Memories of The Broomhills/ Little Bursted/ Laindon areas
Some Treasured Memories for a Treasured Granddaughter
This story was written by my Husband for my Granddaughter who had given him a lovely foolscap sized writing book that she had decorated asking him to write some family history for her.
Dear Tegan as you suggested in in the label you pasted in this book, these are some of our thoughts, Nan and I, of today and through our histories. Obviously some of the early ones will be as we remember them and may be coloured by the feelings going through our minds at the time but this is the way of life and just as well or everything in our lives would be, to my mind, all in black and white.
I’ll start with the times we were born. Nan was born in London Hospital in 1932, I was born in London Hospital in 1931. We both moved away from London with our respective families and met years later when we were both in the Royal Airforce.
Nan’s family lived in Hackney, London until her Dad and Mum Mary and Charlie Cooper, moved to the country. They moved when Nan was two years old. Nan remembers that they lived near the big and well known pub called “The Fortune of War” on the busy and well known road to Southend the seaside town, Nan well remembers that they lived very near to a Little sweet shop called Modleys in Queens Road in the village of Laindon Essex.
The family later moved to a village called Broomhills and lived in one of a pair of farm cottages number 2 Fairview Cottages. They lived next to another family named Hoskins. The cottages had a well for water and no electricity. Of course there was no car and Grandpa Cooper worked nights for most of his working life. Each evening he would cycle to Laindon and leave his bike at the village sweet shop. He would then go to the “Fortune of War” and have two pints of ale before catching the bus to work in laundry far away in Brentwood.
Nan hardly knew her dad while he was working as a laundry man and later as a foundry man, because at night he worked and when the children came home from school he was gone. Her Mum was always there, she never went out to work, there were no bicycles for the children or bus transport and every morning and evening rain or shine the children, at that time Nan and her Brother your Great Uncle Ron, had to walk the five miles to and from the village school at Little Bursted. Much later of course they got a bicycle and if you look you will see on Nan’s elbow gravel scars where Ron with Nan on the crossbar went too fast downhill and finished up in a ditch.
Their neighbors in Fairview Cottages were the Hoskins family, their daughter Kit and Nan became great friends and despite Nan and I moving to Australia in 1955 they have remained great friends and regularly in touch ever since. We see Kit and her husband Les whenever we visit England. Nan also knew Kit’s husband Les as a child and they all grew up together in the area. They only parted when Nan was seventeen and a half years old and joined the Womens Royal Airforce.
The life was a simple one lived in a very small house for such a large family for over the years the family developed into one of three boys, Ron, Bob and Alfred and Nan (Pat), Barbara, Gwen, Sylvie, Iris, Doreen, Julie. Ten in all. The house was built of weatherboards and consisted of a very small porch or verandah at the front entry and as you went in the front door there was a bedroom on either side of the passage that went straight to a room at the back of the house that was literally “The Living Room”. This room which was the width of the house served as the Kitchen with a blacklead stove for cooking and heating/warmth and a stone sink, there was no running water and water had to be fetched by a bucket on a rope from the well which was out the back, all the kids as they grew strong enough took part in this chore. The room also served as the dining room and the sitting room, where the family spent its evenings. As you can tell sleeping accommodation was very limited and was solved by crowding.
When war came the family was allocated an air raid shelter called an “Andersen Shelter”. This consisted of a series of steel sheets in the form of half arches that were bolted togetherat the top to form a tunnel covered at one end with a long narrow, low doorway at the other. The size of the shelter was approximately 1.5 metres wide by 2 metres long and 2 metres high at the crown. The shelter was dug for half its height into the ground and then covered with the soil that had been dug out, hence the term “Dugout” used for the shelters. The soil provided extra protection. The shelters were obviously prone to dampness. In heavy rain in lots of cases they had water over the packed earth floors. The family made the shelter into a bedroom with six or seven bunks and some of the children used to sleep there each night. Thereby alleviating the sleeping accommodation problem somewhat. Nan’s recollection of the shelter at their place is different to what I have described, she recollects, that they had a concrete floor with plinth walls for part of the height so we believe it may have been specially constructed by the owner.
Of course as the years went by the family grew and finally there were the ten children. All of the children except for Robert, Alfred and Julie were born at the farmhouse. At that time births were home deliveries by the village midwife. The life was a simple one, the grass was never cut, it was not lawn as such, the children would play all around and the area was kept trodden. The family used to go scrumping which basically is filching fruit from the local orchards, this may not be as bad as it sounds because at that time in country areas it was just about a national pastime. Even Grandpa Cooper went out with them on some occasions. The children would gather bluebells and primroses from the woods in the springtime and plant them in the soil around the cottage, there was no garden as such but what the children made in spring and these only lasted for some days.
