HistoryThe History of Ashingdon
ANCIENT HISTORY OF ASHINGDON VILLAGE
Ashingdon has been a village for more than one thousand years. It was called “Nesenduna” in the 900s and 1000s and it has had many spellings over the centuries.
Ashingdon and South Fambridge have always been a part of Rochford District, previously called Rochford Hundred, which until the early 1800s included all of Southend on Sea Borough, 6 miles south of Ashingdon. Also in early times, Castle Point District District was part of Rochford Hundred. Rochford was called “Rochefort Hundret” in The Domesday Book. Other spellings in the Middle Ages were “Rochesfort” and “Rocheford”.
Our village appears in the Domesday Book produced for King William The Conqueror in 1085 and 1086. Other parts of Ashingdon Parish listed as villages or manors were : “Bacheneia” Beckney and “Phenbruge” South Fambridge. Other nearby villages or manors probably owning land in what is now Ashingdon were : “Carenduna” Canewdon, “Hocheleia” Hockley, “Hechuuella” Hawkwell, “Plumberga” Plumberow, “Puteseia” Pudsey and “Stanbruga” Great Stambridge. North Fambridge on the other side of the River Crouch was called “Fanbruge”.
For hundreds of years after the Romans left in about 420AD, England was occupied, divided and ruled by various groups who could be called invaders, settlers or newcomers from neighbouring countries. They included the Saxons and Angles, the two largest early settlers. Then came the Danes and Vikings who mainly settled in the Northeast, the Northwest and in Eastern England. By the 700s to 800s, the East Saxons and the East Angles had been taken over by the Mercians and their kingdoms became part of the Mercians’ East Anglia. By the 900s, The Danes had taken over East Anglia, East Mercia and Eastern and Northeastern England. The Danes also took over most of Norway and so their Viking territory in the Northwest and Northeast of England was combined with the Dane’s territory in the East of England. There were various kings of the two parts of divided England. One part was The Danelaw which included the east, east midlands, northeast and northwest and it was ruled by Danish kings. The other part was south and west of England from Kent, along the South Coast. the west and west midlands which was ruled by The Saxons and often called Wessex and West Mercia. Some of those kings, both Saxon and Danish, claimed to be the king of all England.
The “Danelaw” boundary between Saxon England and Danish England was along geographical and historic features. They were : From The North Sea, along The River Thames to Stratford, along The River Lea, north of Luton to Watling Street, the old Roman Road. It followed that road past Rugby, north of Birmingham, though the Midland Gap, along The River Dee to the Irish Sea.
At the time of the decisive struggles between the two powers who ruled England, The Saxons and The Danes, there had been many disputes, claims, conflicts and battles. The most decisive was to take place in our village – Ashingdon, then called Nessenduna. King Canute had fought in several conflicts against King Edmund for control of London and the South of England. He withdrew to his stronghold of East Anglia in his Danelaw which included Essex. He sailed into the River Crouch towards Ashingdon and set up his camp at Canewdon. The Saxon king heard of this and he came with his army to Ashingdon which became the base camp of King Edmund Ironside, the Saxon king of Wessex which was the south and southwest part of England including : Wessex, Sussex, Kent and West Mercia. Whereas, Canewdon on another hill 2 miles away was the base camp of King Canute, the Danish king who laid claim to England because his father had been King of all England as well as King of The Danelaw, the eastern northern and northwest regions known as : Essex, East Anglia, East Mercia and Northumbria.
The claim for the control and rule of England was settled by a battle which took place at Ashingdon in 1016 AD, when Canute fought Edmund and won both the battle and soon after, secured the Kingdom of all England including the Saxon Wessex and their territories : Kent, Sussex, Wessex and West Mercia. As a result of the Battle of Ashingdon, Canute established full control of not only the Danelaw, (the area above the boundary running diagonally across Southern England roughly along the Thames to East of London, up the River Lea to near Luton, then diagonally towards Chester), but also the Saxon Kingdom, the area below and West of that line. After the battle, that area was administered by the Saxons on behalf of the Danish King of (all) England. The area North of the line was ruled directly by the King. Then when Edmund died, the Danes ruled solely from 1016 until 1042, after that, the Saxons ruled solely until 1066, when Duke William “The Conqueror” and the Normans invaded. Prior to The Battle of Ashingdon, what we call England had almost always been divided. It was two kingdoms – Wessex and the Danelaw. After The Battle of Ashingdon, it became and always remained a unified kingdom and a single nation, as it is to this day. Without the Battle of Ashingdon, King Harold would have had a smaller kingdom to defend more easily and William The Conqueror may not have won at Hastings, or he would have gained only Wessex, and to this day, the Danelaw may have remained part of the Kingdom of Denmark.
After the Battle of Ashingdon, Canute had a Church built in 1020 to honour the defeated but pious and devout King Edmund and all those who died in the battle. King Canute returned to Ashingdon to open the church that he had built which was known then as Ashingdon Minster – now known as St. Andrew’s Church. Most of what still stands is mediaeval and some may be based on the original Minster.
The first priest at Ashingdon Minster was a young man named Stigand. By 1052 Stigand had progressed within the clergy to the highest position within the church to become The Archbishop of Canterbury, a position that he held until 1070. In that capacity, he crowned King Harold as King of England in early 1066 and then on Christmas Day, 25th December 1066, it is believed he crowned King William The Conqueror as King of England.
THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY
Archbishop Stigand was Ashingdon’s first priest when he was a young man at the opening of our new church in 1020. He is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry on Plate 33. He is shown standing beside King Harold after crowning him. The inscription on the Tapestry in Latin (with missing letters in brackets) says :
“hIC DEDERRUNT: HAROLDO: CORONA(m): REGIS”.
“hIC RESIDET: hAROLD REX: ANGLORUM: STIGANT ARChIEP(iscopu)S”.
Meaning in English – with missing words in brackets :
“Here they give up (the) royal crown (to) Harold”.
“Here sits Harold (the) King of England.
The Bayeux Tapestry image shown is on Plate 33 “Harold is crowned King of England”. The copyright is held by The Reading Museum Service on behalf of Reading Borough Council, Berkshire, UK. They kindly gave us permission to depict this image which shows Stigand, our first Parish Priest after Ashingdon Minster was consecrated and opened by King Canute, King of England in 1020. Reading Museum owns the UK copy of the Bayeux Tapestry and owns its copyright. The entire tapestry can be seen in their museum in Reading, Berkshire. The original tapestry made in the 11th century is in Bayeaux, Normandy, France. http://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/collections/index.htm
THE HISTORY OF SOUTH FAMBRIDGE VILLAGE
South Fambridge has a long history as a farming and maritime community. Fambridge is mentioned in The Domesday Book as a village or manor called “Phenbruge”, later called Fambridge, then South Fambridge to differentiate from the other Fambridge north of the River Crouch in Maldon District (then Witbrictesherna (Dengie) Hundred).
It is believed that there was a bridge at this point over the River Crouch, which in ancient times would have been wider and much shallower as a result. Hence the “bridge” in Fambridge. It is also said that there was a ford over the river at this point where there may have been little or no flow at low tide due to the shallower river and that this may possibly have given significance to the term “bridge” in our village’s name. Signs of what appear to be the clearly marked wooden reinforced edges of a ford can be seen at low tide.
It is believed that The Fambridge Ferry or Bridge could have been on the route of a Roman Road. It is situated along the route from near Leigh on Sea and the almost straight line of roads from Southend on Sea (earlier Milton), via Rochford, Ashingdon, Fambridge to Maldon, where there was a Roman port, then via Heybridge Tiptree and Birch to Colchester, then called “Colonia” or “Camulodunum”. Colchester was the the Roman capital of Britannia until 100AD and a major Roman city and port until about 430AD.
Early maps of Essex indicate the importance of South Fambridge. A map of 1603 shows Fambridge in a line from “Lighe”, “Hawkeswell”, “S. Fambrige”, “Norton”, “Maldon”. Another map of 1745 shows a major road crossing the River Crouch in a continuous line from “Milton” near Southend on Sea, “Rochford”, Farnbridge”, “Maldon”, “Petersrow” (probably Tiptree) and “Colchester”. So, South Fambridge and its crossing was an important north – south road link.
The village is located alongside the tidal River Crouch, where Fambridge had a ferry which operated for hundreds of years across the river to North Fambridge until the 1940s or 1950s. The ferry saved a road journey of nearly 14 miles and from the late 1800s the ferry provided a link with the nearest railway at North Fambridge with connections to : Burnham and Southminster; To Wickford, Shenfield, Chelmsford and London; To Woodham Ferrers, Maldon, Witham, Braintree, Colchester and beyond. For many years, South Fambridge was a separate parish with its own parish church, parish priest and parish council. It has been part of Ashingdon Parish since the 1940s.
ORIGIN OF THE ASHINGDON VILLAGE NAME
The name of Ashingdon has changed over the years. In Saxon, Danish and Norman times it was often spelled “Nessenduna”, later “Assandune” and may have meant either “Ash (trees) Hill” or “Ass (donkey) Hill”. Even now, the old spelling of “Assandune” is used. There have been at least 15 different spellings of the Ashingdon village name, some quite unlike today’s name. Nearby Canewdon may derive its name from King Canute, who won the battle of Assandune. The village’s name may mean Canute’s Camp or Canute’s Hill, but other theories exist.
ORIGIN OF THE SOUTH FAMBRIDGE VILLAGE NAME
The name of South Fambridge has changed over the years. In Saxon, Danish and Norman times it was often spelled “Phenbruga”, later “Fanbruge”. The original village name made no reference to “South”, it was simply “Fambridge”. There are two Fambridge villages. Ours is on the south bank of The River Crouch and another is on the north bank. The word “bruga” refers to a bridge. There may have been a bridge. Hullbridge had a bridge until the 1600s. But, if there was no bridge, being a shallower river in the past, it would have been possible to cross more easily than now. But, there was supposed to have been a low tide “ford” crossing and there has almost always been a ferry boat crossing the river which may have represented a definition of a “bridge” across The River Crouch.
