Hullbridge Village History
I was born in North London in 1934. I never actually lived in Hullbridge but I used to visit it a lot because my best friend at school, Terence Groom, lived in Hullbridge with his parents and they used to keep inviting me over. He used to travel from Hullbridge to Southend High School and I remember he used to get special permission to leave early to catch the bus to get back to Hullbridge.
He used to invite me to his parents house in The Drive. Eventually I went and then this went on for many years at weekends and at Christmas we formed, I don't know whether you would call it, a gang, either from school or the area. Some of them had caravans at Hullbridge.
Sometimes you could get a bus direct all the way from Southend Station, a no 13 I think, via Rayleigh and it used to park at the Anchor in Ferry Road.
The Drive and most of the side roads off Ferry Rd were unmade in late 40s and 50s and muddy. I remember a lot of people used to work in either Rayleigh, Southend or London. They used to come down side roads in wellington boots, put them in the hedge, put on decent shoes and get the bus to Rayleigh station. Then on the way back would pick up wellingtons from the hedge and go home.
You probably know there was very little main electricity along the Drive or sewers in those days.
I used to visit the Grooms between 1948 and 1960. 1948 was the first time. There was a group of us, 4 or 5, who over the years did different things. We did eventually even ran the ferry from Hullbridge across to Woodham Ferrers. We had to be licensed for that by Rochford Council as waterman. We did that for quite some time and then we used to run so called pleasure trips up in a motor boat and down the river. There was not much to see - just the mud flats
Another point, jumping on a bit, at the bottom of Ferry Rd the cottages on the left go back to 16th or 17th century. The story we were told was that these cottages were originally built so that people could escape the plague in London. Presumably they were down there because it was easier to travel by river than roads in those days.
The Smugglers I knew very well. In about 1950 the Blyths used to own it and their son was about our age. He used to invite us there and when it was quiet we used to play billiards. They moved to Australia eventually and the Smugglers was taken over by my friends Fred & Mary Hurdle, who I got to know very well over 10 years. They were retired Music Hall people and used to go on circuits in the 1920s I suppose.
They ran the club for 10-15 years. In those days it was a proper members only club, they had dances every Saturday. I didn't see the end of them but I think later the daughter & son in law of a local garage ran it, I forget their name now.
Across the road of course you have the old Anchor which we used quite a bit. When we knew it and elderly man ran it with his wife. He was one of the people who ran pigeons in the 1st World War and he continued to keep them.
Most of the houses and bungalows in those days were left over from the 1920s when plots of land were sold off - I think for about £25 each. People would usually have built them with the cheapest materials – usually asbestos!
Some people bought 2 or 3 plots so had very large gardens. My friends family did and had a very long front garden - about 100ft, and a back garden as well.
I used to spend a lot of time there at Christmas time and weekends. There were not many modern buildings in Hullbridge till the 60s.
Before we started to run the ferry on weekends & holidays I think there was an old chap called Dick Hymas who ran it. He eventually retired and the ferry did not run for a while till we ran it on a part-time basis.
Next to the “plague“ cottages, there was the Anchor tea rooms. For many years we knew the people who ran that - a man and his wife, I forget their name at the moment. One time when they went on holiday they got us boys to run it for a week, which was a bit hilarious. I don't think we made any money or knew what we were doing. Mostly it was making tea and toast, that sort of thing.
In one cottage for a long time the people living there were Eric, he was Danish, and his wife Jane. He was a baker, quite a large one, I don't know where his premises were – it may have been Rayleigh.
The story was that he went to Denmark one week and brought back a Danish fishing boat. It was moored at Hullbridge for a long time. He didn't want to do any fishing but he could get cheap diesel fuel as a fisherman. The story was that he used it in his van. I can't say that was absolutely accurate but that was the story.
There was in that period, the 40s and 50s, a real character down there called Jock, an elderly Scotsman. He was retired from the Merchant Navy and used to live on a large converted houseboat.
He made a living by repairing small boats and selling them to people, but he was a bit slapdash and not really concerned if they were all that seaworthy.
He, for some reason, fell out with Jane and they were daggers drawn. A story which I found quite funny at the time was that Jane met him in the street one day and she said “ Jock, why are you my worst enemy?” He replied " I'm not your worst enemy, nature is your worst enemy. "
I don't know when it stopped but there used to be a carnival in Hullbridge every summer and we took part in it. Somewhere I have photos of my old friends in the carnival.
Some of the friends I knew were established in the Brandy Hole Yacht Club which we used to visit quite a bit. When that got more popular and was full up, the "Up River" Yacht Club was founded.
We did a fair bit of sailing. We knew a man called Theodore Stanley who worked for the electrical distribution company. He was very clever and built his own yacht - 30 foot, which we actually borrowed to go sailing. Once we went on a weeks holiday sailing round Brightlinsea area.
There are probably things I've not quite remembered but I certainly saw the development of the area.
There was another family I knew because they lived next door to my friend and the son went to the same school as us. They were the Stuttles - Winnie, Sid and Mike, their son, who I knew very well.
He was quite talented – a musician. He later lived in Suffolk and ended up with 3 shops near Sudbury. Eventually he sold up and moved to Devon where he bought a farm. There place was down The Walk off The Drive . They had bought 2 or 3 plots and built a nice bungalow, they did spend a bit of money on it. Eventually when Sid died and Winnie moved to Devon it was sold to some builder and the same plot now has 3 'Executive' houses on it.
Another neighbour was a man and his brother who lived in Ilford & used bungalow at weekends. As the property boom got going people used to call round to ask people if they would be interested in selling. The price offered was not usually very good and this man was an accountant and he used to tell them that if he wanted to develop the land he would do so himself.
One facet to when they started developing Hullbridge was that at Coventry Corner, it used to get flooded if we got a wet winter. I don't know if the builders ever told people the area was liable to flood.
Another thing we did, incidentally, was to do a bit of fishing, not the most ethical kind – we would go out with a thing called a Peter Net. This is a long net which you spread across a river. At high tide we would go down to one of the creeks & put the net across. Any fish coming out as tide went down got caught in the net.
Another thing we used to do quite often was to get in the boat and go up to Battlesbridge if the tide was right. We would go in the Barge mainly. When we knew it it was really a traditional pub. The old lady who ran it was about 80 and in the late 40s she would only serve the regular customers.