By Alice Jackson
We moved to Laindon in 1917 from Hackney. My eldest brother was outside during a Zeppelin raid, and it upset his nerves. We lived, as I have mentioned before, in a house built for stable lads when there was going to be a race course in Laindon.
My father was taught engineering at London City and Guilds and worked for the General Omnibus Company in London until 1922 when he borrowed money on the house and, with a friend, bought a second-hand double decker bus, which was the first bus to run in Laindon. We went to Billericay Hospital, up Noak Hill, where the trees had to be cut back to allow room for the bus to pass, and to markets in the area. Eventually we had two buses.
Unfortunately in 1924 my father was taken ill and was in hospital. The buses broke down, and there was no other mechanic so the route had to be sold to Tom Webster and Old Toms Buses came into being, and we were back to square one.
I had two brothers, one older and one younger. We all went to Langdon Hills School. I never made friends easily but had one friend, Olive, and we have been friends all our lives. As I said we went to Langdon Hills School together. When the High Road School was built in 1928 all the children from the north side of the railway were told they had to go there, so we went on strike. After two weeks we heard that I had passed the scholarship to go to J H Burrows Intermediate School at Grays. My mother said, “There’s no point in your staying at home, you won’t be going to that school anyway,” so I had to go down to the High Road and I read to the infants every day for two weeks.
J H Burows was a commercial school and was started by him to allow two boys and two girls each year a place in an area around Grays which included Laindon and I was fortunate enough to pass. We were taught shorthand, typing, book-keeping, etc. We had to go to Grays by train in those days. I was the only girl in my father’s family and my grandmother thought it was shocking to let a girl of 11 years go on a train. She lived with my aunts at Shepherds Bush. They took me to see my first movie and first Variety Show. I saw Nellie Wallis on stage.
There was a family who were school teachers who had a bungalow in Helmore Crescent which was where we lived and because I passed the scholarship used to give me 6d each week. This went on for 5 years from 1928 to 1933. 6d was a lot of money in those days. I was very lucky.
We had a very happy childhood although like most people we were hard up. My parents were very good with children and I never remember being bored. We were very sports minded. I played tennis, netball, hockey and we had a cycle polo team in Laindon which we supported.
I left school when I was 16 and worked locally until I was 18 and went to work in London. My friend Olive was already travelling up to London so we were together again. The first day when I got home my mother said, “Well how did it go”and I replied “I couldn’t see the sky.”
I worked there until a week before I got married. Then one morning a German plane machine gunned the railway lines and my father said, “That’s it you don’t go to London any more.”
I married Charles, whose family were farmers in Langdon Hill, in 1940 and Olive was my bridesmaid. In 1942 I had to go to work because we had no family and went to work at the Food Office in Billericay. Olive was already there, so we were together again. We were there until Olive left to have her daughter, and then I left to have our son Peter in 1944.
When the bombing started in London lots of people who had weekend bungalows came for the duration. They were glad to get away from London and they started to extend their bungalows to make them more habitable. They became very pretty places. This is why it annoys me so much when some people call them shacks. They may have been small but they were homes. Most of us were on unmade roads with few facilities but we were friends and everybody helped everybody else.
When Peter was about 4 years old I decided to start a childrens club so that he would learn to mix and share. We used to pay 6d per week for each child. This enabled us to have an outing in the summer to the seaside, a Christmas party, where my father played Father Christmas and handed out presents to everybody, and a trip to a pantomime – all on 6d per week. We used to have a big bonfire in November with two guys (Mr & Mrs Father always had to make one and Peter the other).
When Peter was 14 and getting too old for parties, I was co-opted on to help make a census of people over 60. That of course led to me joining the OPW Com in 1958. The first meeting I went to, no one spoke to me, so I thought that’s that and didn’t go again for nearly a year. One day I met Grace Veryard (nee Collings) and she persuaded me to go back. After about 6 months they lost their Treasurer and asked me to take on the job, which I did until 1981. In that time we did a lot of things, for instance we used to take out 400 food parcels at Christmas. Mrs Irene Cann was secretary and her and I worked well together. One Bank Holiday we walked up and down Laindon High Road with a barrel organ to raise money for our funds.
One Christmas we dressed up as Father Christmas and his mate and stood on Laindon Station. I was Father Christmas. Nobody knew until a little girl saw my shoes.
We used to do a lot of visiting in those days and found some very sad cases. Once we went to an old man in the The Chase, Langdon Hills and found he had no food in the house and was ill in bed. His bungalow was a long way back from the road and he had not been able to attract anyone’s attention. Another time we went to an OAP bungalow and found an old lady stuck in the bath.
One Christmas we were given a 100 chickens – only they were alive. Brin Jones arranged to get them killed, but we had to pluck and clean them. They were all delivered in time for Christmas. Some years we were given Harvest Festival food from St Mary’s Church and this was made into parcels for housebound people.
When I first joined the OPW we had a room in the Berry Boys Club and we served teas to pensioners. Very shortly we were allowed to have Primrose Cafe. Here we served tea, had a whist drive once a week and had a private chiropodist call every week, John Penny. We sold packet tea and had jumble sales to raise money. In 1964 the Development Corporation wanted the property and we were given Burles shop on the corner of Aston Road. Here we started our bingo club with Mr Vickers as caller. We served cooked meals and snacks three days per week, We arranged holidays and went as escorts. One time we were called out at 3 a.m. to a lady who was ill, only to find that she had been drinking the night before. In 1969 we were told that we would have to move and went to 8 New Century Road. Here we started a hair dressing service.
The Council then took over the meals service and holidays and gave food vouchers. These were all things we had started. We have always tried to give advice and help whenever possible, and will continue to do so.
When the Council first had Mini Buses we were allowed to have one every other Thursday with a driver and we took 12 different pensioners for a ride round the country and Wimpey’s in Basildon gave us tea – sandwiches, cakes and plenty of tea.
One Friday morning my mother and I went shopping as usual and when I got home we had been burgled and they killed my dog This was a very harrowing experience. I never opened the front door again without remembering. It wasn’t the value of things they took but the thought that somebody had turned all my things over.
Mrs Cann died in 1981 and I took on her job as secretary. Every year we have a little party and award the Irene Cann Trophy to somebody in the Basildon area who has given exceptional service to the elderly.
Mrs Cann did a greal deal of work in Laindon, especially for people who had to sell their property to the Corporation. This caused a lot of hardship and a lot of heartache.
When the Laindon Community Centre was opened by Bert Washington and I in 1988 and the Day Centre started serving meals, we could not afford to keep our own Centre open and were offered a room for the club which we gladly accepted. Since then I have got quite involved at the Centre and help out as much as possible.
We have 5 outings each year. These we try to run free of any charge to pensioners. One of these is for what I call old residents. These are mostly friends who have been in the area since before the war. You can imagine the talking that goes on. Some haven’t seen each other for years. We usually go for a ride and stop for a meal before we come home.
Olive joined the OPW a few years ago and is now Minutes secretary – so we are working together again.
I have not mentioned my husband very much in this story, but I could not have had a better partner. We have been married for 54 years this year and although, like most people, we have had our ups and downs, Charles has backed me in everything I have tried to do. He is the most generous, thoughtful and placid man – and I thank God for him.