Random Memories of a Laindon Lad (Part two)

In retrospect the staff at the Radion mast have been considerable. One in the ticket kiosk, a projectionist, probably a minimum of three ushers and two in the background as janitors, maintenance etc., giving probably a staff of seven. Even assuming the roughly nine hours daily that it was open operated as a single shift, the seven day operation must have mandated a staffing level of at least one point five times the seven staff. Thus we come to at least a staff of ten or eleven. To afford such a staff plus upkeep on the building, rates, advertising and all the ancillary expenses that a small business encountered and still end up with a profit must have been a struggle. Perhaps update and maintenance suffered as a result, which might explain why, in some quarters, the Radion was referred to as ” the flea pit”.

Most ditches and streams seemed to run more less in a northerly direction. This seems logical as water must have made its gravity flow from Langdon Hills. It must have been an underground stream, which surfaced at the western junction of Berry Lane and Vowler Road. Flowing via pipe under Berry Lane the now quite substantial ditch (or stream in wet weather) made its way along the bottom of Mr. Hayes (the projectionist at the Radion) garden, along the bottom of a couple of back gardens in Raglan Road, turned and travelled under a small footbridge in Beatrice Road, and disappeared in the direction of the railway line. The storm sewers along the High Road seemed to be intermittently piped and underground and simply open ditch. They seemed to be covered up to New Century Road, open ditch until the Co-Op, covered in front of the various stores, until they were pretty much an open ditch from Victoria Road to the Fortune. Again, except directly in front of the various stores. The storm sewers all seemed to be on the western side of the High Road. I can remember none on the other side of the road. They must have gone underground in order to cross the A127 then re-surfaced to run as an open ditch to the (Old Fortune. Where the ditch/stream went after that I have no memory. Logically it would seem that it turned left and that gravity probably took It alongside the Dunton Road in the direction of Little Burstead. There was another quite boisterous stream in wet weather that flowed under the road at the foot of Noak Hill in the same general direction. Did these two streams eventually merge? I do not know.

At the foot of the final punishing ascent of the Crown Hill as the T junction (was it Lee Chapel Lane?), on the southeast corner of the junction was a large open field. In the middle had been built an ARP post. My father was stationed there and on several occasions I was allowed to visit there with him.

At Harry’s the greengrocer he also sold completed sets of cigarette cards. Usually fifty. On one occasion I spent my pocket money there and for the first time became acquainted with Jack Hobbs and a young, handsome number four batsman who became my hero from that date forward. Denis Campion. Interestingly, I think it is his grandson, Nick Compton, who opens the batting today for England with Alistair Cook. Denis Compton went on to bigger things (financially) as Brylcreem’s poster boy

Public footpaths were a bit of an enigma. They were supposed to be unobstructed and kept free for hiking but this was not always the case as recalcitrant farmers tended to become irate when their crops were trampled by bands of hikers. Sometimes the public footpaths had simply disappeared. There was the strange business of a public footpath sign situated just behind the bench where the memorial sat opposite the Hiawatha. It was placed Just over the fence close to Si Peter’s Bali It pointed in the direction between St Peter’s Hail and Greens Stores up toward Douglas Road. Who would ever use it I could not imagine. It was totally overgrown and impassable. Useless, presumably at some time it had a purpose. I wonder if the ancient rights surrounding public footpaths are still sacrosanct and what was the fate of this particular path.

On Sunday morning I delivered papers for Mr. Weedon. My route was the AI27, the mud paths behind the Fortune, on up to the Old Fortune and then the bulk of the route was up Nook Hill, I was always intrigued by the name of a house at the summit of Noak Hill, “Weldun”. As if to congratulate one on cycling up such a steep hill. There was always a large group of racing cyclists who sped down the nearly deserted early Sunday morning Al27 from the London direction toward Southend. Where they originated, who they were, and where they finished I never discovered. But there they were every Sunday without fail

The Winston Club seems to have survived the changing times which, as a working man’s club must be some claim to distinction. It pre-dates me but even to my knowledge it has been in existence for about seventy years. Not so its down market competitor. The Regal Club! The Regal was located in Pound Lane about fifty yards from St Nicolas Lane on the west side of Pound Lane. It was, in effect, just a one room wooden building. A tiny bar in one corner, a dartboard, and a few chairs and tables principally for the ladles. It was owned, or run at least, by a Mr, Nuth whose son, Alec Nuth, was a year ahead of meat Chelmsford Tech. My parents took us there a few times. The thing that stays in my mind about the Regal is that it had the most repulsive and evil smelling bog I have probably ever encountered (Are the facilities still referred to as a bog!)

Relph’s was our preferred chemist. They had a metal advertising sign on their wall. An obviously upper class rat in a dressing gown, reading a newspaper, seated in a comfortable chair is approached by a second rat dressed as a butler. The butler intones “Madame will not be dining, sir. She tasted Rodine for killing rats and mice.” What a simple age.

