Article by Laurie Street
Situated to the north and south of Little Wakering Road at it’s junction with Barrow Hall Road at the border of Great and Little Wakering a row of Council Houses were built circa 1930. They were named VICTORY COTTAGES to commemorate victory in the First World War. The junction had a grass island in the centre. The cottages faced east; there were no buildings opposite, the view stretched across open fields to Foulness Island.
A long line of giant Elm Trees stood alongside the road outside Victory Cottages and extended beyond Victory Cottages and passed ‘The Puggy’ (An historical Icon in it’s own right.) This was more correctly called a ‘Pug Mill’ or a quarry used to dig out yellow clay or PUG to us locals. Deep shafts had been dug to store water to wash the clay. A mill had been built which consisted of a carrousel dragging steel dredges round inside a pit, driven by a horse walking round in circles. This washed the pug and turned it into liquid called ‘MARM’. This was pumped to Baldwins where the marm was allowed to dry, mixed with breeze and made into yellow stock bricks.
The puggy always flooded in winter and made a good skating rink for the kids of Victory cottage. Invariably we ended up going through the ice and getting wet. Health and Safety had never been heard of then.
Most of the families of Victory Cottages had fairly large families, we lived at 16 and there eight in our family, the Bridge family lived at 13 on the corner and by coincidence had 13 children.
Between the row of trees and the cottages a rough footpath ran, some kids went to Barling School and some to Wakering as we were on the border. Those that went to Barling all trooped down the road whatever the weather, the biguns taking the littleuns.
Folklore dictated that the junction was called ‘BAKER’S GRAVE’ and was so called due to legend that a local baker had hung himself on the tree nearest the junction. Again legend directed that if anyone run round the tree nearest the junction one hundred time the Ghost of the Baker would appear. Us kids on many occasions ran round the tree at the junction ninety nine times but never the one hundredth and we never did see the ghost. So did it or does it exist so far no one knows.
Circa 1938 work started on building a parade of four shops opposite the junction to be called Victory Parade. This work stopped when the second world started and the shops were left boarded up until victory was declared in Europe.
Victory Cottages can now be seen as a magical place to grow. I was born in 1935 0n American Independence day. Although there squabbles everyone really did help each other, times were hard and money was short but we got by, we grew crops, we kept rabbits and chickens for food, the men kept ferrets and used them for their real purpose to flush rabbit’s out from below ground. Today is all sounds barbaric but it was a question of survival..
We had the choice of many play grounds, across the fields was another ‘PUGGY’ where bulrushes abounded which made wonderful ammunition for bulrush fights.
This quarry fed Mill Head Brickfield which was situated on the banks of Mill Head Creek. The digger driver was Stan Millbanks and the boggy driver, ’Taffy’ Cornwall. (Why he was called Taffy I am not sure as he was a Barling Man). The Mill was behind Elm Cottage and bits are still there, before that it was at the SHAFT, not far from little Wakering Hall, now called Mill Barn Fisheries. So called due to the deep shafts that had been sunk to store water for washing the pug.
Sometimes people think the Mill depicts the existence of a windmill but my belief is that it derived its name from the pug mill there. Mill Barn did exist farther to the south nearer Wakering Common.
When Victory in Europe came in 1945 there was great rejoicing at Bakers Grave, large amounts of wood was gathered and a huge fire lit in the centre of the junction, everyone danced round the fire but not sufficient times to cause the Baker’s Ghost to appear. So Baker’s Grave has not given up its secret.
The winter of 1945 came which was possibly the worst winter known for many years, there were huge snowdrifts opposite Victory Cottages which seemed to last for months. There were no salt and grit then, a number of the tradesmen still relied on horse and carts to deliver their goods, the horses had special spikes fitted to their shoes to give them a grip. We didn’t see buses for a while or some of the other tradesmen, but the kids had a whale of a time digging deep into the drifts to make igloos and tunnels.
In 1947/8 Barling School became just a primary school and the older kids including me moved on to Wakering School.
On the last day of January 1953 probably the most horrific thing ever happened to the area, the EAST COAST FLOODS, this possible superseded the loss of life, injury and trauma of the Second World War. Many lives in the area were lost. Many people displaced from their homes and countless head of cattle lost to the surging tide.
The view from the upper windows of Victory Cottages to the ease towards foulness was one of utter amazement. The tide wasn’t that far from Victory cottagers having swept right across from Wakering and beyond. The full moon at night lit up the seas which reflected from the water like a sheet of glass.
Again the true spirit and sheer guts of the local people came to the fore and so many people did so much to help save the area. The local boatmen and fishermen put to sea and saved so many people and so much property it really was amazing.
Farmers like Arthur Bentill from Wick Farm gave fuel for the boats and so much more. I was just one 17 year old lad who helped on the tiny farm barge, CYGNET to rescue many people and property but we just one of so many.
When I married in 1964 I left Victory Cottages and moved about half a mile away to the big city of Great Wakering but my heart lives on in Victory Cottages and the familiar families of the Bridges, Chapmans, Chaplins, Smiths, Days, Baines and many more, some of whom I still have the pleasure of seeing not forgetting the Lore and Alure of the Ghost of Bakers Grave.