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I gathered the following three accounts while researching into a reclusive character who once lived over the Durham Road railway bridge, in Sylvan Road, Langdon Hills, amongst the bushes in a shack called “The Caboose”. I can now confirm that his name was Frank Bond.
As children, we would walk over the bridge to get to Berry Lane and were “spooked” at the story of this man who lived in the bushes! I believe I did see him once.
I was informed recently he was called Frank Bond, originated from Australia, who somehow lost his lady love and spent the rest of his life living there; that he made a suit from hessian sacking and grew his own vegetables. Just how his “shack” acquired its name remains a mystery, although its meaning does relate to a wooden guards-van with sleeping quarters used chiefly in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
I am extremely grateful to: Lilian Mead for account No 1 and to Peter Critchett for his recollections in account No 2, and lastly to my brother for providing a full name and other details.
1. Here’s what I remember. Every Saturday for as long as I can remember it was my job to take my doll’s pram and walk to the High Road shops, to buy meat or veggies.
I had to do this to earn my 9d pocket money. I used to walk along Shelley Avenue to the end, where there was a small track that widened into an unmade road that went by “Old Bondy’s”. If there were two or three of us kids, we used to be very brave and run by his shack (it was only small) and shout out “Old Bondy”, you know what kids are like.
If he was out digging his veggies in the garden, we wouldn’t dare. From what I can remember, he always wore a trilby hat and black jacket and trousers. I don’t remember the bike.
I don’t know how he managed to live in his shack, as from what I remember it was very small. I can also remember it was potatoes he was digging. After going past his home, I went to the end of the track, turned left over the railway bridge, then right into the top of Durham Road.
2. You may be referring to “Old Bondy” or at least that is what everybody knew him as from then.
If you had gone along the un-made bit of Durham Road and across the little brick bridge crossing the railway lines, you would have found three tracks going off to the left, right and straight on. Now if you had taken the right hand track parallel to the railway, just a short way along on the left hand side you would have come to an old creosoted black shack with a corrugated iron roof and stack pipe chimney standing in the middle of a little cultivated plot of assorted vegetables. In that shack lived “Bondy”. (Further along lies Arnold Avenue and the back ends of both Shelley and Shakespeare Avenues, a route which most people from the High Road area used as a short cut to the “rec”). The building he lived in was set back a little from the “roadway” in a fair-sized plot. There was no visible front door as the back of it faced onto the “road”, whose name I was unaware of as there never was a name board.
I first remember him being around from 1946 or thereabouts and at least until Basildon New Town started taking over properties in the Laindon and Langdon Hills areas. The story I heard was that he had become a hermit after suffering shell-shock in the war. Whether it was the first or the second war was never made clear. He certainly had a bike, a big black roadster “sit up and beg” machine, but I never saw him riding it. I often encountered him pushing it toward his shack with a bulging sack hanging from the handlebars, so I suspect he supplemented living off the land with a bit of rabbiting and a touch of scrumping. Also on the plot and toward the back of the property was a smaller shed where he possibly kept his old bike and gardening tools.
3. “Old Bondy” was Frank Bond and he lived in the shack off Durham Road railway bridge going towards Berry Lane way. Heard he had some unhappy family life and so lived like a hermit, bothered no-one, though the kids were scared of him. Heard he made himself a suit out of sacking.