|Abstract||Birch is a small village in Essex, about 5 miles southwest of Colchester on the road to Maldon, with a population of about 700
in the 1950s. It was rural and agricultural, and the land was mostly owned by the Round family.
In 2022 it seemed time to write down some memories of the village where I grew up - it is likely to be a rambling story.
I have been helped by friends, listed at the end.
My father Thomas Millatt was brought up in Thorrington - he became a teacher, and from 1932 he was an
Assistant Teacher at Birch School. He normally travelled from Thorrington daily on the bus, but some nights would lodge
with Mrs Green at Heckford Bridge. My father bought his first car - Morris 8 GR1379 on 8 Feb 1939 and from then would sometimes
drive from Thorrington to Birch - he did not pass his driving test till 23 June 1939.
In the first year of the War, there does not seem to be any restriction on driving and sightseeing trips round the local
villages were common. By the second half of 1940, things were changing - the car frequently stayed at Birch and he would cycle
from Thorrington to Birch, even through air raids. Summer evenings, a group would often cycle down to Salcot for a bathe in
into the War until 1941 when he was called up and joined the Army, working in recruitment.
He married Betty, a Yorkshire girl, in Thorrington and by the end of the War the family were all together in the Wood View
bungalow in Thorrington - one of several houses built by my grandfather.
Tony and Anne were born March 1944 and August 1945. (Peter joined the family in 1949, actually born in School House Birch.
Then Susan in 1960, but that is all getting ahead of the story.)
The War had seen changes at Birch School Mr Gill had been Headmaster since WW1 but he retired in 1943 and
Mr Figg Edginton came to replace him. My father came out of the Army and returned to teaching at Birch.
In 1947 he wrote a History of the School to celebrate its Centenary TBM_BCS , and in 1948 he became Headmaster.
We moved to School House, Birch - my grandfather James Millatt was part of the family and came with us.
The Education Act had increased the leaving age to 15 and a new classroom was added for the extra pupils,
but it was known at the time that the long term plan was that new secondary schools would be built and
'through' schools like Birch would lose the Senior pupils. In the event, this did not happen until the late 1950s.
School House was built next to the school at the same time as the school, around 1848. Originally three dwellings, it had a
fire in every room, tall chimneys, a small inside bathroom (not original - still no toilet), but outside pantry, washroom, toilet and coal store.
When we moved, the old range in the kitchen was replaced with a Rayburn, used for most cooking.
The large central 'living room'
at one time had an open fire, but during most of our time had an enclosed Courtier stove.
Beyond, the Rayburn and the Courtier, the other fires were not normally lit but paraffin stoves were used to
provide heat when necessary. It was quite normal to wake in the winter with frost on the inside of the bedroom windows.
School House January 1964
The Millatt family in the garden at School House.
L-R Tony, Tom, Betty, Anne. Early 1950s
Family life in the backyard at School House c1951
In 1948, both the house and the school had bucket toilets. They were replaced in the 1950s with a flush toilet for the
house, going to a cesspit in the school garden. A whole new toilet block was built for the school, and the caretaker
breathed a sigh of relieve at not having to empty buckets every day. The school had a new sewerage unit built in a part
of the field behind the school. Both cesspit and sewerage unit were eventually replaced when main drainage came to
Birch around 1959. The only heating in the school was a large Tortoise stove in every class room, run on coke.
A lot of work for the caretaker to light them, keep them going and then to empty the ash and cinders. Coke was delivered by Thos.
Moy from Colchester and stored at the far corner of the school grounds, next to the Air Raid Shelter.
The School had a large garden in what had once been a sandpit. In those days the senior boys were taught gardening and
so helped a lot in the garden. The Playing Field was higher up and south of the garden, and was normally used by Mr Theobald of Gate House
Farm for cows - so cow pats had to be cleared before it was used for sport. School House had a large kitchen garden, just
south of the house but higher, the main part now sold off and built on. We had an electric pump to empty some of the cess pit over
the kitchen garden, which did wonders for raspberries etc. We also kept chickens up there for the eggs, Christmas Dinner etc.
My grandfather kept pigs down at the bottom of the School Garden, mainly fed on swill that he boiled up from the waste from
the School Canteen. They regularly went off to market, but on a bad day would escape while being loaded onto the lorry and
have to be chased round the school garden.