ORIGIN OF THE RIVER CROUCH AND RIVER ROACH NAMES
The history of The River Crouch tells us that it was an important river, seaway and harbour since before Roman Times. It is probably named after the two places called Creeksea either side of the river which had an old ferry between them. Creeksea near Burnham on Crouch on the north shore of the Crouch is no more than a tiny hamlet with two manors, a few houses and farms and a ferry jetty. Creeksea on the south shore of the Crouch is a small part of Wallasea Island with a pub – The Ferry Inn, a few houses, a nearby timber wharf and a caravan and camping site. The timber wharf is an international port for importing timber and steel from around Europe including Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia. The ferry between the two Creeksea settlements has not run for many years. Nearby to the east is a settlement previously called Ringwood but now called Wallasea Island Marina or Essex Yacht Marina. It has a large boatyard, many boat-building and repair sheds, a slipway and a marina and until the 1990s also a hotel, now demolished. This is where the ferry now runs from over to Burnham on Crouch town jetty.
It is probable that the name “Crouch” is derived from “Creek” or “Crick”.
In ancient times, the name for the River Crouch was The “Huolne” River and in later times it was known as The Burnham River. The point on the mouth of The River Crouch on the north bank is called Holliwell Point and not far away is Holliwell Farm. South of Holiwell Farm is the landing stage called Holver Stage for the 19th century ferry to Foulness Island. Near The Dome, the salt marshes are called Brandy Hole. These names may hark back to “Huolne”, the ancient name of The Crouch.
The River Roach was originally called The “Walfleet”. The Walfleet emerges or joins with the larger River Crouch at Wallasea. A few centuries ago, its name gradually altered by common usage based on the name of the town through which it flowed – Rochford, previously called Rocheforte, where the river was forded and thus the Roach ford provided a new name for the river.
MEMORIES OF ASHINGDON VILLAGE
The Fambridge Ferry – Besides the famous ferry service at Fambridge and its links to Great Eastern’s Crouch Valley Railway, and the aerodromes of Fambridge and Ashingdon, other noteworthy events and local features which are now gone or forgotten include :
The Peculiar People – The Chuch of The Peculiar People was established in Rochford in 1837 by James Banyard. It was an offshoot of the Weslyan Methodist Church. Many parishioners of Ashingdon were followers of the church. They grew in numbers and spread throughout southeast England, in Essex, Kent, London and further afield. Their name “Peculiar People” is mentioned in the Bible, in the Book of Deuteronomy. It means the chosen or special people. In 1952, they changed their name to the Union of Evangelical Churches.
The Ashingdon Colony – a small Christian anarchist group had a colony and sanctuary in Ashingdon in the late 1800s and early 1900s, possibly until the Second World War. They were what we would call an Alternative Community or Collective Settlement, a bit like a hippy commune and a Jewish kibutz. They must have been quite political also, because they were said to be socialists and were described as a “Tolstoyan Anarchist Smallholdings Colony”. These colonies were started by James Evans and they had a sanctuary in The Chase, Ashingdon. We believe the building may have been the imposing house with two towers on the north side of The Chase. We do not know for certain where their smallholding land was located, it may have been in Red Lane. They referred to their activities or aims as “Utopia Britannica” or “Utopian England”.
Rudyard Kipling’s visits to Ashingdon – Joseph Rudyard Kipling, the eminent and much loved poet and writer, author of many famous literary works such as “The Man Who Would Be King”, “Mandalay”, “Gunga Din”, “The Jungle Book”, “Kim”, “Just So Stories”, “If” and many others including Sci-Fi stories was well known in Ashingdon and Hockley. Several elderly residents remember his visits and remember parents and grandparents talking about his time spent here.
Rudyard Kipling often used to visit and stay in Ashingdon until about 1935 with his family at a fine house with beautiful hillside views. The house is still located in Greensward Lane, No. 185, called “Meadowside”. His relative, also called Kipling, operated a milk delivery business. After the Second World War, one daughter, a nurse, married and went to Australia, the other daughter married and moved to Hullbridge. He visited his daughter in Australia and he never came back. He was a widower and he remarried out there. Rudyard Kipling died in his own house – Batemans in Burwash, East Sussex on 18 January 1936.
Danish Prince Georg’s visit to Ashingdon – Prince Georg, the cousin of King Frederik IX of Denmark visited Ashingdon on 18th January 1951 to commemorate the Battle of Ashingdon in 1016 when the Danish King Canute defeated the Saxon King Edmund. The Prince was accompanied by Mr R Jorsen of the Danish Embassy in London. The Prince first visited the Reverend C A Evelyn-White at The Rectory, then he walked to the church through an avenue of school-children and adults waving Danish flags. In the Saint Andrew’s Church, the service included a hymn sung by Danish prisoners and victims of the Nazi occupation of Denmark. A Danish flag and a model of a Viking longship were presented to the Church. They were dedicated and they are both still displayed inside Saint Andrew’s.
Visits to Jelling in Denmark – Residents and Councillors from Ashingdon used to keep frequent contact with the town, residents and council of Jelling in Jutland, Denmark. Our people visited Jelling and Jelling residents visited Ashingdon about 30 years ago. The contacts, links and exchanges were intended to lead to twinning and commemoration of the Battle of Ashingdon and the mutual history between our two communities. Jelling was the birthplace and Danish home of King Canute, the King of England and King of Denmark and Norway.