There were quite a few venues for dancing on a Saturday night but only one on Sunday. The Basildon Country Club adjacent to Donaldson’s. Presumably this was due to some vagaries in the licensing laws. Of course the intent on going to dances, usually with a few friends, was to meet girls. Invariably the first question directed to a strange girl who had accepted an invitation to dance was to ask where she lived. A quick mental calculation followed. If one was lucky enough to walk her home then two miles in the wrong direction followed by another three miles home was probably too far on a cold January night

In its day, Horniman was a big name in tea. Their principal form of advertising was large metal, predominantly yellow, signs on railway station platforms. Memory says that Laindon station did not possess such an advertisement but most stations did. They were ubiquitous.

I worked for Tetley in the tea business. One summer I was selected to play in the annual Tea Trade versus Rubber Trade cricket match at Hurlingham in west London. Great surroundings and a standard of living to which one could easily become accustomed. Only problem was that it rained all day.

I started work in London in I950 at sixteen years of age. Five years after the end of the war the bombsites had all been cleared of rubble but absolutely no rebuilding had yet commenced. Bomb sties were everywhere like missing teeth in a mouth. A large part of Mark Lane and Mincing Lane as they joined Fenchurch Street, apart of Billiter Street, around the Monument and Billinsgate, various parts of Bishopsgate and around Liverpool Street station as well as many of the warehouses along the pool of London, were all destroyed. In what, at one time, was the basement of Waterlow the printers on Worship Street and was now open to the elements, young lads played cricket during the lunch hour.

I think it was 1953, possibly November or December that the great smog descended. London, of course, lay in a bowl and when the weather patterns were still and prior to any of the clean air acts industry smoke stacks belched huge quantities of yellow poisonous and noxious fumes into the atmosphere. There the air sat, unmoving, as the smog grew thicker and thicker. Few people even attempted to get into the city. Of course as a young lad I considered it all an adventure. Buses made their way slowly with the conductor walking in front to indicate to the driver, via a torch, where the kerb lay. The very few people on the streets wore masks, usually just a tied handkerchief. Sound was magnified enormously. I remember walking from Fenchurch Street station to Gracechurch Street and hearing loud footsteps as someone approached. I could not see anyone and kept walking, more slowly. Eventually a man appeared out of the smog no more than three or four feet in front of me. The smog was that thick. It lasted perhaps four days. Afterwards, though not widely publicised, it came to light that over seventy deaths were attributed to the smog. Mostly older people. Subsequently environmental laws and clean air acts were passed and we will never again experience such smog.

We would go to the lily pond to catch newts. I can picture the lily pond virtually surrounded by trees except on one side. For the life of me, however, I cannot remember where the lily pond was located or how we got there.

In the few days after the rocket fell in Vowler Road a WVS van was stationed at the corner of Vowler Road and Berry Lane. The cheerful women there handed out hot cups of tea (free!) to the emergency workers, those without power and us very grateful lads.

The rocket in Fowler Road fell about sixty yards from us as the crow flies. Our roof was lifted up, turned about fifteen degrees and dropped back down. A tarpaulin was draped over the roof for the duration of the war and until we were given 2, King Edward Terrace. We felt like royalty my father had six or eight bird cages in which he kept about two-dozen canaries. The force of the rocket knocked the cages to the ground and the canaries escaped. For the next several days we would see them flying amongst the hedgerows and around the field. Then the native birds killed them off.

I always thought Stock was an extremely pretty village. Old houses, quiet, no stores except a newsagent. Three pubs! The Cock, the Bull and a third whose name I forget

Some time after the fall of the rocket, four men arrived (presumably from the BUDC but I am not sure) to replace our windows all of which had been blown out by the blast. One man scraped out the frames getting rid of the old putty and remaining pieces of glass. A second rolled the new putty in his hands to make it supple and workable. A third collected waste wood, made a fire, and proceeded to brew the tea. The fourth was (wait for it!) the supervisor. Even at that tender age I knew there was something wrong with that picture. In retrospect it seems a wonder how we ever won the war if that was industry’s norm.

Today’s educational system seems to mandate a “great job” just for turning up today. Everything seems to be deserving of praise even if it is a rotten job because “positive encouragement” must be fostered, it was different in my day at LHR. Each year was divided into four or five classes depending on the total numbers. The first year was thus 1A, IB, 1C etc. The A’s were the brainier lads and lasses and so on down the scale. It was all public knowledge and if someone’s feelings were hurt because they were put in a D class no one cared. The answer was simply ” get over it and work harder . ” At the end of our first year two of the tads were not keeping up and the following September they came back as member of 2B class, I cannot remember if we had two promotions to take their place.

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  • I met a lady in Devon a few years ago who said that a house in Pound Lane, Laindon had been set alight resulting in the death of an occupant.  This I would imagine, would have been in the 50s or 60s. I have researched this but found nothing.  Does anyone have any knowledge of this?

    By Mick (02/11/2014)
  • So the various waterways around Laindon are tributaries of the river Crouch. I never knew that. 

