HENHAM 1947 – 1961 – By Bryan Goodchild –
(these are my personal memories, so errors may have occurred).
[the editor has used  to show additions to Bryan’s autobiography].
‘High homestead’ (or village), ‘Henham on the Hill’, or just good old ‘Henham’. It was from here in 1947 that I began my journey through life, and it is with fond memories that I remember those early days. I often wonder at what age most people have their earliest recollections, and if it begins with a particularly pleasing event, or maybe something traumatic. For me, unfortunately, it was the latter. I was born in my Grandfather and Grandmothers cottage (Ernest and Hester Camp) on Woodend Green, now called “The Cottage”, but to me in the early days it was just “Nan’s House”. Soon after my birth, Mum, Dad and I were allocated one of the five new ‘prefabs’ erected in Carters Lane, ours was number 5, and there are photographs of me as a babe in arms being held on what would become the front lawn, but at this time resembling a ploughed field. [the last two prefabs were demolished in 1991].
I now fast forward to Christmas Day 1950, the point where I have my first real memory – there are a few vague, foggy thoughts of possible earlier events, but this day was the one to live with me. The day was being celebrated at Nan’s house with other aunts and uncles from the locality. The Camps were, and are, an extensive tribe. I recall having a Hornby 00 clockwork train set as a present. Oh! Such joy. Then mayhem occurred on a grand scale with my parents and other relations tearing around in what seemed to me utter chaos. Was I old enough to recognise chaos? I was quite happy watching my tin train and carriages going round and round, with a stop now and again to rewind with the seemingly enormous key But then I was plucked from the mayhem and my next memory was being in the company of Mrs Muriel Hart (née Leader) and her family who were spending the day with her brother John in his house which looks down Woodend Green. The Harts, Muriel, husband Jim, and children Richard (my age) and Valerie a year or two younger, lived next door but one to us in the prefabs at number 3. What a wonderful family to take me in on this day. Granddad had died.
Nan’s house was a wonderful place but it certainly lacked in any concessions to modernity. There was no electricity, lighting being provided by candle light or oil lamp. The only running water was provided by a tap just inside the front gate and this was supplemented by rain water from the roof collected in metal tanks. In the kitchen was a range for cooking, and this was constantly burning away to provide the cooking facility, the enormous black kettle for constant cups of tea, and an array of iron irons for when the need arose. There was one particular “modern gadget”, and this was the wireless (what a name, did you ever see so many wires?), but this was powered by an accumulator, and this beast had to be regularly trundled in the wheelbarrow down to Starr Garage to be recharged. The lack of amenities was by no means unusual in the village; in fact the majority of properties at that time had very basic facilities.
Outside, there were three attached outbuildings, the first being the coal shed. Being north facing, the meat safe with perforated zinc door was attached to the outside wall. This early attempt at refrigeration supposedly prolonged the life of perishables! Next along is what I remember as the wine shed containing umpteen bottles of homemade wine – you name it and I am sure it was there. Carrot, plum, blackberry, peapod, rosehip and blackcurrant to name a few. Very little was ever wasted. The third outhouse was the toilet and I suppose it deserves a mention. Freezing cold in winter with a huge gap at the top and bottom of the door, obviously designed to prevent lingering. The wooden bench seat (actually very comfy) was suspended over a pit. But the one horror that I especially remember was the loo paper. Nan used to have a daily newspaper – The Daily Herald – and this eventually found its way, having been torn into suitably sized sheets, on to a nail on the back of the door. Very little was ever wasted. As we know, newsprint readily comes off the paper! Nan did progress however, and eventually Izal loo rolls replaced the newspaper. For those who can remember, this had the feel and consistency of a cross between tracing and greaseproof paper. Progress indeed! The ‘honey cart’ came round the village fairly regularly to empty the many toilet pits. What little disposable waste generated (almost no plastic in those days) was deposited in a galvanised bin and was collected by the dustman (Sorry! Domestic waste disposal operative), who carried it on his shoulder to the awaiting dustcart. Unlike today’s modern machines, this was a Bedford-based truck with curved sliding doors, two on each side, at the rear.
