We moved to Benfleet just after the second World War when I was just turned 3 years old and my brother was a baby. The two things I remember bringing with me were my green trolley bus and my metal dolls pram. A great friend of my grandfather was an upholsterer and made me a pillow and matching pram cover in green with tassels round. I still have it wrapped in tissue and polythene in my cupboard.
Our bungalow was originally used as a holiday home and prior to us moving there, my grandparents had moved in. My grandparents then purchased the land opposite and had a wooden ‘hut’ there. My grandfather gradually (with the help of my father) turned the ‘hut’ into a long bungalow with a bedroom one end, lounge in the middle and kitchen at the other end. Their land went from Arundel Road through to Overton Road.
No mains drainage and a chemical toilet
He had a wooden shed next to the greenhouse, a short distance from the bungalow, which was used as a toilet. There was no mains drainage, so they had a chemical toilet and bathed indoors by the fire. Later, when water was put through, they had a bath with the toilet in the ‘outhouse’
They grew their own vegetables and had fruit trees in the garden too. There was eating apple, cooking apple, pear, plum and damson trees. Nothing is nicer than to eat fruit straight from the tree! I believe that is why the property was called “The Orchard”. When he was old enough, my brother used to cut the grass for our grandparents, which used to take a good few hours. My grandfather had a greenhouse where he grew vegetable and flower seeds and had a large grapevine. Some years he had such a high yield of vegetables he supplied the local school for school dinners.
Woodham Ley School formerly known as New Thundersley Primary
The only school at that time was New Thundersley Primary (now known as Woodham Ley). There were just three classrooms and the toilet block was outside in the playground. In the summer time we had a large field to play on. To enter the school we had to cross the ditch by way of a wooden bridge by the old Oak tree (which is still standing) and sometimes the water would be quite high as you crossed. Also, leading up to the entrance along the edge of the path there was a row of Elm trees which, when in leaf, almost formed an arch over the ‘road’. These have long gone due to disease and also building of the road and pavements.
My first recollection of school was in the church as there was no room for the infants at the main school, and I joined New Thundersley Primary School in around 1949, just before I was 5 years old. At that time the school was very small and my first classroom was in the church next door, which looked completely different then. My teacher was a Mrs Butcher and she was lovely. There was a very large boiler in the centre and the milk was heated around it on cold days (perhaps that is why I cannot drink cows milk now!!)
When I progressed to the juniors I was in the middle of the three classrooms and stayed there till I left to go to King John School in Shipwrights Drive. When you went into the school itself later, there was just a long building on what is now a car park at the side of the doctor’s surgery. We had a large playground with outside toilets and a large playing field to the rear and side. My teacher was then a Miss Adkins and she was very strict. The Head was a Miss Willdon (or Wilsdon).
I made some good friends at the junior school and still keep in touch with some today. On sports day we all assembled in the large field to the side of the school (on which is now built the newer part of the school and playground). We had the usual running races, sack races and parents races. All in all my days spent at New Thundersley were good.
On wet days we had to go to school in our welly boots and change once we got there as the lane was still unmade and was very muddy.
As the population increased in size so did the school
Gradually the school increased in size as the local population increased and when my other brother started his years there the school had additional classrooms at the side and a hall at the rear. The infant school as it stands now did not exist – the infants went into a separate classroom in the main school building. The infant school takes up part of the field to the rear of the original school. Opposite the school on the edge of the meadow builders moved in and houses were built and the road was made up to the school boundary. From there anyone living in the lane or roads off had an unmade track to walk along.
We did not have bathrooms or toilets as we now know it. There was a building outside which had a chemical toilet in and a long ‘bungalow’ bath made of metal, which was brought in to be placed in front of the fire on bath nights.
Our bungalow was brick built and we had a well in the garden for our water, which supplied all our drinking and washing water. There was no water, gas or electricity to our properties. For light we had ‘tilly lamps’ which used paraffin oil. For cooking we had a range which was heated with wood and coke (a form of coal). There was a well in the garden for water.
Again we had a separate wooden building outside with a chemical toilet and a large boiler, under which my mother lit a fire and boiled her washing.
