A shopping basket full of memories of Leigh Beck (part 4)
Station Road to top of Gafzell Drive
Crossing the top of Station Road from what was Clements Dairies the next group of buildings along the High Street in the 50’s was Rouses Junk Yard. Although then somewhat un-imposing this site holds an important place in Canvey’s early history as the Bus Garage and yard run by the Nickolds family as part of the Island’s public transport system. (One of the old photos shown shows an original bus parked there) Also I was told by Bill Gower that as a young lad in the early 30’s he used to go down there and cadge a ride with one of the Nickolds brother’s lorries to get fresh fish from Benfleet Station in the early mornings, so it was a transport yard as well. In our memory from the late 40’s early 50’s, Nickolds still owned the property but it was tenanted by Mr & Mrs Rouse (family connections to the Frosts and Grooms), who by indication of the old iron they had accumulated, must have been there a good few years. In one place a fully grown Elderberry tree had grown straight through the remains of a motor-bike.
The little bungalow that Rouse occupied was built solely of corrugated iron, painted a dull fawn colour with patches of rust which were co-ordinated with the piles of scrap-iron which seem to almost overwhelm it. The entrance to the yard from the High Street was a very solid concrete slope built over the piped ditch and to its right (West) was a low showroom type of building with dusty shop front windows which faced onto the edge of the open ditch. As kids, we used to creep along the edge of the ditch and peer through the dusty windows, because amongst the various items of Victorian and Edwardian furniture inside were several of those glass domes containing stuffed birds whose exotic plumage still retained its magnificent bright colours!
By the late 50’s after Rouse’s departure Ralph Nickolds and his wife moved into the bungalow cleared the yard and set up his coal delivery business with at least three lorries, so piles of old iron were replaced with piles of coal. I am not sure quite when Ralph Nickolds moved out but the Coal Yard was there for some time and the bungalow was rented to a young couple, the lady’s name was Elizabeth, and my mum delivered her daughter Lee-Anne who then became her God-Daughter. (I am sorry I cannot remember the surname) They emigrated to Vancouver, Canada and Lee-anne kept in touch with my mum for many years.
By the mid 60s Ralph Nickolds sold the site to Rodney Hall (Halcon) who initially used it for his base for re-fitting Woolworths and British Home Stores, nationwide. Then Rodney re-developed the whole site with the buildings as there today (including basement) and after some time renamed it ‘Holmes Bros’ after the original Canvey Hardware Store but with the Halcon influence Boat Chandlery was added.
Actually, at the time of Holmes Bros an extension was added to the eastern end of the store. Even in the 80s paraffin was still sold. I remember a large sign for ‘Aladdin Paraffin’ and if you wanted some, they used to call ‘a lad in’ from the back to serve you. I think his name was Tony! The Halcon retail experience on the site came to an end in 1992 and probably just before that the extension was divided into two units, the one on the corner was a pram and baby wear shop and the other (as it is today) became the ‘Bookmakers’the main body of the building was converted to a small shopping arcade of several units and went under the title of ‘Regency Mews’. The units initially were: Gary Durant (G.M.D) at the back (Lawnmower sales and repairs etc), Gary’s brother-in-law(electric motors), a small pet shop, Barrett’s Bloomers (Plants and Garden Goods) run by Robert and Joan their son Paul and his wife, Pettits Electrical, a TV shop and also a Card Shop (wrapping paper, Novelty items).
G.M.D. also had the use of the basement for storage. In the yard ‘Ron Spink’ had a portacabin (virtually on the site of the original bungalow) selling second hand tools and all sorts of bits and pieces. Eventually after several of the units closed GMD expanded into the main part of the store and Barretts remained on the right hand side (West) and for a time they included the Pets and Animal Food.
In the early 2000’s Robert and Joan took their well earned retirement and now the whole site (with the exclusion of the Bookies) is a GMD Enterprise. Thanks to Gary and Sandra Durant for extra info and keeping this a lively shopping area. I really can’t finish this section without mentioning ‘Tony Banks’ a history of these shops and area would not be complete without him.
The next building along the High Street (right opposite the bakery parade) was ‘Old Dunmow’. This was a big long wooden house alongside which a gravel path used to run down to our house ‘Sundown’. With its boarded up windows and faded, flaking blue paint, this might have been seen as the archetype ‘Haunted House’ but to us as youngsters in the 50’s it was a virtual treasure trove. Although it was always locked up we somehow used to gain entry by crawling in at ground level at the Gafzelle Drive end. The only purpose the building ever served was as a store for discarded goods bought by Grandpa Stevens at various auctions but amongst all the junk there were tea-chests full of cigarette cards and Victorian and Edwardian scrap book cut-outs. We (my brother Chris and I)even found an old cello which we re-strung with a curtain wire and used as a new form of percussion instrument, fulfilling our early musical aspirations with jamming sessions in ‘Old Dunmow’. Also playing a home-made guitar made from a toffee tin. ‘What a racket!’
More recently I have tried to find out something of the previous history of ‘Old Dunmow’ or ‘Dunmow House’ to give its proper title, but with little success. From the date inscribed on its chimney it was built on 1910 in the heyday of the development of the resort of ‘Canvey-on-sea’. I have enquired but nobody from my dad’s generation remembers it being a residence and I don’t even know when my grandfather bought it. There is a photo in existence from, probably the 1930s, with the sign ‘Eastons Greengrocers’ attached to an extension of the western end of the property. The ‘Easton Estate’ comprised of land and buildings from the High Street to at least 200 yards down Gafzelle Drive. The only other reference I have found was in old planning records with an application for another building elsewhere from a ‘Mr Bird of Dunmow House, Leigh Beck’. Presumably in its day it would have been quite an imposing property. We can’t be precise about the date but the old house was pulled down in the mid to late 50’s and the site became overgrown with bind-weed eventually to become the front garden of a ‘New Dunmow’ house.