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Hullbridge Village History

Hullbridge Memories.

The memories of Paul Wilgress

The life of a village policeman.

I first came to Hullbridge in March 1969 with my wife, Stella, and we moved into the Police House at 136 Ferry Road. The Office was attached to the house so I didn't have far to go to work..! That was a novelty but it did have it's drawbacks, being virtually on call at most times. Prior to my arrival, I believe there were four other officers, Bill Pearce, Derek Simmonds, John Garrard and Maurice Grainger who had worked and resided there.
At that time, Hullbridge was known in Police jargon as a 'Detached Beat' and I was a village policeman with all of Hullbridge and the surrounding countryside to patrol. The northernmost boundary was the River Crouch out as far as Battlesbridge to the west and Lower Road / Plumberow Avenue to the east. The southern border was Rawreth Lane. This was quite a large area and as Hullbridge was a motorcycle beat and I didn't have a motorcycle licence, I had to resort to a bicycle...!

In those days, personal radios had just come into use and the Police were not quick in grasping technology so in addition to using the radio, I had to use the pre-radio system of travelling between various pre-determined telephone boxes to wait for any messages. In the early days, all village policemen used to have to work a 'Night Patrol' which meant 5 hours during the day followed by 3 hours of either 8-11pm, 9-midnight or 10-1am. Initially there was also a 5am-8am patrol (and that was the previous day's shift). Fortunately the 5-8am shift was stopped prior to my arrival.

A short time later, I was sent on a 'lightweight-motorcycle' course at Police HQ, Chelmsford. This was one of the best courses that I ever went on during my time in the Police because it was 3 weeks of continuous motorcycle riding all over Essex in the care of an Instructor. I was always aware that we looked funny, ie: a gaggle of ducklings being supervised by Mother duck..!! We either used the Velocette or a DMW motorcycle (Yes, I have spelt it correctly as DMW and not BMW) anyway, I was successful, despite the 'driving test' at the end, which was more trying than the 'civilian' test because the examiner followed me everywhere on another motorcycle. For those interested in motorcycles, the DMW 'Deemster' was a 250cc 2 stroke, 2 cylinder machine with a wind catching GRP fairing/body and windshield. The outstanding feature for that time was an electric starter..!!

On my return to Hullbridge I rode the Hullbridge motorcycle, which for the technically minded was a 200cc Velocette LE, 4 stroke, watercooled machine, non-technically called a 'Noddy bike'. A great little vehicle because it was so quiet but with the drawback that it was not very fast, in fact, the highest speed achieved was about 43mph downhill with the wind behind me. It had a VHF radio over the rear wheel (where the passenger seat would have been) and a long whip aerial with a handset like a telephone and a loudspeaker on the handlebars.
Think of the TV program 'HEARTBEAT' and you've got it. That transported me around for some time until it was eventually replaced by a BSA 250cc Starfire 2-stroke motorcycle which did look more the part but was very noisy and vibrated so much that various bits used to fall off on a regular basis. I was reliably told by the local youngsters that if they were up to mischief they could vanish before I got there because they could hear me coming along Hullbridge Road.

A stroll around the village.