The School Canteen and Dining Room were built during WW2, partly to provide emergency accommodation in event of bombing elsewhere,
but also to provide, for the first time, school dinners. It was run by Mrs Ward with 3 or 4 other ladies, and it was country
cooking - vegetables bought
and prepared, fruit bottled in the summer for use in the winter. The School also did dinners for Layer de la Haye School, taken there
every day by a van from Lawes Garage.
The dining room was quite large, and was also used by the school
for things like 'Music and Movement'. Behind the canteen were two Air Raid Shelters (I think there had once been four, but the other
two were elsewhere and had gone by 1948). By the 1950s they had each had a door and were used for storage.
As well as the teaching staff, the school had a secretary and initially two caretakers - in later years this was reduced to one - Mr
Arthur Partner, who lived on School Hill on the other side of the road. My Mother worked as Secretary, but in later years it was
Mrs Gower from Layer Breton. My Mother can remember putting the school takings (mainly dinner money) in a shopping bag and taking
it to Colchester on Osborne's bus each week, to be banked.
In the 1950s there were about 220 on the school role. The pupils came from Salcott, Wigborough, Layer Breton, Layer Marney, Layer de la Haye (seniors),
Copford (seniors) and Easthorpe and of course Birch. Every day there were several buses parked over the road from the school for the pupils - mainly Osborne's coaches, but I think also one from Blue Bird in Tiptree.
They were mainly petrol engined Bedford 29 seater OBs, which ran many country bus services in the years after the War.
Anyone closer than 3 miles from the school had to walk or cycle - there was a regular procession of children and Mums down the road from Birch and Layer Breton before school.
6 February 1952 I was 8 years old and at Birch School. In the morning, we had "Music and Movement" broadcast by the BBC for schools and played
over loudspeakers in the Dining Room. The music stopped and there was silence for a minute or two. Nobody, not even the teacher, knew what
was happening - but then a sombre Radio Announce came on to say that King George VI had died in his sleep during the night.
Princess Elizabeth became Queen - she was on a Royal Tour in Kenya and flew home immediately.
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was over a year later, on 2nd June 1953. Decorations were put up at the School gate and the
Church gate. Most families did not have television at that time, though the broadcasting of the Coronation on television did encourage
many to purchase their first TV - it was Black and White (or more likely grey and white) in 405 lines, and only one channel in those
days. The Millatt family were not moved to buy a television - that did not happen to 1957 - so we did what many others did and visited
another family to watch. In this case, it was the Johnson family Straightway in the village.
Stanway Secondary Modern School opened 17 September 1956 with 200 pupils. The youngest two years of 'Seniors' from Birch went there,
including my sister Anne. Other Birch 'Seniors' started to go to Tiptree Secondary Modern School in 1957.
Tiptree later became Thurstable School, and Stanway, just 'Stanway School'.
in 1957 Birch School was reogranised as a Primary and Infants School - and also benefitted from a new staffroom and toilet block.
Birch Church. Christmas Day 1964
The School had close links to the Parish Church opposite - the school was a Church School and was built almost the same time as the church
1847 - 1850 and paid for by Charles Gray Round. My father was Headmaster of the School, a Lay Reader and Choir Master at the Church.
The Rector was Rev. George Armstrong - he was not keen on the 'Old Rectory' built by the Round family for his predecessors, the Luard
family. So initially he lived in a house in a drive off the road to Hardys Green. A new Rectory was built, just up the road from Birch
Church and next to Birch Village Hall.
The Church still had two services on a Sunday, sometimes three with 8am communion. The morning service was well attended, but in the
evening it was sometimes, as the prayer says, 'when two or three are gathered together in thy name'. There was a large choir at the
church - a 1950s photograph shows over 30 members.
The Church Choir in the 1950s - click on image for the names (PBA_071_001)
A memory of the 11 o'clock service on a Sunday morning in the 1950s was that two older men would come on their invalid carriages.
The carriages were three wheelers, driven by a noisy smelly two stroke engine, with a canvas sheet to keep the weather off them.
I guess the men were both injured in WW1 - I wonder who they were ?
