Fire, sewage and refuse
In 1946, we were still the local Fire Authority, although the fire service was under government control, and the fire station was continuously manned by one man. Provided we put a penny in the charity collecting box in the fire station, we had the run of the billiard table at lunch times. Behind the fire station, as now, was the depot, which then included the sewerage works. The sewerage works had no vehicles, except that the engineer had a car which he used to tour the various pumping stations. All other travelling by the sewer men was done in the back of our sole lorry, driven usually by Stan Green. Stan's designation was General Handyman, although I do not think there was anything that was beyond him. He was a great gardener, and was famous for his dahlias, which took the top prizes in the Rochford shows for many years. Doug Alchin was the parks foreman. A Scotsman, Doug was a stern rather unapproachable character, but not a bad chap when you got to know him. I had known his son at college, so we got on fairly well. The foreman dustman, Bill Ansell, used to work for Westcliff Motor Services, and if one of the refuse vehicles developed a body defect, or one of the salvage trailers got a hole in it, Bill would be off down to the garage at Fairfax Drive and return with a couple of aluminium panels from a scrapped bus body, which would be used to patch the hole. Housing repairs were carried out by contractors, and it was not until many years later that we had our own labour force.
In those now far off days, the Council had fewer responsibilities than they have today. Refuse and Sewage collection and disposal, public health, and housing were the main responsibilities, town planning as we know it now, did not come until 1947. As you would expect, after 6 years of war, housing was the main problem. Not only had few houses been built during the war, but many had been lost and many of the older houses had not been properly maintained, due to shortage of materials. All this added up to a housing shortage, which some people would argue that we have never remedied. At this time however building was very strictly controlled. This was partly due to bad management by the first post war government, whose slogan was build, build, build, which was done with a will, but with the result that in six months there was not a brick or stick of wood to be had in the country. So building material controls were brought into force and although you might have obtained (when it came into force) planning permission, and as it was then Building Byelaw consent, you could not lay a brick until you had a Building Licence. The problem was that each District was allocated only a certain number of licences each year, and these were allocated according to need. On the Council housing side, each District was allocated so many dwellings each year, with the result that applicants for Council housing moved up the list very slowly indeed. Permission to build was given by the Ministry of Health, which was then responsible for all aspects of local government. Permission was usually given for blocks of dwellings in multiples of four, so all of our building contracts were for four, eight or sixteen dwellings. We did not have our own architect, but used the services of D.C. Denton-
In order to improve the supply of rented dwellings it was, until 1950, possible for the Council to requisition any property which was left unoccupied for 3 months or over. At one time, the Council had up to fifteen such properties scattered all over the District. The tenants paid rent to the Council, which was then paid to the owner. Some owners, to avoid their dwellings being requisitioned, paid rates on them as if they were occupied. During the middle and late 1940's, most of the army camps in the District were closed and the buildings left on the sites. At four of these camps, at Scaldhurst Farm, Canewdon, and at Wakering Common,and Parkers Farm, Hockley, huts were taken over by squatters.
Conditions in some camps were pretty grim, as some of the huts were not fit to live in, but the Council obtained tenancies and charged them small rents to cover repair and running costs. Repairs and refurbishments were carried out as necessary, with the result that the occupants lives were made more comfortable than they would otherwise have been. The camps lasted well into the 1950's, Gt. Wakering Common being the first one to go after being wrecked by the East Coast Floods in 1953.
Many of the tenants, including two of my distant relatives, were killed or badly injured. One of the tenants, Mrs. C., was known to us all as "a right growser". Mrs. C. could be guaranteed to find something to complain about every week, and the rent collector who did the huts on the Common was always wishing she could get a transfer off his round. What we did not know about Mrs. C. however, was that she could swim and swim well, up to Olympic competition standard we learned, and on the night of the floods Mrs. C. distinguished herself by swimming around in the icy water and saving peoples' lives. She got no recognition for what she did that night but was a local hero for a time -
The problem of unadopted streets
We did have other problems besides housing though. One problem was the unadopted street. We had something like 70 miles of them after the war, and although the surfaces were not too bad in 1946, as car ownership was still very much a minority, but as cars became more numerous in post war England unmade road surfaces deteriorated sometimes to the degree that the roads would become almost impassable. In one extreme instance, a funeral took place from a bungalow in a road in Hawkwell, which was so bad that the vehicles could not get down the street. In addition, the bearers found that the footpath was too muddy to risk carrying the coffin in safety, and the deceased had to be passed from garden to garden over the fence until they reached some solid ground. The dustmen never drove the lorry up these roads. Bins were provided at the end of the street to put refuse in and it was collected from there. Over the years, most of these streets have been made up and adopted but many still remain, mostly in the Ashingdon and Hullbridge areas.