They also gathered conkers from the woods. Conkers are a seed in the form of a nut, from the Horse Chestnut, that are beautiful big and ancient trees. They fell as big spiky pods and when opened there was the beautiful brown polished kernel sometimes as big as a small egg. The children would prize the big one and boastfully show it off. The point of it all was to drill the conker through and to put a string through it with a knot to stop it pulling through. The proud owner would then challenge another and the participants watched by others would take turns to swing his/her conker against the other until at last one broke to pieces. As soon as your conker broke its first adversary it was called a oner and then a twoer and so on. It is amazing in retrospect how honest owners were in recording their score, it was all trust. There were ways of course of making your conkers stronger such as soaking in vinegar and many other ways tried but that was considered fair because then it was down to ingenuity.
The family also as a way of increasing income used to gather wild mushrooms in season, Nan Cooper would sort them out keep the older battered ones and sell the best ones to Wiseman’s the greengrocer. They also tried hop picking, travelling as a family to Tunbridge Wells in Kent and picked as a family along with many other such families especially many from London, in season that picked and were paid by the basket. Mum Dad and all the kids would pick the hops. At night when the work was finished everyone would socialise, with music by people who had brought their instruments such as accordion and mouth organ, the jaws harp etc., and lots of singing. And so to bed in rough accommodation to be ready for he next days toil. Kent was the county held in high regard as the “Garden of England”. The hops were used by the brewing companies to make the nations beers and ales.
To give you an idea of the the pace and type of life that was theirs I’ll tell you of the day to day happenings in the normal life that Nan spent in the country. Every night after school she would walk to the local farm with an enamel jug with a top carrying handle and a lid to fetch the milk for the next day, of course there was no such thing in these families as a “fridge”. Each day the bread man/baker came around with the bread van and families would purchase their bread from him. A vegie man came around with his lorry because it was too far to walk to a greengrocers and you could not just put your groceries the boot of the car. There were no cars. The cottages were not set out in streets in the area but were set out in the individual fields where they were built and the children would play their games together in a common field known as “The Common”. They played games such as football, rounders, cricket, tag and hide and seek etc.
Nan never went to a hairdressers in her life until she was on the ship coming to Australia. To my dismay she had her lovely long ginger hair cut short because of the heat we were expecting. She never ever wore makeup and still doesn’t. I tell you this to point out that in those days in those places the life was not conducive to those luxuries and she never took them up later. She had never seen the inside of a dentists rooms until she fell pregnant with yiour Aunt Sue at age twenty one. As children they never cleaned their teeth later when she worked she used a solid tooth paste sold as a block in round tins and called “Gibbs'” Toothpaste. She only went once to hospital at age 12 to have tonsil removed. The common cure for family ills was a laxative “Syrup of Figs” bought by Nan Cooper, this kept everyone going, so to speak. Never went to church. Nan never knew where her clothes came from as a child but knows that during the war her Mum sold their clothing coupons which were needed to purchase clothing to the local farmers wives. Nan was always late for school, what with the distance they had to walk and the mucking about on the way, she used to spend a lot of time waiting outside the headmasters office and receiving cuts on the legs with the cane. I have photo of her standing outside the office with her hands behind her back as though waiting to go in, taken when we were over there on holiday. That particular school, Laindon High, we are told has been demolished recently.
As you can see it was full but simple lifestyle. There was never a word heard about banned substances there was no knowledge of them in the school community of them whatsoever. The worst thing that would happen is that some of the boys and maybe a girl or two would have a puff on a stolen cigarette behind the school toilets.
When Nan was seventeen having lived in the cottage all these years the landlord/owner of the cottages came to say they wanted he cottages empty for redevelopment. The families had to leave. This left Nan and GranDad Cooper in very bad straights and eventually they were declared “misplaced persons”. Because of this they were given accommodation at a place called Hornchurch, still in the County of Essex. However Nan and Ron were not allowed to live with the rest of the family because they of all the children were of working age and the law said that tha County Council had no need to accommodate them. Nan went to live with a family friend named Margie Howard who had lived for years in the Little Bursted Area but when Nan went to live with her she had remarried and her name was Reeve and now lived in Charterhouse. Margies first husband had been killed by a lightning strike. Margie was a lovely person and Her and Bill her husband gave Nan lots of loving care but not of course like family care. Nan kept in tough with Margie and Bill for many years and we always visited them on our trips to England until they both passed away. Ron at that time moved to a farm to work, at Dunton, and which is still a working farm.
Grandpa Cooper at this stage began a new career which he followed for many years until retirement. He started work at a foundry called Rotary Hoes which manufactured farm equipment which was known world wide. He became a mould maker. This entailed making and shaping the black sand moulds casings used for casting of machinery parts. He worked at this during the war making bomb and shell casings for the war effort. During this period he also became an Air Raid Warden patrolling the streets at night during the bombing raids helping people in distress. This situation for Nan carried on for another six months until she was seventeen and a half. During this period when she had left school at age fourteen and a half shed worked at various jobs in the following order. She started at a grocery shop in the Laindon High Road next she moved to another grocery shop called Dangerfields near the Laindon railway station. From there she went to work in a dartboard factory on the arterial road Laindon. Lastly in this period she worked in the Ever Ready Battery factory.
At this stage Tegan I’ll, leave Nan’s story for a while and return later.