Highfield, Margaret Avenue, Berry Park, Langdon Hills

Briarley,  Sunnyside Gardens,  Berry Park,  Langdon Hills

photographs and memories  contributed by Irene Jean Hawes (Pilcher)

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Memories of Berry Park Estate 

My paternal grandparents moved from the lockmaster's house, Tower Bridge, close to the Tower of London around 1935 to a very large plot on a corner of Sunnyside Gardens, Langdon Hills which went all the way into Margaret Avenue when a small house called “Briarley” was completed.  They were Clarence and Jane Pilcher along with their four teenage children, Morrie, Ray, Win and Nance . My grandparents thought life in the country with the fresh air and more space would be great for the family. 

Jane, Irene's grandmother

Nance, Win, Ray, Jane and Clarence

My father Ray married my mother Jessie Norris, a local Laindon girl from Vowler Road on 26th July 1947.   The ceremony was held at St Mary’s Church, at the top of Crown Hill, the reception thereafter in the Crown Hotel. They began their life after honeymooning for a week at Clacton by renting a small place called “Highfield,” in Margaret Avenue, Berry Park from my Uncle Morrie.  He had bought it for himself with the hope of being married after the Second World War, but never did.  My parents rented for 8 years whilst saving for a place of their own. 

Reception at the Crown Hotel

Wedding at St Mary's Church, Langdon Hills

Life at first was very hard for my parents, as it was for most working people in those days but the love for each other got them by. The first winter in 1947 my father had to dig Mum out one morning as snow covered the door to the kitchen, and the front door had a wardrobe behind it due to lack of space. He had just got home after riding his push bike 25 miles from London having worked a twelve hour shift as a lockman at Shadwell Dock working for The Port of London Authority, as did my Grandfather and Uncle Morrie.  There was no running water to the property, electricity, gas or sewerage pipes, and only an oil stove for cooking.  The oven had to be lifted from the floor onto two of the 3 burners  if baking was needed in the kitchen, otherwise a tin kettle for making tea went on one burner and the other two were used for pots/pans.  

Briarley, Sunnyside Gardens, Berry Park, Langdon Hills

 - in deep winter around1935

The plot at side of “Briarley, where the horse roamed 

There was an open fire in the small dining/lounge room and one in the bedroom.  The floorboards were painted dark brown with handmade rugs scattered on the floor.  Life was simple but happy and the only entertainment was a radio.  The toilet was just six steps outside from the kitchen and a laundry was later added.  It was built by my father with the help of my uncle Morrie, so Mum could use the copper to boil water and use a hand wringer for washing.  Water was carried in two buckets usually with a yoke on the shoulders, from the standpipe about a four minute walk away which in winter would freeze up so news paper and a match was be used to get it working.  Later a rain tank was plumbed into the house by my dad and water was transferred into it from the buckets so Mum did not run out quite so often.


Clarence, Irene's grandfather in his beloved garden

in the early days at Briarley,  late 1930’s

Nance rotary hoeing

 I was born in Billericay Hospital in December of 1948 and because the weather was so bad and there was no way a doctor would be able to get along The Glade as it was unmade, my mother stayed the last week of her pregnancy with friends in New Avenue, the Dowlings. Mum, who is now 90 at the time of writing, reminds me that she shared a bed with her friend, Joan Dowling, who was also expecting her first child, Keith.  As beds were in short supply in those days and Cyril, Joan’s husband would insist that Mum have the good bed and he, like my father who was the salt of the earth, slept in the small bedroom on his own. When I was a year old Mum had very bad flu and had to go to hospital. Two ambulance men carried Mum on a stretcher, all the way from Margaret Avenue, into Berry Lane, before she could be placed in an ambulance and transported to the Billericay Hospital about 6 miles away.

Irene and Terry at Highfield                   

The back garden of Highfield, 1949:  Irene's Christening celebration

(standing) Ray, Jessie, Morrie,and Nancy, (seated) Win and Irene;

Joan Dowling with Keith inside the French doors;  

Irene's Aunt Violet bending over with Irene's cousin, Trevor 

My brother Terry came along in August of 1950, so we were a family.  Dad worked part time on Markham’s farm for very little pay but that was all that was available as a second job and he was determined to save up for a place of his own.  He worked all hours with any spare time in the garden.  One day he brought us home a beautiful black and white farm kitten and we named him Tibbles.  I really loved him and he almost used up all of his nine lives although he lived 16 years. We also had a good supply of field mushrooms some as large as tea plates from the cow fields, so fresh eggs, bacon and mushrooms was a must for breakfast on weekends.



