Joan Shirmer Interview
A personal view of the Town
Interviewed by: Jennifer Fernandez Transcribed by Claire Morley
Can you tell us when you born
As far as I know Becontree Heath which is now Dagenham. It was all fields when I was born and
then we moved to Sunnymede.
Can you give me your maiden name
What were your first impressions of Billericay?
Well I was only about one, we lived in Sunnymede you see, I was one year old when we moved down from Dagenham, I lived in Sunnymede and then I moved up to School Road. They had just built all those new houses there then but I have always loved Billericay.
You have lived here most of your life…
Yes until my daughter was in the RAF and she moved up to Cambridge, March, Ely really, and I moved up there.
And how old are you?
I’m 81. But she died 3 years ago and I didn’t want to live up there on my own so I moved back to Billericay. I love the place, I know they think I’m mad, I’ve been taking photos of Billericay for years. I mean I’ve got albums in there but whether they’d want it. They are not posh they are just as I saw them, most of them are gone now, but it is still Billericay, I like it here.
What do you remember about it?
Well it was just a nice place, you could go down the town, you always, well I did, meet someone to talk to but today well I don’t think you know anybody, it’s so changed, it’s all these people moving into the millionaire mansions .. terrible, big houses you know.. I wouldn’t like one like them. They are sort of em not cosy you know and I dread to think what their council tax is. I mean they are very expensive I know. But i loved it here we used to go over Mill Meadows, be over there all day with a bottle of water and a bit of bread. You didn’t have any trouble, today the kids, the poor little devils, can’t go anywhere it’s not safe anywhere. I always say we had the best time, we might not have had a lot of money but we had standards today there don’t seem to be any standards in any families their kids do what they like, even I’ve heard em say oh wait, wait, wait I’m watching this well we wouldn’t have said that to my Mum. My Mum only one look and you’ve got to do what she said, but I mean you respected your parents, they don’t today, no we had the best time, lovely place Billericay. Could go down the town, always meet … in fact it used to take me ages to do shopping cos I’d meet someone and we’d have a natter then I’d meet somebody else and it’d take me two hours to perhaps do two journeys. My husband would say ‘where the hell have you been all day?’ and I’d say ‘well I meet so and so ‘ and he’d say ‘ oh what again..’. But you ask anybody they all know me.
And did you work in Billericay?
Oh no I worked in London.
How did you get to London?
Train, oh yeah I worked in …
Did you have Billericay Station then?
Oh yeah, I didn’t think nothing of it, you just got up ..
Did your husband work here?
Yes, he was a mechanic he worked in a garage
Yes, but I’ve been a widow for 33 years so you learn to cope.
No I love it here, I do know a lot of people who know me. I always write to the papers.
What do you write?
Anything .. if anything upsets me I write about it.
And where do you live now ?
I live down at Hillhouse Court down Stock Road, Sheltered. But touch wood I’ve been able to get out and about. I still drive but I put my back out see, and its agony, absolute agony. But its my own fault I will move furniture wont I I’ve only just been there a year, and I moved furniture, couldn’t get out of bed serves me right for doing it.
Do you remember the Burns Unit?
Oh yes, that was one thing I went mad about I wrote to the papers, everywhere, it was a disgrace we all collected for that, we did rummage sales, I did 6 mile walk, and then they just up and took it.
It’s a disgrace considering it didn’t belong to them but they do it all the time. When I moved up to March it was the same there with the little hospital at Doddington, they collected and jumbles sales etc and bought an X-ray unit and this and that and that and they just said well have that and take it over to Peterborough, it’s not good but nobody seems to care. I write and keep on writing, if you don’t say nothing they think you’re sitting back accepting it all.
And did you win anytime?
Oh yes, people ring me up and say I saw your letter in the paper, one even rang me up from Southend and said its good and I said where was yours then? People should complain about things a lot of people get sat on but I stick up for Billericay. I mean there are a lot of little places that people forget that were there which is what I’ve got .. I mean my stuffs old but em half the High Streets gone what I’ve photographed.
Have you got photographs of the High Street?
Oh yes, in fact old Ben Clark who owned the butchers, well he used to call me ‘Armstrong Jones is coming with her camera’. Because I always had it on me. Well people forget what’s there don’t they? No I like it, I liked it here. I Still like it here. Cos I thought at my age do I want all this upheaval moving down here, it is an upheaval at the age of 80 odd but now I’m glad I did, I just love it here. I mean I go to this Day Centre, that’s another thing they are trying to shut
Down by the Chequers, so there’s a few letters I’ve written. Down by the Chequers you go down the side and it’s Chantry Way.
They’ve decided now to charge us £16,000 rent. They’ve never paid rent because there’s a big plaque on the wall saying ‘this is dedicated to the elderly of Billericay’ and I said what’s changed? I’ve written a letter last week but they haven’t printed it yet I said I’m not having it, it’s ours, I said ‘WE might be old, we might be wrinkled but we’re not senile’. I said look mate, we’ve sussed out what they’re gonna do they’re going to make it so important and expensive that no one will go, afford it and they’ll say it’s not paying we’re going to shut it. I got that in there, I was furious about that, I’ve taken a photo of the plaque. Its dedicated by the WVS and someone else.
Later addition by author:
Sadly Joan died in 2018. However a bench has been placed on South Green opposite where she lived that has a plaque on it dedicated to Joan and her husband Bert.