The Rector of Birch also covered Layer Breton and Layer Marney, so George Armstrong and my father as a Lay Reader
had to cover services in all 3 churches
on a Sunday. Layer Marney had an magical atmosphere of its own as there was still no electric light and we enjoyed the soft light and smell of
paraffin lights. No electric blower for the organ - it had to be pumped by hand. There was a big coke-fired boiler down stairs at the back of
the nave and we were not cold.
Birch had strong links to Layer Breton and Layer Marney as they shared the same Rector and the children came to Birch School.
Layer de la Haye
on the other hand had its own Rector, and a junior school, though the seniors came to Birch.
I have memories of a carol singing trip to Layer Marney, doubtless by car. Basil Bowyer at Dukes, where Queen Elizabeth I had once
stayed. A lovely old house with a big roaring fire. The Soames family - carol singing was accompanied by mince pies and glasses for the adults.
The White Horse - the first time I can remember going in a pub, but then children did not go in pubs in those days.
The lovely warm interior of Dukes Farm. (NKD_013 )
At the back of Birch church was the Bailey Meadow - a large field with various earthworks. There appeared to be the remains of a dam
at the east end, probably once across the small stream. Half way down the side of the valley was a golf bunker - entertaining when we
used to go sledging there, though at the bottom of the hill you could end up in a pond. Continuing east from the meadow was a footpath
that went through to the lake at Birch Hall, and eventually to Colchester if you continued. The original Birch Hall was still there -
it was demolished in 1954 and Col. James Round and Family moved to Helens Farm at Hardys Green.
The settlement around the church was not large. On the back lane below the church - probably once the main road - was a house on the
west side and the 5 Church Cottages on the east side. In the early 1950s, my friend Ian Burns lived in the second Church Cottage from the
bottom. It was two-up and two down, the front door opening straight into the living room and just a kitchen/dining room behind.
The toilet was at the bottom of the garden. There was a tin bath.
Ian's father worked on the railways. One evening, the Squire's mother came calling.
As the front door was opened to her, there was Ian's father enjoying his bath in front of the fire.
The cottages were part of the Round estate. Mid 1950s, the Burns family moved up to Winstree Cottages. Church Cottages were improved.
Albert Brewer lived in the bottom one. The next two were knocked into one, and Nanny, Ada and Nellie Brewer lived there.
(They had previously lived in an isolated cottage on the Maldon road between Rectory Corner and the Post Office.
There was still no electricity in that house when we used to visit them in the early 1950s.)
The house on the opposite side of the Church Cottages lane consisted of a coach house or large garage, with a house over the top.
Mr & Mrs Feekes and Basil Rootkin
lived there and ran taxis from the garage. Although we had a car of our own (a Morris 8) we used their taxis for some trips, such as
going on holiday to Lowestoft. At the bottom of the hill, by the stream, was Heath Farm, no longer a farm.
I can remember the Strathern family there - a son Andrew came to Birch School. A little later the Hore family were there - I think
Mr Hore was a solicitor in Colchester - they had a daughter Julia. The house was always owned by the Round family and eventually,
after his wife had died, Col. James Round lived there. It has now moved on and is known as
Bailey Meadow House.
The old farm buildings were behind the house, at the top of the hill towards Colchester. Then there were a nice pair of
estate cottages, and a new bungalow, built for Mr Gill, the former Headmaster. He had previously lived at Birch Wood off the lane
past Birch Hall Lake, but had to move when that was burnt out.
There was a large house opposite and just downhill from the School. Early 1950s it was two houses, but was done up and
made into one house for Mrs Sybil Round, the Squire's mother. It was renamed The Dower House.
Up the hill from the church was a pair of cottages. The top one was occupied by Gladys and Arthur Partner. I think Arthur used
to drive a taxi for the Feekes, but perhaps mid 1950s, he became Caretaker at the School. He was a good friend to our family, doing
a lot of work around the School, its gardens and School House..
Further up the hill and set back with its own gate to the church, was a large house occupied by Mrs Douglass Round. This was the
site of Birch Castle.
To continue our trip up the east side of School Hill, we come to the 'new' Rectory, now a private house, and perhaps predictably called
"The Old Rectory". The real "Old Rectory" in Birch was a large house at Rectory Corner built by Charles Gray Round in 1860, and since destroyed by fire. In front of the rectory on
School Hill was a pond - a place for the steam rollers that were still working in the 1950s to stop and fill up with water.
