Hadleigh: A step back in time: third pace.

Hadleigh Characters
by Robin Thorn
From gaslighting to free milk

Westcliff Motors
Showbus.com
Staff of the KIngsway Cinema
Alice Chafer
The last encore?

[ This continues from the previous article. ]

Some Hadleigh characters that come to mind are firstly a man called Monty (who lived in the corner bungalow on a triangular plot next to Solbys Lane ( the alley angled from Softwater Lane/Templewood Court to Rectory Road) and I often spoke to him when passing his bungalow on the way home from school and greatly admired the way that he had planned his garden with a mass of different coloured roses which he tended carefully; regrettably the property has since been demolished. (On the actual corner of Rectory Road and New Road is a large, imposing detached house with impressive chimney pots.)

As a growing teenager, I was always tinkering with bikes or other such things and loved to go down the Rayleigh Road on my bicycle to Buster’s Junk yard which was halfway along The Chase (all unmade then) and rummage amongst the many bits of piled up metal and other assorted items – again I wonder if others can remember going there?

Outside of our bungalow was a street lamp lit by gas and every day a man would ride up on his bicycle to light it or turn it off;  this has long since been replaced with electric lighting.   Every Sunday mid-morning a man wheeling a barrow filled with fresh sea food from Leigh Cockle sheds would come along Arcadian Gardens to sell his fish, we often bought shrimps and cockles from him.

In those days, there were red “Westcliff Motor Company” buses that travelled throughout the Southend-on-Sea area;  one service terminated at Victoria House Corner and parked at the Rayleigh Road end of Arcadian Gardens. As a young boy I used to ask the conductor or driver if I could have some used tickets.   The thickish cardboard tickets were in three colours red, green and yellow and were held in a spring clip board, in imperial values I recall of 1, 2 and 3 pence printed on them.  I used to make concertinas out of them.

There was a Bus garage at Victoria House Corner,  housing Green Benfleet and Canvey Motor Bus Company vehicles, and the company also had a smaller garage for their buses at the corner of Oak Road South.

There were two large detached properties on either side of Rayleigh Road at Victoria House corner, one at the end of Arcadian Gardens (which housed two pantechnicons within its grounds) the other facing immediately across on the other side of the main road.
When a new roundabout was planned,  the whole configuration of the road was altered involving the demolition of one house, and the end of Arcadian Gardens being sealed off turning it into a cul-de-sac.

The High Street and London Road in the town centre location which run parallel with each other had two-way traffic when I was a young boy but now is one way.

Main facilities apart from Shops.
There was a Doctor’s surgery in a house in Beresford Gardens next to the alleyway through Falkus Bros builders yard.

Doctor McGladdery’s practice was on the corner of Castle Lane in a beautiful detached house within lovely grounds — since regrettably demolished and developed into shops and flats.

The Police station was sited in a house in Hall Crescent.

The Church of St. James the Less still stands proudly between the junction of the London Road and the High Street, built circa 1140 – or earlier – it was re-roofed just after the war (late 1940s), its resident Vicar was the Reverent Stamford who lived in a semi-detached house in Arcadian Gardens — he had an adopted son Ernest who was about 12 years of age in the late 1940s.

At the Rayleigh Weir was a speedway track in the late 1940s/early 1950s; the local team which people used to support was called the Rayleigh Rockets and many fans bought small Rocket badges,  one for each year which could be joined together to form a linked chain.

The main attraction for local entertainment was the “Kingsway Cinema” in the centre of town with main and second feature films and, at the midway interval, trailers were shown of forthcoming attractions.
During the interval whilst patrons were buying ice creams and drinks,  a “Compton” Organ* arose slowly from the orchestra pit playing lively music whilst at the same time adverts were displayed on the cinema screen with glass plate slides inscribed by theatre staff displaying local firms merchandise.

My father, Mr Harry Thorn, was the manager of the “Kingsway Cinema” for about 3 years as well as managing the “Mascot” and “Metropole” cinemas in Westcliff-on-Sea and two of my brothers Nelson and Tony were projectionists at the “Kingsway”.   The “Kingsway Cinema” was privately owned by a lady, it has now been demolished and the site has become a supermarket.

All three of my brothers Nelson, Tony and David and their friends the Ward twins served as ARP wardens.

One pleasure of mine whilst in my teens was going for a walk in West Wood which was at the back of my house behind Beresford Gardens and next to this was a corn field, part of this has now become West Wood housing estate in Falbro Crescent.

Another enjoyable walk that my mother and I took was either to Dawes Heath towards Bramble Lane or along Scrub Lane which was in my boyhood days unmade or unadopted; it is now a long and busy through road towards Belfairs but regrettably today motorists have 27 very unpleasant road safety humps to traverse.

A further attraction nearby was Thundersley Glen where I used to catch tadpoles and walk along the meandering paths admiring the trees and watching the birds.

On the corner of Beresford Gardens and Arcadian Gardens was a Baptist church. A school is now built on land off Beresford Gardens but when I was a boy it was a vast area of land growing wheat and numerous haystacks were built.

At the back of our bungalow in Arcadian Gardens flanking Beresford Gardens was an allotment;  this has since been built on.  I used to ride my bike to Castle Lane to walk around Hadleigh Castle which was unfortunately partly in ruins, one of the towers was called by us “the armchair ” which lots of people used to climb. The castle is now under the control of a trust which is a good thing so as to protect our heritage.

During my school days, which were primarily during the war years, the class often had to quickly leave the school, upon hearing the fire station air raid siren, put on gas masks and run across to the safety of a large air raid shelter on the field adjacent to the school until the all clear was sounded.

I heard on several occasions the buzz of the German Doodlebugs above us with their frightening sound knowing the moment the engine stopped the bomb would drop instantaneously causing much harm, one dropped in nearby Rayleigh killing one of my brother’s teachers: Mrs Pickering.

During the war years, the school provided us young children with free cocoa powder and malt extract to help parents keep their children well and keep up morale.  Hadleigh Primary School gave each child a free third of a pint {about 190 ml} bottle of fresh milk each day.

[* Hear and see the Compton Organ here. – Ed]

[More tales from Mr Thorn about Hadleigh are in preparation.- Ed]

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