The Cycle Club and Cycle Race-track – The Ashingdon Cycle Club was located on a large plot on the corner of Ashingdon Road and Canewdon View Road, it was on the northern side of that side road. It had an oval racing circuit, a club-house, a large membership and it was well used.
The Ashingdon Cycle Race – was held normally on the day of the Ashingdon Fair, but other races were often held. The race usually did a circuit starting at the fair ground (King George’s Field) and went along Ashingdon Road, Brays Lane, Hyde Wood Lane, Canewdon Road, up Ashingdon Hill and back to the Fair.
The Ashingdon Fair – was an annual fair which took place mainly before the Second World War. It was held at various fields over the years, but in later times it was held in King George’s Field and used the Parish Hall in Church Road.
The Ashingdon Tennis Courts – were located in a long oblong field in Cavendish Road behind Beckney Wood House and opposite Oakfield Road.
The School Cricket Ground – was located on or beside the half moon shaped small field on the corner of Canewdon Road, on the right at the bottom of Ashingdon Hill.
The Sub Post Office – in Greensward Lane in the bungalow called Holly House on the corner of Trinity Wood Road.
The Black Barns – in Church Road were part of Ashingdon Hall Farm. The farm has now gone, all but one of the black barns have gone, only a small barn remains. The historic Ashingdon Hall is still there. Even as late as the late 1970s, most of the larger barns remained and were used as a motor car garage for servicing and repairs. They specialised in Jaguars and other fine cars and sports cars.
The Anchor Hotel and Inn – at South Fambridge was a large and imposing inn provided hotel accommodation, food and drink to visitors who used the ferry to arrive or depart by train using the Crouch Valley Line running through North Fambridge. The Anchor Hotel was demolished about 2000.
The Blacksmith’s Forge – in Greensward Lane is nearly opposite and uphill from Trinity Wood Road. It is still there, but it is no longer used as a forge. it is also called The Smithy.
ROMAN ROADS IN ASHINGDON PARISH
Ashingdon and South Fambridge have a Roman Road (or two). Ashingdon Road is a Roman Road part of the important north – south route from Colchester to the River Thames in Milton at Pier Hill, Southend on Sea. The High Street in Southend on Sea is the start of the straight road north, it passed along Victoria Avenue, then between Prittlewell Priory and Earls Hall. then it ran north crossing the eastern edge of Southend Airport along a lost pathway north through Rochford Hall’s gardens, past Rochford Church, along Ashingdon Road to The Chase, across the meadow before Canewdon Road, across Hillsboro Road and Lyndhurst Road (West), across Fambridge Road, across the fields in front of All Saints Church, It then joins the existing road north of Brenham Farm, then across the fields opposite the Mews Bar to join the track to Fambridge Ferry. It joins the Roman Road from North Fambridge to Maldon, where it crossed the river at Beeleigh Abbey and then ran northeast through Great Totham, Tiptree, Birch and Shrub End to the Roman city of Camulodunum (Colchester).
Another Roman Road is believed to ran south from South Fambridge, past Beckney Wood, through Hawkwell, Nobles Green, Eastwood and Leigh on Sea, past Leigh Church down to the old Leigh port.
The possible route may be : Through South Fambridge village, Footpath 10, Lower Road, Ashingdon, across Greensward Lane near Pulpits Farm, Hill Lane, Hawkwell, along or beside Main Road, Gusted Hall Lane, through The Scrubs, Nobles Green Road, Oakwood Avenue, Elmsleigh Drive, Elm Road, Church Hill to the Leigh port.
AVIATION IN ASHINGDON PARISH
Early Aviation – Pre First World War
Ashingdon Parish was the site of considerable early aviation development in the early 1900s. There were several designers of land based aeroplanes and sea-planes producing their early aircraft at hangars in South Fambridge and either taking off from the airfield or floating them out to carry out test runs and take-offs and landings in the very wide, straight and calm waters of the tidal River Crouch on the Northern boundaries of Ashingdon Parish. The aerodrome was already open and in service with a wide range of hangars and buildings when it was the subject of lengthy and detailed aviation magazine articles in “Flight” magazine on February 20th, 1909 and in “Aerocraft” magazine in March 1909. The aerodrome was then called The Fambridge Flight Grounds”.
The early aviation pioneers at South Fambridge included Noel Pemberton Billing who formed the “Aero Colony” and “The Colony of British Aerocraft” at Fambridge Aerodrome.
Other early aviation pioneers at Fambridge were : Frederick Handley Page; Eardley Billing; Eric C. Gordon England; Dr Alexander Keith; Gerald Leake; W.O. Manning; C.E. Whittaker; Richard Lascelles – the aero engine and aeroplane parts supplier; Gustavus Green – the aero engine manufacturer: Mr Beney; Albert Pink; and many others.
Early aviation developments at Fambridge were : Pemberton Billing developed two early aircraft designs there; The José Weiss No. 1 Monoplane called “Madge”; The Robert Macfie (or McFie) Monoplane; The Howard T. Wright biplane; The Seton-Karr Biplane; Handley Page worked on early designs and cooperated with Jose Weiss and incorporated some of the Weiss designs.