The pond is gone, now part of the grounds of "The Old Rectory".
The last building on School Hill is the Village Hall,
built as a Memorial at the end of the end of WW1. In the early 1950s, it was quite busy, with the Mens Club, Women's Institute,
Whist Drives, a library supplied by Essex County Council and opened by volunteers once a week, occasional film shows for all from
a travelling organisation. The school used it on occasions for plays etc.,
Opposite the pond on School Hill, behind a long red brick wall that in those days incorporated the Post Box,
was Gate House Farm, probably owned by the Round estate but farmed by Mr Theobald.
It was a old-world farm, with old tractors and other implements resting out their days in the fields behind the house, waiting for us to
play on them. The surrounding fields were all farmed by Mr Theobald, a mixture of dairy and arable. At some time the farm
was taken over by the Macauley family from Hardys Green.
By the end of the 1960s, new houses were filling some of the gaps - on the approach to the church on the south side, in the garden
on the north side of Gatehouse Farm, and in the the School House kitchen garden.
There was a small wood just down School Hill from the School, on the corner with Lower Road, with tall beech trees and a couple of nice
chestnut trees. The wood had a rookery and we would lie in bed listening to the rooks.
One day, my sister and I found a young rook on the ground, that had fallen out of its nest. We took it home, fed it on worms and
put a splint on its broken leg which eventually mended. It could fly, but never far - just around the yard - and did not seem
tempted to join its family up in the rookery. After several months, it was seen no more. We were told it had flown away, but years
later we discovered that my grandfather was fed up with the mess around the place, and had seen it off.
Birch was a spread-out village. The Church was the centre of the village, but was small settlement. The Post Office was by the junction
with the Maldon Road half a mile away, and even further away to towards Colchester was the Angel at Heckford Bridge - another small
settlement. The other pub was the Hare and Hounds in the other direction, on the edge of Layer Breton Heath. Nearby Birch Street
was the biggest settlement, with more housing off the main road down Mill Lane. The Mill itself was still there in the early 1950s,
but derelict. Birch Street had the main shop - Studleys, a smaller shop run by the Johnson family, a Perrins the butchers (complete
with Blue and White aprons and straw boaters) and a bakery
(a tall wooden building on the edge of Layer Breton Heath owned by Bill Lambert).
Studleys seem to stock everything, The shop was of the old world, with only counter service and things like flour and sugar weighed out
into a bag. Crisps had separate salt in a small blue bag. You returned empty drink bottles and got money back.
We sent an order book in once a week and they delivered the order in their van.
Edgy Bond just down Layer Breton Hill also used to have groceries and would deliver, even though his main business was as a cycle shop.
There were other regular callers - the Corona lorry with soft drinks, Eldorado and Walls Ice Cream, and for a little while a mobile fish and chip shop
in an old coach. [There is more about the shops in Birch and Layer Breton in Centenary Chronicles No.3 ]
Osbornes from Tollesbury ran bus services through Layer Breton and Birch to Colchester. They were not regular - 8.30am, 10am and
2pm to Colchester, Back out from Colchester at 12 noon and 4.30pm. Osbornes also ran Tollesbury to Colchester buses via Layer de la
Haye, which would not come through Birch.
There were just a few children that would catch the 8.30 Osbornes bus to Colchester, mostly going to the private schools.
Felicity Armstrong got on at Gate House Farm, and the Round girls would get on at Birch Post Office.
This was well before the days of needing a big 4x4 to take the children to school.
The main road from Maldon to Colchester was better served with, with both Moores and Eastern National running hourly,
though only 10 minutes apart. But for most of the village it was good walk to catch these buses. There was a lane down from Birch
Green to the Maldon Road. From the School, we walked along the Lower Road to Rectory Corner. My parents thought it would be good for me
to learn to play the piano (it would have been) and from the age of 10 they were happy for me to walk down to Rectory Corner on my own
after school to catch the bus to Colchester - for lessons with Miss Smith in Constantine Road. Miss Smith was the organist at Birch Church.