Irene and Terry

In the one bedroom of “Highfield” there was a double bed, I had a single spring bed with a feather mattress and Terry had a cot next to me and that was his until he was five when we moved to Archer Road, Laindon, in 1955.  Bath times must have been a pain for my parents, as once a week Dad would fill a large tin bath with both hot and cold water enough for a suitable bath which was placed in front of the lounge fire.  We would go first and then put to bed and after this Mum and then my Dad.  This bath would have to be emptied outside by my father even in mid-winter and stored.  I remember being sat in the kitchen sink to be washed and most times it was a top and tail with a flannel.  We were allowed to listen to “The Archers” on the radio which was the highlight of the day when we were around 4 and 6 years of age and would then be put to bed by seven p.m. every night.  In winter my father would carry a pan of hot coals from the lounge into the bedroom to start the fire and I can still see the glow of the hot coals from my cosy feather bed flickering and dancing up the chimney and onto the wall.  One oil lamp in the lounge and another one in the kitchen both could be moved around. Mum would sit on my bed with me while I said my prayers and I felt safe and happy and have fond memories of those times. 


Nance, Jane and Win

Morrie outside Briarley around 1935

We had an outside toilet which was kept clean and had to be emptied regularly. My father would dig a large hole down the bottom of the garden (where we had a small orchard of mainly plum varieties, apples and pears), and fill it with the waste from the toilet, soil and any old clippings from the push mower that he used on the lawns.  I remember joining daises and buttercups and making chains in summer before either Dad or Mum mowed the lawns and I would lie on the grass and enjoy the sun, breathe in the fresh clean air, and would sometimes hear the sky larks, high up in the sky.

School was a long walk with Mum and we would set off along the path up The Glade past the fields.  Sometimes there would be cows grazing and other times corn would be grown.  We passed the turning into Markham’s farm where the community dustbins were for all the residents of Berry Park Estate as there were no dustbins on properties and any rubbish had to be either placed in these bins, burnt or buried.  Then on to the made-up road into Berry Lane and down past Lungley’s shop.  This would bring us to the cinder track (residents would empty their cinders along the path to try and fill the potholes during winter), and along to the main road to Langdon Hills Primary School, which would take about half an hour or so.  Mum would have to walk home again after shopping at the bottom of Vowler Road, and do the same trip in the afternoon to collect us when sometimes we went up Vowler Road way, up Berry Lane to the recreation ground and use the swings, slide and roundabout or may be paddle in the pool.  Sometimes we would visit Joan Dowling and family in New Avenue and Mum and Joan would have a chat while us kids would all go off and play for a while before heading off up to Berry Park.


Morrie with two buckets of water

"Langdon Hill"

Meat was stored in a metal box with wire gauze in the pantry as there were no fridges and had to be cooked fairly quickly during the summer months.  In autumn we would go blackberry picking as there were plenty of bushes back then, filled with succulent berries.  We would be very careful of snakes sometimes wear wellington boots and usually ended up with purple fingers and a few thorns but it was worth it for the beautiful berries that were eaten fresh or made into wonderful blackberry jam or jelly by my parents.  In May we would pick bluebells in the Crown Woods.  In autumn we would collect hazelnuts and watch the squirrels in the trees and then walk back across the cow fields.  We would find the occasional hedgehog in the garden and give it bread and milk on a saucer and stand and watch the hungry little critter, not daring to touch it due to fleas and prickles and if we did it would roll up tightly in a ball.

I remember Mum wrapping apples in newspaper and then carefully putting them into a few wooden crates in autumn and storing them in the shed until nearer Christmas although a few didn’t last the distance.  One time my Aunt Win came round and took us to see a house on fire off Beech Hall Gardens. It stands out in my mind the bright red glow and crackling sound of the asbestos fibro sheeting.  Nothing could be done to save the place so we watched on from quite a distance away in utter horror and amazement.