It is believed that South Fambridge was the first aerodrome to be established in the United Kingdom in late 1908 or early 1909. It was founded by Noel Pemberton Billing. Besides pursuing the development of civilian aviation for commercial and recreational purposes, he was forming or promoting a British aeroplane manufacturing industry and a military aviation service. The original purpose of Fambridge Aerodrome was the formation of The Colony of British Aerocraft or The Aero Colony as the nucleus to bring about the formation of a future “Imperial Flying Squadron”, a forerunner to the British military aviation.
Not long after Fambridge was announced in the press in February 1909, another aerodrome was established at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey and another aerodrome was opened at Dagenham, now underneath the Ford car factory. They both vie for “second place”.
There was a second period of aviation design and development activity at South Fambridge in 1914 which had to end with the start of the Great War. Messrs. Talbot and Quick developed their unique seaplane called the Talbot and Quick Waterplane. It was developed and tested there in 1914. It had a unique biplane layout where both wings were connected at the “wing-tips” and formed a continuous surface between them. From the front and rear, the wings formed and elongated and flattened oval shape. it is not known for certain whether it flew, it probably did. But, on an attempt to lower it onto the River Crouch to launch it, the slings broke and a man fell into the river and was drowned. This part of the River Crouch was ideal for seaplanes, it provides a very long stretch of very wide and straight water-borne “runway”. It is over 300 metres wide and deep at high tide and dead straight for a distance of over 4 km (2.5 miles).
The Royal Navy was the first to start military aviation by forming The Royal Navy Air Service. Some time later, The Army formed their own aviation service, called The Royal Flying Corps. By 1918, they merged and both became The Royal Air Force. From those early days, Noel pemberton Billing was the first promoter of a military air service which we now call The Royal Air Force, something which he lobbied for tirelessly while developing aircraft and later, while he was a Member of Parliament from 1916. Noel Pemberton Billing was born in London, but spent most of his adult life in Burnham on Crouch, Essex – across the River Crouch from us. Noel Pemberton Billing started his own Pemberton Billing aircraft manufacturing company, then renamed it “Supermarine”. That company later designed and produced the “Spitfire” fighter. Noel Pemberton Billing died and was buried in Burnham on Crouch.
Revived Aviation – After the Great War
Just after the First World War (then called “The European War” or later “The Great War”) pleasure flying and aircraft developments resumed in Ashingdon in 1919. Amongst the first aircraft to fly from here was the Avro 504 three seater biplane. A few years later, Frank Neale set up the Essex Aviation Company and another aviation business was started there in 1923 by W.G. Pudney with both firms using aircraft like the Avro 504 and other types.
Expanding Aviation – Between the World Wars
A few years later, much work and flying was done with many types of early aircraft at another nearby aerodrome, the first Rochford Aerodrome – in Ashingdon, which was located in the very large square field at the Western corner of Hyde Wood Lane and bounded by Canewdon Road. It is believed they also used the adjacent field opposite Moons Cottages in Canewdon Road.
The most famous aircraft flown from there were the Avro 504K, DeHavilland DH60 Moth, DeHavilland DH80A Puss Moth, Simmonds Spartan, Avro Type 638 Club Cadet and the tiny MH14 “Flying Flea”. Ashingdon Aerodrome was called “Canute Air Park” – being on the Battle of Ashingdon battlefield where King Canute won his victory. The Aero 8 Club at Ashingdon became the foremost centre for Flying Fleas. The engineers leading the pioneer work were Mervyn Chadwick and Raymond Gordon. They did modifications to make the Flying Flea safer and better and they developed a higher powered version with a 28hp engine.
Another new aircraft development with connections to Ashingdon was the BAC “Drone” high winged monoplane.
Gordon and Chadwick went on to design and develop a radically new and modern single seater monoplane at Ashingdon. It was simple and remarkably cheap to run. It was called the Premier Gordon “Dove” using the same 28hp engine as the later “Fleas”.
One Flying Flea got into difficulties on take-off from Ashingdon Aerodrome and it crashed into the trees around Ashingdon churchyard. Being small and light, it remained stuck aloft within the trees and the pilot got out of his aircraft and climbed down the trees.
By 1933, some flying had moved to another field in Ashingdon along Ashingdon Road. Southend Flying Club moved their fleet including DH60 Moth, DH80A Puss Moth and Avro Type 638 Club Cadet and acquired a new Blackburn L.1 Bluebird III, which they operated on hourly services to Rochester in pool with Short Brothers. Later Shorts operated that service from Rochester, Kent to Ashingdon (for traffic to Southend on Sea) using the larger Short Scion II, a 6 seater passenger plane. They flew over 1100 trips to Ashingdon using the Scion, an aircraft which looks like the beautiful DH Dragon Rapide.
Not long afterwards, flying started at Rochford Race Course which was alongside Dalys Road, Rochford. Later still, flying moved a little further to what became the new Rochford Aerodrome, now called Southend Airport. But very soon, the Second World War looked imminent and The Royal Air Force came back to “RAF Rochford”, then known as Southend Municipal Airport.
That makes a total of 5 commercial airports within a distance of 4 miles, not counting flying that took place at Foulness, Leigh on Sea and Shoebury.
