History of a House
By Sylvia Kent
The residents of Billericay are rightly proud of some of our conserved buildings that still remain in their High Street. In earlier times, a large proportion were owner-occupied shops and properties, several retaining their Tudor jetties for centuries, many even sporting tiny chain-linked fenced gardens. Over the last two hundred years, changes have inevitably taken place. At the start of the twentieth century, alterations to frontages were the order of the day as shop-owners introduced large glass-fronted display windows that had become fashionable in surrounding towns.
One of the most elegant and architecturally interesting buildings is Foxcroft, with its portico on two square pillars and neat Suffolk White bricks that still stands at 100 High Street. It was believed to have been built in 1778 as a private residence for John Thresher. He also owned The Fox Inn in Western Road. Later owners were John Goodwin, Samuel Brown, William Randle, followed by Miss Strutt and Mary Howlett among others. In 1832 the Reverend Charles Hallett was owner and in the same year the property was sold by auction. At one point, the building was home to Billericay scholars for it became the Billericay Grammar School 1860-1863. The Reverend Darby, with his large family of children lived in this spacious home. He was minister at St Mary Magdalen Church, also in the High Street and further details can be found in the Cater Museum.
Numerous later owners are recorded in local historical books, but one hundred years after the 1832 auction of Foxcroft, the building was acquired by Essex County Council for a children’s home which, from January 1932, opened its doors to youngsters in need of a safe, homely environment. The necessary modifications were made, staff took their placements and tried to provide a steady background for the hundreds of youngsters who arrived at Foxcroft. One new member of staff was Betty Raines. Now aged 91, Betty has clear memories of her introduction to the town.
“I answered an advertisement for staff to work at the Children’s Home. The moment I came to Foxcroft and met the youngsters, I knew I would be happy in Billericay,” recalled Betty Raines. “In 1955, the building looked a little different from that of today, just neat box hedges and a couple of rose bushes.”
During the early 1970s, another children’s home was built at Patricia Gardens at South Green near Billericay.
Since then the building has been used as offices and retail and has had many occupants.