Hambro Hill in the early 50s

Childhood memories

By Sid Barker

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In the early 1950s Hambro Hill, Rayleigh was a little used road compared to the present day, mainly due I suspect to the very low number of motor vehicles around in those times. At the Hockley Road end there were the prewar council houses on one side and a few assorted dwellings on the other finishing where the public footpath which ran past Wylie Cop (now demolished) to the Hockley Road. Next to the council houses were the old sandpits and then Woods the Tree Fellers yard which is still there. Past that down to the bridge there was an overgrown thicket which is still extant.

On the other side was Lambs Brickfields which ran down to the railway bridge. Beyond the bridge was the side of the garden of the first bungalow in Hambro Avenue and beyond this a new bungalow on the corner of Downhall Road. On the opposite side were 4 large houses, now all demolished and the sites redeveloped and on the site the road called Fairlands Close was built, in I think in the late 50s.

We kids used to spend many hours playing in this area. The sandpit was disused. There were a few bits of rusting machinery there and the remains of the mirror light constructed just before the beginning of WW2. I cannot remember the steel surrounding framework, but can remember the broken up concrete base and lots of broken pieces of mirror. This was adjacent to the footpath that leads down to the railway foot crossing to Blounts Wood. My mother told me that when this light was switched on one could read a newspaper out in the street by its light. (See the Mirror Light article on this site)

The sandpit was not that deep, probably about 6 or 7 feet although the land rose to a much higher point on the western boundary. We often used to ride our bikes along and jump them into the pit. The sand was very soft and fine and I remember one friends bike actually snapped in half on landing. It was also a good place to let off bangers getting near to Guy Fawkes night. Who remembers penny bangers and tuppeny cannon?

We knew never to tunnel or dig into the sides of the pit as a collapse was likely to occur resulting in burial and probable death. We knew that the death of a child had occured as a result of this in the small sandpit next to the council houses sometime before the war and we never even ventured on to this as we considered it dangerous. A bungalow has since been built on here, and the main sandpit area levelled and is now a new vehicle storage facility. The land that sloped down to the railway line behind the sandpit was for some time used as a dump and I remember a complete yellow Austin 7 convertible being dumped and buried somewhere down there adjacent to the railway fence.

The land from the sandpit sloped steeply down to the road next to Woods yard and there were a couple of ex-army lorry cabs dumped there. We used to spend many happy hours playing in them. I remember they had the circular hatches in the roofs for the gunner, seats I think and clips to hold rifles. I cannot remember whether of not they had steering wheels. I think they were painted in desert sand colour. Presumably someone had bought them to use the chassis as trailers and dumped the cabs. There were a number of old lorry tyres there as well. One day we took it into our heads to roll one down the hill and it reached the bridge, without encountering any traffic!!

Another highlight was when the Home Guard used have exercises in the sandpits. They used to crawl along, firing blanks. After the exercises were over we used to retrace their route and pick up packets of ammunition that had fallen out of their pouches and return them. These were always wrapped in blue paper.

The local CO of the homeguard was Major Dale, who lived in one of the big houses below the bridge, I think it was the one called "The Chestnuts". He drove either an Austin or Hillman army utility truck (Tilly). He was better known to all as Mr Dale the Dentist. He had a surgery above the shops in the High Street opposite Adams Funeral Directors. The waiting room as I recall had very tatty chairs with the horse hair stuffing coming out and in the surgery his drill was foot treadle operated. Not a pleasant place. He always smoked a pipe and had brown stained teeth, not a very good advert for a dentist!

Many happy hours were also spent playing on Lambs Brickfields on the other side of the road. The owner of the first bungalow in Hambro Avenue used to keep chickens and once shot two foxes and hung them from a tree in his chicken run. After a few days he dumped them the other side of the bridge on Lambs land and we used to go every day to see how much they had decomposed. A friend's dog, Ruff, who was always our constant companion, used to always roll on the carcases and had to be returned home to be bathed to get rid of the smell.

When it snowed, the hill was impassable to traffic. The council only used to lightly grit (not salt) the main roads which were bus routes and there was hardly any traffic anyway. We would put layers of snow under the railway bridge where no snow settled and could then sledge right the way down to the junction of Rawreth Lane and Hullbridge Road from the top of the hill. This was only possible if you had a sledge with metal runners. I did not but was able to borrow those of friends. We used to lay flat on our stomachs on them, push off with our hands and then steer with our feet which hung over the back, and which we were very expert at and could pick up a fair speed. Our sledging made the bend at the top impassable for motor vehicles anyway.

A boy in our class at Love Lane was the son of a railway train guard and managed to purloin a number of fog detonators which he gave to us and we used to place these on the road under the bridge and detonate them by throwing a brick on them. The bang was amplified by the bridge void.

We also used to place halfpennies and pennies on the railway line when a train was approaching and these were squashed to about twice their size.

The thicket adjacent to the bridge was an excellent spot for building dens.

Of the big houses between the bridge and Hullbridge Road, I think the one nearest the railway was a smallholding, there was one occupied by a Miss King, Mr Dales, which I think had a coachhouse at the rear. I cannot recall anything about the other except the end one which always had a large rocking horse on the front verandah. There was a footpath along side it (still extant) leading to Mortimer Road and a large orchard alongside where we used to scrump apples.

This page was added by Sid Barker on 01/08/2014.
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How interesting.  Before we were married in 1964 (and began married life in Upper Lambricks), I often stayed with my then future husband and his family living at  Fairland Close.  After living, until my marriage, in NW London, just off Euston Gardens, Euston Road, I found Rayleigh very quaint and wondered whether I could easily adapt to 'country life'.  After living in the same property and both our children being born at Rochford Hospital, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.  I remember I used to walk down Hambro Hill, in the road as there wasn't a footpath in those days, pushing a large Silver Cross pram with two young children sitting in it, to go to Mr. Howe's Butchers Shop which was in Hambro Parade.  Rarely would a car pass you whilst walking up and down Hambro Hill - how times have changed.  Another memory, we were fortunate enough to have a telephone and used to ring Mann's Grocery Shop in Rayleigh Town centre and place an order for groceries which would be delivered by a man on a push-bike with a large basket attached to carry the groceries.  Rayleigh is a lovely town but I do hope it doesn't grow much more.

By Lee Thompson.
On 23/04/2015
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