EVENTS to mark the anniversary of the Wickford Floods of 1958 have been taking place over the past few weeks.

A special exhibition was held at St Andrew’s Church in Wickford which saw schools, community groups and residents from across Wickford and Runwell

contributing to the event- sharing memories, photos and witness accounts and newspaper clippings of the tragedy.

Today we’ve also unearthed some photos from our archives which show the aftermath of the devastating event- known as the ‘Great Wickford Flood’ which occurred on the evening of September 5, 1958.

Water engulfed the town in just a few minutes. The normally placid River Crouch was to blame. That afternoon its flow had been little more than a trickle, then the mother of all cloudbursts rolled across south Essex from the south-west. The flood made headlines not only across Britain but also in Europe. Fortunately nobody was killed but it had a big impact on the lives of the residents of the town, and also left its mark on the shape of Wickford itself. The River Crouch was soon encased in a concrete drain to ensure that the

flooding was not repeated. The Southend Standard newspaper devoted page upon page to covering the flood, describing the storm as: “To a devil’s fanfare of thunder, lightning, torrential rain and hail, the River Crouch rose silently and swiftly to burst its banks and pour down the town of Wickford.

Water poured off the high ground between Billericay and Downham, drained into the river valley, and filled the river to the brim.

The devastation was immense. Two double decker buses were stranded in Wickford High Street, with the passengers and drivers having to spend the night on the top deck. Residents were trapped in their homes. Schools and shops were flooded, causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Although Wickford bore the brunt of the storm, other areas were affected too.

In Southend rainfall reached ‘Monsoon intensity’ when almost a month’s worth of rain crashed down in one hour. Basildon and Vange were also hit, while the new £300,000 Sweyne School in Rayleigh was obliterated by the flood - one day after it had opened to pupils for the first time.

At Valentine’s Nursery in Laindon greenhouses saw water gushing in that reached more than 4ft. The nursery owner lost 75 per cent of his stock. In Pitsea police used a rubber dinghy to rescue a mother who was trapped in her home with her five children. Acts of heroism and stoicism were plentiful.

Reports ay the time remarked how as the storm violently thrashed, audiences and performers at the ‘Zip-a-hoy’ show taking place at the end of Southend Pier stuck it out and would not allow the weather to affect their enjoyment. Nobody fled until the curtain was down. In the Plough pub, next door to the Palace Theatre in Westcliff, meanwhile, staff stood on beer crates as the water gushed in, so they could carry on serving customers.

Memories of the terrible Canvey floods, just five years earlier, which killed 58 people, were still fresh in people’s mindset. But in the aftermath of the storm, the robust nature of residents quickly kicked in. The people weren’t going to be beaten. The clean-up began quickly. The morning after the floods, Wickford housewives turned up to do their shopping in the usual way, apart from the fact they were dressed in swimsuits. Some towed their shopping around on inflatables. Young cadets and St John Ambulance volunteers formed a human chain in Southend to help motorists get through. Shopkeepers battled to keep open. Warm weather followed the flood, and the combination of sun and damp gave Wickford one of the best seasons for late-flowering roses anyone could remember. A woman named ‘Mrs Sadler’ of Rochford Avenue, Westcliff even made the papers when she managed to grown an 8ft high Dahlia thanks to the rainy season.

Interestingly, press clippings from the Standard newspaper show the local weather had been strange for some time before the Great Flood. The Southend Carnival had been a complete washout a week earlier and then just days before the Wickford flood five people had to be rushed to hospital after a cottage in Great Wakering was struck by a bolt of ‘blue lightning’ during a severe storm. Several of the five were badly injured including one poor teenage lad who was left paralysed from the waist down and with a gaping whole in his elbow after being struck by lightning - it happened to be his 19th birthday.

On the same night - which was Thursday August 28 -lightning also struck Barling’s ancient parish church, causing significant damage. Just days before the great flood, weather experts in Southend recorded such a dramatic reading on their barograph that they sent it to the air ministry for further investigation.

The Standard reported how the barograph needle “did a dance” and recorded a “violent disturbance in the atmosphere”. One Southend weatherman went as far to say: “ It’s the sort of pattern you would expect somewhere in the tropics. I have never seen such a violent disturbance since I started keeping records here in 1935”. A week later the waters came. And even that wasn’t the end. Two weeks after the Great Flood, Wickford was flooded AGAIN - although this time to a somewhat lesser extent. This was the fifth flood to hit the town that year.