FROM NAPPIES TO BELL-BOTTOMS. BELL WHARF, MY SECOND HOME.
From Eddy, Remembering Leigh-on-Sea on facebook
What a playground, it was literally only 5 minutes from our place to the beach and it was free. We would reach it through the alleyway next to the Bell Hotel and over the pedestrian bridge. This photo has been coloured in by my nephew Lee and shows my mum, sister and some Osbornes, and me at the bottom of the steps, to the left of the Little Shelter.
Bell Wharf itself was built with the rubble of the original Bell Hotel, which was demolished along with pubs and dwellings to make room for the railway. We all know that the original rail station was here too.
The lamppost has been there so long as I can remember. It is one of the leading lights that can be seen from the Low way buoy ( The Ray ) another is at the top of Hadleigh Road. Going to the left would bring you to the Cinder Path and the Lady Saville (Essex Yacht Club, now the Wilton).
The Little Shelter has seen me a lot over the years, sadly it has been boarded up and left to a fate worse than death. We carved our initials on the wooden bench, drew pictures or left messages on the wall and our footprints on the ceiling. Yes footprints on the ceiling.
The Little Shelter
I have very few photos of the Bell Wharf, they got lost in a grand storm known as marriage, but I can remember cranes on rails, big round iron rings and large thick ropes crossing to and fro. Barges coming in on the high tides mostly loaded with bricks for Leigh Building Supply. There were steps in the side of the wharf where you could land at different states of the tide. We would race shouting out loud over the end of the wharf or the same with our makeshift bikes into the water. Football with a tennis ball, the goal was of course at the end of the wharf and the goalie would have to dive to recover the ball.
The Beach itself lay deeper than it does today and the sand stretched along to the start of the Cinder Path. Every Sunday with mum, the whole family or somebody else's mum. Always a beach tray from the beach café in the afternoon, perhaps a toffee apple, candy floss or a chunk of honeycomb from Thompsons (in the better days). We never laid in the sun as far as I can remember always on the move. If the tide was out, then out to the Ray.
The rest of the week in the summer, (and winter) we were left to amuse ourselves as we pleased. The beach was always crowded and the only voice of authority was always present, the Deckchair Man, there was no messing with him.
As the year drew on with fewer visitors claiming our space, we would build sand castles, well more like sand towns. There was another wooden hut near to the little shelter with a Red Cross painted on it. It had a bitumen type roof, which would slowly melt in those days when you could fry an egg on the pavement. You could watch it dripping. This is where my mum sat me on one regatta day and said stay there. Of course, I didn't. Jumped down and got lost in the crowds. The Regatta was the highlight of the year. I've never seen the modern version as I'm doomed to have to wait until October until I can revisit. Loudspeakers were installed under the Bell bridge. It was the Regatta that brought about the dismantling of the Bell bridge, it started swaying and couldn't take the weight of the masses passing over.
The greasy pole had to be climbed with the use of a short chain, the victor having the claim to the leg of meat lashed the top. Mud football, tug o' war. The teams were always made up of Leigh fishermen and Leigh police force, A sight to send any lumberjack on his way.
Standing on Bell Wharf looking north and to the left. Turnidge’s sail and rope makers. This is the little beach, it was hardly used by the visitors as the sand was always covered by seaweed and did at time smell a bit. The view with the men's toilets wasn't that grand. The sand was really fantastic, for us. We would dig a large hole 4 to 5 foot deep until it filled with water. Then up Turnidges' steps, stand on the upper rail and jump into the hole that we'd dug. There was an almighty splash and an even louder cry from the jumper. Needless to say all digging and such was done with your hands.
Turnidge's Sail and Rope Maker
The nice nurse at the Red Cross hut had to treat my sliced thumb as I found some prehistoric pottery shards deep down in the sand. In the background, the Flats where we on rainy days found amusement riding the lifts. Still, that's another story.