During my time as village policeman, I recall that, at Coventry Corner (Ferry Road j/w Lower Road) there was a shop on the corner called Coventry Stores as shown in some of the photos in the Gallery. I cannot remember what was on the other corner (where Budgens is now) but to the west in Lower Road there was a small antique shop run by a Mrs Ward.
Further along Ferry Road, a number of the side roads were unmade and these were extremely muddy and difficult to negotiate, especially in the Winter. On the site of the Co-op Stores building there was a large old house set back from the road. Moving along past the Village Hall (now the 'Gold Lion' Chinese Takeaway) and the Fish Chip shop there was a small furniture shop run by Gordon & Margaret Pelling (shop now 'Hot Gossip' ). Alongside that, there was a greengrocers shop (which later became the Post Office and One Stop shop) run by a Mr Smith and then a DIY store run by Harold Trunley, later to become converted to housing.
On the other side of the road, at 130, was Barclays Bank (now Hullbridge Clinic) with a Dentists Surgery (now Right Moves) at the side and a Solicitors Office above. Opposite the Bank was the private house and Surgery (no: 149) of the local Doctors, Susan and John Kendall. On the corner of Ambleside Gardens was the Library with the Police House opposite. The Police Office was attached to the house and the whole building built about 1957. Alongside the Police house there was a large empty plot of land on the corner of Mayfield Avenue, which I think was owned by Peggy & Ernie Swinscoe who owned and ran the Mayfield Sweetshop and Social Club at the rear, on the other corner. Also on the corner of Ambleside Gardens was a small cottage and then the newsagents shop owned by Ernie Long (now Ferry Pharmacy). After the demise of the elderly lady in the cottage, a pair of shops were built, one being a motor spares shop run by John Bull and the other was a dress shop, both now converted to housing. Closer to the river there was the Riverside School, with Headmaster, Derek Hardy and opposite that there was a parade of shops starting with Unwins Off Licence on the corner with Wallace Close, the other shops included the butchers shop (still run by the Taber brothers), a DIY shop and a launderette run by a Marie McDonald. The next two shops stood closer to the road and certainly one of them was a newsagents run by Peter Kellie with access alongside to a Marine Chandlers at the rear and I think the other shop was a greengrocers. Adjacent to that was a general purpose store, later to become a Hire Shop run by Mick Downes. Pooles Lane is opposite and this leads to Kingsmans Farm Road, terminating at Brandy Hole Yacht Club. Still in Ferry Road and going down hill to the River Crouch, there was The Wayfarers Cafe on the left (now the SIMLA restaurant) with a Garage (demolished) between that and the first of the very old Anchor Cottages. The Cottages ended with The Smuggler Den club (run by Mr & Mrs Lilwall) just round the corner on the footpath alongside the river leading towards Battlesbridge. Opposite the Cottages was the Anchor pub (run by Alf Moss) and Rose Cottage, a detached house occupied by Harry Wright. Between the pub and the road there was a large car park with a raised concrete lid over the old well and the car park was used as the terminus of the 22 bus service. The bus drivers had to reverse the bus into the car park, no mean feat at weekends when the visitors were parked all over the place..!

Ferry Road runs straight into the River Crouch and is one of only two places on the River Crouch that is a public slipway, the other one is it's continuation on the other side of the river, ie: Marsh Farm Road, Sth Woodham Ferrers. On the green, beside the east side of Ferry Road there is the race-hut of Up River Yacht Club and also a very large circular brick built structure that is low enough to sit on. This peculiar item was puzzling to me until one day I happened to notice that the trap-door on the top was open. Being nosey, I spoke to the man going down the ladder therein and he invited me to follow him down several ladders within this large diameter vertical tube. On reaching the bottom we walked (bent over) along a metal clad tunnel under the river. This tunnel, amazingly, was originally dug by hand many years ago, lined by metal plates and large water supply pipes were run through it. My guide was actually maintaining the electric lighting in the tunnel. There is a similar access point on the other side of the river. Marvellous engineering..!!

At that time, there were a number of cruiser size boats moored up under the trees between the Up River Yacht Club slipway and the Tower Caravan Site and some had permanent occupants, one of whom was Jeff Boxall, who later became the Water Bailiff working for the Crouch Harbour Authority. The boats were eventually moved and their place is now occupied by a number of redundant wooden pontoons, which I believe were originally in front of Brandy Hole Yacht Club.

Going back to Pooles Lane, this had several caravan parks,some residential and some not, the first was the Tower Park owned by Mr Caton who lived in a bungalow further along the lane, next to the Park Country Club, this is now the location of Crouch Meadow. Beyond that was the Crouch Caravan Park alongside the Recreation Ground. On the other side of the Recreation Ground was the Hullbridge Yacht Club, run by Len Ford. His wife, Edna, ran the small general stores at their house called 'Sharon'. At the first sharp bend after that there was the Halcyon Caravan Site run by Mr Caton's son, Bill, with his wife Jean. Adjacent to that site there was the Shangri-La West Caravan Site and another just before Brandy Hole Yacht Club called the Shangri-La East Caravan Site (now empty). Between the two, there was Kingsmans Farm. One of the oldest buildings in Hullbridge is Tapps Cottage which is close to the Brandy Hole Club, the Club was run by Bert & Barbara Cullis.

I enjoyed my 26 years of being the village policeman and initially I worked the beat alone but about 1972, life was made a bit easier by the arrival of a colleague, Mick, who lived in a police house in Mapledene Avenue and we ran a two shift system, basically 8-4pm and 4-midnight. Thereafter, Hullbridge became a two man station and over the years many colleagues came and went. About 1990, my then colleague, Malcolm Young, retired and Andy Thacker moved into the Police Station whilst I moved into my own property two miles away but continued to work at Hullbridge until my retirement in 1995. After that, two officers worked a similar system until about 2000, when the Office was closed down permanently and the building was sold as a private house. The current owner of the property has extended the building and it is now completely unrecognisable as a village Police Station.