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Childhood memories of Bowers Gifford, North Benfleet and Pitsea - Part 2
by John Wernham

Pound Lane

     In the early 1950s in Pound Lane, Bowers Gifford, the GPO (General Post Office) as it was called in those days, decided to replace the overhead telephone wires with underground cables. They started digging the trench from the bottom of Pound Lane in about 1953. Back then trenches were dug in the road, first by marking out the width and length with chalk, then using a pneumatic drill with a slim wide tip, to brake the road surface along this line. Behind this drill was another drill, braking the surface between the lines into small lumps, then came men with picks and shovels to dig the trench, (no JCBs or Mini Diggers back then!). There was also a pump to remove the water from the trench to be discarded in the nearby ditch.

Pound Lane, North Benfleet.
Dulci Doman, Pound Lane, North Benfleet looking towards Bowers Gifford c.1920s.
Note the Model 'T' Ford in the background.
Photo: © J. Wernham.

     Each day an hour before dusk, a night watchman would start to light up his paraffin road lamps. These were square with oval tops from which protruded a large hooked handle. Painted red, these lamps had large red lenses on three sides, the forth side was a door to get to the fount and burner. The night watchman had a little green canvas shelter with a bench to sit on, lit by a glowing oil hurricane lamp. Outside this hut was a coke brazer (fire basket), with a large cast iron kettle simmering on the hot coals. On most nights I used to go and help this old man to put the lamps out along the edge of the trench, which was to warn people of the deep trench when darkness fell, (back then the whole of Pound Lane was only lit by a few gas street lamps, seven I think.) Afterwards he would go back to his shelter where he would proceed to make tea in a blue enameled teapot. With his mug of tea made, he would then light up his pipe, and the air was filled with the sweet smell of tobacco smoke mingling in with the pungent smell of paraffin oil lamps. After the pipes which had four sections inside were placed in the trench, it was filled in, then rolled flat by a large steam roller. This roller was parked at night in the wide entrance to Cornwall Road.

     As it was only a short distance from my home, in the evening I used to visit this lovely green and black and polished brass steam roller. The smell of burning coal, hot oil, and steam, and listening to the crackle of the dampened down fire, which would be brought back to life the following morning, to make steam for the days work.

     At regular intervals were square manholes where the telephone cables were pulled through the pipes. When they started to remove the telegraph poles and wires later in the year, I remember missing the sound of these wires `singing` in the wind. I can remember our telephone number back then was - 'North Benfleet 263' and the telephone exchange was next to Hall Road, North Benfleet. Back in 1927 my Grandfather lived in a little cottage opposite this exchange called 'Dulci Doman' and in later years, always liked to sit in front of this exchange on a stool to chat with passers by, (Dulci Doman was demolished in the late 1950s, but I believe the outside toilet is still standing today, which was built by my Grandfather). This exchange has now been converted into a home.

Telephone Exchange, Pound Lane, North Benfleet.
My Grandfather with the telephone exchange in the background c.1930s.
Photo: © J. Wernham.

     The gas street lamps were replaced by electric street lamps in the late 1950s which were attached to the electric light poles. One of these poles was in the hedge of our front garden, and a street lamp was attached to it, which lit up our front path and garden, quite a novelty at the time.

The 'Pound' in Pound Lane

     The village 'Pound' which would have been in Pound Lane, North Benfleet, was sometimes used as an early form of gaol or lock-up to hold petty criminals until they could be dealt with by the local magistrate. The most common use was to hold stray animals, cattle, sheep, pigs, etc. They were driven into the pound and kept there at the expense of the owner, until such time as he paid the fine, the amount claimed by the 'impounder' (the person onto whose land they had strayed on) for the damage done and the fee to the pound keeper, for feeding and watering them. If not claimed within three weeks, the animals were driven to the nearest market and sold, the proceeds going to the impounder and the pound-keeper.

     A clever form of receipt was sometimes used. The person who found the animals on his land cut a stick and made notches, one for every beast, and then split the stick down the centre of the notches so that half of each notch appeared on each stick; one half he kept, the other he gave to the pound-keeper. When the owner came to redeem his animals and had paid for the damage done, the impounder gave him him his half stick. He took this to the pound-keeper, and if the two pieces tallied, it proved he had paid, and his beasts were freed. Hence the word 'Tally-stick' and the pound-keeper being referred to as 'The Tallyman'.

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Page added: May 2009
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