Another cameo of life in the 1920s and 1930s, found amongst the late Norman Chisman’s papers. This handwritten account, of six letter-sized pages, was signed D. W. Wilkinson. On looking at the 1939 Register, I discovered the family, living at ‘Meadow Lodge’, Felstead Road. Richard E. W. Wilkinson, a Certificated School Master, aged 52, the writer’s father? Jennie E.A. Wilkinson, (46) his wife, and 18 year old Daphne W. Wilkinson a Teacher in training, who wrote this undated account.
‘Meadow Lodge’ was one of a small group of asbestos and wood bungalows built in what was then known as Rectory Road (and changed to Felstead Road in the 1930s). It was completed for our family in 1925 and my brother and I were, for a time, the only children in the road. We had oil lamps and candles, rain-water tanks, coal fires and an earth closet, with a big enough garden for the digging of large holes which my father called “the best job in the country”.
Behind the bungalow was a small shed, containing a copper in which my mother did the family’s washing. On Saturdays, my brother and I collected small twigs and branches to use as fuel – and to this day – I think of those twiggy pieces as “copper wood”. We kept our own chickens and goats, and my father cut our hay with a scythe. The surrounding fields were also cut for hay, by horse-drawn cutters (two horses) and rake (one horse). The horses grazed on the field opposite to us, where Kents Hill Junior School now stands. A small ditch ran beside the hedges and fed the ‘horses pond’. Sometimes, one of the horses would rub its shoulder against one of the fence poles until it was loosened, then the horse would go a-wandering.
One very dry summer, my father and a neighbour had carried baths and buckets of water to augment the rain-water supply (or lack of it). A bath of this precious water was left on our front lawn and, in the middle of the night, I heard a noise. Looking out, I saw my father in his pyjamas, trying to persuade a horse to stop drinking our water supply and to go out of the gate.
My brother, being five years older than myself, went for a time to the Old School in School Lane. By the time I started, the ‘new South Benfleet School’ was open. Our ‘short-cut’ was across a grassy field to reach Kents Hill Road. This field had obviously once been ploughed, as it had a series of ridges. When I was older, and had a bicycle, that part of the journey was rather like a scenic railway. Kents Hill Road had an asphalt footpath for pedestrians only – so, if on a cycle, one kept a sharp look-out for the village policeman, so one could dismount and walk virtuously past him. But the fields were often muddy, so wellington boots were the best footwear. They also came in handy if we wanted to paddle in the ditch which ran beside the footpath.
During the school holidays, our regular family outings were to Hadleigh Castle, to picnic near the sheep. We also went to Wickford Market on a Monday by local bus (Pearce’s), and to Canvey, first by ferry boat, later by bus from Ferry Road across the ‘new bridge’. We would either go to the Red Cow at the village (now King Canute) and walk down the ‘sleeper track’ to the sea wall at the Lobster Smack, or to The Haystack and walk down the partly made-up Furtherwick Road to Shell Beach. We sometimes stopped at a large barn on the right-hand side for a glass of milk. Other outings were to Old Leigh and later Chalkwell; also Shoeburyness and Southend (6d and 3d. Cheap Day returns by train). Sometimes we caught a boat from Southend Pier to go to Chatham for ‘Navy Week’. On two occasions, my father and I travelled on an early morning train to Fenchurch Street, then caught the boat, ‘Queen of the Channel’, or ‘Royal Sovereign’, from Tower Pier to Southend Pier – and were home for lunch!
D. W. Wilkinson