No washing machine just a metal bath and wooden scrubbing board
Wash-day my grandmother and mother used to do it together with a metal bath and wooden scrubbing board. The white washing was rinsed in another bath of water into which a ‘blue bag’ had been placed. This helped keep the washing white. It was then put through a very large mangle which consisted of two very large rollers and a handle for turning them and squeezing the water out of the washing. It was then hung on a long line which stretched quite a way down the garden from the bungalow and my father made a ‘prop’ from a long length of tree trunk with a fork cut in the end which held the line up in the wind, thus helping dry the washing better.
I remember the time my mother washed a rag doll belonging to my brother which had become quite dirty. When he saw it go through the mangle he started crying and saying she had killed his dolly!! Once dry he never let it out of his sight again.
After a good few years of hand washing everything, once we had electricity my mother invested in a twin tub machine. It washed one side with a pulsator and rinsed and mangled the other. This was pure luxury for her and saved hours of time. Obviously the rinsing and mangling had to be done by hand, but it took a lot of the strain out of washday!!
Our playground was our garden
When we were growing up my brother and I made our own amusement. As the ground was 60 feet wide by 240 feet long it gave us quite an area to play. My father made us wooden scooters which we would ride around the concrete area outside the back of the bungalow. He also made us a garden swing between two line posts. We never had much money so did not go on holidays, but just played in the garden with what we had. If it was raining we would play inside with his cars and my dolls and we would use the dining table as a garage and run the cars underneath and around. When my younger brother came along I used to help my mother tend to him and push him round the garden in his pram.
I also enjoyed helping my father in the garden and greenhouse. He used to grow most of his plants from seed and I loved waiting for the seedlings to pop up through the soil and fill the seed tray. It was a very fiddly job transplanting the seedlings into individual pots or trays in rows for growing on. He not only grew flowers, he also grew vegetables and tomatoes, cucumbers and melons in the greenhouse.
One time my father decided to put in a garden pond with fish and a rockery and waterfall behind. My brother, Bob, and I really enjoyed helping him dig the large hole for the pond. He bought some goldfish and a water-lily and built the waterfall at the back. The pump for the waterfall was sited behind out of sight. Over the years it grew to maturity and was really pretty.
Arundel Road did not exist beyond the holiday bungalow next to my grandmother’s property, so we had to use her garden to walk through to Overton Road and then either along there to Rushbottom Lane or across the meadow opposite to get to Tarpots Corner shops.
When my brother and I were old enough to go to Tarpots shops on our own we used to carry the bags between us full of shopping, but my brother being shorter than me would hold his side lower so I had most of the weight to carry. The arguments that caused !!
At Tarpots there was the usual fish shop (selling wet fish), bakers, newsagents, butchers, chemist and hair dresser. There was also a large hall where performances were put on for the local people and some concerts by the school. The helpers were usually parents of children at the school. Mr Best was the main organiser, and I went to school with his two daughters, Barbara (the eldest) and Sandra (my age) Across the road in the High Road there was a general store which sold anything from nails to paraffin oil and household products (Smiths), a corn chandlers (Palmers) which sold animal feeds etc and the post office. I believe there was a hairdresser called Mendoza.
The forbidden ponds
At the top end of Arundel Road, on our side were two very large ponds which we were forbidden to go near. As it was only a dirt track by them to get through to Seamore Avenue we did not venture up that end. Besides there were thickets on the other side of the ‘road’ so it would be easy to slip into one of the ponds.
There were a few other children living in Rushbottom Lane and the ‘roads’ off it (Eversley and Stansfield). I keep thinking back and memories of other local families come to mind whose children attended New Thundersley School either at the same time, or in the case of older siblings, earlier. Some names coming to mind are the Cakebread girls who lived on the left hand side of Church Road just at the. bottom of Church Hill, the Patrick family, the Cardy’s in Kennington Avenue, Michael and Mary Easter (I think Church Road), the Lucas twins, Cotswold Crescent, the Underwood’s, on the London Road, the Piggotts off Rushbottom Lane and the Rose family (their house was in Rushbottom Lane, but was demolished when building work started and would have been opposite Montgomerie School). Also the Weston family from Manor Road – Wendy was in my class and one year we looked so alike they gave us the wrong school photo ! Also Stella Dodds, lived on the corner of London Road and Manor Road and the Smith girls who I believe lived in Hatley Gardens.
