My first encounter with Basildon was way back
in 1955 when my Aunt Elsie travelled back and forth from Cranes Farm Road Industrial estate to
Leyton, East London, for 6 weeks working as a machinist in order to qualify for a new house. I
was just about to get married for the first time and we were lucky enough to get the flat that
she left. We travelled often to Basildon via Romford on the 2A bus to visit my aunt and uncle
in Pattiswick Square. There were only a couple of shops at Stacey's Corner, and all that
existed of the Town Centre was big letters spelling out BASILDON TOWN CENTRE. Even Broadmayne
didn't exist then, we used to go for walks where that would later be. Having lived my whole
life in flats I really wanted to make the move to Basildon, and when Matthews Butchers who I
worked for in Leyton proposed opening a shop there, I pestered them unrelentedly to be given the
opportunity to go. It then took 12 weeks work to qualify for a house, so we moved in with my
aunt and uncle while we waited. My husband got a job in Grays with Robbins Fruit and
I came to Matthews Butchers in Market Square a week before
it opened, together with the manager Ted Ellis to get ready for the grand opening. I think it was early
June in 1959. We didn't even have the telephone connected and had to use Bartons or Forbouys
phone, and they relayed messages to us. The shop was a huge success and we worked so hard
there, having a queue all day Fridays and Saturdays. Whole lambs used to cost one shilling and
sixpence, (seven and a half pence), the window would be filled with shoulders and legs of lamb,
the dearest being the equivalent of 40p. We used to give away sausages and polonies with
My house came through in September 1959, a 3 bedroomed terraced house in
Great Gregorie. I was over the moon with it, for the first time in my life I had a garden. All
the neighbours moved in around the same time and it became a really friendly community. I
worked at Matthews until I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter Sharon who was born in March
1961, but still continued doing the bookwork until she was born. Matthews also had a butchery
section in a store that is now Barclays Bank, and I did their books too. My Mum who also
worked for Matthews in Leyton, took over my job in Basildon and so got her house in The
Morrells. All our family were relocating to Basildon, my Aunt Kit taking a job at Seafarer
fish and chip shop and getting a flat in Lee Walk. Later on her children moved to Whitmore
Way, and Bull Road.
When I was 6 months pregnant with my second child, I discovered my husband
was having an affair and so our marriage broke up. It was very difficult then being a single
Mum, it was quite uncommon, but my family and neighbours were very supportive, and so John was
born in September 1963, with my Mum taking care of me when I came out of Rochford Hospital. It
was a lonely time for me even though my family were great, so when my uncle, who was
nightwatchman at the Locarno Ballroom in Basildon town centre, asked if I would be interested in an evening job, I jumped
at the chance.
|Dave Clark 5 pictured with my uncle and Locarno nightwatchman Len Ruston. The Locarno later became Tiffanys and later still Raquels.|
|Photo: © S. Crosbie.
Locarno Ballroom, Market Pavement
I started work in the box office at the
Locarno in January 1964, the weekend that the Dave Clark 5 were leaving as the resident band. When I turned up for work and saw the
queue, which stretched right round to the Seafarer, I nearly turned tail and went home. But the
under manager Tony Dow, and the manager Roy Winkfield were very supportive and showed me the
ropes, by 8.30pm it was doors closed, House Full.
I have so many happy memories of my time
spent working there, from 1964 until 1970.
We had many famous groups of that time come to the
Locarno, usually on a Friday night private function that Marconi's organised. Amongst the groups
were The Searchers, The Kinks (who were No. 1 in the charts when they came), The Swinging Blue
Jeans, Herman's Hermits, Freddy and the Dreamers, Manfred Mann and The Small
Faces. Sometimes it was my night off when these groups came, but me and my friend used to work
a couple of hours in the cloakroom so that we could then go and see them. I made lasting
friendships amongst the staff that still exist today.
|Me and Tony Dow.|
|Photo: © S. Crosbie.
In November 1964 a new guy started as a bouncer and Tony Dow introduced us,
that was to become my second husband Ray, who later started
Ray's Mobile Butchers. Tony later left, and went on to run the Martins ice cream vans around
the town, marrying one of the Locarno staff, Beryl. Our new under manager was Jimmy Vail, he
was one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet, and later went on to become one of
Mecca's top managers, at the Hammersmith Palais and the Empire Leicester Square in London's West
End. He was followed by John Porter another one of the nice guys.
I had a button in the box office that I could press with my foot, that rang in the
lights room on the dance floor. The lights man would then flicker the lights to alert the bouncers there was trouble
on the door. It was never the mindless violence that you see every day now, but I called the police on
I married Ray in August 1968 and we celebrate our 40th anniversary later
this month. He adopted my children, and we all played our part in making Ray's Mobile Butchers
a success. If only mobile phones had been around in those days! I used to have to drive round
looking for Ray, to deliver messages from his customers. Our children attended Lee Chapel
infants and primary schools, and later Woodlands Comprehensive. John followed in Ray's
footsteps and became a butcher, working for Dewhurst in Market Square, and later on the QE2 as
a butcher seeing a lot of the world. Sharon worked in insurance in London's Fenchurch
Following my departure from the Locarno I went back to Matthews from
1970-1972 on a part-time basis. I then had a lay off from work following a hysterectomy. I
joined Hepworths in East Walk in 1980 as a bookeeper/saleslady until Next took them over in
1985, when all the sales staff were considered too old for the Next image. So we all joined
Allders Department Store in the Eastgate Shopping Mall. I went on to work in the Banking Hall
there until we moved to Norfolk.
|Mecca friends reunited birthday bash 1990.|
Back row: Ray, John Porter, Me, Jimmy Vail, Marilyn Collier, Alan Collier and Christopher Bracci. Front row: Dave Charles and birthday boy Chris Bracci.
|Photo: © S. Crosbie.
We moved up to Norfolk in 1989 and love village life beside the sea, Sharon had already moved
up here before us when she got married. John followed in 1990 and worked for a time on the oil
rigs, before becoming dependent on alcohol. Sadly we lost him in March this year due to liver
failure. Sharon who has become a senior nurse at our local hospital, nursed him through his
final days while we were at the hospital 24/7. It was a great comfort to us that she was able
to do that. It was so good to see his old school friends at his funeral, and all our friends
who came up here from Basildon to give him a good send off. I don't think he realised how many
people cared so much for him.
Norfolk is our home now, but for me the 30 years I lived in Basildon will
always remain in my heart and it was good to see the Town develop so much in the years since
I first visited in 1955.
Title: Memories of Matthews Butchers and the Locarno Ballroom by Shirley Crosbie.
Copyright: © Shirley Crosbie, August 2008.
Comments: This account was supplied by Shirley Crosbie for use on the Basildon History website.