There were a couple of other sheds in the garden, a tool shed and a wood shed, and these were a constant source of fascination to my enquiring mind and nimble fingers. This, despite being warned that to venture into these almost forbidden zones would result in the loss of various limbs. The garden contained numerous fruit trees and bushes. There was Bramley apple, pear, greengage, Victoria plum and a wonderful Cox’s Orange Pippin tree, the latter just inside the front gate. Fruit bushes included black, red and white currant, red and green gooseberries and numerous raspberry canes.
The garden was also home to many living things. A pig or two were in a sty at the bottom and various hutches housed numerous rabbits. There were umpteen chickens, and baby chicks were retained in mobile runs out on Woodend Green. Crushed chicken shells were fed back to the chickens to supplement the grit in their diet. It sounds slightly cannibalistic but very little was ever wasted. I must not forget the bees as two or three hives were kept. Of course all of this was an effort at self sufficiency supplemented by allotment plots for the supply of vegetables. Both Granddad and my dad had allotments located where what is now the cemetery in Chickney Road. The standard of living for us village ‘yokels’, particularly during WW2 and then into the 1950’s was probably greater than for the less fortunate ‘townies’.
On to life in the prefab, where these properties were in answer to a quick, but temporary fix to the post war shortage of housing. I do have a distinct feeling that prefab residents were somewhat looked down upon. I am not quite sure why – maybe because of their non-permanent appearance. Certainly the inhabitants of those five prefabs were a wonderful bunch, the stuff of what real neighbours are made. Anyway we were having the last laugh as integral to our ‘two bed des. res.’ was a fitted kitchen complete with built in electric cooker, refrigerator and electric copper for ‘doing’ the clothes. There were also numerous built-in storage cupboards and a pantry. However, I can only remember the copper being used to cook a copious quantity of Christmas Puds! The lounge was home to an open fire with a back boiler to supply hot water when in use. An electric immersion heater supplemented this. The bathroom consisted of a three-piece suite – sink with under cupboard, an actual flushing toilet and bath. There was also an airing cupboard. Not too many village residents had such fine facilities. One memory I have is of being restricted to just 3 inches of water in the bath! This I believe to be part of the legacy of WW2, which hadn’t ended many years before. Indeed many things were still rationed well into the 1950’s.
Outside, the garden was of reasonable size with a couple of greengage trees, currant and gooseberry bushes and a great rambling loganberry. Mum was often kept busy ‘bottling’ fruit in Kilner jars to see us through the darker months. Dad meanwhile had to maintain the garden and this was no mean feat given the good old heavy Henham clay soil. Weeds and rubbish were burnt on a massive bonfire in early autumn, and I recall this burning, smouldering and burning again for days on end. Over a period of time the front of the prefab was laid to lawn, with a central laburnum tree, all parts of which are poisonous! A box hedge was grown along the front boundary. At a very early age I remember that wasps took up residence in a nest at the base of the hedge – but no problem, Dad would see to it. Armed with a bottle of paraffin and a box of matches, Dad saw to it. It took years for 2 yards of hedge to grow back!
Mum was a little bit of a creature of habit, and Monday was washday, never mind that the rain was coming down sideways. It was washday. All through my life to the present day I am haunted by the smell of damp washing airing in front of an open fire on a wooden clotheshorse. On Sunday I went to Sunday school at St. Mary’s and a few years later I was encouraged, no, coerced into attending the morning and evening service. Years later I was to wonder why Mum and Dad seldom, if ever, attended church, yet it was expected of me. We always had a Sunday roast. A joint of beef normally, with roast potatoes, parsnips and vegetables, followed by fruit pie and custard. This was ready on my return from morning service and normally coincided with “ Two-Way Family Favourites” or the “Billy Cotton Band Show” on the Light Programme. As teatime approached (sorry, I believe it is dinner nowadays, but I have my dinner at dinner time, and that is 1 o’clockish!) heaven help me if I requested toast. I can hear Mum’s retort that no way was she going to cook again on a Sunday. It was only a piece of toast for goodness sake, and maybe I was big enough to get it myself if I was that desperate.
