Patch and the Ponies

A Dog's Life in the 1950's

Memories from Graham Stevens

Patch in the Pony Field with ‘Bess’ & her foal ‘Suprise’ at Gafzelle Drive

I think it was in 1950 that I picked him out of a sort of bran tub in St Anne’s Pet shop. He was with three other little furry bundles. He stood out because he was sort of dappled white with two black patches on his back; the other pups were just black or brown.

c1950: Mums Dad Charles Porteous with Patch as a Puppy

No problem with a name then, he was christened Patch immediately. As far as breed: my mum said he was a ‘Heinz’ (57 varieties).

His puppy hood and early youth was fairly unremarkable, but I do recall that on Feb 1st 1953 he was the only member of the family to be ferried through the floodwater, standing up in a tin bath.

As far as his interest in horses goes, this must have started sometime in the mid-fifties. You see, we lived at Sundown, Gaffzelle Drive, right opposite the field and stables where Billy Wells kept his ponies for the famous ‘Pony Rides’ down at the sea front. During the summer season at 10 o’clock everyday they would set out for the pony track: a cavalcade, headed by a flat bed cart driven by Billy Wells or Tony Frost followed by as many as six ponies ridden by the pony boys, this used to kick up the clinker surface of Gafzelle Drive.

Now, Billy Wells had a black and white dog called Bobby, who used to run alongside yapping a bit, but he was quite old, broad of beam, short of leg and used to give up and come home by the time they reached Cresent road.

Patch

Patch obviously thought this looked like fun and joined Bobby, but he was younger, slimmer and had stamina. Also, I think it was mostly genetic, as the largest of his ’57 varieties’ must have been foxhound. He was in it for the full stint and then would stay up the seafront till the ponies came back in the evening.

Try as hard as we might, it was almost impossible to stop him. If forewarned we’d have to tie him up, but often it was forgotten by the pony boys. As soon as he heard the sound of the hooves on the clinker, he was off like a shot and nothing could stop him.

The fence, gates, our legs, nothing could impede his progress, on a couple of occasions when barred by closed doors he jumped out of a window. Off he’d go barking like mad, running ahead of the cavalcade.

Chris, Trev and Merrylegs – 1956

People, no doubt thought he was a flaming nuisance and a traffic hazard. But he wasn’t a bad dog or even a mad dog, just a rather over-enthusiastic dog, who thought it was his duty to clear the way for the ponies by barking at any other vehicles that might dare share the highway. OK! He was a traffic hazard, but fortunately there was not as much traffic on Canvey as there is today.

One Saturday he ventured out a bit further and we were really worried that something had happened to him. When he eventually turned up with the pony cart in the evening he was in a sorry state, bedraggled and sweating. We asked Tony Frost ‘where the heck has he been?’ He answered ‘he’s run all the way from the blacksmiths at Pitsea and back’. There was no Canvey Way then, so it was through Benfleet, via Tarpots, along the A13, past the Gunn Pub and back.

The Stevens family with Patch – Spring 1954

By the early 60’s the pony rides packed up and ‘Patchy’ had, we think slowed down from his energetic lifestyle. His dog days continued till he was over 13 years and his demise was, unfortunately and ironically the result of a motor accident.

One evening about 10 o’clock he was coming back with my dad from lighting the ovens at the bakery across the road, when he wandered out into the path of an oncoming car.

Well, ‘Old Patch’ has been chasing those ‘Ghost Riders in the sky’ for many a year now. So, imagine my surprise the other day when looking on the ‘Canvey Community Archive’ website at some random Canvey photos submitted by Sandra Davies and there he was! Having his photo taken in his old stomping ground (see below).

Thanks to my sister Jenny Stacey and my brother Chris Stevens for their help with this story, as my memory was a bit ‘Patchy’ in places! [Layout by D.Bullock]

Graham Stevens

2008: Patch turns up in this 1950’s Casino Photo

Regarding the photo, for true Casino aficionados my brother Chris remembers Bob Harwood (a family friend) doing all the front façade sign writing.

If you remember Billy Wells and the Ponies or Patch please leave a comment below.

Comments about this page

  • Would that be “Bob the Brush”?

