TRUE GRIT - The little evacuee boy who walked and hitchhiked all the way home to Southend - from Derbyshire!

Just over 80 years ago the first wave of childhood wartime evacuations from Southend took place.

It began on Sunday, June 2, 1940, with youngsters as young as three being abruptly parted from their parents and families and uprooted to parts of Derbyshire, Dorset and Devon in order escape the impending bombing raids.

Echo: Moving - Southend evacueesMoving - Southend evacuees

Many children were welcome into the arms of awaiting hosts and had wonderful times- others weren’t so lucky. The remarkable story of a ‘small boy’ from Leigh who decided to return home just a few days after being evacuated made newspaper headlines. Apparently, he decided evacuation just wasn’t for him.

The boy, who had been brought from the West Leigh School to a farm just outside Ashbourne, Derbyshire, didn’t flee because he’d been subjected to cruel or harsh treatment - but after finding out he wasn’t going to be able to go to the pictures as often as he’d like.

As soon as he found that his pecuniary allowance wasn’t going to cover the cost of travelling to the cinema and also paying for a seat, he decided to head home. He walked eight miles to Ashbourne where he took a train to Bedford. Hailing a lorry going to London he left the peak district behind. Once in London he flagged down a lift from a passing van and arrived home in time for tea that night. His mother, though amazed at his achievement was determined he should return back to the farm.

Note: After this story appeared in Echo memories in April Betty Steward from Great Wakering got in touch to say she remembered the little lad who had made his way home from Derbyshire. She told us: “His name was John Kennedy and he lived off Highlands Boulevard Leigh, as did I. He used to come to tea occasionally and in later years I had quite a crush on him, he had lovely blue eyes.!”

HOTEL HORROR FALL - death by sliding down a bannister

This happened in 1919 at the Tilbury Hotel to a 14-year-old boy named Richard Payne.

The teenager was playfully sliding down the bannisters of the main staircase to the hotel when he fell over into the hall, 42 ft below, breaking his neck.

Echo: Tragedy - the Tilbury HotelTragedy - the Tilbury Hotel

He was dead as soon as he hit the ground. The Tilbury Hotel was once one of Thurrock’s most famous landmarks. It was part of the original docks development and had opened on April 17 1886.

It was a popular hotel for travellers who used it to say overnight before departing on cruise ships. In 1919 the hotel used to house boys enrolled on the Warspite training ship, which had been docked at Woolwich but had been destroyed in an arson attack.

Richard Payne was one of the Warspite boys temporarily staying at the hotel. The hotel was destroyed by a bombing raid in 1944.

COO BAD - Racing pigeon’s demise sparks court case

This story could have come straight from the famous Blackadder Goes Forth episode where Captain Blackadder is court marshalled and sentenced to be shot by a firing squad after killing and eating General Melchett’s pet pigeon ‘Speckled Jim’.

But an extremely similar thing happened in real life in south Essex in 1940. Police-alerted to a missing racing pigeon- called at the home of Sidney Smith from Gifford Cross Road, Corringham, to find the bird had been shot, plucked and was on the table ready to eat.


Smith found himself at Grays Petty Sessions for the crime and in defence told the police “I thought it was the only thing to do.”

As it was the first case of its kind to ever reach the court and the fact that Smith was a first -time offender, he was let off with just 9 shillings court cost.

OFF THE RAILS- The boy who really liked Southend!

The call of the Southend seaside was just too much for nine-year-old Leslie Bell from East Ham back in 1940.

One day he decided to get the train all by himself to Southend. Later that day he was found wandering quite happily around Thorpe Bay by local bobbies who took him to the police station where he spent the night.

The next day his mother came down to get him. But once back at East Ham station the young adventure-seeker gave her the slip and again got on a train for Southend. He even stopped off at Canvey and Benfleet this time for a look around.

The police officers who had seen him the previous day recognised him and took him to the station house where he spent yet another night.

His weary mother travelled down again the next day and took him home, no doubt keeping a firm grip on him all the way.

THE SILENT TREATMENT- Hostile hubby would only communicate with his wife via a cheese box lid

This story comes from an old court report about a husband who gave his wife the silent treatment to the extent he would only communicate with her via messages scribbled on a cheese box lid and scraps of old cardboard.

Thomas Harmsworth from Hainault Avenue, Westcliff appeared at Southend Court in 1932 after being summoned by his wife Mary for desertion and failure to support her financially. The couple had married in 1901 and had 12 children.

The wife had eventually got a separation order on the grounds of cruelty, but the couple had remained living in the same house for financial reasons. For months he had not spoken to his other half.

