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Hullbridge Village History

A life in Hullbridge Part 1.

The memories of Jan Withers.

Dad loved singing.

I was born in 1943 being the first child of mum and dad who at the time owned the Hullbridge Pavilion, now the Smugglers Den.
The place made quite an impact upon me as I can recall when about 2 being left in my pram on the upstairs balcony looking over the river. But it was the worry of the danger of the river which caused mum and dad to move elsewhere, to "Alicia" on Lower Road. It must have been quite a dilemma for them as they both loved entertaining and were very good at it. Dad in particular was a very accomplished tenor whose favorite artist was a Polish tenor called Jan Kiepura, hence my name. Dad sung all over the place and once recorded a record at Studio Briggs, Tottenham Court Road, unfortunately the record perished and despite my efforts trying to chase down the owner of the studio, George Briggs, I have not been able to get hold of another copy.

Dad's singing was well known in the Southend area and he was soon known as the "Singing Bus Driver" working for City Coaches whose livery colours were beige and green. His good friend Nobby Wicker was his conductor.

When dad purchased "Alicia" mum was not too impressed, it was extremely overgrown, so much so that Dad asked Fred Ferguson to help him hack a path through. In front of the building was a brick air raid shelter with a concrete roof, no German bomb was going to penetrate that ! Our home was made of timber and Asbestos, but it would appear, not the really dangerous type, as my brothers and I are all still alive and showing no signs of poisoning.

World War II

Towards the end of the war mum would often take myself and my newly born brother Paul with her when she was Pea picking down by the river, I remember one time being picked up along with Paul and shoved under a pile of Pea rice. It turns out that a German Messerschmitt had flown up the River Crouch looking for a target and had been attracted to people gathered in a field, Mum told me that the pilot Turned the plane towards them and came in low as if he was going to attack them, instead he waved and blew kisses at them and then went on to strafe a garage near Carpenter's Arms.
I witnessed several dog fights in the sky's above and I vividly remember dad taking me outside one night and showed me the orange coloured sky on the horizon and he told me "That's not the sunset son that's London burning !" which as you can imagine made a big impact upon me.
V.E. day celebrations were held at the Pavilion and mum let me be part of them, as she later recalled to me that it was a once in a lifetime event that I should always remember, and so I have especially trying to eat jelly in a bowl which was placed on the seat of a chair that was taller than myself, I had to keep reaching up blindly with my spoon and hope I got something. I can also remember mum and dad dancing together with me hugged in between them.

Black and white image of a lady, Mrs Kitty Withers cuddling baby on
  								her lap, Jan Withers, with a garden trellis behind her.
Black and White photo taken 1947 showing a man and women both holding
  									young boys.They are in a garden standing on grass and immediately behind them is a 
  									hedge and a small willow tree.The gentleman is standing on the left he is bald on top
  									and is wearing a short sleeved jumper with a white short sleeved shirt with open collar
  									this is Les Withers and he is holding his eldest son Jan who is dressed with a light
  									coloured top and dark shorts. Next to them is Les's wife Kitty who is wearing a 
  									striped skirt, dark blouse and light coloured bolero. She is holding their youngest 
  									son Paul who is wearing light coloured dungarees and a light coloured top underneath.
  									Jan has straight dark hair whilst Paul has blond hair. Black and White image of a man in army uniform without any insignia, this
								is Jan's father Les.
Mum and I outside Hullbridge Pavilion.
Mum and Dad holding Paul and I in 1947. I'm the one with dark coloured hair. Dad in uniform at Middlesborough

Off to school.

I went to school at Hullbridge County Primary in 1948 and my teacher was Miss Alexander and later on Mrs Street who lived in a bungalow nearly opposite to where we moved to in Lower Road.
I remember the school but in my time there was only the one building and the brick shelter built during the 2nd World War, this became a great place to play around and was situated just beyond the school on the right hand side near the apple tree orchard. Alongside was the outside toilets.
In front of the school was the Maypole, a photo of it appears in John Thorpes book "Paths of former time", and whilst I was there the school planted a Willow Tree in the front, which is still there today nearly 60 years later !
A couple of years later my brother Paul joined me there and he went on to become the first pupil in the school to pass the 11+ examination.

My teen years

Upon leaving Hullbridge I went to school at Rayleigh Technical and Modern, later to be renamed Fitzwymarc and it was here I met my good friend Colin Hodson who lived on the Tower Caravan site having moved down from London. We are still friends today (2009).Colin and I played football for Hullbridge, although in my case it was not for long as I found a more suitable sport, Race walking, and I used to train with the footballers and found I was outlasting, and in some case I would be quicker over long distances, than many of the players. When I was 18 I joined Southend Athletic Club and was quite successful .