I come from a very working class family, Dad was a railwayman all of his life, as was his father before him. Dad started as a lad porter and worked his way up, through ‘foreman’ at Audley End station, to his final days as station superintendent at Colchester. Even during WW2 Dad was a railwayman having joined the Royal Engineers and served in India and Burma. Mum’s years were
spent in service beginning at Elsenham Place where there was a typical “Upstairs, Downstairs” environment. The war years were spent in a factory, I am not sure where, but Takeley or Great Dunmow rings a bell, where the scales on ammeters etc. were marked by hand. My Henham memories of Mum are working for Mr. Gold at Glebeside Cottage in Carter’s Lane. Not far to commute from the prefab. I had no brothers or sisters, so some people might think that I was spoilt, but that is not the case. I was always well fed and dressed, never went without essentials, and did not have hand me downs, but I was certainly not spoilt. I was taught the value of money and we had just enough, but not sufficient for great extravagances. That said, we did have a 12-inch Echo television in time for the coronation in ’53. The telly stood well away from the wall due to the massive cathode ray tube sticking out the back. This restricted even more the room available for the assembled multitude from the village to view the event. Outside, was what seemed to me to be the largest H aerial in the world mounted on a great wooden pole. [as part of the Henham Coronation celebrations, the children dressed up.
As far back as I can remember Dad had a motorbike. The first I recall was a DOT, and this was followed by a Royal Enfield and finally a Norton. Mum could always hear him coming home up Hall Road and round by the church – time to put the kettle on. Dad had a very serious accident in the late 1950’s, just before ‘Toot toot’ bridge on the Newport side. It is believed that a rabbit ran through his front wheel, and he was poorly for some time. Eventually he recovered and it was back into the saddle once again.
I was lucky enough to receive my first bike when I was probably about 8 or 9 years old. It had had several previous owners I guess, it was painted blue and yellow, weighed a ton and had the old rod operated brakes. But it was my bike. One problem, I couldn’t ride it. So it came down to Dad to hold the rear of the saddle, run and push whilst my feet rested on the pedals. Up and down the lane we went between our prefab and Mr Gold’s, and at some point I guess, Dad had had enough and let go. I didn’t notice this at first and I carried on peddling away unaided. That is until a slight glance behind revealed Dad’s absence, a puffing wreck some distance behind. There must have been a great crashing sound and probably a cry of pain as metal and body formed a heap in Carter’s Lane. The bike was none the worse for wear and after picking a few stones out of knees and elbows, nor was I. But, hey, I could now ride a bike and from then on there was no stopping me.
With Dad being a railwayman, we were very fortunate to be entitled to concessionary rate rail travel and we had many a summers’ day out to the seaside. We visited Clacton, Walton, Great Yarmouth, Felixstowe, Southend, and even Brighton, which must have been a long old journey for a day trip. Annual holidays were sometimes a week staying with Dad’s relations in Cambridgeshire, or a week in a caravan belonging to a mate of Dad’s from his army days. This was at West Mersea. But I especially remember 1955 when just Mum and I went to Butlins at Clacton. The ‘chalets’ were little more than glorified beach huts, with no running water, but this was not a problem when everything else was wall-to-wall fun.