None of the roads were made-up and were just tracks in many instances or muddy roads with cinder paths to walk on. The properties were very spaced apart as you can imagine before the land was built on as we now know it and we all very much knew everybody in the area. It is unfortunate that I do not have pictures to show you – the only two I have are of Arundel Road taken just prior to the building of the houses which shows the road cleared of thicket to Rushbottom Lane which I took on my brother’s camera. (I also took later photos from the same positions when the road was made up and houses and shops built).
There was a deep ditch running along Rushbottom Lane to drain water off the land and occasionally this became full and flooded the area. One such occasion arose when my younger brother was quite small and my father had purchased a motor bike and sidecar. He took us all to Southend to see the lights and whilst we were there it rained quite heavily and there was a thunderstorm. My mother travelled on the pillion and my brother sat behind me in the sidecar with my younger brother on my lap.
……..the further we got towards Overton Road the deeper the water became. There was also a small ditch on the entrance to Overton Road which proved to be the end for the motor bike.
When we returned from Southend and turned into Rushbottom Lane we were met with people saying ‘turn back – you cannot possibly get through’ My father explained that he had to as he lived there. The further we got towards Overton Road the deeper the water became. There was also a small ditch on the entrance to Overton Road which proved to be the end for the motor bike. As my father drove it into the dip ready for the incline the other side to dryer land the engine flooded and we were stuck in fast flowing muddy water with no lights! The water began to rise in the sidecar and I handed my young brother out through the roof to my mother. My father then came round and helped my brother and myself out of the sidecar into the water. It was so cold and murky and was quite frightening. We then waded up the slope into Overton Road and made our way home. It was awful. My father had to go back the next day to retrieve his bike.
Dr Wilks visited his patients on horse-back
If we ever required a doctor to come out to us (which fortunately was not often) he arrived on horse-back. He was a lovely doctor (called Dr Wilks) and his practice was along Kiln Road.
The only time there was a real emergency was when I developed a mastoid infection and had to be admitted to hospital. I was carried on a stretcher through my grandmother’s along Overton Road and then to the school, which was as far as the ambulance could get. Not a very pleasant experience!
In the summer time Rushbottom Lane was quite pretty. The Elm trees on either side formed almost an arch by the school and as the lane meandered along we used to walk along and pick blackberries and my mother used to make jam or apple and blackberry pies. Sometimes we had to reach across the ditch or, if it was dry, used to go down into it to reach the berries on the other side.
We also used to help my grandmother pick plums and damsons from her trees along with apples and pears. My brother and I also used to go to the fields on the other side of the ditch and collect mushrooms and they were the best! Really natural and delicious.
Gradually the end of our road was cleared of bramble etc and my grandfather and father used to lay cinders to make a pathway to Rushbottom Lane. The lane was still only a dirt track, so when it was wet we always had to use our welly boots.
We then progressed to having Calor Gas cylinders dropped off at the school junction and my father collected them on his large wheelbarrow. This was used for lighting and cooking as we had progressed to a Calor Gas cooker. We still had to pump the water from the well though. My father made a ‘cage’ so that we could put butter and milk into it and suspend it in the well to keep it cool. Obviously we did not have a refrigerator, so this was the next best thing. One year it was so hot and dry the well dried out and we had to have the fire brigade bring us some water.
Radio Luxembourg and the ‘Ovaltinies’
In the evenings we would listen to the radio or read books. The radio set was powered by an accumulator which had to be recharged in the local ironmongers shop every so often and my father would take one to Tarpots to be recharged and bring another back. I used to love to listen to Radio Luxemburg and my brother and I became ‘Ovaltinies’ and had our badges and membership books. There was a little song which was played as the programme came on and it went something like this:
We are the Ovaltinies, happy girls and boys,…..
My father made a gramophone (record player) which had a large handle at the side. My brother and I took it in turns to wind the handle and the turntable would go round and play the record placed on it. As the turntable started to slow down, so did the record so we had to wind again.
Even when I reached my teens and started going out with friends to dances, the lane was still unmade and our road just a cinder path. My friend from the other side of Tarpots (who did not mind the dark) would walk to the school with me and wait till I turned into my road and I would then run all the way to our bungalow. There was one occasion when I had just turned the corner when this terrible screaming started. I was so scared I thought someone was being murdered and ran all the way home and fell against the front door in fright. When my father came to the door he laughed and said it was a fox !! Sometimes he would meet me after that, but I could not get that sound out of my head.
