Down memory lane in South Woodham Ferrers

Going back a long way, to the events that preceded the building of South Woodham Ferrers. It was the arrival of a railway line and station in 1889 that suddenly made Woodham Ferrers accessible and attractive to the outside world.

The landscape around the station was flat poor agricultural land that was difficult to farm and at risk from flooding from the River Crouch.  The area close to the river was salt marsh.  

The land of Champions and Eyotts Farms was marked out into plots following a grid pattern and put up for sale from 1895 onwards.  A sales campaign attracted people who wanted to start and new life in the country. A variety of buyers purchased the plots and began building their dreams. There were nurseries and small holdings as well as homes of every description.  A black wooden smallholder’s hall opened on the site of where the village hall now stands in 1929, which gives people an idea of how many small-time farmers were trying to eke out some sort of existence on their plot of land. Many people kept goats and chickens. When there was still rationing after the war, a chicken would occasionally be stolen.  People generally knew who was responsible - it was a small community.

The infrastructure of community grew to serve the new plotland holder of South Woodham Ferrers. The WI was one of the first organisations to be stablished in South Woodham and a purpose-built hall was erected just off of Hullbridge Road in 1927. That was beaten only religious organisations; a Congregational Church hall in 1903, a Baptist Church in Clements Green Lane in 1930, followed by an Assembly Mission Hall which became the Evangelical Church in 1931 in Hullbridge Road. This tells us that the early residents of South Woodham Ferrers were church-goers of various Christian denominations.  

Children would attend Hullbridge Elementary School. A boat would ferry them across the river Crouch at high tide and a horse and cart at low tide.

Memories of South Woodham from just after World War II

One of the original local residents of South Woodham Ferrers for over 80 years could remember a doctor’s surgery being held in the front room of his home, 1 Railway Cottages. Dr Frew would arrive from Wickford once or twice a week and meet patients for consultation. Prescriptions would arrive later and be stored in the hall waiting for patients to collect them.

This was a time when steam trains chugged along the railway lines. The coal yard was situated where the present station car park is. A George Mudford used to deliver coal.  One of the train guards, called Alf, used to give the children a treat by allowing them to stand on the footplate of a train and throw some coal into the furnace.

Milk was delivered by horse and cart. Ice cream would arrive once a month in the form of thick round individual slices wrapped in waxed paper. Children would descend from all over the village to buy them. This was a time before freezers; when people only had a larder to store food.

One eyed Mr Connet was a loveable rogue who always had a supply of butter and cheese despite the rationing, but no one asked him where he got it from. He used to keep pigs, as many other people did in those days and would collect a bucket of scraps from No. 1 Railway Cottages to feed them. He once discovered some mince in the pig bin that had been thrown out because it was ‘off’ but he cooked it and ate it himself and still lived to tell the tale.  He also kept chickens which is he would and sit and pluck feathers at his front door. The feathers would fly down Hullbridge Road.

PC Pepper, the local Bobby, would travel around on his bicycle keeping an eye on things.

The railway line to Maldon was removed in the Beeching cuts in 1966

Beeching produced a report in 1965 about a re-organisation of the railways. The line between Woodham Ferrers and Maldon was one of the ones to go. The last Maldon passenger train ran on the 6th September 1964 although freight continued to be moved on the line until 15th April 1966. Lots of no longer needed railway carriages and sleepers came onto the market. People bought them and the railway carriages became used as holiday homes and sheds. The sleepers generally ended up as part of the wall of raised borders in gardens.

Hullbridge Road shops

Hullbridge Road was the high street of the early town and this was where shops would also arrive.  The dairy stood diagonally across the road from One Stop at 35 Hullbridge Road, and was owned by Alan and Chris Harvey who also ran milk rounds after 1969. The milk man and his electric milk float was a common sight before the late 1980s.  The milkman from the Dairy delivered milk early every morning in glass milk bottles, in the days before cheap plastic cartons of it in the supermarkets. He would also deliver bread or eggs after work.  Milk and bread were stored in a fridge outside the shop at weekends so that people could buy them even when the shop was closed. They just helped themselves and put the money through the letterbox. Such was the trust within the local community in those days. I recall a glass fronted counter with only a sparse variety of items behind the counter. It was very much an old-fashioned shop staffed by cheerful ladies. The Dairy building and adjoining shop were knocked down and replaced by a block of flats called ‘Dairy Court’ in about 2014 (need to verify date).