View across the avenues from the top of First Avenue

Morrie in the barley field


We were always walking as that is what you did back then and from the top of the ridge along Hillcrest Avenue it was known, that on a clear day one could see the dome of St Paul’s in London.  It was such a high point along the top looking down towards the Lower Dunton Road and beyond, with the most wonderful views of the countryside. 

I remember a special treat.  Terry and I were invited by Miss Smith who lived alone just across the road from my grandmother's back gate in Margaret Avenue, to afternoon tea and we sat at the table and had strawberries and cream.  It was a High Tea to us and we were treated like adults with all the trimmings and we were very well behaved.  It must have been our first social event outside the family. 

The path from the back of my grandmother’s house in Margaret Avenue, past ours into Beech Hall Gardens, and all the way along The Glade was painstakingly built by local residents.  My grandfather started collecting money for the project initially due to the fact that Mum was expecting me and he knew how hard it would be to push a pram here. With my father’s help over the course of about a year enough money was collected to pay for the work being carried out.  Other residents on the estate did the same and so we were able to walk without getting our feet wet or muddy.  This was the only way local residents would get anything done.  I remember walking home from school during summer seeing the local men building the footpath and each week it would grow a bit longer and took quite a few years to complete.  One day I had to walk home by myself in summer, and butterflies and insects would hover along with me and then dart back into the wild flowers and corn growing high in the field, then I stopped at a point where my father would be letting the cows cross through the gate half way along The Glade into another field, across the unmade road, before milking around 4 p.m. and gave him a brief wave.  I can still see my father in late summer along with others at harvest time reaping and stacking wheat or barley in one of Markham’s fields.  He always seemed to be working;  if not in London it was around the farm.  In autumn I remember the crows and rooks perched in the very high elm trees in The Glade and they would give me the creeps with their noisy crowing.

"The woods, Langdon Hills"

"Panoramic View of Laindon"

Dad bought his first motorbike for work when I was about four so the journey to London along the A127 was much quicker.   One day Dad took Terry and I to see a huge wasp’s nest near Beech Hall Gardens.  He went back at night and used water and carbide, closed the nest and destroyed the whole thing.  This was common practice for the time.

My Grandfather died in 1954 from a heart attack at home aged 59.  We grieved and life went on.  After this grandmother bought the first car on Berry Park.  It was driven by my Uncle Morrie and could only be used in the summer months due to the inaccessible roads during winter. 

Life for both Terry and I was sometimes lonely as there were only a few children in the area who lived on Berry Park on a permanent basis, or the same age so we amused ourselves by climbing trees and making cubby houses.  We would sometimes go four houses along to my grandmother’s back gate in Margaret Avenue, on our three wheeler bike, me riding - him hanging on the back.  The front of the property faced Sunnyside Gardens, where we would sometimes end up picking strawberries or black currents with the help of my Aunt Win who worked at Henbest's and who we adored. 

The vacant corner plot next door to my grandmother’s house had a horse to keep the grass down which could be seen from the dining table from the side of the house.  One morning it was the last straw for my Grandmother when the horse dropped its bundle in clear view of her eating breakfast, so she bought the plot which then made four plots altogether on the property.

May, Joan, Mrs. Henbest, Violet and Win on the (right)


In summer those who owned their shacks would descend from London, to Laindon Railway Station and on to Berry Park, to spend wonderful weekends and summer holidays there with their children.  We had someone else to play with until they all seemed to leave once again until the next holiday came around.  Life seemed so much simpler in those days and now it’s gone forever and only my memories live on.  

All those simple times of struggle for a better life have now disappeared and the promise of  'things that we now all take for granted today’, never did materialise on Berry Park and the Plotlands,  plumbed in water etc.  Still, we are around to tell the tale.   Now I live in Adelaide, Australia, having emigrated in 1970 with my parents and brother and although my father passed away just before 2000, Mum is still going strong and Terry like me has a family of his own and we both agree childhood has wonderful happy memories of country life in England after the 2nd World War.




Jessie, Terry and Irene, 2013, Adelaide, Australia