Lovely Laindon (Part 8) (2 of 9)

(Chapter 2: Sussex)

This is where Fred fits in and why I said, at the beginning, that the Laindon connection started with him.

Fred Vickery was the second and youngest son of Tom and Elizabeth Vickery. He was still at school when the First World War started in 1914. The Great War, as it became known, probably affected, in some way or other, every single family in Britain and the Vickery family were no exception. Tom Vickery’s trade as a Boiler Maker in the employ of Harland and Wolf in the Royal Group of London’s docks meant that he was exempted from conscription when it was introduced; the repair of shipping having become so vital in the face of Germany’s determined efforts to blockade Britain with its U-Boat campaign. Although this meant that Vickery family life was able to continue much as before, East Ham’s position in close proximity to both the Docks and to the large gas-producing complex at Beckton made it vulnerable to that newly introduced aspect of warfare; bombardment from the air. Grandpa Vickery’s stories of this time remained apocryphal for years; of hurrying through the rhubarb fields that at that time edged the south side of the Vicarage Lane Estate (the Vickery’s home was in Wolsey Avenue on the very edge of town) to catch the tram to North Woolwich and hearing the shell splinters pattering on the rhubarb’s leaves as the guns attempted to shoot down the raiding “Zeps” (Zepplins). The rhubarb fields are no more, of course, because it was across them that the East Ham and Barking by-pass (the A13) was laid in 1926.

When Fred (he was the second son and fourth in the family, (his elders being sister Rose, the eldest Vickery child, Tomas junior, Lillian, my mother and two younger sisters, Violet and Ivy) reached his teenage years the WW1 was just over. He had become well versed in what he thought was needed for it to be a better world, a feeling that was particularly widespread in the years of 1919 and in the early 1920s. The promise of “a land fit for heroes” was, to his mind and as it was to prove, going to take a lot of determined effort and time. Notwithstanding this, in his determination to  achieve his own independence as well as see what could be done, Fred began to explore more of the country into which he had been born.

Fred Vickery’s explorations took him into, among other places, Sussex where he was immediately struck by the county’s rural appeal and scenic attraction, particularly that area of the South Downs north of the sea-side resort of Worthing. This latter location seemed to him to have an air of gentility to which he could respond, having learned the advantage of speaking “proper” in such an environment. It was a trick he had learned from his father’s youngest brother, also named Fred Vickery and after whom he had been named. Like its near neighbour Brighton, Worthing and other settlements along the South Coast was already well established as both a sea-side resort and a commuter conurbation and much of Sussex north of the Downs was being seen as an area ripe as for development of a kind suitable for those who sought a quieter life.

In young Fred’s exploration of this particular district of Sussex he came across a particular phenomenon of that period of time; an experimental “commune”. This was at the quiet and somewhat remote village of Storrington just west of the London to Worthing road.

Storrington, or rather an area close by called Heath Common, had been chosen for a decidedly utopian experiment. A young woman named Vera Pragnell of some wealth (her father was a textile magnet) had set up a kind of “free for all” campsite on a sizeable section of the heath she had purchased at a reasonable price, a price probably determined by the fact that the land was adjacent to an area that had been blighted by sand extraction.  Vera’s somewhat starry eyed concept was of a commune in which would exist in a “perfect” conflict free environment. This concept reflected a widely held opinion of this period that had devekioed as a logical reaction to the experiences that WW1 had engendered for so many. The commune Vera envisaged was such that the area would be divided into plots that would be given free to interested individuals or couples who would then live on the plot in either a tent or a simple hut of their own construction, utilizing the plot to subsist on a self-supporting basis, free from the trapping of modern society.