We had a black and white cat with the inevitable name of Whisky. He was a strange beast – part feral and part fully domesticated, and would disappear for days on end surviving in the wild. But on the days he decided to live at home he ‘survived’ on Kit-E-Kat and would turn his nose up at any other brand; fussy little so and so! One year, knowing that he was quite able to fend for himself outside, we went on our holiday to West Mersea. Getting there involved Mr. Meads’ taxi to Elsenham station, then the train to Liverpool Street, a change of platform and another train to Colchester. Following this, a bus was required to the bus station and then the final leg of the journey to West Mersey on another bus. It was here, walking to the caravan, that Mum asked Dad if he could remember putting the cat out. Dad just could not be certain, and so began for him a reverse of the journey just undertaken. On arriving home he was met by the cat walking down the path! It was the following day before we saw Dad again.
I started school at the age of four, and this beginning of my years of scholarly learning was in the hands of Mrs. Searl. The school also accommodated the Ugley Mugs from another planet, the village of Ugley 2 or 3 miles away. They arrived on a tatty bus each day. I commenced my education years in the class of Mrs. Searl, although I remember very little of those early days. I do recall a large abacus type counting frame and the use of an exercise book, ruled with faint lines to enable us to practice the correct height of the letters of the alphabet. At other times we produced a cacophony of noise as a ‘band’ with drums, tambourines cymbals and triangles. Progressing to the class of Mrs. Parkin was a big step, and here thanks to her kindly nature and marvellous teaching, it was a joy to learn the 3 R’s. The final step was to the ‘big’ class under the tuition of the headmaster Mr Doe. What a wonderful man. He stood no messing about, but he was fair whilst expecting nothing but the best effort from his pupils. It was under his guidance that the day of the dreaded 11+ exams arrived and was taken by us terrified 11 year olds. Eventually it transpired that three of us had passed – John the headmaster’s son, Jennifer from a farm along Chickney road, and myself subject to a successful oral interview. The three of us ended up at different schools – Newport Grammar, Bishop’s Stortford Girls High and Saffron Walden Technical respectively.
School dinners were taken in the Church hall just before Glebeside Cottage in Carter’s Lane, and this meant a trek across the greens regardless of the weather. The dinners, brought in containers each day from Stansted or Newport, were, in my humble opinion, very reasonable, tasty and filling. However we are all different (thank goodness) and my one great hatred was the Fridays when we were served cheese pie. I can still picture and smell this evil offering with its thin slice of tomato on top. After the meals, one of the other lads and me had volunteered to carry the ‘slops’ buckets to Percy Willet’s cottage in Church Street, adjacent to the Chase, the contents of which he fed to his pigs. Remember, very little was ever wasted. I often wonder if the pigs refused to eat that cheese pie! We received 6d (2½p) each per week for this duty. At school we also received a daily ⅓pint of milk which ranged in quality from most acceptable to the ridiculous, depending on the time of year. In the depths of winter it could be totally undrinkable due to the resemblance to a milk ice-lolly with the silver foil cap perched some distance from the bottle. The other extreme was the height of summer when sometimes the milk was a warm disaster.
School sports were an annual event, and took place on part of the cricket ground. Various races were attempted – the 100 yards, sack race, the egg and spoon, wheelbarrow and the 3-legged race. I do not recall coming close to winning any of them, I guess I was not destined to become a great Olympian. Prize giving was also annual and took place on the vicarage lawn in front of the Rev. Shaw’s residence. We chose in advance which book prize we would like to receive, and for me it was always one of the “Observers Books” series, one or two of which I still possess.
