Shopping Outing

Photo:Billy, Viv and Aileen

Billy, Viv and Aileen

Viv Russell

My memories of Billericay High Street

By Aileen Wortley

In the early fifties a trip to Billericay High Street was a weekly outing.  Living in Great Burstead most of our groceries were delivered by the local grocer, kindly Jim Fennel and since poverty made luxuries rare, my childhood impressions of the High Street are necessarily  limited but  I remember it fondly and athough I am 3,000 miles away, sometimes wander there in my memory when sleep does not come.

Our first stop  was a clinic or office near  Sun Corner  where  Mum would pick up our subsidized orange juice and cod liver oil which  children were provided with after the war and into the fifties. Then we would be ready to move on to other shops.

I smile as my memory takes me past Cramphorn’s where Dad bought seed  for his huge vegetable plot. While my parents  were busy with the assistants  weighing out  carrot, lettuce,  marrow, tomato and  cucumber seed or deciding on sets of onions and  raspberry canes   my brother and I would sample the dog biscuits so invitingly laid out in big sacks. It was hard to resist the crunchy delicacies in such inviting hues of pinks, greens and browns!

And there is the Post Office where on my seventh  birthday my  mother and I opened my first savings account with my 5s gift money. I was made to feel very important  by the staff as I signed my name in my childish scrawl and still have that account  nearly sixty years later.   

As I move along to Cottis bakery I imagine the windows and counters  as they were, full of delicious  cakes and  buns with the smell of freshly baked bread  pervading the atmosphere. We could only afford to buy bread because other indulgences  were beyond Mum’s budget. Once, however, she splurged on six, day old jam donuts at half price …a rare bargain.  At home, mother sprinkled them with water and put them in a warm oven. No donut I have eaten since has tasted  so good. Years later I met a Canadian who had equally fond memories of  Cottis’s bakery. He had  served in England  during the war and found himself in the darkness of early morning Billericay with nowhere to shelter  from the lashing rain and  bitter cold temperatures. The only place that showed any signs of life was the bakery.  Drawn by the smell and the promise of warmth he was welcomed and given hot tea and freshly baked buns amply spread with butter

Just up the road is the sweet shop, smelling richly of tobacco, that also sold  Enid Blyton’s  Sunny Story Magazine which I coveted. My older sister said she would pay for it but only on condition I was sufficiently brave to ask for it myself. With no other way to get the magazine, I put my shyness aside and triumphantly walked away with my treasure.  Sometimes  we spent our sweet ration there  which was about  4 oz of sweets a week. We gazed longingly at the range of large jars full of yellow sherbets, toffees, dolly mixtures, bon-bons,  floral gums and jelly babies trying to make the wisest  selection usually  choosing  small sweets  so we got more!!  They were put in tiny white bags which were  twisted at the corners.  Later we would share them out equally  so we all had some of each. After rationing finished we spent our penny halfpenny bus fare on three or four gobstoppers and walked the two miles home!

Nearby was a beautiful old house covered in ivy with a sign saying Foxcroft Children’s Home. As we went past with our loving mum holding our hands,  we could not imagine having no parents to love you, nobody to tuck you up or read a story with you, nobody to run to when you fell over or had a bad day at school.

Trotting along past Bairstow and Eves the estate agents from whom our parents bought our house in 1949, past Shelley’s  the ladies dress shop whose windows were full of lovely things we could never afford, we reached Goodspeeds the fish shop. It was just off the high street tucked away behind the St Mary Magdalen church, the steeple of which could be seen  from far away.  The fresh fish lay on a huge tiered table that was covered in  green material  that looked like grass.  There were fewer varieties of fish to select from in those days, the staples being cod, haddock sole  or  skate and for an indulged cat, white-fish.  While Mum made her careful selection as to size and freshness  we children stood transfixed looking at the giant stuffed fish  in a glass case on the  tiled  wall. It was huge, gaping at us with its glazed eyes and its mouth open as much as ours!! 