As I have said earlier, food was rationed right into the 1950's, and we often received gifts of food from Commonwealth countries or from the U.S.A. These arrived in huge packing cases, which were stacked along the office corridors. It was mostly tinned food and was distributed around the district to needy people. We had a clerk in the Environmental Health Department (then called the Sanitary Department) who liked to know what was going on, and to put it bluntly was nosey. It fell to George Marven and myself to open the cases and list the contents, and on one occasion Mrs. H. kept asking us when we were going to open them, and we would not tell her. Sometimes if I was in the corridor with George and he had a heavy object in his hand, he would say "Let's fetch Mrs. H. out", and he would bang on one of the cases. We would then run round the corner and watch her come out, have a good look round and then go back in still not knowing what the cases contained.
Ongoing Life in the Council Chambers
After I had been in the job a little while, Jim Abbott departed to do his National Service in the Royal Air Force, and I was left on my own. With such a small staff, there was always plenty to do and I had little time to myself. In those days, as I have said, the meetings were held in the afternoons and we had to leave our desks and find a home elsewhere, and this of course cut the time available for work and also cut us off from our books and papers. Agendas were printed and sent out once a month, as we then had a monthly minute cycle. I had no proper equipment to do the job, and the minutes were collated by laying them all round the Council Chamber table, and walking round and picking up as I went by. On one occasion we had heavy rain during the night, the roof leaked and spoilt a lot of the papers, which I had to print over again. It was not as if I could concentrate on the job for long, as I had all my other work to do at the same time.
In addition to his work as Clerk of the Council, Mr. Harris was also Food Officer and Fuel Officer, and both of these offices were housed in other buildings, one in 57 South Street, and the other in what is now Rumbelows in West Street -
Rochford Market at work
Rochford Market was held in those days on Thursdays, but it was a livestock market with only the occasional stall. The market was operated by Hilliards of Chelmsford who had a little office behind what is now the library. The animals arrived in the morning, a lot by train, and they used to be driven up the street to the Square. The selling usually began about 1.30 p.m. and we used to stand and watch and try to spot who was bidding. The buyers had a lot of understanding with the Auctioneer, and I have seen a lot of cattle sold without anyone opening their mouth. There would instead be winks, raised fingers, nods, and one buyer who always stood next to the auctioneer and signalled his bids by digging him in the ribs with his elbow. On one occasion some animals got loose and caused the onlookers to scatter before they could be recaptured.
People seemed to stay in their jobs longer in those days, instead of moving around like they do now. Inspector Fred West was in charge of Rochford Police Station when I joined the Council, and remained there for some 20 years after that until his retirement to Clacton-
Shops and Businesses at the time
On the commercial side in the town there were such well known people as "Nick”Carter, watchmaker, who had his shop where "Bogarts" cafe is now. He sometimes took weeks to do a repair but if I took one of our clocks round to him and said it was the Council's, it would be done in two or three days. Duncan McBryer who was a harness maker, had a shop in the Square where the library now stands. He was old when I first knew him and could recall the railway opening in 1889. He had a poster advertising the opening which he displayed in his shop window each anniversary.
The Francis brothers had a stationers and printers business in West Street, and supplied the Council with stationery. I liked to go to their shop because the walls were decorated with posters, pamphlets and various programmes from the past, which were of great interest to me. One I recall was a programme for the trotting races which used to take place on the fields off Ashingdon Road north of Rochford Garden Estate. Mr. Arthy had two bakers shops in the town, one on the corner of South Street and Back Lane, and the other on the north side of the Post Office. We used to go there for cakes sometimes, "Nelson Cake", which was yesterdays cakes broken up, mixed up, and baked between pastry, being a favourite at 2d. a slice about 4" square.
History Remembered: David Collins
“47 Years in South Street”