There was also an outing each year to Walton-on-The-Naze, and on the day children and parents waited in anticipation for the arrival of the coaches. It never rained, just as I remember the summer holiday! Five or so coaches would arrive and park along the road by the telephone kiosk. My favourite was the 1½ decker, which appeared so unusual – why on earth a manufacturer would build such beast is a mystery. Fully loaded, off we would go like a mechanical Conga, and travel in convoy to Marks Tey where we would stop for a toilet break. The men folk would disappear for something called a ‘swift half’, whatever that was! Then onward to arrive at Walton somewhere around midday. The majority made for the beach, hired deck chairs and prepared to consume the packed lunch. I hated it! Sandwiches (what an appropriate name) consisted of such delicacies as spam and sand, cheese and sand, cucumber and sand, and everyone’s favourite, egg and sand. The children would then embarrassingly change behind a towel into their “cozzies” before entering the freezing cold water for a dip. Then followed a reverse procedure (yes, even more sandwiches) and at last we would descend upon the pier. It was here that we lost our pennies on machines designed to fleece you. I remember one particular machine – looking like a crane with four mechanical fingers, the idea was to manoeuvre the crane to pick up one of the appealing ‘prizes’ and drop it in the winning chute. With hindsight, that machine did not have the power to pick up a canary’s bum feather. After a pleasant day we all embussed for the journey home, again stopping at Marks Tey for the toilet break, and that mysterious ‘swift half’ for the Dads. I do hope that Mr. Doe and his staff got the thanks they deserved for organizing this outing.
As previously mentioned, I progressed from Henham School to Saffron Walden Technical. This was an ultra modern concrete and glass building, very light and airy with new individual desks and green roller boards replaced the traditional blackboard. I settled in well and found that my best subjects were English, French, Geography, Technical Drawing and Metalwork. I struggled a bit with Maths – arithmetic was no problem, I understood geometry and could see the reason for trigonometry, especially for navigation etc. But what was algebra all about, when and why would I ever use it? This was never explained so I sort of switched off! Factorise this, simplify that, why? I can still reel off the formula for solving quadratic equations but I wouldn’t recognize one if it was put in front of me. Surely I am not unique in having gone through life and never had to resort to algebra to solve anything. School sports were inter-house, and in my 3 years there I was champion at the discus for my year. My pal Nigel Barltrop from Cutlers Green had putting-the-shot sewn-up for the same period.
Getting to school was via a Mayhews’ bus, which started out from Stansted. I was picked up opposite the telephone box and one particular day is imbedded in my mind. I always went into the telephone box and pressed button B to see if any change came out, as this was often fruitful. This particular day the land was covered in snow and it was freezing cold, so I took refuge until the bus came. The glass was iced up and I thought I was keeping a good look out. But alas I saw the bus disappearing round the corner by The Manse. Tail between legs I presented myself to Mum who by now was at work at Glebeside Cottage. Sympathy did not exist that day, and I was given the necessary funds and sent off to walk to Elsenham station trudging through the snow, to catch the train to Audley End, and then get the diesel railcar to Saffron Walden. By the time I got to school, cold with soaking wet feet, it was just in time to have missed lunch. Funny old thing, I never did that again!
Away from school, we had to find things to do to occupy our time and that was far easier to do than it may appear being in a fairly isolated village. I can never remember being bored and sitting at home getting under Mum’s feet. I was very good at, and thoroughly enjoyed reading, and Mr. Gold at Glebeside Cottage, where Mum worked, had quite an extensive library including children’s books. He kindly allowed me to borrow whatever I wanted, and I am forever grateful. As mentioned, Dad worked at Audley End station, which was home to a newspaper and comic kiosk. At the end of each week, all of that week’s unsold comics were disposed of, and Dad would invariably come home with a haversack full of various comics. Not so much the Beano/Dandy type comics, but usually the 64 page 10d, and later 1/- variety. War comics, Robin Hood, Davy Crockett, Kit Carson etc. I could be more specific as there is a suitcase in the loft now containing these late 1950’s beauties! Why am I hoarding them – they deserve a good home? Anyway, that was the rainy days sorted out.