Sometimes we  went  as far as the station where we would order coal or coke from a little shed just outside the station. We had lots of wood to burn from the apple orchard where we lived but needed coal to keep the fire going over night when it was really cold. When it was delivered the coalman struggled in with bag after bag of coal on his back as my mum or dad counted the sacks. He looked terrifying with the whites of his eyes gleaming through a black layer of coal dust.

Just opposite was the beautiful Chantry Café where we learned at school Christopher Martin  met with  other Pilgrim fathers before their long journey  across  the Atlantic on the Mayflower. It was a lovely Tudor  building and a landmark but never frequented by us, as mother could not justify spending scarce cash on tea  and a cake when we could have the same thing or better at home.  We sometimes saw one of Billericay’s characters in that area.  He was  “the judge” a wizened  old man  who roamed the streets pacing solemnly hour after hour hands clasped behind his back.  Rumor had it that he was  once an influential barrister but in his dirty grey coat and old hat jammed down over his ears, his long nose dripping  there was little indication of his former glory.

Now here is Billericay Library, my favorite place, where Dad took me at the age of five to borrow my first book. The whole family valued that library. Outwardly it was an ordinary shop front building, the  children’s  library at the back, adult library looking out on the street  and a reference library upstairs but inside it was full of treasures.  Mr Tom Williams, an inspirational teacher at the primary school  ensured we visited the library as a class  where staff read  Greek myths to us with a magical passion. This was a forward  thinking example of school/library cooperation which was rare then. Years later I decided to become a librarian and worked at that library before going away to Library School. My career spanned forty years, mostly in Canada but  inspired by those initial  experiences at  Billericay  library.

And there is Woolworths which when it arrived meant we had become a modern town. I can smell the newness of it still.  It was our first experience of a self- service store with bright lights and wooden floors and low counters. Later  I got my first Saturday job there earning  the princely sum of 12s and 9d  for the whole day.  Mostly I remember my brother  and I selecting  a birthday gift there for mother with  great  love. We chose a pink plaster poodle standing appealingly on its hind legs, its collar studded with diamonds. We did not see its tawdriness just its cuteness and picking up a box paid for it and hurried home only to find the box was empty.  It had taken us so long to save that shilling  and we rushed back the two miles  so distressed we were hardly able to speak, but the supervisor, Miss Lamb, was compassion  personified and mother got her birthday present after all.

And now  homeward  bound in my memory,  we pass  the  Police Station, cross over to the cottages at Sun Corner where  we wait for  the 251 Eastern National  bus  that  will take us down Bell Hill where the ruins of the old mill  stood, past  cows grazing  contentedly in nearby fields, past the prefabricated houses  put up as temporary accommodation  for Londoners after the war,  past the swings at South Green, past Weedon’s  the paper shop where my brother became a paperboy   and  alight at the Kings Head  where we hurry  up Mill Road to the  happy  security of  home.

 

    

 

This page was added by Aileen Wortley on 08/02/2011.
Comments about this page (Add a comment about this page)

I absolutely loved these recollections - they are being read out to our local writers' group and will certainly bring back so many happy memories to people living in Billericay during the 50s.