USAAF AIRCRAFT CRASH
A United States Army Air Force wartime Martin Marauder B26 aircraft crashed in Ashingdon in the fields to the north of Canewdon Road during the Second World War on 24th September 1944. The aircraft was flying from Amy Aerodrome near Roye in Northern France in very bad weather to their home base at Matching Green, Essex. The crew of 4 men died in the crash and a monument was erected in the field near the crash-site. The weather had been atrocious and their previous day’s mission to Düren in Germany had to be cancelled due to bad weather so they landed in France. Probably, they should not have set off that day, but 6 B26 aircraft were ordered to return that fateful day. The very high winds, poor visibility and torrential rain meant that they all made slower progress and lost bearings and as a result ran out of fuel and crashed. Two other aircraft crashed that day killing all on board, two more crashed-landed at Matching, destroying the aircraft but the crews survived, and only one landed safely, but only just, it ran out of fuel while taxying.
The heavy rain meant the fields along Canewdon Road must have been covered in rain water. That is why it is believed that the airmen thought they were landing onto water, because all five airmen had removed their boots before the crash, as per normal instructions for landing on water.
A lady in our village heard and saw the aircraft approaching very low and the engines were very loud. It flew low beside the hill where St Andrew’s Church was on the left higher than the aircraft. As it crossed Canewdon Road, it hit the tops of a row of very tall elm trees beside the road, then it hit some more elms 200m further on along the next field boundary parallel with the road. That wrecked the aircraft and set it on fire and it crashed into the field where they thought to land and killed all 4 men on board.
Air Raid Damage reports at that time reported : “An American aircraft believed Marauder crashed and exploded in field near Noon’s Farm. The bodies of four airmen were recovered and conveyed to RAF Aerodrome Rochford. Number and Station of aircraft were not known”.
(The report should have said “Moons” Farm.
The USAAF 391st Bomb Group, 9th Air Force airmen who died in our village on 24th September 1944 were :
Second Lieutenant Jack T. Hanlon, from Ohio, 0672084, Pilot, 572nd Squadron
First Lieutenant Jay M. Sink Jr, from S. Carolina, 0733236, Navigator, 573rd Squadron
Staff Sergeant William L. McCarty, from Iowa, 37196353, Flight Engineer, 572nd Squadron
Corporal Gerald F. Smith, from Missouri, 37245841, Radio Operator / Gunner, 572nd Squadron
Another USAAF airman was believed to be on board Lilly Commando on that flight that day. Many people have said that 5 airmen died in Ashingdon on that day, but we have no conclusive proof of the death of a fifth person.
He was named as Sergeant Frank Bothel, 13048052, Armorer / Gunner, 572nd Squadron.
The aircraft was a Martin B26 Marauder medium bomber, 42-96102, T6-X, “Lilly Commando”, of 573rd Squadron.
“Lilly Commando” was not their normal “ship”. Lt. Hanlon and Sgt. McCarty normally flew on “Rationed Passion”. Lt. Sink and Sgt. Bothel normally flew on Lt Dickinson’s aircraft 42-95834, P2-B, “Ill Wind”. Cpl. Smith normally flew on Lt. William Knight’s aircraft.
“Lilly Commando” was the normal aircraft for First Lt. William Youse and his crew.
SSgt. William L. McCarty is buried in The Cambridge American Cemetery, near Cambridge, England.
Lt. Hanlon, Lt. Sink and Cpl. Smith were repatriated for the USA for burial there.
Lt. Hanlon is buried in The Maple Grove Cemetery, Cleves, Ohio, near Cincinnatti.
Cpl. Smith is buried in The Lawson Cemetery, Lawson, Missouri, near Kansas.
We are not sure where Lt Sink was buried, but we believe it could be that :
Lt Sink may be buried in Glendale Memorial Cemetery, Walterboro, S. Carolina, near Charleston.
Seven more of their comrades died on the same day in the other two aircraft that crashed en route to Matching Green, Essex. They died in the two other fatal crashes at Blackmore and Hatfield Heath in Essex. Five of those other seven airmen are buried in Cambridge.
Most of the other airmen killed in the other 2 aircraft who were not buried at Cambridge, but were repatriated to the USA for burial at the request of their families.
We are not sure about Lieutenant Sink and we do not know where Sergeant Bothel is buried.
It was normal practice for officers to be repatriated.
The existing plaque at the crash site is an attractive but rather weather worn aluminium panel with the 9th Air Force and 391st Bomb Group insignias. It also has a side view drawing of a B26 and it lists the names of five USAAF airmen. Only one of those five names is correct – SSgt. McCarty. The other four airmen were killed on the same day in two other aircraft.
Lt. Baehr normally flew “The Three Bears” but he and SSgt. Demyanovich and Lt. Yawitz were killed in “Baby Doll III” at Blackmore, Essex.
SSgt. Crider normally flew with Lt. Noland and both were killed in “Miss Laid” at Hatfield Heath, Essex.
Parishioners tell us that their parents and other elders mentioned many notable events during the Great War and the Second World War. These events and sights were many, varied and of great interest.
The terms : “First World War” or “World War I (WW1) were new names for the 1914 to 1918 War given during or after the Second World War. Before the 1939 to 1945 War, WW1 used to be called “The European War” and later “The Great War”.