The court was told: “If she wished to communicate with him she had to leave a note to which he replied with a message on a cheese box lid -notes such as ‘change this food ticket’, ‘no lodgers in this house’ and ‘take the coals in when they come!’.

The court made an order than Mr Harmsworth should pay the proper support to keep his family. Who knows if the pair ever spoke again?

BORN TO BE WILD - mischievous tot’s great escape

In September 1962 two -year- old tot Andrew Rowbottom decided his was in need of an uplifting adventure.

His mother put him to bed at 6pm like normal and everything seemed fine. Two-and-a-half hours later, however, motorists passing the family home in Kenilworth Garden saw the little lad perched above the bay window upstairs – 20ft off the ground.

He was smiling and waving to cars driving by in his yellow pyjamas and seemingly having a great time. The frantic passers-by rang the doorbell and told the very shocked mum “there’s a baby on the roof!”

Echo: Escapee - Andrew RowbottonEscapee - Andrew Rowbotton

Southend firemen were called and painstakingly brought the boy down using a ladder, who, after a few hours up on the roof by this time was getting tired and fell asleep happily in his grandmother’s arms.

Turns out the mischief maker had been restless that night so had fashioned an escape plan worthy of the A Team. He climbed on a bedding box, balanced a plastic car on top of another toy to reach the window catch, opened it up and then climbed out.

His parents weren’t impressed with the dramatic escape and blocked the window with a heavy wardrobe so it wouldn’t happen again.

MAULED AT THE KURSAAL ZOO- musician wanted to be friends with the lions

In June of 1905 one of the most gruesome accidents in the history of Southend’s Kursaal zoo took place when an over - friendly musician decided he wanted to get up close and personal to the zoo lions.

Frank Appleby was attempting to stroke a lioness at the zoo when the animal became enraged and attacked him.

Echo: Lioness - the Kursaal's animalLioness - the Kursaal's animal

The lioness grabbed his arm, almost tearing it off, as she tried to drag Appleby through the bars of the lion cage.

Appleby, who worked as a bandleader at the Kursaal, was rushed to Victoria Hospital in Southend but died two days later from blood poisoning brought on as a result of his catastrophic injuries.

The musician had been warned previously not to approach the lions but he just couldn’t keep away.

WORST BIRTHDAY EVER…teen struck by lightning and paralysed on his 19th birthday

On the evening of September 5, 1958, Wickford was subjected to a terrible, devastating flood.

Fortunately, nobody was killed but the flood had a big impact on the lives of the residents of the town. In the week leading up the flood strange weather phenomena had been reported across south Essex, including ‘monsoon like rainfall’ in Southend.

Echo: Floody awful - the flood in September 1958Floody awful - the flood in September 1958

In fact, Southend weathermen recorded such a dramatic reading on their barograph that they sent it to the air ministry for further investigation.

Then, a few days before the flood a freak event occurred in Great Wakering when a bolt of ‘blue lightening’ struck a cottage during a severe storm.

Five people living in the cottage were left badly injured including a teenage lad who was left paralysed from the waist down and left with a gaping hole in his elbow after being hit directly by the lightning.

It also happened to be the poor lad’s 19th birthday. On the same night - which was Thursday August 28 – lightning also struck Barling’s ancient parish church.

WHEN WICKFORD WAS BUZZING - swam of 30,000 bees suddenly attacked pedestrians

Bees, bees everywhere- this was the scene in Wickford back in 1928 when out of the blue a swarm of bees began attacking people walking along Southend Road.

Pedestrians began running away and a local bee expert had to be called to try to get the swam of around 30,000 bees under control.

Eventually the insects settled in a laurel bush and it was determined they were in fact Dutch bees and could have been attracted to the town due to the scene of peppermint deriving from a local sweet factory. Amazingly, only one person was stung during the swarm.

UP ON THE ROOF - The family who lived with a live bomb on their roof for 12 years

A Westcliff family lived with a live bomb on their roof for 12 years and only became aware of it when they decided to get their roof re-tiled.

The couple, who lived in Cranley Road with their daughter and maid, were told by the roofers that the bomb was nestled under the eaves.

After the offending bomb was found, the unfazed occupants wrapped it up in paper, popped in cocoa tin and took it to the police station.

From there it was transported to Shoebury garrison where bomb experts dealt with it.

It turned out the bomb was a British explosive, probably dropped by mistake by a British airman fighting enemy pilots over Westcliff in 1917.

Remarkably, the roof had been repaired several times before but the bomb was never seen.