South Woodham Ferrers Dairy in Hullbridge Road

People tell of a bicycle shop run by a man called Cyril and Mrs Ollet slicing bacon to your requested thickness at the Ideal Stores which later became a video shop and then a computer repair shop.


The development of the new town

A New Towns Act was passed in 1946 which paved the way for an explosion of new towns and garden towns for people to live. The planning of South Woodham Ferrers came much later.  Many of the original plotlands came under compulsory purchase and developers were sought to create a completely new riverside country town. Asda offered the most infrastructure enticements and were granted freehold of much of the town. They subsequently sold parcels of land to developers.

Mr Forder from Dagenham installed the first electricity in a railway carriage for Mr Brown in Victoria Road, Woodham in 1947. It was too late for him to return to Dagenham the same day so he stayed overnight at the railway pub.

Sewerage - the basic essentials

The 6 railway houses in Hullbridge Road all initially had septic tanks. They joined the town sewerage system in 1983.  The sewage works were originally opened in 1966.  The operation of the sewage works must have improved through the decades. People spoke of going out and about in a white shirt and ending up with a brown spotted one. The smell from the sewage works in the 1960s used to be awful if standing downwind.

Fennfields Road was the first 'new road' of the new town

The first house to be constructed and inhabited was in Fennfields Road in 1976 and the town has continued to grow since then. Development is far from complete; a completely new section containing a major supermarket and housing development is planned north of Burnham Road. It is anticipated that the current greenhouses that belong to Crouch Vale nursery will start to be demolished in June 2017.

The early days of the new town of South Woodham Ferrers

A small population of the new town in the early days meant that people all knew each other or of each other. It was more of a village. Mums with babies had to go shopping to Wickford on the train.  They recall station staff varying the big prams of yesteryear across the tracks for them if the train was on the other side of the tracks. There were two lines in those days. The guard also put the prams in the guard's van for the duration of the short journey.

A doctor’s surgery used to be in the vestry of the old green tin church in Hullbridge Road. There no was no sound insulation and everyone waiting could hear every conversation. There must have been a great reluctance to visit the doctor unless a serious reason warranted it. The church was dismantled 1999 and transferred to the museum of Power near Maldon.

As new houses were sold, more people arrived from the east end of London and nearer the city. These were viewed with some distrust at first, until locals got to know them.

The new Co-op (formerly snooker hall) stands on the site of a large pond where children would catch newts and float their makeshift boats.

The first barber’s shop stood in Old Woodham Road, next door to Steve’s Garage. A crew cut was the popular style on those days. The garage is still there and a barber shop that has gone through a succession of owners, still cuts hair to this day.  This part of Old Woodham Road was the main road for South Woodham. Anyone could see that it was originally intended only for horses and carts.

Read more about the people who contributed to making South Woodham Ferrers such a friendly community:

Memories of characters from plotlands days

Miss Craig who lived in a railway carriage on her plot

This South Woodham is remembered for always wearing a beret and wellington boots – whatever the weather. She carried her shopping in an open wicker basket, as many did in those days. She was known for not being particularly attentive to vehicles on the road and local people would watch out for her crossing. One person recalls that she would only eat ginger biscuits.  

There was resistance to the compulsory purchase of land and although this lady was rehoused by the council. She died not long after due to the stress of being forced out of her home.  Sadly, many of the older people reluctantly gave up their plots, smallholdings and dreams.

A History Book about South Woodham Ferrers

If you would like much more information, there is an excellent book that relates the pictorial history of South Woodham Ferrers written by John Frankland that documents the development of the town.