Ashingdon and South Fambridge residents have told us that their family told them about air warfare activity over our Parish during The Great War. They saw the passing overhead of many German military aircraft including Zeppelin airships from January 1915. Later, they saw Gotha IV bombers from March 1917 and then Gotha V bombers from August 1917. A little later, in September 1917, the Germans used much larger, indeed, enormous bombers called the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI, which we called “Gigant” – German for “giant”. However, the Germans called it “Riesenflugzeug” because “Riesen” is the normal German word for “giant”. All of those many warplanes flew over our villages, Rochford and Southend on Sea, often following the Thames or the Crouch on their way to London during the First World War. On some occasions, bombs were dropped on Southend on Sea and elsewhere in Essex. In the later operations, the bombers flew over England at night.
Even before the Second World War was declared, much defensive work was started. RAF Rochford, now called London – Southend Airport, was reactivated and prepared for use by RAF squadrons. The Royal Navy were very active in Foulness, Shoeburyness and Southend on Sea. Southend Pier eventually became a Royal Navy station.
In late 1938 and during 1939, work was progressing with the construction of an RAF station in Canewdon village 3 miles from Ashingdon. They built an impressive CH (Chain Home) or AMES Type 1 radar station with a row of four 110m (360 feet) high steel radar transmitter towers using 24 MHz / 12m wavelength signals and a range of over 190km (120 miles). Nearby they built a row of 2 (or 3) 73m (240 feet) wooden radar receiver towers. One of Canewdon’s steel towers still exists at the BAE Systems (Marconi) Research Establishment in Great Baddow. Another identical station was built at Great Bromley, Essex between Colchester and Harwich. They were part of a chain including Dover, Kent, Bawdsey, Suffolk and many more used to detect enemy aircraft. Later the RAF used CHL (Chain Home Low) AMES Type 2 systems with 200MHz / 1.5m wavelength which were mobile truck mounted systems. One was based at Walton on the Naze and another at Sheerness opposite Southend on Sea. Even later in the war, a more sophisticated CHEL (Chain Home Extra Low) centimetric wavelength mobile system which gave low altitude, high speed detection capabilities was used. It was mostly deployed at each Chain Home fixed or mobile station.
The War Ministry requisitioned all aircraft and all airfields, so all activity at Ashingdon and along Ashingdon Road ended and the sites were closed permanently.
During the Second World War, several landmines fell by parachute on fields and into the River Crouch.
On 3rd September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, a Royal Air Force pilot parachuted from his plane over Ashingdon and he landed near Scaldhurst Farm. His face was burnt. A plane, possibly his, crashed onto a Canewdon Hall field (probably “Lambourne Hall”).
A Royal Air Force Spitfire crashed into the sea wall this side of the Brandyhole saltings near Beckney Farm. The pilot parachuted to a safe landing, but his wrecked aircraft was left embedded in the sea wall because it was considered unwise to risk weakening the sea wall by digging it out. So, the aircraft is believed to be still there in the earthworks.
A German V1 pilotless flying bomb “doodlebug” also crashed into the sea wall this side of the Brandyhole saltings near Beckney Farm. The V1 had either run out of fuel, or it had been shot down, or nudged down by an RAF fighter. The wrecked V1 must have skimmed the ground before colliding with the sea wall. Fortunately it did not explode. It was also left embedded in the sea wall because it was an unexploded bomb and it was unwise to risk explosion or weakening the sea wall by digging it out. So, the aircraft is believed to be still there in the earthworks, quite near the Spitfire wreckage. This V1 was seen coming down with its engine off by Lawrence Copeland who lives in Golden Cross Road. He was in the small field at the bottom of Ashingdon Hill on the right, on the corner of Canewdon Road. He and his friends were playing cricket on a Saturday and they saw it fly very low over Ashingdon Schools and Fambridge Road. They all dived to the ground in case the flying bomb exploded. Another resident, a young lady, saw a V1 fly low over Canewdon View Road, Ashingdon, descending with its engine off. She said she heard no explosion. We believe that it was the same aircraft seen earlier before it reached Fambridge Road.
Another German V1 flying bomb crashed onto Ashingdon in a field near Moons Farm off Canewdon Road in July 1944. It fell and exploded in the southeast corner of Moons Farm field and left a large crater in the ground.
A great deal of enemy bombing tool place at Canewdon, probably intended to destroy the 8 Marconi radar defence towers at RAF Canewdon, the radar station. No bombs ever hit the target and no damage was done. It is speculated that the Nazis wanted to give the impression of attacking it, but it was discoverd after the war that they had used the transmission signals from the towers to provide a navigation aid to guide their bomber aircraft.
At least two V1 flying bombs exploded in nearby Canewdon. The first one was near Lambourne Hall in July 1944. It may have been this one which a young resident of Canewdon View Road in Ashingdon heard pass over her when the engine cut off. The next V1 to explode in Canewdon Parish was in September 1944, it landed 75 yards west of Creeksea Washway Road.
A military camp was located along Scaldhurst Farm Lane at Camp Farm. This was mainly used as the accomodation camp for the RAF Regiment who operated and guarded the RAF Canewdon “Home Chain” radar station.