I was back on these buses when at about the age of 14, I started to go to Sea Cadets in Colchester. A problem was the last bus being at 9pm -
I often had to run across Colchester, but I do not recall missing it. Birch did not have street lights. The bus would deposit you at
Rectory Corner, to walk down the Lower Road. By the time the bus's lights had gone, you hoped to pick up the white line in the middle of
the road, and by the time the white line ended, your eyes were used to the dark. For the Sea Cadets, I would sometimes cycle into
Colchester - 5 miles of a mostly dark main road. My parents certainly seemed quite happy with this - indeed in 1959 they allowed two of
us to cycle from Birch to Plymouth and back, staying at Youth Hostels. 1959 was a long hot summer - by the time we got to Plymouth we
were well sunburnt, but mainly down one side.
From September 1955 I went to the Grammar School in Colchester. I had a season ticket on Osborne's bus - in to Colchester on the 8.30
bus which sometimes was a single decker which had started in Layer Breton, but for other periods was a double decker which had come through
from Tollesbury. The bus back was not till 4.30pm, but almost always the bus was sitting at the back of the Bus Park (in St Johns Street) from
3.45 so we could sit at the back and read or talk. Osbornes used a variety of buses for this, sometimes their large coaches, or even a
double decker, but mostly the Bedford petrol-engined 29 seater. Many of these were quite luxurious but they were still running the
war-built JVX806 with a utility body and wooden seats. Sometimes, the bus would get half way up St John's Street and stop. Reg Osborne,
the regular driver, would know what was up and get out and turn the petrol tap back on. Being petrol engined, there was an outside tap,
which must have been too tempting for some people. They would never leave people - one evening I counted 52 people on the 29 seater.
I was always at the back, but Reg would know I was there and patiently waited at Birch for me to fight my way to the front.
He would normally open the door and let me leap off at the 10 to 15 mph the bus would be doing up School Hill past the Church,
rather than taking me to top of the hill so I could walk back down.
These buses had all been fitted with a large lever by the driver that had a linkage to the sliding door. It needed a strong-arm driver.
The double deckers on the other had still had open platforms at the rear and could be cold in winter. Towards the end of the 1950s, Osbornes
bought old London Transport double deckers - rather taller than the local 'low-bridge' models so they hit a lot of the trees.
There were several girls from the large Golding family from Tollesbury on the bus. At home, we kept chickens and normally would select one
for Christmas Dinner, but one year, the Golding girls suggested to a few of us that turkeys were the way to go, and we should take a
trip to their farm in Tollesbury to get one. We did - the first time the family had turkey.
The bus was also used for trips into Colchester for Saturday Morning Pictures, thought Gilbert Osborne did not think his Season Ticket
should apply to this. The pictures were in the Playhouse in St John's Street, later to be the ABC, but now back to the name Playhouse
as a Wetherspoons that is not greatly changed inside.
A day out for some Birch people, was to catch the Osbornes' midday bus from Colchester down as far as Wigborough Kings Head. They would have
a drink or two, before catching a bus into Colchester via Layer - they could do their shopping and come back to Birch on the 4.30pm bus.
The Kings Head in Wigborough is long-closed, and Osbornes ran out of family so they sold out to Hedingham - but you can still catch a Hedingham bus out
to Tollesbury for a drink in the Kings Head - on the Square, where the bus terminates. The pub is unspoilt by progress and it is a
pleasant trip back in time.
Doctor Poles was the village Doctor for about 30 years. He had gone into
partnership with Dr Basil Cooke who lived and worked in Lexden.
Doctor Poles was away in the Army during WW2 and his son Anthony Poles can remember that Dr Cooke appeared every Thursday afternoon
at "Byways" (their house and surgery in Mill Lane) for tea and surgery/rounds.
The partnership continued for some years after the war. The Poles' house "Byways", was the first house on the north side as you go down
Mill Lane from Birch Street. The surgery was at the back of the house and had electricity but no running water. The practice covered Birch,
Layer Breton, Tiptree , Layer de la Haye, Layer Marney. In the years after WW2, food was in short supply, and grateful patients often arrived
at the surgery bearing rabbits, chickens, assorted vegetables.
While Dr Poles was in Egypt during the War, he met a young George Armstrong, probably a chaplain in the Army.
