Two of last year’s walks (2013) were along Lee Chapel Lane, Green Lane and the surrounding woodland. The area stretching from the railway line to the border of Langdon Hills had been completely rural with several dairy farms and many private dwellings. There had been a network of ‘Green Lanes’ across the country. These unmade tracks were mainly used for the purpose of transporting livestock from place to place.
I imagined life in the area had been hard, but simple and peaceful. Cows were milked in the early morning before being turned out into the fields to graze, their milk delivered fresh to local households in time for breakfast. A community where the neighbours all knew each other and happily co-operated with the necessities of daily rural living. It painted an idyllic picture in my mind.
I decided to find out a little about the main farms: Lee Chapel Farm, Park Farm, Castlemaine Farm, Nightingale Farm and Fobbing Farm.
By far the oldest was Lee Chapel Farm which stood on Primrose Hill with a considerable history that goes back to at least 1540 when it was associated with Sir Brian Tuke, the Petre family in the 17th century, followed by the Gambier family in 1848. White’s Directory of that date describes Lee Chapel having only 11 inhabitants and one farm. The property changed hands several times, including the Chataway family, the Bass family, the Jackson family and lastly in the 1920s, the Freegard family.
Park Farm (also known as Park Dairy) in Lee Chapel Lane was established by the Jackson family. Part of the building still remains but has long been used by a Contract Landscape Company.
Castlemaine Farm, named so because of its castle-like appearance, later gave its name to the Castlemayne Pub in The Knares, which opened in 1963.
Nightingale Farm was situated at the junction of the southern end of Nightingale Avenue and western end of Lee Chapel Lane (formerly known as Oxford Street). In 1918, the residents of the farmhouse were the Grove family. Today, there are three houses built on the site of the former Nightingale Farm in Lee Chapel Lane.
Fobbing Farm was run by Samuel Colbear in partnership with Muriel Clark. Muriel ran the riding school part of the business sometimes referred to as ‘Muriel’s’. This site was later chosen for ‘St Luke’s Hospice which was founded by Trudy and Les Cox. By 1985 the name St Luke’s was chosen and the lease for Fobbing Farm was signed. The freehold of the farm was bought by BDC in 1987/88 and work began in 1989 on the hospice which was opened by the Duchess of Norfolk on 26th September 1990. Princess Diana paid a visit there in December 1990. The original farmhouse is now the administration building.
Having become interested in the history of the area, I began to search through the local newspaper archives and my illusions of idyllic rural life faded somewhat as I read with astonishment through the following articles:
Transcripts from the Essex Chronicle and Essex Newsman.
Quote: Boy found gagged at Laindon – May 1927
The Police are investigating a strange affair at Laindon. George Freegard, aged 17, of Lee Chapel Lane, Laindon, employed by his father, a dairyman, did not arrive home after his morning round. His younger brother discovered his milk cans in the road. A search party scoured the woods and the missing lad was found lying along dense undergrowth with a handkerchief partly stuffed in his mouth and tied at the back of his head. He was taken home, where he regained consciousness and stated that he was attacked by four men who carried him into the wood, gagged him and made off with about 11/- from his bag.
George Freegard (17) of Laindon, Essex who is employed by his father, a local dairy farmer, was returning home when he was attacked within 300 yards of his home. He was followed by two men and in a lonely spot; two more men sprang out of a hedge and struck him on the head rendering him unconscious. Freegard’s milk cans and money pouch, covered with bloodstains, were found in a lane, and the police were informed. A large number of people including 60 women joined in a search of the wood and Freegard was discovered about 150 yards from the scene of the attack in a spot which, on account of its dense undergrowth, is rarely visited. Unquote.
A few months later, George was in the paper again:-
Quote: September 17th 1927.
Albert Hickman, Northumberland Avenue, Laindon was summoned by George F Freegard, milk roundsman, employed by his father of Lee Chapel Farm, Laindon, for assault. Complainant stated that when he called to see the defendant’s wife on August 31 about £1 0s 4 ½ d owing to his father, she paid him 1s 4 ½ d on account and told him he was lucky to get it. She then used bad language towards him and set a dog at him. Later he returned with his mother. And when approaching the door, the defendant struck him beneath the left eye with his fist. Defendant denied that he ever struck Freegard. Defendant’s wife said when Freegard called on her he sparred up to her. He was foaming at the mouth and “there was murder on his face”. The Bench dismissed the case. Unquote.
