Unexplained Mystery's of Bowers Gifford and North Benfleet|
|by John Wernham|
|The Secret Tunnel.|
The Old Hall at North Benfleet had been derelict for several years when my
mother used to play in there as a child with her sister Doris in the 1920s. She used to tell me
story's of finding secret rooms behind the large fireplaces, reached by false walls in the
cupboards on either side of the fireplace. And also of a tunnel that ran from Dolce Dolman
cottage to the Old Hall, and another one that ran to Sadlers Hall, Bowers Gifford.
After my mother died a few years ago, I was going through some old school
photos of my mothers class at North Benfleet school, and I wondered who the other children were
in the photo.
|North Benfleet school photo from the year 1922.|
My mother is in the middle row third from left & Elsie Norman is in the front row 5th from left.
|Photo: © J. Wernham.
My mother always used to tell me stories of all the things she used to get up to
with her friend `Dodger` Jennings, she was nick named `Dodger`as she was always dodging classes
she did not like. I knew this girl was in my mothers class, and in this photo, as my mother
had pointed her out to me, but over the years I had forgotten. I knew there was only one person
who was still living in that photo that could tell me the names of the children in that
class. She was the youngest in the class, her name was Elsie Norman, who now was over
ninety. I paid a visit to the late Miss Norman in Pound Lane in May 2002, and she very kindly
informed me of all the names in the photo. The conversation turned to the secret tunnel at
North Benfleet Hall, and Miss Norman surprised me by saying she had been making a study of this
tunnel for many years. She showed me photo's taken from the air of the area, and you could
clearly see the pale line of the tunnel from North Benfleet Hall towards the roundabout at
Sadlers Hall Farm, Bowers Gifford, (sadly this photo was thrown away after Miss Norman
died). When the Sadlers Hall Farm roundabout was being built for the new A130, the contractors
did break into a tunnel, but thought it was an old drain and filled it in.|
The Missing Head.
In the 1960s four
men in a Austin Mini (which was a very small car) were traveling after dark from Southend to
London on the A127, which is a duel carriageway trunk road. As they approached the Pound
Lane / Cranfield Park Road intersection (now no longer there) a long articulated lorry had
pulled across the up lane, from Pound Lane, and was waiting for a space in the traffic on the
down lane. The lorry's trailer had lights on the rear but none on the sides, this trailer
completely blocked the up lane of the A127. The driver of the Mini who was traveling at some
speed did not see the trailer blocking his path until it was too late to stop. The car went
under the trailer slicing off its roof and decapitating the heads of the men. Although four
decapitated body's were in the car only three heads were ever found!
Who or what, was ringing the church bells?
On the 6th May 1958 just before dusk, I was sitting in the garden, when I
heard the bells start ringing from All Saints Church in North Benfleet. As I knew one of the
bells was cracked, and was not used and the rope had been removed, I knew something was
Grabbing my mothers bicycle I peddled frantically up to the church. The bells were still
ringing as I reached the church gate. As I ran up the church path they stopped, I tried the
only door but it was locked. It was all very silent and eerie. I banged on the door and called
out, but there was no answer. I looked through the key hole but could see nothing as it was
dark inside. I walked round the outside of the church to see if anyone had broken in through
the windows, but they were all ok. There was only one key for the door, and this key was held
by the church warden who was a farmer in Burnt Mills Road. I quickly made my way to this farm
and told him what had happened.
|All Saints Church, North Benfleet.|
|Photo: © John Winfield.
He said no one had borrowed the key that night, and it was
still hanging on the hook by his door.
We got into his car and drove up to the church, he
unlocked the door and went in, but the church was empty, there was no one to be seen. The bell
rope was tied up in its proper place, and everything was normal. So who, or what, had been
ringing those bells?
|The interior of All Saints Church, North Benfleet.|
I remember the organist when I attended Sunday service's was Mrs Thomas.
|Photo: © (Scan) Basildon History Online.
A Perfume Remembered.|
When my sister Hazel was born in the summer of 1953, a young 16 year old
girl called Ann use to come and visit my mother. Her parents had just brought Clifton
Stores. Ann helped my mother to look after Hazel, washing her, changing nappy's, taking her out
in the pram, etc, etc. When I was not at school I used to go with Ann on these walks, sometimes
we would go down to Bowers marshes, or along a bridleway called Green Lanes at North Benfleet,
or just to the top of Pound Lane and back. As it was summer time Ann always used a suntan
cream called `Cooltan` which had a very unusual perfume to it. We became friends and would
often go down to Howard's Park in Pitsea and play on the swings and the seesaw or the
roundabout. In 1955 Ann's parent's sold the shop and moved to Shenfield near Brentwood, and I
lost touch with her.
In 1989 I heard that an old workmate of mine had died and was buried in the
churchyard of St. Mary The Virgin at Shenfield. On a very hot and sunny day in August of that
year I visited this church to pay my respect to my old friend. I did not know where his grave
was and I began searching, finally finding it on the South side of the churchyard. After
putting some flowers on his grave I made my way back, I noticed there was a faint perfume in the
air. After looking inside the church and signing the visitors book I left. I got back to my
car when it suddenly dorned on me where I had smelt that perfume before, it was `Cooltan` the
suncream my childhood friend Ann had used. I returned to the churchyard to see if anyone was
there, but as before the church and churchyard was empty, but I could still smell the
`Cooltan`. I started to look at the gravestones where I was standing, what I saw made the hairs
stand up on my neck. There in front of me was Ann's grave, she had died in 1981 aged 44. She
did not want me to leave that churchyard without knowing she had died. I returned later with
Title: Unexplained Mystery's of Bowers Gifford and North Benfleet by John Wernham.
Source: John Wernham. Copyright ©John Wernham, July 2009.
Comments: This account was supplied by John Wernham for use on the Basildon History website.