They must have been discussing life after the War, and George was not sure what he was going to do. Dr Poles suggested that George come to
Birch - a nice village in Essex. George Armstrong did come to Birch ...
In the 1950s, Dr Poles built a new house with a surgery, on Birch Street almost opposite the end of Mill Lane - "Fields End".
Dr Henry 'Gordon' Poles died in September 1965 and his role was taken over by Dr Linklater who used the surgery at "Fields End" as his headquarters.
Eventually, this house was sold to become a private residence and the surgery moved to a room in Eric Rootkin's farmhouse, just to the north.
To read more on the Poles family, with some memories of Birch, see
Doctor Poles village doctor and family
Rev. George Armstrong came to Birch in 1947 as mentioned above, as Rector of Birch, Layer Breton and Layer Marney.
Before WW2, George and Nancie (Nancy) Armstrong were at Warrington in Lancashire.
George had a long stay at Birch - until 1983. Rectors at Birch tend to come and stay. George Armstrong's
predecessors were Bixby Graham Luard from 1895 to 1919 and then his son Edwin Percy Luard from 1919 to 1947.
George and Nancy had three children - daughters Patricia and Felicity, and a son David. Nancy died relatively young, but George lived to a good
age, moving to the Suffolk borders where his daughter Felicity was married to a rector.
Rev. George Armstrong was succeeded at Birch 1984 by Rev. Peter Seymour.
Bill Lawes had two garages in Birch. On the main road between Birch Post Office and Heckford Bridge, they had a petrol station - I can remember
we called there one day and the price of petrol had edged over 5 shillings a gallon - 4 gallons for a pound. The Lawes' other garage,
which did servicing was on Layer Breton Heath - it was in a former Congregational School Room. The Congregational Chapel which stood
next door had been demolished and replaced by a house. The garage has now become a house, still quite recognisable, as is the former Manse to the East.
The garage I can particularly remember is the Forge Garage at Layer de la Haye opposite the Fox. I was always puzzled by the fact that the pump that
was used to give us petrol was old and was worked by hand. The other two pumps were more modern electric pumps - but manual pumps did
come back into their own in the 1970s during the 3 day week when the the power was off for much of the day.
Birch Post Office - click on image for More (CLB_005)
Birch Post Office was half a mile north of the church, where the road from the village met the main MaldonRoad. There was a row of 4 cottages
here, and a lodge on the drive that went through from there to Birch Hall. There had once been a pub up here too - the White Horse, but it
probably closed before 1850. The story is in Centenary Chronicles No. xx58 .
The early manual telephone exchange was in the back of the cottage at the Tiptree end of the row,
operated by the resident operator, who was always first with the gossip and a vast source of information. Telephones in houses did not have dials -
you picked up the phone and an indicator in the exchange told the operator that you needed her. Some time in the 1950s Birch got an automatic
exchange the phones had dials - now also gone. The Post Office I remember was at the Colchester end of the row of four cottages.
Layer Breton also had a Post Office, probably as close to most people in Birch Street as Birch Post Office. Layer Breton Post Office was
originally in an old cottage on the right before Layer Breton Hill, but by the time of my memory it was in a house on the right further down
The Eve family lived Layer Breton Hall, near the Reservoir and opposite the site of the old church. I think Mr Eve was in the Estate Agent world;
they had a son George and daughter Jane. Jane went out to Australia - one thing led to another, she married Charles Edkins and at about the
same time Mr Eve and Col. James Round were investing in land in Australia. By 1966 Jane and Charles were running a large farm at Arthur River
south of Perth. I was at sea and was lucky enough to have a few days off from the ship in Fremantle, and spend a few days with Jane,
Charles and their young family. Jane died sadly young in the 1990s, and I went to a Memorial Service for her in Layer Marney Church - where
she and Charles had married many years earlier.
There was a large house called Birch Wood, on the lane that went from near Birch Lake right through to Olivers Farm.
On my Birthday in the early 1950s, we watched the Tiptree Fire Engine racing along the main road up to Birch Post office - but it was
only later that we heard that the Birch Wood had been burnt out. A few days after we were taken inside the burnt out building - an
experience I did not like. It had been occupied by Mr Gill, the former Headmaster and his wife, and the Dickerson family also had a
flat there. The house was not rebuilt and now there are just a few farm buildings on the site.