By Sylvia Kent
On 02/03/2011

Oh Aileen you bring so many memories.. I was one of the children in that home of Foxcroft. My older brother and two younger sisters and myself were taken away by the childrens officer and my brother and I was put in there. My two sisters were fostered as being too young to be placed there. My dad came home from work to find us gone. He did come to see us reguarly and my Nan and Uncles came and took us over the park. My natural mum came and saw us only once that I can recall. Kind people used to have us stay for holidays. One of my Uncles got wind that we were to be adopted so he and my dad came and took us home to Walthamstow. He was divorced and remarried by then and already had my sisters home. He my step mum also had babyand they had been waiting for a bigger council house before bringing us home. We managed, although we then had another sister come along. The council them moved us to a four bedroom house. I had a great friend in the home called Mary and there were two brothers called Walter and Allen. I cannot remember their surnames but always wonder what has become of them. I remember being allowed to go to the station with Mary to meet her Nan. Allan was a little devil and on the way to school he would always cross the road when the policeman beckoned the cars, he did get knocked down one day and suffered a cut to his forehead but he survived. One day Mary, the boys and myself were in the lanes at the back of the grounds and there was a bull in the field. I had a red coat on and Mary said bulls chase you if you have red so we ran all the way back to the swing area and hid my coat in the sandpit. I also fell out of a tree into a bunch of stinging nettles as I had been stung by a bee. I remember a bakers or cafe that sat back on the pavements behind some tress, I'm not sure if this is the one you remember. Miss Nimpson (sp) who was the housemother was lovely as I recall everyone was. I was there from age 4 3/4 till 7 1/4. It seemed a lifetime ago now.. I'm now 59. I have searched for Foxcroft before and nothing came up and I have been thinking about it again recently and searched tonight and came across your recollections. I did go past in the nineties and it looks as if it could be insurance type offices now. Thank you so much for the memories. You say you are 3000 miles away what country are you in if you don't mind me asking?

By Sue Thomas (nee hayward)
On 10/05/2011

Sue, my father went to foxcroft in the early 60's. Joseph smith, and 4 of brothers, 2 sisters and the other sister was too young and was also fosterd. Their mother died in 1963 and soon after where taken from their father. I have also tryed to find info on foxcroft with no luck!!!! Until this evening, I looked k. The uk national archives where there is a file, but it's under lock and key until the year 2046 for some strange reason!!! My email is xxjo_joxx@live.co.uk me and most of my fathers family still live in Essex.

By Jodie smith
On 08/07/2011

I can relate to much of what you write about the High Street, Aileen, as I too frequented the High Street in the fifties. We too had groceries delivered, but from Pattens, and we used to tick them off a list as we removed them from a box on the kitchen table. I too remember the clinic! I can even remember the smell of Cramphorn's, and have fond memories of Cottis's bakery. I think I went to a different sweet shop from you - at the bottom of the High Street - memories of sherbet dabs, flying saucers etc. Miss Shelley - yes - and the fish in the glass case at Goodspeeds. Mention of the Pilgrim Fathers brought back the memory that our Houses at school were named Martin, Prower, Brown and, I think, Langerman. And dear Mr Tom Williams, our final year teacher - we had him too, and did so well under his instruction. I have the benefit of a book called Billericay and its High Street (1963) compiled by Harry Richman, Curator of the Cater Museum, and in there I found confirmation of a vivid memory of mine - the fire in about 1956 at 118 High Street which was The Cheyne Library at that time. A lady called Mrs Melville lost her life in the fire and this knowledge had quite an effect on me as I walked past the burnt-out building.

By Sue Odell
On 11/01/2012

I would like to add my memories of the time I spent at foxcroft. It was around 1959 I was about 7yrs old. I don`t remember it being a very happy time, I think my mother was in hospital at the time and my father couldn`t look after us (my parents were divorced). I remember the dormitory right at the top of the house, when we woke in the mornings, we had to make our beds before we went down to breakfast, if it wasn`t made properly it would be stripped off and you were made to remake it, down to breakfast, we were well fed, I must say, we were not a very well off family, and I don`t recall having breakfast at home. Anyway after a good breakfast of cereal, then something cooked, toast and a cup of tea (coffee on sunday) it was of to school, I remember having to walk to Sun Corner and get on a school coach, which took us to Kingswood School in Clay Hill Road Basildon. On returning to Foxcroft after school, I remember having to sit out in a little scullery type room to clean my shoes before having tea. I remember on a Saturday morning queueing up with others there to get maybe 3d pocket money which we could spend on sweets. I also remember waking up on a Sunday morning to a strange noise in the street, looking out the window I saw men on horses dressed in red jackets and dogs barking, obviously the local fox hunters, being from London (Hackney) I`d never seen anything like that. I have been past Foxcroft many a time since then, and often look up at that little bedroom window right at the top of the house.