Unfortunately, as is invariably the case in such experiments, modern society inevitably intrudes, and the character of “The Sanctuary”, as the commune had been named, began to change to what the majority would adjudge to be the “normal”.  This however was not to be until well after the youthful Fred, fired with his own ambitions that largely coincided at that stage with those of the commune’s founder, had returned to East Ham to seek some financial assistance from his father. This was in order to construct a suitable hut on the plot he had been allocated. To Fred’s immediate disappointment, in discussion with his father Tom, he discovered not so much rejection or disapproval, but a degree of indifference. Fred’s enthusiasm, somehow, did not infect his father in quite the way he had hoped, Tom took the line that Storrington was not only too distant but it was in a world that a true Eastender, like himself, could not easily comprehend. However, not wishing to dampen his son’s enthusiasm, he agreed to sponsor his efforts, giving him a loan to construct his hut, on the understanding that should the project prove effective, then the whole Vickery family could find some benefit from the outcome.

Armed with the necessary funds, Fred returned to the area of The Sanctuary accompanied by his older brother, Young Tom, whose skills in carpentry and joinery had been so well developed that this was what was to become his life’s work; the means by which he supported his family in the following years. Together, the brothers constructed a well-designed timber building which was a “hut” only in a limited interpretation of that word. With later modification, addition, and regular attention, the so-called hut has stood the test of time, and remains still the permanent home of a member of the Vickery clan. Fred gave this new home a name; “Bonny Downs”.  In his choice there was a streak of irony since the name Bonny Downs was redolent of his childhood in East Ham. All the Vickery children had attended Vicarage Lane School which at the time served that area of the borough in which they lived. The area to the immediate north of Vicarage Lane reaching as far as the Barking Road was then known as Bonny Downs, a named derived from Bernel’s Downs Field, the open farmland upon which the estate had been constricted. Already, by the early 20s, the area was looked upon as a “slum”, a run-down poorly designed area worthy of demolition. This was to be it ultimate fate although it did not occur until after WW2.

Although young Tom returned to East Ham and Essex after the new “Bonny Downs” at Storrington had been constructed, Fred elected to continue living in Storrington and make it his future centre of activities. There remained, however, a constant interchange with all the various members of the family, including his mother and father and between Storrington and his old East Ham haunts. These interchanges lasted throughout his residence in West Sussex, but his role in this story has virtually come to an end, so I must return to East Ham and to the Vickery home in Wolsey Avenue.

This is where Fred fits in and why I said, at the beginning, that the Laindon connection started with him.

Fred Vickery was the second and youngest son of Tom and Elizabeth Vickery. He was still at school when the First World War started in 1914. The Great War, as it became known, probably affected, in some way or other, every single family in Britain and the Vickery family were no exception. Tom Vickery’s trade as a Boiler Maker in the employ of Harland and Wolf in the Royal Group of London’s docks meant that he was exempted from conscription when it was introduced; the repair of shipping having become so vital in the face of Germany’s determined efforts to blockade Britain with its U-Boat campaign. Although this meant that Vickery family life was able to continue much as before, East Ham’s position in close proximity to both the Docks and to the large gas-producing complex at Beckton made it vulnerable to that newly introduced aspect of warfare; bombardment from the air. Grandpa Vickery’s stories of this time remained apocryphal for years; of hurrying through the rhubarb fields that at that time edged the south side of the Vicarage Lane Estate (the Vickery’s home was in Wolsey Avenue on the very edge of town) to catch the tram to North Woolwich and hearing the shell splinters pattering on the rhubarb’s leaves as the guns attempted to shoot down the raiding “Zeps” (Zepplins). The rhubarb fields are no more, of course, because it was across them that the East Ham and Barking by-pass (the A13) was laid in 1926.

When Fred (he was the second son and fourth in the family, (his elders being sister Rose, the eldest Vickery child, Tomas junior, Lillian, my mother, and two younger sisters, Violet and Ivy) reached his teenage years the WW1 was just over. He had become well versed in what he thought was needed for it to be a better world, a feeling that was particularly widespread in the years of 1919 and in the early 1920s. The promise of “a land fit for heroes” was, to his mind and as it was to prove, going to take a lot of determined effort and time. Notwithstanding this, in his determination to  achieve his own independence as well as see what could be done, Fred began to explore more of the country into which he had been born.