There were anti-aircraft guns, observation posts and aircraft search-light units at points around the village, including Round Hill, the highest point above Trinity Wood Road and Footpath 16. An enormous search-light unit was located near South Fambridge Hall and it was still there rusting away until about 1990. Another searchlight installation in our Parish was in a field opposite Little Doggetts Farm off Hyde Wood Lane. Another search-light near our Parish was in Lower Road, 250m west of Lovedown Farm on the north (Dome) side of the road behind the pair of cottages. A Heavy Anti-Aircraft Gun was located in Rochelles Lane off Lower Road.
There was an army training camp in Lower Road from near New Hockley Hall Farm all the way up to fields opposite The Dome and on the land from The Dome up to The River Crouch and Brandyhole Saltings. In fact, The Dome is named after the building used by the army for their canteen. It was a large flat roof building with a glass dome on top. The soldiers would camp in the fields located on the south side of Lower Road opposite The Dome. They would practice their training exercises in that area and near the river and saltings and they would perform manoeuvres in Beckney Wood, Plumberow Mount and on the River Crouch sea wall. The rifle range was in the low lying fields north of The Dome with the shooting practice aimed at targets against the Brandyhole sea wall embankments. That is where our Home Guard and the Auxiliaries practised. The Dome building was modified about 1960, when the dome was removed and a second floor was built on top with a pitched roof on top.
In case of a German invasion, there were Anti-Tank Obstacles located off Canewdon Road opposite Ellesmere Road, another was located in our Parish in Brays Lane opposite Great Brays fruit farm
During the Second World War, there were 8 wartime defensive pillboxes in Ashingdon Parish including South Fambridge. They were all FW3 Type 22 octagonal infantry “blockhouses” as many people called them then.
Today, there are only 6 pillboxes remaining in our Parish : 2 on the South Fambridge sea wall; 1 behind Highcliff Crescent; 1 beside the field next to our King George’s Field; 1 at the end of Canewdon View Road; 1 near South Fambridge Hall. The other two, now missing and demolished by 1960 were : 1 in the field edge opposite Canewdon Road; 1 in Fambridge Road near the School.
They were built to defend our nation against an enemy invasion. They are all Type 22 or FW3/22 hexagonal reinforced concrete bunkers.
In May 1940, the directorate of Fortifications and Works (FW3) was set up at the War Office under the direction of Major-General G.B.O. Taylor. Its purpose was to provide a number of basic pillbox designs which could be constructed by soldiers and local labour.
In the following June and July 1941, FW3 issued 6 basic designs for immediate construction for rifle and light machine gun use, designated Type 22 to Type 27.
They are made of reinforced concrete and formed using shuttering of wooden planks, plywood or corrugated iron.
The Type 22 pillbox that we have has a regular hexagon shape in plan view. It has an embrasure or firing slit opening in five of the sides and an entrance in the sixth side. The embrasures or slits are suitable for rifles or light machine guns. Each wall is about 6 feet (1.8 m) long, 10.5 feet (3.25 m) across flats and it was generally built to the bullet-proof standard of 12 inches (30 cm) wall thickness. Inside, there is a Y shaped anti-ricochet wall (the top of the Y nearest the entrance), the internal wall also helped support the roof.
Other pillboxes very near our Parish were : In Hullbridge – 1 on the East side of Lovedown Farm overlooking Fambridge; In Hawkwell – 1 opposite St Mary’s Church overlooking the railway and fields; 1 beside Hawkwell Hall Farm; In Rochford – 1 at the end of Oxford Road; 1 behind Sapwood’s DIY in Ashingdon Road. There were very large numbers of pillboxes of many types, particularly in Canewdon, Paglesham and Stambridge and more elsewhere.
THE SECRET ARMY
There were two underground secret bunkers in our Parish and a few more nearby for use by The Auxiliers, a secret army of highly trained special forces troops, recruited locally and ready for anti-invasion and anti-occupation warfare. They looked like Home Guard or Regular Army troops, but they were part of GHQ Auxiliary Units in MI5, the secret Security Service. They were controlled by MI5 and reported to them. They were also called Churchill’s Secret Army. Their local commander was Captain Cecil Ford, the headmaster of Ashingdon Schools. Whenever anyone saw an Auxiliary in uniform, they thought they were regular army or Home Guard units.
One bunker was in the middle of Trinity Wood, another was in a wood along Footpath 7, a smaller one was located in Hyde Wood Lane and others were located near the railway in Hockley and in Hockley Woods.
The bunkers were located underground in dense woods. They were 30 feet (9.2m) long and 12 feet (3.66m) wide with ceiling height of about 6ft 6in (2m). They had a small well hidden and camouflaged trapdoor with a sturdy steel ladder, bunk beds, chairs, shelves and cupboards. They were stocked with food, water, weapons, ammunition and explosives.
FAMBRIDGE AERODROME CENTENARY
A granite memorial stone was erected in South Fambridge in February 2009 to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of “The Fambridge Flight Grounds” as the first aerodrome in England was called. Noel Pemberton Billing the early English aviator opened Fambridge to establish the base for the “Colony of British Aerocraft”. Noel Pemberton Billings founded the company, later renamed Supermarine, which designed and built the Spitfire fighter. During the ceremony to unveil the Fambridge Aerodrome memorial, a Spitfire was flown over South Fambridge by a woman pilot who made many low level flypasts and aerobatic manoeuvres over the village.