By kevin slaven
On 03/03/2012

This is such a beautifully written memoir. I was born and brought up in South Green and Great Burstead, I can remember similar trips to the High Street in the 60's, the clinic in Laindon road, Cramphorns, the Post office, and especially Holly Court, with the toy shop called Essex Playthings, and the barbers shop, where i was forced to have a short back and sides!

By David Bally
On 17/02/2013

I remember the burnt out building that was the Cheyne Library which was eventually rebuilt as Standwoods Electrical. They had a record department and used to display along the bottom of the shop window all the Latest PYE Golden Guinea records. Next door going towards the Station there was the Dolls hospital and toy shop then a house and then The Newsagent and Tobaconist at 116 High Street. Here they did a nice line In Keil Kraft balsa wood model aeroplane kits. Later I had a paper round from this shop covering the whole of the Hillary Mount estate. Considering I lived in South Green this took quite some doing and then I had to go home afterwards, get ready for school and walk back up to Billericay Secondary in School Road.

Yes I remember Sue Odell in our Year.

By Trevor Savage
On 08/02/2014

It is lovely to see people still remember Goodspeeds, my granddad was George Goodspeed, my uncles Bob and Ted and my mum Rose all worked there.

 

By Teresa Sanders (Evans)
On 21/05/2014

I worked with Sue Odell at Midland Bank in the High Street for about a year in 1974/5

We had a couple of boys from Foxcroft in our class at Billericay County Junior School on Laindon Road. One was called Joseph and the other was Eric. I have a picture which shows them on our school trip to the Houses of Parliament around 1967 when we were in the thrid year of Junior school.

By Susan Reid
On 29/11/2014

The Matron was Miss Nissim, a very patrician lady who insisted on hospital corners for the beds. If you wet the bed (and I did) you had to turn over the mattress and shape it as an arc then wash the soiled sheets in cold water. Having said this the general feel of Foxcroft was caring and intimate. Coming from a very poor home in Dunmow the arctic role, custard creams, hot baths, birthday treats (choosing the sweets for your birthday tea) and holidays in Clacton , were a very different experience. There was an Auntie Jane there too and a lame gardner. Sometime during my stay (1952-1956) the home was briefly relocated to Moulsham in Chelmsford. 

By Peter Tagg
On 29/11/2014

So good to read all this. I was living in Prince Edward Road in the early 60s. Remember the milk being delivered by horse and cart. Also Barron the dog, that if you saw him loose in the street, you'd run, he'd jump up and try and mate you, quite frightening!!! Went to secondary school with Wendy Dale, Susan Harvey, Raymond Stoffel, his friend Andrew? Jackie Rice, Graham Ploughman, Gary Harmer/Smith, Elaine and Diane, to name a few, happy memories!

By sue stevens(was charles)
On 27/02/2015

Anyone go to Billericay School or Mayflower and remember Susan Charles, Wendy Dale , Susan Harvey, Jackie Rice, Raymond Stoffel, Robert Webster, Graham Ploughman, Andrew?, Gary Harmer Smith, Diane Jones and Elaine?

By sue stevens ( was charles)
On 01/03/2015

Does anyone remember Bob Jelfs who owned a recordshop at the end of the high street. His parents Pat & Les owned a sweetshop in Western Road and one in Radford Way?

By Teresa Sanders (Evans)
On 15/11/2015

I came across this just now whilst looking for some Billericay nostalgia and loved the description of the High Street in the fifties. It's exactly as I remember it from the sixties. Two things from the comments - Jodie Smith I was in your father's year at BillericayCountyPrimary School. I remember Joseph as being a handsome dark haired little boy, quite slight of build. The other Foxcroft boy in my class was Eric Stiles (maybe Styles) Joseph was quiet & Eric was naughty. Secondly, Essex Playthings. My mum started working there in 1964 when I was 7 years old. Her name was Doris. The owner was Mary Boughen & her husband was a magician. Mary also owned a children's clothes shop next door to the toy shop. I can't remember the name, my mum always used to call it the baby shop. I loved going to the toy shop after school & sitting in the stock room which was like Aladdin's Cave. 

By Giselle Rose
On 26/04/2017