Early last century Ann Packham, wife of George Packham, began catering for passing traffic by placing a table by the roadside on Bread and Cheese Hill, serving squash to thirsty travellers. It was a time for enterprise. Plotlanders were taking up the land on offer in south-east Essex to escape the pressure of London and people became more mobile, cycling and motoring. By 1907 over 60,000 motorcars were registered in Britain. The American Ford Motor Company opened a car factory at Trafford Park, Manchester in 1911 and was producing 3,000 Model Ts a year.
Ann Packham’s Wheelers Rest (also known as Lodge House) on the corner of Rhoda Road and London Road (Jarvis Hill), became a general grocers and tobacconists; also offering a tearoom, bed & breakfast and stabling, thus catering for the old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage travellers as well as the newfangled fad of cycling enthusiasts and the motor car devotees. Waring & Gillows’ horse drawn pantechnicons bringing furniture from London to Southend used to break their journey here, taking advantage of the bed and breakfast and stabling facilities.
Ann’s eldest son Sidney left school at Benfleet’s School Lane aged fourteen and was apprenticed to a jeweller in Southend. At seventeen he joined the Royal Flying Corps. At the end of hostilities he returned to build his garage on Bread and Cheese Hill. The bricks came by horse and cart from Stanford-le-Hope, where his uncle and the rest of the James family had their businesses. A bungalow, built next door for the grand sum of £255, followed on his marriage to Annie Gullett, where they continued to live after the birth of son Philip and daughter Margaret.
Around 1923, Sidney Packham’s enterprise included the operation of two buses on behalf of Bowers Gifford Golf Club to ferry golfers between the club and railway station at South Benfleet in addition to other venues. The dark blue buses were based on the Model T Ford. Brother George was one of the drivers. The garage also offered the first hydraulic lift in the area. Brother Harold had his own paraffin round.
(Photographs courtesy of Philip Packham)