Newpaper cutting A coloured photo showing a man in athletic kit of red shorts with a red black
								and white striped vest with the number 86 on walking in a deserted road that has
								2 lampposts and a pavement with a picket fence with trees behind that. The man is Jan Withers
								taking part in a walking race in Battersea. newspaper clipping showing three men in athletics kit on an athletics track all close together.
									They are competing in the 2 mile walking race. The man in the slight lead is Arthur Poynter
									(Hon Secretary of the Association), he is wearing dark rimmed spectacles, dark vest and black
									shorts, on his vest he has a race number 71 pinned. just behind him on the left of the picture is
									Jan Withers who also is wearing dark rimmed glasses but has a white vest and black shorts.
									His number is obscured by his arm. The third person is behind both of these and is unknown
									he is wearing a black top and black shorts his number appears to be 85. The clip states that Jan
									Arthur battled all the way round and eventually both tied for third place. Jan was racing for 
									the Beejay Club
Early newspaper cutting capturing Jan's efforts
Jan racing in Battersea Jan racing for the Beejay Club

The races were for 1 hour because we were given badges for achieving 6 and 7 miles per hour, which I did and there was also one for 8 miles per hour which I just couldn't get to, also there is a speed limit when walking becomes running. Southend Athletic Club had a wonderful track at Southcurch Park near where Essex played their summer festival cricket. On the opposite side of the road was the cycle speedway track and football pitches.

To earn some money I got a paper round firstly with Mr Elliot and then with Mr Ernie Long. I was Mr Long's top paper boy and he trusted me to collect the monies from the villagers who did not go to the shop to pay, I had to cover the whole village as far as Hockley Hall Farm to the beginning by White Post Bridge. Many of my deliveries were to old railway carriages, wooden huts or in the case by the river, wooden huts on stilts. One day on my paper round I noticed that at this particular home in Coniston Villas on Ferry Road, the milk was still on the doorstep and the papers had not been touched, so I went back to Mr Long and told him. It turned out that there had been a serious accident with the gas and the whole family were dead. I thought it was just as well that I did not smoke ! As my round meant getting up early before school I found that by getting up late Mum would finish the round whilst I was on the way to school in Rayleigh. I think she quite like it, although she did moan at me !


My brother Peter's memories cover lots on my family but here are a few extra.

Newspaper clipping May 2010 announcing the death of Dave Withers Black and White photo of 4 boys standing in tall grass
									with a wire chain link fence behind them and beyond that an
									old fallen dead tree trunk. These are the four sons of Les Withers.
									From left to right they are:- Peter, Les, Paul and Jan.
									Peter is standing to attention wearing knee length shorts and 
									white polo shirt, he has short	blonde hair. Les is shorter 
									than Pete and he is wearing a checked open collared
									shirt with long trousers he also has short blond hair.
									Paul is about a head taller than Les and Pete and he is standing with 
									his hands behind his back. He also is wearing shorts but they are 
									short shorts and he has a two toned long sleeved shirt on he also is
									Jan is a head taller than Paul and has black hair with his fringe being
									combed backto form a quiff, like that word by Teddy boys. He is w
									wearing an open necked shirt with a v neck jumper on top.He is 
									standing with his arms folded.
Cutting from Yellow Advertiser May 2010 capturing the death of Cllr Dave Withers Photo of me with my three brothers:- Pete, Les and Paul. I am on the right.

My late cousin Dave, took up Cycle Speedway and rode for Rayleigh Eagles. He has been fundamental in re-uniting many of the riders from the area and held several reunion meetings, he was also the Chairman of the Rayleigh Conservative Club for many years.

Having left school I had a job in London with a Brown Jackson & Co Ltd of Mincing Lane, London a shipping company, which meant that I became a commuter from Rayleigh to Liverpool Street. At this time the trains had just been converted from steam to electric and the fare was £2 9s 6d for a weekly workman's ticket which meant I had to travel before 8:00 a.m.

During my teens I had been going to the Youth Club meetings on Monday and Thursday nights along with Colin Hodson. The club was run by Eric and Bob and met at the Village Hall and offered us Snooker, Table Tennis, Bar Billiards and a place to play our music. We could buy soft drinks there but no alcohol!?

At the same time that I was at work myself and Derek Chapman took an interest in the Village Hall's potential and we started contacting agencies about booking artists to play there. We charged people 3s 6d per entry ticket and added a little on top of the cost of the drinks. I was making more than I was earning up town ! Some of the acts we booked were:- Dave Chancellor and the Exchequers, Screaming Lord Sutch and Rickie Rain and the Raindrops, such wonderful names !

One of the characters in the village was Alwyn Finch, he always appeared a bit eccentric but was an artist and come Xmas time he would produce loads of hand painted cards which he would take to the news agents of the area and persuade them to sell them on his behalf. In 1966 Alwyn started chopping down trees near his home in the Walk and got into trouble. He used the trees to build a boat by lashing them together with rope, it was quite a sight watching him float down the river although you could not see much of him as he had left the branches on, leaves and all and it was a one way trip ! Alwyn made the local press on several weeks with the headlines "The Axe-man of Hullbridge" and was eventually fined £5.00 and warned about his conduct.

Mr Chamberlain had a Electric shop near Coventry Corner next to where George Boul had his garage. He used to be the only place you could go to get your batteries charged for your radio, he eventually moved further into the village in the shop next to Mr Wortley's new Butcher shop that is now the beauty salon next to the fish and chip shop.

The Thomlinson family's bungalow is still on Ferry Road today, the one next to the supermarket. It was from here that they sold fresh milk by the ladle from a churn in their garage.

The Bosworth family owned a Lyon's Tea Room opposite George Boul's garage on Lower Road.

Next to the Bosworths on going towards our home was Dr Bridge, who had a reputation for liking a drink. Not that I ever experienced him in any other state than sober. His wife was a Gynecologist at Southend Hospital.

Mr Eddie who owned the land that is now Kendal Close and South Avenue, which is where he used to keep his bee hives amongst his orchard. He had a small white hut at the beginning of Kingsway from which he sold the Honey.