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Childhood memories of Bowers Gifford, North Benfleet and Pitsea - Part 3
by John Wernham

Watching the pylons go up

     In the 1950s the whole country was dotted with giant electricity pylons due to the formation of the National Grid. As a young child I was fascinated by the building of these pylons. I used to cycle down to Bowers Marshes to watch these men working so high up in the air. I can remember they had no safety harnesses (what would the health and safety people say about that today!) As far as I know no one ever fell off. The overhead cables were pulled from pylon to pylon by two Field Marshal caterpillar tractors coupled together. As I've loved tractors from early childhood, I used to go down to the marshes in the evening when all the men had gone, and climb up on these machines and pretend to drive them, happy days!

Electricity pylons.
Pylons of the type erected over Bowers marshes in the 1950s.
Photo: © J. Wernham.

     Another interesting scene was when Mr Keeling was using his huge Fowler steam ploughing engines. They were based at Grays Hill, and he used to drive them along the road to the farm he and his men were working on. These engines worked in pairs, one engine was placed at the top of the field and the other at the bottom. Under the boiler of each engine was a large winding drum containing a long thick steel cable, this cable was attached to one end of a huge cultivator, the cable of the other engine was attached to the other end of the cultivator. This cultivator was then pulled across the field from one engine to the other by this cable. When the cultivator reached the engine that was pulling, both engines would move along a few feet in the same direction, after this was done the engine that had been pulling would blow its whistle to signal to the other engine at the opposite end of the field to start pulling, this would be repeated until the whole field had been deep cultivated.

Fowler steam ploughing engines.
A pair of Fowler steam ploughing engines of the type used by Mr Keeling.
Photo: © J. Wernham.

Some Pound Lane characters

     I can remember a lot of real characters who lived in Pound Lane. There was a man whose name was Tommy, this chap had only one eye. He drove a large articulated flat trailer lorry, the tax disc on the windscreen was a label from a bottle of 'Guinness'. Tommy was a real 'wheeler dealer' an 'Arthur Daley' of the time. He used to park his lorry at the entrance to Clifton Road, which was the other side of our fence. I was always fascinated by all the old scrap military vehicles on the trailer of this lorry. There was Bren gun carriers, small Tanks, and Jeeps all left over from WW2, and now heading to the scrap man. Tommy was a wonderful driver who reversed his articulated lorry from Clifton Road across Pound Lane onto a small bridge over a three foot deep ditch with only inches to spare, (remember he only had one eye), into Prices yard to turn round. This yard has now been developed into homes.

     Another was a lady who had no legs just two stumps, she had a little green wooden trolley that she would sit on. It was very low with a narrow centre board, she would straddle this and move the trolley along the road by these stumps. She used to sit under the gas lamp opposite Clifton Road and do her knitting for hours at a time. She used to travel miles on that trolley.

     Then there was Henri the milkman, whose milk float was a very old Bull Nose Morris. This car had its back seat and upper bodywork cut away to carry his crates of milk. Henri could never pass 'The Harrows' public house at North Benfleet when it was open in the mornings, and he did not leave until closing time in the afternoon. So as we lived near the end of Henri's round we did not get our daily milk till late afternoon. My Mother got round this by having a pint of milk delivered in the morning from 'The Dairy' which was opposite 'Pound Lane Post Office', and was run by a Mr Hodges, who used to deliver the milk on an old trade bike. The reason why my Mother didn't 'sack' Henri, was his father had been a good customer and friend when she ran Clifton Stores, so she did not want to get Henri into trouble.

     Another character was Ben, a short tubby man, who was always dressed in a light green tweed three piece suit and a matching pork pie hat. He came down from London most weekends to visit his mother, but spent most of the time in `The Gun Inn` at Bowers Gifford. After closing time you would see him staggering down Pound Lane, then all of a sudden he would fling his arms around in the air trying to keep his balance, then fall flat on his back. This was repeated several times until he reached his mothers home, the funny thing was he never seemed to hurt himself. Great days!

Title: Childhood memories of Bowers Gifford, North Benfleet and Pitsea by John Wernham.

Copyright: © John Wernham, May - August 2009.

Comments: This account was supplied by John Wernham for use on the Basildon History website.

Page added: May 2009
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