Elsie Hill's Memories

Percy & Ethel Hill with sister Winnie 1926 -note hut in background

My father, Percy Neville, born 1891, came from Wickford.  He joined the Metropolitan Police and moved to Bow when he was stationed at Bow Road.  He met my mother, Ethel Muir in 1914, and they married in 1919.

In 1924 they used all their savings (+£10) to buy a four acre field off Old Hill Avenue in Langdon Hills for a retreat as my father felt the need of quiet a place away from his job with people (land sold in plots consisting of two, four or six acres with some smaller strips later became known as “plotlands”).  The field had a small hut on it, equipped with two beds, a drop down table and two camp beds (concertina style, used as stools when folded).  Cooking was done on a “Beatrice” paraffin stove, washing, using a bowl and jug.  Water was fetched from a pond, which was a diagonal walk across the field, through two hunter’s gates, along a footpath by the ditch fed from a spring in the pine woods.  The full buckets had to be carried back – uphill.   The two hunter’s gates at the eastern edge of the field were to allow passage for the Essex hunt to travel from Coombe Wood to the Old Hall.  Sanitation was an earth closet, the contents buried in a fallow piece of ground at the end of the day. 

My sister Winnie was born in 1925 and I in 1927.  The whole family came out from London by train one weekend in three in the summer and one in six in the winter.  My mother brought us as babies in the pram and walked up and over the hill to Old Hill Avenue and on to the field.  By 1934 my father had built a brick bungalow and water came from a standpipe 300 yards down the hill in the Avenue.  Water was finally connected into the bungalow in 1967 when plastic pipes brought the cost down to £1,000 (copper piping previously used would have cost £10,000).

Friends were made on the weekend train journeys as the same people came out loaded with things for their country home, and there was a good co-operative spirit, helping with jobs and some were neighbours from London anyway. 

Footpaths and roads had been made, vegetables were grown – traps were used to protect the plants from rabbits (another crop!). A few people lived there permanently, some travelling to work or working locally, others retired and others “in hiding” from who knows what?  These residents would empty the rabbit traps in the week.

Chas. Sewell, sweep, had a sideline in selling sweets to the children – I remember sitting on his step to choose.  He also kept bees.  He had an observation hive in a bedroom so we could watch the bees flying in and out where he had replaced a brick with a tunnel.  

War Time

In 1940, Winnie and I were evacuated with our school to Taunton.  In October, my father and mother came for a visit: my mother was going to stay on for a holiday.  My father returned to London for work to find our house had been destroyed by a bomb.  Mother stayed on in Taunton, father lived at the Police Section House in Bow.  He went out to “Kilima Banda”, (Swahili for Hill Hut) our bungalow in Langdon Hills one day in 1942 and found notices from the War Agricultural Committee saying the land was to be taken over for growing food, and the bungalow requisitioned for emergency housing: so he moved us all out to Langdon Hills and I, now fifteen years old, continued my schooling at Palmer’s College, Palmer’s School for girls (paid for by London).  I was therefore known as “an isolated evacuee”.  Other owners who did not come and find the notices lost their property and land.  After the war, permanent owners got their land back but absent owners were compulsory purchased and were paid the original price they had bought the land for.  It was all bought by one farmer. 

War Agricultural Committee

This body was set up to find land that could be put to use growing crops when the U boats were preventing imports from abroad.  They found the plotlands off Old Hill Avenue, with their weekend huts, and posted notices declaring their requisition if the owners were absent.  Most of them were away in the war so the fields were ploughed right up to the buildings to prevent access and footpaths and roads disappeared.  The smaller huts and sheds were dragged away and if they broke in the process they were burnt.  Fences, trees and hedges were removed to create one 22 acre field.  Potatoes, corn, peas and beans were grown in rotation.  Any permanent residents were allowed to glean and the felled trees supplied firewood. 

Father had moved us out to the bungalow to save it from being taken, but initially our path to the standpipe and along Old Hill Avenue had been ploughed.  Thanks to Mr Brooks JP who lived in “Goldsmiths”, we initially collected water from his house, while he put pressure on the authority to restore the rights of way, and to allow us 1 ½ acres for our own food.  We had wood for ten years from the felled trees; potatoes came from gleaning and gleaned corn fed the chickens.  We had goats, for keeping the grass and weeds down.    


Father came home to live.  We started using the goats for milk.  Surplus kids were sold, billies went to a slaughterhouse at Horndon on the Hill and nannies to Wickford market. 

There were 22 permanent residences and the spirit of neighbourliness meant we could hang a bag with an order and money on a gate for Piggs, the Sockett Heath grocers, to collect and supply our order on their three weekly calls to the area.  We also walked to Horndon for shopping and got the bus back.  We took our accumulators (for the wireless) to South Hill Garage once a week to be changed.    Our goats provided milk. Water came from the standpipe until 1967.  Father took the front seat out of the car so we could fill a milk churn with water and transport it to the bungalow. 

The refuse vans didn’t come up the road; instead there were three bins at the end of Old Hill Avenue near the South Hill garage, but having fires, a lot of rubbish was burnt or buried.  Electricity was connected in 1964.   

Comments about this page

Add your own comment

  • Frank and ‘Din’ Gosling lived in a bungalow I seem to remember being called ‘The Briars’. Frank was my mum’s uncle on her father’s side. I remember back in the mid 1970s as a teenager visiting Frank and Din during the long hot summer months. It was probably during the drought of 1976 as I remember they were short of water. They had no mains water supply and I think they had to have their storage tanks refilled by the water board.