    I do know the Crouch in another context however. My very good friend Ray Coath lived in Dickens Drive off Pound Lane. After he was married Ray, and his wife Chris, moved to the tiny village of Canewdon. A strange place. Charming and seemingly in the middle of nowhere. A road ran to and from Canewdon but not through it. Once you reach Canewdon there is nowhere to go except back the way you came. Canewdon sits on the south bank of the estuary of the river Crouch. There is one church in Canewdon and one matching pub, the Admiral somebody or other. 

    Canewdon is reputed to be one of the oldest centres of witchcraft in the country. There is a particularly enduring legend. Apparently, on the longest day of the year, as evening draws in, if two people set off from the same point and walk in opposite directions around the church they will each return to their starting point without having passed each other.

    By Alan Davies (12/09/2013)
  • Hi Alan, the three pubs in Stock that you were thinking of are The Hoop, The Cock and The Bear, I’m not sure there is a Bull, The Bakers Arms is on the right heading out of Stock towards Galleywood.

    By Ellen English nee Burr (12/09/2013)
  • Phyllis and Bert Peters lived in the bungalow ‘Phylbert’ close to the bridge in Dunton Road. (Bert had a ‘penny farthing’ bike which he used to ride to the local shop to buy the Sunday paper. Apparently local children used to run along behind him). These were my sister’s in-laws as she married their son Claude.  The Peters sold up and moved away in 1964 to Norfolk, the ‘penny farthing’ went with them. Eight houses were later built on their plot.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (11/09/2013)
  • Although the Radion was no doubt run on a tight budget, in 1951 the cinema closed for the last two weeks before Christmas for a £7,000 ‘facelift’ which included new seats, carpet, screen and ticket kiosk, a new canopy cover and neon lights. Also the gas lamps were replaced with electric wall lights. The Manager at that time was Mr Dixon and the film showing after Christmas was ‘Annie Get your Gun’ starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (11/09/2013)
  • Alan Davies should remember that the other pub in Stock is the Bakers Arms. I was in there last Friday lunch time and it is still one of the nicest places to stop during the day, especially in the Summer. 

    As for the class system at LHR it was only the ‘A’ stream really that held any hope for children at the school. Most people I knew couldnt wait until their 15th birthday so that they could start earning. Hence the huge reduction in the 5th year class numbers going for their GCE O level exams at the time, the holy grail of LHR.

    By Richard Haines (11/09/2013)
  • Richard, leaving school as early as possible was not only confined to Laindon High Road. There were many families where the need to learn a trade to earn money help keep the family together home was a greater priority than getting a paper qualification. 

    We appear now to be moving towards the position where a paper qualification is more important than being able to do a job. However I think we will soon be moving back to the stage where being able to do a job is more important than the paper qualification.

    By Ian Mott (11/09/2013)
  • Ian comments upon the time in 1958 when Wickford was flooded. I too can remember this and it was to a depth of 8 feet or over and I saw a photo of a stranded double decker bus with the water up to the top deck. Also a shop which was on the south east corner of the High St. had a mark painted on it showing the height the water had reached and it was well above head height. 

    It was said that the severity of the flooding which had never previously happened to such an extent was caused by the landscaping of the new town which had destroyed all the old natural water drainage and diverted it to the Pipps Hill and Harding Elms roads on onwards to Wickford. The ditch in Harding Elms Rd. was later replaced with a wide concrete water course.

    By W.H.Diment (11/09/2013)
  • My memories of the ‘storm ditch’ along the High Rd. differs from that of Alan. Also I believe this has been said to be a tributary of the River Crouch. After going under the Arterial Rd. and re-emerging just pat Enefers café, it continued as an open waterway as far as the first of the turreted bungalows where it turned west running between the aforesaid bungalow and a small wooden chemists (0ne of Wilsons three shops) and continued into the fields where it again turned north passing under the Dunton Rd. just east of a bungalow named Elmbridge, later known as Phylbert. I cannot remember any waterway in the vicinity of the Old Fortune of war.

    The stream continued north to the bottom of Noak Hill turning east under the Noak Hill Rd. where it was locally known as the brook. It continued east to Barleylands and eventually made its way to Wickford joining a larger stream.

    By W.H.Diment (10/09/2013)
  • The waterway that ran down the High Road was one of a number of the tributaries of the River crouch that runs trough Wickford. Some of the other tributaries run from lower Dunton Road, Herongate, Billericay and Little Burstead. They all converge and join the brook William refers to. The brook (River Crouch) meanders its way to Wickford and beyond joined by other tributaries including the waterway that formed the the ford in Wash Road. 

    I can remember in 1958 when Wickford was flooded that where the tributary crossed Lower Dunton Road and Dunton Road there was extensive flooding as there was in Wash Road and the bottom of Noak Hill. 

    Although the Laindon High Road tributary has now been culverted though out its length to the well north of the A127 there is still a bridge over it in Dunton Road and following on from a number of flooding incidents the River authorities created a flood wash in the fields just to the north of Dunton Road. With the increased building in the area I think we can look forward to the wash being an essential part of the flood control for the River Crouch.

    By Ian Mott (10/09/2013)

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