My friend lived in Croft Road, opposite where Appleton School is now built. I am still in touch with her after all this time ! She now lives in Basildon.
The field next door to our bungalow was sold to a developer
The field next door to our bungalow was sold by the owner to a developer. The owner did first of all offer it to my father, but unfortunately at that time he did not have the money to purchase it (albeit it was a very modest figure). He had put everything into the bungalow and could not afford the investment for the future of the land. Eventually the developer started clearing the land and hedges and building work began. Houses were built facing Rushbottom Lane and then along Arundel Road with a close formed (Kennedy Close) with houses along each side of this. It seemed very strange at first, having houses so close to us when we were used to the peace and quiet.
The land opposite (on my grandmother’s side) was purchased and they approached my grandparents to buy their land. Unfortunately at that time they thought the builder was doing them a favour by offering a house, in exchange for their land, in Shoeburyness. This was by no way a fair exchange, but my grandfather was so keen to move away from Benfleet at that time that he agreed and they moved and their land was built on too. A road was put through their land (now called Orchard Road) and houses built on either side.
Eventually we had all the necessary services which go with modern living and it was wonderful. We then had no use for the well and all the old fashioned things (which would probably be antiques now) were dropped in and later concrete put on top and the lid sealed.
When we had the luxury of electricity my father replaced the old wind-up gramophone with a record cabinet and turntable powered by electricity. We thought it was wonderful, and my cousin used to come during the summer holidays and we would put a record on and dance in the back garden. That was before the builders moved in next door and built the houses.
Gradually, everywhere around us was being built up
Gradually everywhere around us was built up and proper roads laid and everything changed from then on. Arundel Road is now a bus route and there are three schools in Rushbottom Lane.
The land where our bungalow stood and also the little one next door were purchased and another close built with detached houses all round with a single bungalow for my mother. My father had already started proceedings to sell when the man next door died and that delayed things for a bit. Then my own father died and my brother took over the sale for my mother. Her bungalow is situated on the land of our next door neighbour and is very comfortable for her. As it is a new building she does not have to worry about things going wrong (as she would have with the old bungalow) It still seems strange when I look at where our old bungalow used to stand and the house which now occupies the site.
All the roads off Rushbottom Lane and Church Road as I said previously were unmade. Most of the properties scattered around had wells in their gardens for water. I have never moved far from my parents home and my first house was in a road off Arundel Road called Mandeville Way, which is the point where Eversley Road crosses and carries on to Rushbottom Lane. My next door neighbour decided to knock down his front wall to make the driveway wider and in doing so came across a brick circle. He asked me if I knew anything about it and I explained about the wells and when he investigated further he found it was in fact a well which had been filled in!
A few years later I moved to Roseberry Avenue where, as a child my mother used to take us to collect eggs etc from the local farmer who lived there. His land is now a road with a side turning near the bottom end. Again Eversley Road crosses the bottom of Roseberry Avenue on it’s way to Rushbottom Lane.
I had a school friend who lived on the corner of Eversley Road and Moreland Avenue who I used to go to after school sometimes and we would play in her garden and have tea. (I think their surname was Lucy) Again this has long gone and modern houses built all along both Eversley Road and Moreland Avenue.
As I have not moved from the area, it is nice to meet people from my past who have stayed here too. Sometimes I meet them in the local supermarket in Hadleigh or local shops. Unfortunately I am terrible at remembering names and although the face is familiar the name will not always come and it is quite embarrassing, especially when they know my name right away !
We still have reunions from our days at King John School which one of my old classmates organises. Unfortunately I have not been able to attend the last two as I have been in America visiting my daughter or son. Hopefully I will be able to make the next one, as it is really good to meet up and see how others have done since our school days. We are a diminishing bunch now though, as we are all nearing 70 which is quite alarming when you think about it.
I hope this gives my own family and future generations an insight into what it was like here in Benfleet in the ‘old days’ as there are not many of us left to remember and relate it.
As I finish this, I must add that I now live in my mother’s bungalow (almost right back to my days of growing up) as my mother sadly passed away in 2017.