    By David Bullock (17/07/2008)
  • I remember Patch, as I worked on the ponies in the fifties along with Tony Frost, Sparky Wright, Chris Harris, Tony Mathews, Jimmy Sullivan, Vic & Alan Woodhouse, Eddie Clifford. I worked there until I left school in 1956.

    John Buckmaster.

    By O.c.b (18/07/2008)
  • The whole site is wonderful and brings back so many memories.

    I grew up on Canvey and left to get married in 1958. My mum and dad moved to ‘the Island’ in August 1939 and lived there for over forty years. I was one of Billy Wells’s ‘pony boys’ for 2/3 years but in the 1947 – 49 period.

    Thanks and best wishes to all.

    By Peter Etherington (19/10/2008)
  • Stayed at Canvey Island and remember a boy named Gordon and a mare, palomino, named Whitman or Whitmon. Would love to see more pics of the ponies and their names. Think in 1960 Doreen was working with the ponies.

    By chris anderson (25/07/2009)
  • Hi, I am Chris Anderson, born in Barking and now in Australia breeding working german shepherds and palouse ponies. Born Christine Chapman, we lived for years at Barkingside and visited Canvey Island. That is where my love for horses increased and during holidays would hang around the stables walking the pony rides for pure love and no pay.

    The palomino mare was born on Whit Sunday and became very bonded to schoolboy Gordon. Several times Whitman was turned free and she would canter off and come back with Gordon riding her. It was like something out of “My Friend Flicka”. Used to adore the Casino. We left England September 1960 aboard MV Fairsea of the Sitmar Line, I was 13 years old. We sailed down from Tilbury and past so many places I knew and loved. Canvey Island was not far from where the ship went. Remember the Dutch round houses, the sea wall, talks of the tidal flood. Wish I could live just one more day at Canvey Island and smell the ponies, the hay and hear the music from the Casino.

    By christine anderson (27/07/2009)
  • I worked on the pony rides for one summer in the early 50s.
    I also remember Tony Frost I was at school with him, in fact he got me the job.

    By Frank Liddicott (01/10/2009)
  • I have no connection with Canvey, other than I have two friends, going back more than 40 years, who have often spoken of wonderful times spent with Billy Wells and the ponies on Canvey. I see that one of your posters (Chris Anderson) has mentioned Doreen being on Canvey in 1960! It is Doreen and her brother Pete who are my friends. Pete has often spoken of the Palomino pony, Whitman. Until reading a post I never realised how she got her name.

    I will make it my next project to contact each of them and make them aware of your website and – fingers crossed – they may have some photos to add from what I know were very happy times for them.

    By Lesley Hood (29/10/2009)
  • I was one of Billy’s boys in the early sixties. I led Merrylegs, a shetland pony, which pulled a small cart for young children who did not want to ride. In the winter I chopped firewood. Often held the end of the wood for Tony at the circular saw. I drove Daisy, a welsh mountain pony, pulling a cart and selling Esso Blue paraffin in the winter. Only one shilling and elevenpence a gallon! Colin

    By colin letchford (30/10/2009)
  • Hi again. The old grey cells are working again. The ponies stood in a line at the seafront…in height order. Tuffy was a blue roan, next was Whitman the palimino, a couple more I cannot remember but last was Tiny, a small dark brown pony with a black mane. Out front was Merrylegs with her cart.
    Colin

    By colin letchford (01/11/2009)
  • I’ve been looking at the photo of the stables.

    The two haystacks were made from hay from the sea wall. The council cut the grass when it was long and when it dried we would harness Daisy in the cart and go and collect it. One day I picked up a brick, hidden in the hay, with my pitchfork… it fell out on someones head!

    Daisy’s stable was in the barn by the white post. Colin

    By colin letchford (02/11/2009)
  • Hi, The brain recalls more. The ponies in order of size were Bobby, Tuffy, Whitman, Folly, Bingo, Fury, Tiny and Merrylegs. Merrylegs was sold at Chelmsford market and replaced by Pinto a brown and white shetland who was frightened of her own tail!

    Gordan Saunders had a sister called Heather with long blonde hair, his dad was a builder. Colin

    By Colin Letchford (11/11/2009)
  • It would appear that the local constabulary were not unaware of old Patch’s antics. I’ve just been going through some of my Mum’s diaries of the time and came across the entry “Patch in trouble with police”. We must have had a visit from either P.C Birt or P.C Meade.