Birch had its own Policeman. I cannot remember where he lived to start with, but they built a new Police House for him, at the end of Winstree
Cottages (it is now Birch Gallery). He also started with a push-bike, but they eventually equipped him with a 'Noddy Bike'. You could hear him
coming - but it did not stop a couple of us setting off a firework in a field over towards Copford. He stopped and had a 'word' with us and
complained about smoke drifting across the road. Trouble is, he knew who we were, even though he never asked.
Birch windmill in the 1940s - it had been disused for some time
Mill Lane in Birch was named after the windmill, which in the 1950s was still there but derelict. Next to it was the Mill House
which had been lived in by Captain Barne and his wife for a number of years. Captain Barne had been on Scott's Discovery expedition to
Antarctica in 1903. [There is more about Captain Barne in Centenary Chronicles No.6 ]
Frank Oscar Hutton was a Birch man who for years ran Huttons the builders. The firm was started generations earlier, in 1850 by Thomas and James Hutton.
Frank used to live at 'Kia Ora' on the main road between the Post Office and
Heckford Bridge, the name reflecting the fact that Frank and his wife had lived in New Zealand for some time before taking over the family firm.
On the other side of the road to Kia Ora, Huttons had a large builders yard. They continue to be a very successful company, having
spread beyond Birch.
Frank built himself a house in West Mersea and in 1948 moved there, but his chauffeur would bring him and his wife back to Birch Church on a Sunday morning for the
11 o'clock service, and they returned for many other Birch functions.
[There is more on Huttons in Centenary Chronicle No.4. ]
Much of the village was owned by the Round family - Col. 'Jimmy' Round was the Squire, and from my view, he looked after the village people well.
A lot of them were in houses owned by the Rounds - and often worked for either the Round family or their tenants. Many cottages were old with
few facilities, though most had electricity. They were gradually improved, often paid for by selling off the odd cottage. On occasions, I am sure
George Armstrong, Col. Round and my father got together to find a cottage for a needy case, such as a couple suddenly finding they were expecting
a baby, even if the cottage was old and basic.
Our family were well looked after and would get pheasants or rabbits delivered to the house. I do not think my parents were up to plucking or skinning
them, but after my grandfather had died, Arthur Partner would always help.
As boys, we would go rabitting ourselves. Corn was still cut by binder and tractor, and as it worked its way in to the centre of the field, the
rabbits became concentrated in a small area. The plan was to stand around it with a stick at the ready - but I do not recall
actually catching one.
Then along came myxamatosis to control the rabbit population, but from our view the effect was terrible with so many sad-looking rabbits.
As children we had amazing freedom to roam the area. The local farmers knew us and were easy going. Parents did not seem to worry.
My companion on many adventures in those days was Ian Burns. There was a little stream in the meadow at the back of the school, and we would dam it
up. The stream continued under the Lower Road, under the bottom of School Hill, and then at the foot of the Bailey Meadow on its way towards Birch Park
and the Roman River. The valley below the Bailey Meadow was deeper, and we enjoyed exploring it, but the flow was a bit too much for us to dam.
Along the Lower Road, the stream was good for sailing model boats. When the seniors had left the school, the Science Room was little used, but still
had a stock of chemicals. We conducted our own experiments - making gunpowder for example - but I do not recall any major explosions.
All through the 1950s, we had one and then two beach huts at West Mersea. They were on the top row, next to each other. We slept on camp beds, cooked on
primus stoves (later gas), walked 100 yards down the road to the toilets, and had a great time. Most years we would stay for a couple of weeks.
Perhaps this is where I got the sea into my blood - I do not think it was inherited. So I could learn a bit more, in March 1957 I joined the Sea Cadets in
Colchester - they used to meet Tuedays and Fridays in the school at the bottom of West Stockwell Street. We learnt drill, seamanship,
ship recognition, how to erect sheerlegs and much much more. And we learnt to sail. Colchester had two boats - a Montagu whaler and a
14ft 6in RNSA dinghy. In the winter the boats were kept at Rowhedge Ironworks in the Lower Yard, and we would meet there occasional weekends
to maintain them. I learnt to paint - my parents and the schools had neglected this vital subject. The yard was deserted and we were free to
wander round to our heart's content. They used to maintain RNLI lifeboats, various yachts, and one year were doing a large conversion on a
former Motor Torpedo Boat. For the Summer, the Sea Cadet boats were sailed round to Brightingsea and then West Mersea,
and we could sail in the Blackwater.
