her family lived in a bungalow called “Pendennis” in Alexandra Road. Her daughter Jessica (my mum) and her two brothers, Richard and Harry attended school in Lower Dunton Road, which was accessed by a long walk across the fields. My Grandfather, who we called “Nanpa” worked for 25 years as a Postman based at the Denbigh Road Depot covering the Laindon and Langdon Hills area. He retired in 1952 and after several years of poor health (now referred to as COPD), he and my nan moved to Colchester approximately 1958, to escape the unmade road. He enjoyed a couple of good years there and was able to get out and about, but sadly eventually died in January 1961. Nan stayed on for a while, taking in a lodger at one time. However, 1963 she decided to come back to Laindon.
She sold the little “two up two down” house in Colchester, and arrived on our doorstep, (Spion Kop in Alexandra Road). She applied for a Council retirement flat and her name was added to the waiting list. We didn’t have a spare bedroom, so for several weeks, she slept on our put-you-up settee in the living room. My mum suggested that in the meantime nan should buy a caravan to park in our garden while waiting for the new complex in Cromer Avenue to become available.
Once installed, the caravan worked well as a temporary home. It was spacious and comfortable and a TV set was installed for her entertainment. On Saturday afternoons, she would watch the wrestling with the caravan door wide open and we’d chuckle when she got excited and yelled things like “thump him”. On one occasion when I was 17, I left home and went to stay with her. I’d had a slight disagreement with my parents, so climbed out of my bedroom window and knocked on her caravan door – all of about 20 feet from my bedroom. She let me in to stay the night. She was a lovely lady and we had a cosy heart to heart talk, one of many which I will always remember and appreciate. I wasn’t away for long, I was back in my own room the following night.
The flats in Cromer Avenue were ready and available in June 1966. Being at the top of the list, nan had first choice. She chose number 48 which was quite spacious and really meant for a married couple. It was at the back, up the stairs and overlooked the Laindon High Road School playing field. As mentioned by “High Road Bob” in his comment, the complex had communal oil heating of which nan took full advantage, keeping the flat far too warm for our liking. She always kept a canary or budgie in a cage, in fact she had a succession of them. They would only live a few weeks and then die for no apparent reason. We strongly suspect the atmosphere was too hot and dry for them to survive.
Nan’s new life in the flat was ideal. The Walden Mrs Mary Morgan, lived on site and could be summoned at any time by a pull cord hanging above each bed. Entertainment was provided regularly in the communal hall downstairs and the complex had a communal TV aerial. The “Meals on Wheels” service arrived each day; although some of the residents grumbled about the portion sizes saying that the ‘chop’ that was served was so small it should be renamed “chip”. However, I was there on one occasion when nan’s meal arrived. Being Friday, it was fish and chips with a sponge pudding and custard for dessert. It looked good and was as much as anybody could eat. On Sundays, she would walk up Bourne Avenue, into Bourne Close, through the garages, into our garden and have dinner with us. When walking became difficult for her, either my mum or my brother would collect her in the car.
She had many friends in the flats both old and new, including some who had also lived in plotland bungalows. Minnie and Harold Thorpe who had lived in the bungalow “Lone Star” about 100 yards from “Pendennis”, lived at flat number 60. Harold Clegg, Nanpa’s former colleague from his Post Office days, lived at 16 Devonshire Close with his wife Betsy, a lovely couple who were good friends to my nan and often visited, sometimes while I was there. On Wednesdays, for as long as she was able, nan walked to Laindon Community Centre for the OAP meetings where she thoroughly enjoyed various activities in good company including a few coach trips to see “The Black and White Minstrels” her favourite show. It was also here that she got to know Ron Moorcroft very well as he was the Walden of the Community Centre.
I was very close to my nan, so loved the fact that she lived so near. I worked in Billericay from 1966 and got off the 254 bus each day near Holst Avenue. I would then cross the High Road, walk up Archer Road and turn into Cromer Avenue and visit her for half an hour on the way home. Then continue up Bourne Avenue to go home. When Colin and I married in 1969, we weren’t due to leave for honeymoon until the following day, so came to an arrangement with nan. We did a swap, we spent our wedding night at her flat and she slept in my room at “Spion Kop”. Luckily she didn’t let anybody borrow her keys to get in and make us an “apple pie” bed.
In 1972 when our son Mark was a baby, I would walk him in the pram once a week from Woolmergreen, firstly to the baby clinic at Laindon Health Centre, then on to visit nan in Cromer Avenue. She really enjoyed those visits and I sometimes took her a little fruit cake that I had baked for her. Our daughter Michelle was born in 1974 and still remembers her ‘old nanny’ who occasionally brought her little dolls and other things from the Community Centre’s ‘bring and buy’ sales. I am so glad my children were able to know their great grandmother for a few years. All my great grandparents had died before I was born.
Apart from the 35 years she spent in ‘Pendennis’ nan wasn’t one to stay at one address for long. She had moved several times while in Bethnal Green before moving to Laindon and in the early seventies she had itchy feet again. She decided it was a bit too quiet at the back of the complex so applied for a transfer to a flat at the front, where she could see more life. Her wish was granted although the new flat was smaller. Then she became friendly with a woman who lived in one of the bedsit apartments. After a while she applied to move into the bedsit next door to her. Her wish was granted and she moved in next door to her friend. The bedsit was tiny, the living area and bedroom being just one space divided by a curtain but nan seemed quite happy with the new arrangement.
There were of course deaths from time to time. One morning, nan couldn’t get a response from next door. She called Mrs Morgan who opened the door for her. Nan found her friend had died peacefully in a chair and as she was slightly blue in the face, guessed it had been a heart attack. Obviously very sad, nan was relieved the end had come quickly to her friend and that she had been able to ensure her last days hadn’t been lonely.
Nan herself had several strokes during the seventies. Unable to speak for a few days, she would struggle to get her words out. She made us laugh when due to frustration after failing to say what she had intended, she would blurt out a swear word, loud and clear. It made her laugh too.
She was finally taken ill around 1st February 1978 and taken to a hospital in Brentwood. As it was our daughter’s 4th birthday party on Saturday 4th February, we arranged that my mum would visit nan on Saturday and I would visit her on Sunday. The party went well but I was woken around 12:30 am by a phone call from my mum telling me that nan had passed away about 15 minutes passed midnight. She was just a couple of weeks short of her 84th birthday and although I was devastated not to have seen her for one last time, it feels as if she is still with me every day of my life.
Other Retirement and Nursing Homes.
The Cromer Avenue complex is still there today. However I have much sympathy for the person who lives in No 48, as the window no longer looks out over green grass. The view now is of a brick wall belonging to one of the houses that have been built on the site of the former school playing field.
Arne Court was a nursing home on the Pound Lane estate. During the late seventies and early eighties I heard from several sources that the actor Nicholas Lyndhurst (Rodney from Only Fools and Horses) occasionally visited Arne Court as his grandmother was a resident there. I wonder if anybody knows whether that was true. I believe Arne Court is now used as a Hostel.
These days, there are several care homes for older people in the area including ‘Woodbury Court’ in Tavistock Road, ‘Evelyn May House’ on the corner of Florence Way and ‘Oaklands Care Home’ in Forest Glade, Langdon Hills.
The Cromer Avenue complex remains almost unchanged and I cherish my memories of 1966 – 1978 when my nan lived there, especially flat number 48.