    By Graham Stevens (15/11/2009)
  • Seeing my brother Graham’s post regarding PC Meade has prompted me – rather belatedly to at last add my contribution to the site re Billy Wells and the ponies. I was [other than Patch the dog] the other member of our family most involved with the ponies. I looked after and rode a black Shetland ‘Dolly’ who was Merrylegs’ mother, as others have mentioned we would ride the ponies in convoy to and from the seafront ‘track’ everyday during the summer holidays – although not Sundays for me! – lead the ponies round with the children on their backs all for the princely sum of half a crown [twelve and half pence!] a week. As my brother said in his article the ‘convoy’ was always led by a flat bed cart which was loaded with churns of fresh water and chaff & oats for the ponies during the day, that cart was pulled by a Bay mare Nancy who was Whitman’s [the palomino referred to above] mother.

    On his days off PC Meade was was one of the regulars who hire one of the ponies [usually Whitman] for an hour or two’s hacking around the Island – the main thing we had to make sure was that “old man Buckmaster” wasn’t collecting Billy Wells’ bets on the days horse racing for Charlie Neale the bookmaker when PC Meade was around!! [although it was probably one of the worst kept secrets on the Island that John [I think ] Buckmaster snr was Charlie’s ‘runner’.

    The other sometime pony hirer was then ‘child’ actor Fraser Hines when he was on the Island visiting his cousin Shenton Cox who lived in one of roads off Holbeck Road, Fraser of course went on to greater things as Joe Sugden in Emmerdale Farm as it was in those days let’s hope it was his experience riding Billy Wells’ ponies that gave him the edge over the other auditionees for a part in what started life as a farm based soap.

    By Chris Stevens (18/11/2009)
  • I remember PC Mead as well. He once boxed my ears for not paying attention when I was riding my bike in the High Street….A lesson I have never forgotten. [of course today it would be police brutality!]

    He also hired a big grey gelding. One day he tied it up in its stall and as he left gave it a hearty slap on the rump. The horse kicked him in return leaving a large horseshoe imprint in his shiny black riding boot!. Colin

    By colin letchford (01/12/2009)
  • My family disembarked shortly before you joined it. We had been in Adelaide for ten years. I was 12 at the time . We had boarded at Adelaide on August 8th. Never been back. Graham Roberts

    By graham roberts (10/03/2010)
  • Its has been lovely to see what has been written about my Grandfather Billy Wells. He didn’t like girls and made my mums life rather unhappy when she was growing up. Her name was Joyce. I got on all right with him when I was older as I was a tomboy. It was lovely to see the photo of the field, that was next to the funny old wooden bungalow he lived in. I remember going into the stables and hidden away in there were a couple of old carts that I liked to sit on. Billy died in January 1979. Always smoked Woodbine cigarettes I think it was 40 a day. He did odd jobs for old ladies in return for a meal once my nan Ella had died. Every Christmas Day we had to watch Billy Smarts Circus as he loved the animals. I remember Tony Frost. In the last few years of Billy’s life a man called Jim helped him, Jim gave Billy a long haired Jack Russell who he called Jim which I took over when he died. Jim was with him when he died as it was a Thursday, half day closing and they we just setting off to get the eggs for Jim’s shop when it happened in a flash and that was that. We don’t know how old Billy was but we think he was around 84 as we have never found any records of him.

    If anyone has any photos of Billy Wells could they get in touch as I only have one of him. This is due to the Canvey floods when most of my grandparent belongings were lost and my mum didn’t take photos of him later in life.

    By Janice Bridge (01/07/2010)
  • Graham, it was me and Chris Harris who were riding the ponies that patch followed over to the blacksmiths. We were stopped by a policeman at Tarpots who asked if he belonged to us, we said no he just started following us. I think all the kids that worked there thought the world of him. The bookies runner was my dad his name was Dick.

    By John Buckmaster (02/05/2011)
  • I’ve just discovered this posting and tagged my uncle Tony Frostto see if he has seen it.

    I was Tony’s Parrafin Boy for 6 years and also have pictures of me on MerryLegs in Nelson/Aunt Lols bungalow…

    By StevenFrost (19/01/2017)

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