I have to be honest and say that I was not the most popular boy in the village. That hurt a bit but it was because I was seen to be some kind of ‘goody-two-shoes’ due to my church attendance, and having to be home on the dot for tea. I was seen as some kind of softie by some of the lads, but when the chips were down I could hold my own in a good old punch up. There were particular friends though, and depending on the time of year we would climb trees, play in Hawland wood beyond Greenend farm, go for bike rides, catch pond life to stock the aquaria located in Mr. Doe’s classroom, make and use catapults and play football on the greens. In the 1950’s we were not made aware of the fine balance of flora and fauna, so in conjunction with “The Observer’s Book Of Birds Eggs”, we eagerly went birds nesting and egg collections were common. Health and safety was unheard of, hence tree climbing and ‘conkers’ was a traditional pursuit in the autumn. I believe ‘little darlings’ nowadays are prevented from playing this at school in case they hurt themselves. We did not deliberately flout the law but Jim Bush’s orchard, to the right of Peddars Way, was always a temptation for ‘scrumping’. It is a strange feeling to be crawling on hands and knees through a hedge, and then no matter how hard you crawl, you are going backwards. This phenomenon is explained by the fact that you are being pulled out by the local constable from Elsenham! I am pleased that times have changed, as he gave you a mighty cuff round the ear, and threatened to tell your Dad. He never did, and it never occurred to this naughty boy that he hadn’t asked your name and didn’t know you from Adam. I am sure he had supernatural powers, as he always seemed to turn up at every misdemeanor of the village boys.
We did do some dangerous and stupid things, like cycling down to Old Mead, accessing the railway and placing ha’pennies on the line. Following the passing of a train we would then recover the suitably flattened coins. Then there were soapboxes. These were usually made by Dads and consisted of pram wheels attached to off cuts of wood and a wooden box ‘cockpit’ in which to sit. Steering was via feet on the front pivoting crosspiece housing the front wheels, or by a stout cord attached to the same. Then it was off to Sparley lane, where a mate would push furiously to send you careering down the stony lane at breakneck speed. No thought was given to any form of breaking and the trip ended successfully by running into the grass at the corner at the bottom of the slope. Accidents did happen, but with nothing more serious than the loss of bit of skin here and there.
On Christmas Day, when I was 12 years old, I had a wonderful surprise in the shape of a brand new bike, hidden away in the shed. It was the end of an era for me and the trusty old blue and white steed, it had served me well, and hopefully it went on to serve someone else. But the new bike was awesome – straight handlebars, cable brakes and real plastic mudguards! One of my mates received an almost identical bike at the same time. However the bike was to be involved in one of my most stupid ventures. All of the boys in the village were prone to riding ‘no hands’; it was what big boys did. My mate and I decided the ride to Stansted ‘no hands’, so off we set. The first hairy moments were tearing down Mill Road hill and turning right at the road junction towards Elsenham unable to brake. This, however, was nothing compared to negotiating the hill down into Stansted. I am here to tell the tale, but now when I drive up or down that hill I realize just how lucky we were to be alive. Another act of stupidity also involved the bike. A long time prior to November 5th, fireworks would be on sale in the village and there was no lower age limit for buying them. The lads would have pockets bulging with 1d bangers, which we would set off at all sorts of locations. I discovered that the little hole in the end of the rubber handlebar grips was just the right size to grip a banger. So, with one on each side, they were lit and off I would pedal and wait for the double bang.
About this time, at the age of 12, Mum suggested that it might be a good idea if I tried to get a little Saturday job. Somehow this resulted in me tapping on Mr. Jim Pimblett’s door at his house in Starr Road where he was living whilst his new house was being built, bounded by the moat in Hall Road. Well, he kindly offered me 4 hours work on Saturday mornings at Parsonage Farm, and I was like a dog with two tails. The work consisted of mucking out the pigs, not everyone’s idea of the perfect job, but to me it was a job. In the height of summer things could be a bit ripe, but it didn’t really bother me. I was paid 5/- (25p) for my efforts, which was the princely sum of 1/3d (6½p) per hour. Later on I was fortunate enough to be employed during the school holidays, and I just loved it. The farm had numerous employees, and those that come to mind are Maurice (Morrie) Suckling, Felix Suckling, Jack Warner, Cliff Warner the stockman, Brian (Hookie) Hollingsworth, Bob Wellington, Percy Willett and Mr. Francis who lived in The Row. I recall rustic tea breaks, sitting on bales either in a field or in a barn. Oxo tins were employed to contain sandwiches, but I do not think that Jack ever tried to patent his idea of a Thermos. Basically it was a pop bottle full of tea, enclosed in a pair of socks!
