A group of 16 people assembled for the last walk of the 2013 season, including some young people and two dogs. I’d brought along just enough hand-outs for everybody to share and explained we had two missions to accomplish during the afternoon.
Firstly our guest Dawn Wren wanted to see where her aunt had once lived in a bungalow called ‘Melrose’, in Gladstone Road. So we headed off down the hill and turned right into Lee Chapel Lane, the western end of which had originally been called ‘Oxford Street’. We passed by the very old weatherboard faced cottage called ‘The Lighthouse’ and the contractor’s yard where ‘Park Farm’ had once stood. The lane was looking particularly pretty with its overhanging trees and blackberry laden brambles.
Reaching the end of Lee Chapel Lane we turned left into Green Lane, this ancient track once ran north to south from St Nicholas Church to One Tree Hill and was probably used to move livestock between pastureland. Walking passed the underground water reservoir we emerged from the beautiful tree lined lane and re-joined the modern world of cars and concrete as we crossed over the road that runs from Laindon Link to Crown Hill and beyond. I’m sure many motorists are unaware of the beautiful walks that lay beyond the trees as they drive along Staneway and the High Road.
We crossed Staneway, entered Marks Hill Nature reserve and walked along Gladstone Road. With the aid of maps we had brought with us, we were able to locate the exact spot where ‘Melrose’ had once stood.
We lingered a while in front of what would have been the front gate, chatting about what life must have been like here in the fifties. Colin took the opportunity to take a group photograph. From left to right. Jill and Doug Templin. Dawn Wren, Kerry Wren (holding Floss) and Tony Wren. Myself. Michelle Wright (née Freegard) with daughter Bethany standing behind her. Trevor Hart in red cap. Susan Jacobs with granddaughters Kacee and Millie in front and Sue Ranford behind her. John Downs with daughter Caitlin behind him.
The many houses and bungalows along these lanes varied in size and structure. Some were of substantial build and others of flimsy construction incorporating asbestos amongst other materials. Property names in the late fifties along Gladstone Road were as follows: Donbercy, Fenella, Melrose, Lees Croft, Alberta, Joivells, Hazeldene, Laurel Croft, Ash Lodge, Oak Lodge, Gladstone Villa, Edith Vale, St Fagans, Llandaff, Glenrose, West View, Bude, Lyndhurst, Laureldene and Boswyn.
Most of these properties were compulsory purchased and demolished during the seventies to make way for a new nature reserve called ‘Marks Hill’. The reserve can be explored and enjoyed via access from Delmores and Staneway. Some evidence of the former plots and their pathways can still be seen. The land is now owned by Essex Wildlife Trust.
First mission having been accomplished; we headed back across Staneway in search of the site of Lee Chapel Farm and its pond. Michelle Wright’s grandfather Frederick Freegard had moved to the farm during the 1920s, having run a dairy in London.
Lee Chapel Farm has a considerable history. The original farm house which had eight rooms, apparently burnt down around 1915 and was rebuilt as a bungalow at a later date. I’ve heard a story that the fire was a deliberate act, although that could of course be an urban myth that has evolved over the years. I have certainly not found any evidence to substantiate the fact – so far!
The first reference I could find to the Freegard family of Lee Chapel Farm was an article that appeared in the local paper in 1927. Quote: “ George Freegard aged 17 of Lee Chapel Farm was found bound and gagged in the woods near the station with his head resting on a tree stump. The Police are investigating”. Intriguing stuff! Further research showed that thankfully he survived the ordeal and got married in 1932.
Michelle’s father Edwin Freegard (known as Ted) took over and ran the dairy farm until the war and continued upon return until around 1958, when he moved to Briar Mead in Laindon. Michelle had heard her father’s stories but had never seen a photo of the original farm and wasn’t sure of its exact position. Again with the aid of maps we were able to locate the exact position and visit the pond which is still there. The location is now at the top of a slightly sloping playing field which contains some climbing frames. The farm building stood on a flat area at the north of the field, known as Primrose Hill. We all agreed the farm had been built in a wonderful spot with a lovely view to the south. We then walked a few yards to visit the pond. It’s a substantial size and although surrounded by trees and in need of a little care and attention is a very pleasing sight. Michelle was delighted to see the area where her grandfather had once farmed while her father played as a boy and later carried on the family’s farming tradition.
We then walked on to ‘the mound’ and climbed to the top. Apparently this is the site of the former ‘Castlemaine Farm’, named due to its castle-like appearance and from which The Castlemayne public house in the Knares took its name. The view from the top of the mound is panoramic and on a clear day – spectacular.
Returning to the road where Colin had parked the car, we waited on the pavement while he shuttled people back up to the car park at Westley Heights. While we waited, we were given a display of tricks little ‘Floss’ performs when offered treats, ending with a ‘high five’ which aptly symbolised the completion of an enjoyable afternoon walk and the second of our missions accomplished.
It was by then ten to five and before Michelle left for home, I was delighted to be able to present her with three photos of Lee Chapel Farm, a reminder of her family’s heritage.