Fred Vickery’s explorations took him into, among other places, Sussex where he was immediately struck by the county’s rural appeal and scenic attraction, particularly that area of the South Downs north of the sea-side resort of Worthing. This latter location seemed to him to have an air of gentility to which he could respond, having learned the advantage of speaking “proper” in such an environment. It was a trick he had learned from his father’s youngest brother, also named Fred Vickery and after whom he had been named. Like its near neighbour Brighton, Worthing and other settlements along the South Coast was already well established as both a sea-side resort and a commuter conurbation and much of Sussex north of the Downs was being seen as an area ripe as for development of a kind suitable for those who sought a quieter life.

In young Fred’s exploration of this particular district of Sussex he came across a particular phenomenon of that period of time; an experimental “commune”. This was at the quiet and somewhat remote village of Storrington just west of the London to Worthing road.

Storrington, or rather an area close, by called Heath Common, had been chosen for a decidedly utopian experiment. A young woman named Vera Pragnell of some wealth (her father was a textile magnet) had set up a kind of “free for all” campsite on a sizeable section of the heath she had purchased at a reasonable price, a price probably determined by the fact that the land was adjacent to an area that had been blighted by sand extraction.  Vera’s somewhat starry eyed concept was of a commune in which would exist in a “perfect” conflict free environment. This concept reflected a widely held opinion of this period that had devekioed as a logical reaction to the experiences that WW1 had engendered for so many. The commune Vera envisaged was such that the area would be divided into plots that would be given free to interested individuals or couples who would then live on the plot in either a tent or a simple hut of their own construction, utilizing the plot to subsist on a self-supporting basis, free from the trapping of modern society.

Unfortunately, as is invariably the case in such experiments, modern society inevitably intrudes, and the character of “The Sanctuary”, as the commune had been named, began to change to what the majority would adjudge to be the “normal”.  This however was not to be until well after the youthful Fred, fired with his own ambitions that largely coincided at that stage with those of the commune’s founder, had returned to East Ham to seek some financial assistance from his father. This was in order to construct a suitable hut on the plot he had been allocated. To Fred’s immediate disappointment, in discussion with his father Tom, he discovered not so much rejection or disapproval, but a degree of indifference. Fred’s enthusiasm, somehow, did not infect his father in quite the way he had hoped, Tom took the line that Storrington was not only too distant but it was a in a world that a true Eastender, like himself, could not easily comprehend. However, not wishing to dampen his son’s enthusiasm, he agreed to sponsor his efforts, giving him a loan to construct his hut, on the understanding that should the project prove effective, then the whole Vickery family could find some benefit from the outcome.

Armed with the necessary funds, Fred returned to the area of The Sanctuary accompanied by his older brother, Young Tom, whose skills in carpentry and joinery had been so well developed that this was what was to become his life’s work; the means by which he supported his family in the following years. Together, the brothers constructed a well-designed timber building which was a “hut” only in a limited interpretation of that word. With later modification, addition, and regular attention, the so-called hut has stood the test of time, and remains still the permanent home of a member of the Vickery clan. Fred gave this new home a name; “Bonny Downs”.  In his choice there was a streak of irony since the name Bonny Downs was redolent of his childhood in East Ham. All the Vickery children had attended Vicarage Lane School which at the time served that area of the borough in which they lived. The area to the immediate north of Vicarage Lane reaching as far as the Barking Road was then known as Bonny Downs, a named derived from Bernel’s Downs Field, the open farmland upon which the estate had been constricted. Already, by the early 20s, the area was looked upon as a “slum”, a run-down poorly designed area worthy of demolition. This was to be it ultimate fate although it did not occur until after WW2.

Although young Tom returned to East Ham and Essex after the new “Bonny Downs” at Storrington had been constructed, Fred elected to continue living in Storrington and make it his future centre of activities. There remained, however, a constant interchange with all the various members of the family, including his mother and father and between Storrington and his old East Ham haunts. These interchanges lasted throughout his residence in West Sussex, but his role in this story has virtually come to an end, so I must return to East Ham and to the Vickery home in Wolsey Avenue.

2 of 9

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