I was so lucky, and had my first experience of driving at the age of 13 in a Landrover. It came about because I had a task, with a guy called Mike, who was only on short-term employment. We were to install fence posts around the field adjacent to the Catholic Church, and the idea was that I would drive the land rover up to the post installation point. Mick would stand on the bonnet and knock in the posts with a post hammer. I was given a good old bit of basic tuition in the field, and when Mick was satisfied, we set about the task. All went well for some time but then I had some kind of brainstorm and got brake and accelerator confused. We shot forward, Mick went one way, the hammer another and the post was flattened. There were no injuries, but I was devastated, terrified and almost certain I was in for a good hiding. But no! Mick dusted himself down, and as cool as you like, jumped in beside me and proceeded to give me further intensive tuition. I have never forgotten that act of kindness.
It was not long before I progressed from the Landrover to tractors and I was openly encouraged to drive them, much to my delight. There were two Fordson Majors, one with a fork lift on the front, a nimble Ford Dexter, and my favourite, an old, grey Massey Fergusson, with a hard metal seat It was started by pushing the gear lever over to the right and then forward. It was started on petrol, then, when warmed up was switched over to paraffin. There was also an orange Allis Chalmers languishing away in the farmyard, but I never ever saw it move. The two combine harvesters were the domain of Mr. Pimblett and Bob Wellington. I had such a variety of tasks, from the backbreaking hoeing of sugar beet, harrowing, baling straw, carting straw, and corn carting to name a few. I especially loved the latter, driving beside the harvester on the move whilst it unloaded the corn into my trailer. I then went out of the field onto the public highway, sometimes right through the village to the corn drier barn in Hall Road. This now is a splendid barn conversion. Here the corn was deposited in a huge receiving hopper. I guess the world and his brother would have a fit these days knowing that a 13 year old was driving on the road. I loved those days, which obviously ended on leaving the village.
Communities are in a constant state of flux, and Henham is no exception. Looking at census returns from the mid 19 century and then for 80 years or so, it was self-contained with suppliers and tradesmen of all manner of skills in residence. It had to be so as people in general did not have the means (or desire) to travel. The railway had arrived just before WW1, but the main purpose was for the distribution of farm produce, coal, and to service the Gilbeys’ gin distillery and Lees’ sweet factory at Thaxted. Hence the affectionate name of “The gin-and-toffee line”. Over the years and into the 1950’s many of the independent service providers disappeared, and my memories are of what remained.
One of my ‘foggy’ recollections is that Macky Willet’s shop in Crow street still existed, but I am sure if that was the case it was soon to close. Mr. Mussell had two shops – one attached to Pleasant Cottage on the corner of Woodend Green, and the other in Church Street, which had previously been Miss Gardiner’s shop and post office. Across the road from Bay Cottages was Hills’ store; it still looks very shop- like today with the double bay windows. Then of course there was the one remaining shop today. Over the years it went through many changes of ownership, but I remember it as Bailleys’ and finally Roberts’. Richard Roberts and I became good pals. A trivial fact is that Hills sold Lyons Maid ice cream and Roberts sold Walls’. Mr. Moss ran the Post Office at the beginning of the Row, and occasionally he would ask me to deliver a telegram, for which I received 9d (4p), which I believe was the prepaid delivery charge. It was a small fortune to me. Starr Garage was owned by Mr. Meads , and later run by his son Pat. It was a sad day when it had to close.