The interest in ships grew and so we had regular cycle rides to the Hythe at Colchester, to Mersea to see the ships laid up in the River,
and occasionally to Harwich. We could also catch the 53 bus from Colchester which would take us all the way to Tilbury, where we could sit
on the Landing Stage and watch the very busy River Thames. The 19 bus from Rectory Corner would take us to Southend, where we could go to the
end of the pier to watch the passing boats. A more adventurous day was train up to London, down the River Thames from Tower Pier to Southend on
the ROYAL SOVEREIGN, and back to Birch on the 19 bus.
The trips to see ships were mixed with the more frequent trips to see trains - usually cycling to Marks Tey or to North Station Colchester,
or just occasionally Ipswich. At the beginning of the 1950s they were all steam trains, but by the end of the decade modernisation was creeping
in with diesels and electification. Dr Beeching was also wielding his axe and local lines disappeared - Brightlingsea, Tollesbury (largely before
Beeching), Maldon, and the myriad of lines between Marks Tey and Cambridge. I failed to ride on any of these - a sad omission.
1960, and things were changing. I left the Grammar School in the Summer and went to a Radio School in Bridlington to get a Postmaster General
Certificate of Competency in Radio Telegraphy, so I could go to sea as a Radio Officer. I was only away for just over 3 months but my parents
missed me so much that when I got back, they had a two-week old baby - Susan. It is another story for Susan to tell, but she does appear in some
of the online photographs taken around Birch School.
From Bridlington, I went to sea with New Zealand Shipping Company, enjoying a way of life now gone. Cargo ships, passenger ships, even a tanker,
travelling mainly to New Zealand but also Australia and the Persian Gulf (on the tanker). From NZS, I went to work for IBM on computers
- again, another story.
So I did not spend so much time in Birch as before, but there were holidays, leave etc. There did not seem many of my age in the village. Some had
drifted away for university or work, others because they wanted to settle down. Young people often could not afford houses in the village.
But Anthony Poles, the Doctor's son, was around, and he would take us out in his Dormobile after church to local pubs.
Murray and Mary Jackson had moved to a new bungalow at the far end of Mill Lane, and became part of village life. They also brought their
two children, Penny and Clive, who became part of our lives.
My sister Susan was growing up in the village, but my sister Anne moved away to Oxford and beyond and brother Peter went to sea,
before moving on to running a fleet of ships.
The house was never empty as my parents collected elderly relatives. After grandfather died and we had long term visits from
Yorkshire relatives, Uncle Jack Beaumont was rescued from London, and then Hilda Beaumont came to stay.
1970 my father retired from the School - it was now only a Primary School and he had debated whether to move on when the Seniors went, but found
Birch life too comfortable. School House went with the job, so the family had to move - they bought a bungalow in Mersea. It was a good
move - Mersea had always been close to their hearts. The 'family' was Betty and Tom Millatt, Susan, and Uncle Jack. Auntie Hilda decided
she would like to stay in Birch and Col. Round was good enough to find a spot for her in one of the Church Cottages.
The end of the family story in Birch ? Not really. Mainly as a result of the WW1 commemoration gatherings in Birch Village Hall in
2014 and 2018, a lot of Birch
photographs and papers have come my way, and are now on www.merseamuseum.org.uk. The photos will be saved in Mersea Museum.
Regular visits to The Fox on Mersea remind me that
Mersea is not far from Birch, several have settled here, and often appear at lunch times. Lunch can take a long time with so much to
talk about ...
Marilyn Longden (granddaughter of Doctor Poles)
Geoffrey Russell Grant and Eric Hall - Centenary Chronicles
A History of Birch School 1947
Doctor Poles - the Birch Village Doctor
Centenary Chronicles 15 - Mills
Many more Centenary Chronicles on Birch, Layer Breton and Layer Marney history