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Barling & Wakering Villages Plus
Life after Potton Island - Rene [Irene] Ford

Article by Richard Kirton

16 August 2018

Based on an interview with Rene [Irene] Ford on 30 January 2018 at the St. Mary’s Horse Refuge Charity Shop, 86 High Street, Great Wakering, Essex)

At the date of this interview, the cataract in Rene’s right eye had just been removed and she was waiting for her left eye to be done. She has now had her left cataract removed as well. Now 92 years old, Rene lived on Potton Island from 1960 until 1991. She and her husband, John, lived at number 1, The Cottages, Potton Island and they were one of just 3 families living on the island. John was the Farm Manager for Peter Philpott until they retired to Twyford Avenue, Great Wakering village. In December 2008, John sadly died, aged 82, after fire tore through their home in the early hours of the morning.

Rene escaped the blaze because their pet dog Bailey jumped on her bed and woke her up and this gave her time to escape and saved her life. Prior to this disastrous fire, Rene was enjoying and loving her life but she immediately lost everything including her belongings and the man she had known and loved all her life, since their childhood in Kent. They married shortly after his father returned from service in the Army during the Second World War and they had lived together in Great Wakering for more than 50 years. They were both keen gardeners and animal lovers.

Rene and John had two sons, Leslie and Graham, 10 years apart. Leslie died of cancer 2 years ago, age 66. Rene’s early days at the farm on Potton Island were spent tending the sheep, pigs and young dairy stock and assisting with the wheat and vegetable production. She had previously lived and worked on farms in Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex, including Lord Salford’s estate in Hatfield and her son Graham was christened at the church on that estate. She always loved to work outdoors in the open air.


For the past 9 years, Rene has worked as a volunteer, 5 days a week in the Charity Shop in St. Mary’s Horse Refuge Charity Shop, 86 High Street, Great Wakering which is on the corner of North Street. The shop is one of five locally run shops on behalf of the St Mary’s Horse Refuge in Hawkwell. A painting of three infamous racehorses ‘Arkle’, ‘Red Rum’ and ‘Desert Orchid’ hangs on the eastern wall of the shop.

St. Mary's Horse Refuge is situated behind the Grade II Listed Church of St Mary the Virgin in Rectory Road, Hawkwell which dates back to the 14th Century. The refuge provides living space, food, care and attention to relieve the suffering of horses and ponies, some of whom may have been kept in poor conditions or are lonely, not ridden, neglected, ill-treated, mal-nourished, in need of medical care. The charity's founder, Digby Saunders has been taking in horses and ponies in need of care for over 25 years with the intention of finding them a new home or new owners. In 2004, with little help and no funding, the Horse Refuge was established as a charity with The Charity Commission.

Even though Rene’s son Graham lives on the island, current M.O.D. Regulations forbid Graham from venturing to the north of the island. He has lived on the island for 56 years having first lived at Shoebury when he was 3 years old.

There are only 3 houses on the island and the bridge to Potton Island Bridge is 2 miles from St Nicholas Church in Great Wakering. Shopping trips in the early days involved getting to the north of the island taking a small boat to Wallasea Island and walking across Wallasea Island to the boatyard and catching a ferry across the River Crouch to Burnham on Crouch. Apart from his teenage years, Graham has never really yearned for adventure away from the island. There have only ever been 3 families living on the island and the peace and tranquillity of the community has suited him for many years. Even now he has no intention of moving into the village.

Graham lost his left arm in a motorcycle accident down Poynters Lane, Great Wakering. He swerved to avoid children playing ‘chicken’ in the road and came off hitting his left shoulder on a tree. His arm had to be amputated and lost the nerves meaning that a prosthetic arm was not an option. His daughter Taylor Ford, aged 24 works for Pendril Bentall as a farm hand. The farm on Potton Island currently has 60 stables which provide secure stabling for horses.

Access to the island is via a swing bridge and is manned by an M.O.D employee every day to enable boat access up and down the river. When the bridge fails, there are no spare parts on the shelf and tailor-made parts are made. There is no other way onto the island apart from boat or across the mud when the tide is out.