I still remember the forge where the blacksmith plied his trade adjacent to the Cock pub. There were two pubs in my early days – The Cock and The Bell, and in the days of my forbears, there had been more. Another trivial fact is that for a while, The Cock sold El Dorado ice cream from the back. There was Wright’s builders yard and Bill King the undertaker. [Bill lived in Keyham House] Though not a commercial business, I must mention Mrs. Turner who lived in Church Street. She was an exceptional seamstress, and mender/alterer of all things fabric. The house, as I recall, was very dark, but she always seemed to be busy. It is possibly a little unkind of me, but to me she seemed to resemble Queen Victoria. I remember two of the village vicars – the Rev. Shaw who drove a little Austin 7, and the Rev. Brian Green. The village also boasted the dairy, run for many years by the Camp family, relations of mine.
The railway, and ‘The Thaxted Flyer’, had outlived their usefulness, finally closing in 1952. Roads and road transport were slowly improving, and I watched in awe as a ‘real’ steamroller trundled back and forth in Crow Street as the road was upgraded. The decommissioned railway became a haven to wildlife with an abundance of flowers and birds.
Events took place in the village quite frequently. November 5th was always a great favourite, and a giant bonfire would be built in one of several locations; Woodend Green, between Carters Lane and the Observers Post, and adjacent to the horse pond near the cricket pitch are three that I remember. In the summer, the village fête would be held in Henley’s field owned by Mr. Salmon. As well as the mandatory tea tent and beer tent, there would be the coconut shy, bowling for the pig, trying to throw a table-tennis ball into a jam jar to win a goldfish, children’s fancy dress, a cake stall, and trying to stick 3 darts into a playing card. Ice cream was dispensed from a large insulated metal box, kept cool by lumps of solid carbon dioxide (goodness knows where it came from). I also remember a traveling fair coming to Henham, and setting up on the green between Starr Garage and the village hall. The village hall was the venue for childrens’ parties around Christmas time, and for productions by the Henham Dramatic Club. It also acted as a doctor’s surgery, in the back room, when Drs Gabb and Platt visited us from Stansted. An irregular, but fairly frequent event was thanks to the great organizing ability of Mr. Eric Grey from Moat Cottages. He would arrange a coach, ‘getting a load up’ as it was referred to, and off we would go to see Bertram Mills Circus, a Wild West show, a skating-on-ice spectacular and other thrilling events, usually in London.
Girls. There must have been an equal proportion of them to the lads in the village, but where did they go? We never seemed to be aware of them, so whilst us boys were busy falling out of trees etc. what were the girls doing? Surely they were not indoors learning how to make rice puddings and fairy cakes. That is life I suppose, young lads have nothing to do with their female counterparts for fear of appearing ‘sissy’. That is until a certain age, in my case it was about 12 or 13 when I began to increasingly notice one particular girl. She was never aware of my attraction and I never advertised the fact, so my first ‘crush’ passed without action. I was soon to leave the village anyway for a new life in Colchester, and I would never see her again. Wrong! A year or so after our move, I was working Saturdays on a market stall, and guess who passed by and recognized me, but I was unable to speak and so the last opportunity passed.
Much in Henham has changed since my early days, and that is natural as progress is inevitable. The village clings to its’ last shop, and I raise a glass to those valiant volunteers who keep it going – may it continue forever. With personal transport ever increasing and the allure of supermarkets in the towns, the village shops could not compete and are thus a part of days gone by. However, over time the in-town supermarkets were displaced by out-of-town shopping centres, and these in turn are finding the pinch from ever increasing on-line shopping and home delivery. The ‘good old days’ are not necessarily so – just memories from a different era. The shops and services evolved out of necessity, and not everything was good. The ‘honey cart’ has long gone thank goodness, and most people now have access to all utilities. Shops etc are not the hub of the community, the people are, and although they come and go I am sure the community spirit survives through the various clubs and activities, even over a pint down the pub. I am a Henhamite born and bred, proud of it, and relish each return journey.