    Ordinarily they would have collected rain water from the roof of their bungalow and I remember uncle Frank showing me a filter system and large water butts they used.They had a very primitive outside closet. To me the place was like paradise. It was quiet and peaceful located next to woodlands. They had an enormous garden that had sweeping views down towards Corringham and the river beyond.They grew all kinds of vegetables and fruit. My brother and me were even allowed to camp there. Frank and Din are both long gone now but the bungalow still stands as you can clearly see it as you drive along the A13.

    By Graeme Dowsett (06/11/2015)
  • Dear Research Student

    Between myself & my sisters the following is a list of houses and residents as we remember from our childhood:-

    The majority of the houses were on the right-hand side going up the Avenue from South Hill Garage.

    In the first bungalow lived Mrs Andrews and her daughter Frances. The second bungalow was The Anchorage owned by Saul & “Tich” Newberry. Next came Charlie Sewell (the sweep) and his wife. The next house is “Whispering Trees”, this house burnt down when it was owned by the Styles family, but after it was rebuilt Mr & Mrs Elliott bought it. Mr Elliott was a teacher. The next property belonged to Mrs Fox when we were children and when she passed it was bought by Mr & Mrs Wright, who I believe still live there. On the left hand side of the road was a property called “Nyasa” which was owned by Mr Charlie Stears and his wife, and then afterwards, until very recently by Mr & Mrs Osborne. Next to this is Greentrees Farm owned originally by Mr Graham Mullins but now owned by the Coe family. Opposite Greentrees Farm is Deneburn where Mr & Mrs Henwood lived. When they passed I believe it was bought by Mr Coe from the farm opposite. Next came Liskeard where I lived as a child and where my mother lived until 2005.  Nextdoor was Midfields where Mr & Mrs Reid lived, and then as Julie says, their son Sid & his wife Lou moved in. I believe Lou still lives there. Opposite was a bungalow where Mr & Mrs Whitehead and relatives Mr & Mrs Burton lived together. Up the side of this bungalow was a lane leading to Kilima Banda where Elsie Neville (Hill) lived with her mum & dad and then with her husband Bob. Then as Julie said furthest down the avenue was Outspan where she and her family lived and before that her grandparents. 

    There were also 2 roads off of the avenue. The first was Meadow Drive where there were 3 properties.  These were owned by the Bakers, Abbotts and Wheelers. Unfortunately I don’t know who has owned them in recent years.

    The second road was South Avenue. The first property was owned by Mr & Mrs Pilgrim and then afterwards by the Cook family. The second bungalow was owned by Mr & Mrs Mills and then by the Merry family. Next door, in recent years there has been built a very impressive thatched house but I don’t have any knowledge of the occupants. Further down was a property owned by the Ferriers but later bought by Mr Graham Mullins and his wife Connie. Both have since passed away. Much further along up a grass track, and behind the “bottom wood” were a further two bungalows. One was lived in by a lady called Shon and the other was owned by Frank & “Din” Gosling.  There was also a very tiny bungalow almost in a field where a man we used to call “Dirty Dick” resided. I’m not even sure if anything remains of this property! 

    Hopefully this helps you with your research. I have many happy memories of the years we lived there and even after we moved away to have our own families, we had some good times visiting mum & dad at the weekends. We had freedom to be children back then that unfortunately our children and their children don’t have now.

    Pam McAllister (nee Burr)


    By Pam McAllister nee Burr (16/02/2014)
  • Fascinated to read Julie Crawley’s comments. I’m researching into Old Hill Avenue and wondered if anyone can remember the names of the people that used to live in the various properties over the years?Any other memories of Old Hill Avenue anyone can share?

    By Research Student (17/01/2014)
  • Yes Elsie did become Elsie Hill. My grandparents were Ted & Madge Arnold and lived at ‘Outspan’ the very last property along Old Hill Avenue. They moved to New Zealand in 1969, and my family moved in. My Aunt & Uncle Lou & Sid Reid lived at ‘Midfields’, which was the house before us. 

    Elsie used to take my sister and I to Sunday school in Laindon, where she played the accordion. She had a son Martin. 

    Wonderful memories for me playing in the top and bottom woods. I can remember the other families that lived along the lane. The Burrs, Mr & Mrs Henwood, The Osbournes, Mr & Mrs Newbury (Colonel) Mrs Andrews, Mr Mullins! 

    I sadly moved from there to Horndon-on-the Hill when I was 11.

    By Julie Crawley (07/10/2013)
  • Another fascinating family story and a great photograph, however, I think the caption below it should read Percy & Ethel Neville (not Hill). I believe their daughter Elsie Neville changed her name when she married Robert Hill.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (17/12/2012)
  • This was interesting reading and one name which caught my eye was Chas. Sewell, chimney sweep. He used to advertise his business in the ‘Recorder’ as a registered chimney sweep and drain cleaner. I never knew that it was neceesary to register for this profession. 

    Also the fact that in the Langdon Hills area the water was normally supplied via copper piping whereas in the area north of the Arterial Rd., it was mostly lead piping much of which remains today as on the Palmers Estate it was routed underneath the houses and it would seem that if it required replacing this would need to be re-routed around the building.

    By W.H.Diment (16/12/2012)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.