Made in Essex: Brian Everitt's memories of a childhood in Essex

Brian as a baby with his three youngest sisters

Brian as a baby with his three youngest sisters - Credit: Courtesy of Brian Everitt

Brian Everitt, professor emeritus at King’s College London, grew up in Essex in the 1940s and 50s, and in his new book, Made in Essex, he documents his childhood memories...

My parents, Lucy and Sidney, married in 1925 and lived in a small house in Custom House, East London. From their marriage until 1937, they had nine children, all girls, three of whom died in infancy.

The family was bombed out in 1941 and evacuated to Reading. In 1943, they found their way to Brentwood in Essex where they all lived in a small rented house in the nearby hamlet of Pilgrims Hatch. 

To everybody’s surprise, my mum gave birth to her 10th child in June in 1944, the only boy, and I was Christened Brian. My three youngest sisters were all prototype ‘Essex Girls’ with all that now applies.

The youngest of these three, Vera, was seven years older than me, so it was always likely that I would have to look elsewhere than these sisters for playmates.

I was fortunate that, from about the age of five, there were several boys of the same age who lived nearby in our road whom I made friends with.

Brian Everitt, aged three

Brian Everitt, aged three - Credit: Courtesy of Brian Everitt

None of our families had much money, but even as young boys we all seemed to have absorbed that old adage: ‘we have no money so we will have to think’, and our thinking led to a variety of entertainments for us to enjoy without any money changing hands. 

We were helped by the fact that the road that we lived in provided a perfect place for all sorts of outdoor activities because it was used by so little traffic.

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Only one or two people in the road owned a car. And as the road petered out at one end into a large stretch of fields that then ran into the council rubbish dump there was no real reason why cars needed to use the road.

Milk and bread were both delivered by horse drawn carts in the early 1950s and so bothered our activities very little and we all loved to pet the horses.

Even as five-year olds we were allowed to ‘play in the street’ by our parents and at this age hopscotch, hide-and-seek and tag were popular. And the fields at the end of the street were perfect for playing Cowboys and Indians, sometimes sharing the cowboy and Indian outfits a few of the boys had been given as Christmas presents.

'Even as five-year olds we were allowed to play in the street and, at this age, hopscotch, hide-and-seek and tag were popular'

As we got a little older a few of us suggested introducing sports such as cricket and running into our play. Running proved particularly popular for a variety of reasons, not least of which was that one of us had a watch with a second hand so races could be timed and then recorded in an old notebook one boy had been given by his dad.

There were about five of six boys wanting to take part but mostly only two ran in the same race to avoid complaints from pedestrians who might be knocked over if we raced as a larger group.

The owner of the watch with the second hand used for timing generously allowed it to be used by others when he was running.

All times were recorded in our ‘running book’ so we could note how we improved and who was best at each particular event. All runs were done in whatever clothes and whatever shoes we happened to be wearing on the day, most often short trousers, shirt and plimsolls.

Made in Essex is an autobiography by Brian Everitt

Made in Essex is an autobiography and memoir by Brian Everitt - Credit: courtesy of Austin Macauley Publishers

The most exciting event was the ‘cross-country’ race which involved a circuit of the council rubbish dump which had, as far as I remember, no gates or fencing. Runners bravely crossed streams of toxic and festering matter by means of corrugated metal bridges to reach the winning post.

Fortunately, nobody ever fell, despite the various obstacles encountered, and we all survived our experiences of the cross-country run relatively safely. 

At weekends, my friends and I would wander a little further afield for some excitement. Where we usually made for was Weald Park, a 500-acre park that had originated as a deer park in the 12th century.

This was about two miles away by road or closer if we crossed nearby fields and ignored the wrath of the local farmer who owned them.

Mothers supplied their sons with some snacks and a bottle of Tizer before saying goodbye in the morning and reminding them to be back in time for tea - 4pm-ish perhaps.

This was, of course, long before the advent of mobile phones, but I don’t remember either mothers or sons showing much anxiety about the several hours of separation and lack of communication with which they were faced. 

'Mothers supplied their sons with some snacks and a bottle of Tizer before saying goodbye in the morning and reminding them to be back in time for tea'

In the 1950s Weald Park was essentially private and signposted as such on gates etc. This made our trips there even more of an adventure, although I have to admit that we encountered few official custodians of the park and those we did were of an age and mobility that prevented them ever catching us fleet-footed six year olds.

So, we could roam free, climbing trees, annoying the fishermen who paid to fish in one of the lakes in the park, and catching newts with homemade rods in a pond we had discovered. And games of hide-and-seek were de rigueur. Weald Park was, I think, a magic place for all of us at the time.

In the middle of the afternoon we returned to our respective homes generally using the longer route back; we were too tired now to have any chance of outrunning an unhappy farmer. We were five or six rather weary small boys looking forward to their tea.

My mum would often welcome me home with sausages and baked beans followed, if I was lucky, by a piece of her homemade syrup pudding; a pudding that was to die for.

I suspect that at the end of such days I went to bed and fell asleep very rapidly, thinking my life in Essex was not too bad. Probably dreamt of syrup pudding.

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