93. The Flooded Fen

I can only remember one big flood on the Fen and that was in 1958, when there was a big thunderstorm and it coincided with a high Spring tide, causing a storm surge. The surge came up the Mardyke, crossing the fields behind Plough Cottages, came in the back and out the front, across the grass and flooded the road. The ditches were also a major cause of the flooding, one going right along the front of Plough Cottages. I can only remember my granny’s house and uncle Arthur’s house next door being flooded but I am sure great aunt Florence Benton, the Greenfields on the end and the Old Forge where great Uncle Harry and his family lived were too. I was only 8 years old so apologise for not knowing everything that happened. I remember Granny Cook staying upstairs while the mud was cleaned up when the water subsided.

One good thing that came out of the flood for me is that we, brother Barry and other kids, earnt money pushing cars through the flood water from Fen Gate (Hatch Farm) right up to Fen View. Obviously there once had been a gate there but of course it had disappeared.

I have great memories of mum’s sisters and their families coming across the fields, having got a train to West Horndon and walking the footpath to Bulphan with their small suitcases. Uncle Ernie used to bring his bicycle on the train and then ride round the road, getting to granny’s house before the rest. He would spend his holiday, cycling round the countryside, going as far as Manning tree. It was a wonderful time for us, goodness how they all got in, buttheintercommunicatingdoorswerestillthereupstairsanddownstairsbetweenthetwo cottages,aleftoverfromJosiahWent.Mygreatgrandfatherhadmanychildrenandall4cottageswere utilised in this way. We used to be invited to sleep over too and wondered at our worldly cousins from around London.

Josiah’s father Joseph Went first brought his family to the Fen with his wife Mary and 3 sons Josiah, James andJosephandestablishedabakery atoneendintheyard.Josiahtookoverandwhenhedied,itwasleftto Uncle Harry and he built a new bakery on land belonging to The Old Forge. The original bakery became a shed.JosiahalsohadanalehousewheretheGreenfieldslaterlived,convertedbacktoahouse.Healsosold coal, I presume he bought more than he needed for the oven. His brother Joe had a shop built in the front gardenofNo.4whereJosiahandwifeJanelivedandlaterFlorence,oneofhisdaughtersandPhillipBenton her husband. This cottage stayed in the family until Alice Benton died in 2008. My uncle Arthur brought the middletwocottages,oneforhimandAuntieGwenandtheotherformyGrannyCook.Theyweresoldofflater. Grannydiedin December1958andUncleArthuracoupleofyearslater.Ihadachancetotakethemoverwhen Imarriedin1962butdeclined.Ialwaysfoundthecottagescreepy. IhavegreatmemoriesofgoingdownChina LanetoSloughHousefarmwheretheCalderbankslivedandthenoverthefieldsbeyond.AlsogoingtoHatch FarmwheretheHamptonslived,watchinganearlyTVwithCecilandwatchinghisdadmilkthecows.Granny wouldsendmeoverwitha jugtogetsomemilkstraightfromthecow,stillwarmandwedrankit. SundayteatimeatGranny’sinthesummermeanthearingthemansellingseafood,ringinghisbellandbeingsentout tobuywinkles,cockles,shrimpsandcrabmeat.Oh,thejoyofsittingroundthetablewithourpins,extricating thewinkles,eatenwithbrownbreadandbutter.Whatjoy!

OthermemoriesoftheFenareplayingcricket,footballandIvanandNormanGottsbringingtheiroldhorseforthe children to ride. This was quite a sociable place although it had been more so in the past with the Old Post Office, the Alehouse, The Bakery, The Forge and Joe Went’sshop. I was also told that during WW2,the Fen wasduguptogrowvegetablesforthewareffort.Ikeepreferringto TheFenbutthisspecificallyreferstothe grass area at the front of Plough Cottages. Someone once told me that this was the Village Green but have never had that confirmed but it certainly was the heart of the village, despite the church being a fair distance, butthenIknowLordsoftheManorlikedthechurchnexttotheManorHouseandStMary’scertainlywasonly justacrosstheroadfromit.

Talking of church, the Wents were Peculiars, an offshoot of the Wesleyan church. In fact, Joseph Went Snr wasapreacheraswellasabaker.JosiahchangedallthatwhenafterthebirthofhisyoungestchildDorothy,hetookall1OchildrentoStMary’sandhadthemallchristenedintheChurchofEngland.Therewasquiteabit ofscandalregardingJosiahbutIwon’tgointothathere.

GettingbacktotheOldForge,therewasatrapdoorinthefloorofthefrontroom.IwastoldbymycousinBay WentandFrankEdwards,thatwhenthebuildingwasaForge,theywouldcoolthemetalworkbydippingit into thewaterintheditchthatranunderneaththebuilding.BulphanFenwascrisscrossedbyditchesgoingbackas farasRomantimes,whentheywouldcomedowntheThames,uptheMardykewhichtheywidenedandthen putting the cargo into smaller rowing boats to reach farms along the ditches. They would bring sawdust and manureforuseonthefields,takingbacktheproducetoLondon.ThisIreadinabookcalledTheEstuary.

EventhenameBulphan,ithasnothingtodowithbullsontheFenbutoriginally wasBurghfen,meaning fortressontheFen.Thisaccordingtomybook,wouldhavebeenaRomanwoodenfortress.Overthe years,thismorphedintoBulphanorBulvan,whichthisishowitshouldbepronouncedcorrectly.History lessonover.

I have wonderful memories of The Harrow, jumping off the bridge near the pub into the Mardyke, riding our bikespastthepub,eventuallyendingupwithgoingpastTheElmswheretheBronsdonslivedandintoChurch Lane,soridinginacircle.Therewereafewhousesalongthisroute,wonderiftheyarestillthere. Werodeour bicycles across the Fen, up the hill to North Ockendon, where we left our bikes at the Forge catching a bustoRomfordormaybeUpminster.Ihadsuchawildbutsafechildhood,somuchfreedom.IthinkIwasvery luckytohavehadthischildhood.Ofcourse,havinglotsofrelativeshelped.ApparentlywhenIwasverysmall, I followed Uncle Harry everywhere at the Bakery. There was a young German prisoner of war working there and I used to say “I’m fwee in May” and he would say so am I”. I went in and out of all the family houses all thetime,untiltheygotfedupwithme butingeneralIwaswelltoleratedoratleastIhopeso.

Story writer/provider
Ann Fincher

Flag Designer
Jo Beal

Painter(s)
Kinetika Artists

Landscape Character Area
Thurrock Reclaimed Fen

Thames Chase Trust, Pike Lane
Upminster, Essex RM14 3NS

01708 642970
landofthefanns@thameschase.org.uk

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