George was the oldest son of Frederick and Annetta Freegard of Lee Chapel Farm. Thankfully, he survived both the unpleasant attacks and married Adelaide Keymer in Billericay in 1932.
So it seems that life in a dairy farm community wasn’t always pleasant or peaceful. I also found a report of a case at Billericay Court in 1934 of a nasty dispute between the Chataway family and a man who used to walk through their property to access his home:-
Quote: At Billericay Petty Session on Tuesday, before T.W. Bacon Esq., and other Justices, Mrs Mary E Chataway, “Nore View”, Laindon and her son James Chataway, were summoned for assaulting Frank Aubrey Spencer, The Laurels. Primrose Hill Estate, Laindon. Counter-summonses were brought against Spencer for assaulting Miss Winifred R Chataway, Rolley Hill, Lee Chapel.
Mr R Thurlow Baker appeared for Spencer. Mr Bridgwater was for the Chataways. Mr Baker said two assaults took place on June 22nd and 23rd. Mrs Chataway was the owner of the property on Lee Chapel Estate and nine years ago Spencer’s father purchased some land and built a bungalow. Recently Mrs Chataway had blocked a road by fencing it off in four places, so that to reach his bungalow, Spencer had to go across fields. Apparently Mrs Chataway objected to his going over the land, but he had explained that this was the only access to the bungalow. On June 22nd Miss Chataway said she would stop him and smacked his face. As she attempted to do so again he caught her arm and in twisting round she fell. The next day there was a premeditated attack on Spencer by the Chataways. As he was walking along Lee Chapel Lane, Mrs Chataway and her son ran up to him and without a word, James Chataway struck him a severe blow between the eyes and knocked him down. While he was on the ground, Mrs Chataway be-laboured him with a stick and the son hit him. Mrs Chataway encouraged her son, shouting, “Throw him on the barbed wire! Strangle him! Finish him off!” Spencer’s face was badly bruised and he had to see a doctor.
Evidence was given by Mrs Annetta Freegard, Lee Chapel Farm, Laindon, who said she saw Spencer on the ground with James Chataway kneeling on him and punching his face. Mrs Chataway hit Spencer across the face with a stick. Miss Gwendolin Freegard aged 17 and Francis Freegard aged 14 also gave evidence.
Mr Bridgewater submitted that for a year Spencer had been a source of annoyance and provocation. On the day when he met Miss Chataway, Spencer struck her and dashed her on the ground, causing her to bleed profusely. The next morning Mrs Chataway and her son met Mr Spencer who was again the aggressor and struck the first blow.
Miss Winifred Chataway said she had persistently told Spencer not to cross the field and he used abusive language to her. On the evening of the assault Spencer’s blow split her lip.
James Chataway said that when he saw Spencer he asked him “What do you mean by knocking my sister down last night?” Spencer rushed at him and knocked him down. When he managed to get up they had “a straight fight”.
John Peters, Lee Chapel Lane, Laindon, gave a detailed account of the fight. Mr Baker: According to you it must have lasted nearly 15 rounds? It was a really good stand up fight, worth seeing first thing in the morning.
The Chairman said there had been a great deal of conflicting evidence and the Bench considered the best course was to bind over all parties for 12 months. Unquote.
So, quite a surprise, or on second thoughts maybe not! Apparently many neighbourhood disputes have been over property boundaries, fences etc., keeping the lawyers busy over the years. One can only hope they all behaved themselves after being bound over and learned to live in peace. ‘Nore View’ having burned down in 1938 under mysterious circumstances, still provides food for thought.
I also read about various Laindon residents in the thirties being fined for: keeping dogs without licences, owning a gun without a licence, cycling without lights and the slaughter of three calves contrary to the Livestock Order. Perhaps the Laindon Archive should start a ‘Horrible Histories’ section!
When it was built, Staneway cut right through the area and new estates sprung up. However there’s enough of the original woodland and meadows left to enjoy a pleasant outing; the bridleways and footpaths are well used by ramblers, dog walkers, horse riders and cyclists. A large area is now a nature reserve owned and managed by Essex Wildlife Trust. Grazing has recently been reintroduced by the Trust as a form of land management. Anyone now walking past the meadows may catch a glimpse of sheep and cattle grazing contentedly and perhaps with a little imagination be transported back to more bucolic times.
Footnote: Langdon Living Landscape have recently undertaken a project which includes traditional hedge laying and pond re-vitalising close to the site of the former Lee Chapel Farm. With a new natural hedge under construction and ponds due to be cleared and tidied, things are looking good for 2014.