The Debden Estate really began to develop in Oakwood Hill, when the first of the 200 prefabs started to be built. Eventually there would also be built various shops and a pub.
A memory of Oakwood Hill
Mum & Dad came from 88 Brownlow Road in Haggerston. Mum wanted to go to New Zealand but the winter of 1946/7 was terrible weather. This seemed to delay things and Dad's younger brother (who still lives in Harlow) was just called up & his Sister married an American & had just gone to Cleveland.
So in June of 47 they were offered a home on the new LCC estate @ Debden. Moved in September. Amazingly as I was only 2yrs 3 months I have a couple of memories, I have always had, of actually moving in. The glaziers were puttying in the lounge window and later that week (or 2) the pavements were being tarmacked & the fences put up. When the path around the prefab was concreted (2 Raymead Close) I remember stepping in it, getting a smack, but my tiny footsteps still showed until 1970 when Mum & Dad moved to Enfield.
My Mum first worked @ Dewhurst the Butchers in the Broadway, which I remember opening, and afterwards ran the Newsagents in Oakwood Hill Rd shops for many years & then went to the Banknote Printing Factory
Oakwood Hill Chronology
March 1945: The Minister of Health agreed plans submitted by Chigwell Urban District Council surveyor, Mr Holbourn, for a prefab estate of 5.27 acres.
October 1945: Plans were submitted by the LCC for the main housing estate.
March 1947: Floods from Loughton to Abridge held up the building work.
April 1947: First bungalows were completed, and they continued to be completed at a rate of around 10 per week.
June 1947: St Mary’s and St Michael’s welcomed the new tenants, and gave them a copy of their newsletter.
June 1947: Mr Bacon of Traps Hill wrote to the Council complaining about proposals for shops in Borders Lane and described the prefabs as: "“metal monstrosities”.
November 1947: Social Club opened.
December 1947: Every prefab was made rat proof, following complaints from tenants. They also complained about a lack of shops, buses, and condensation.
January 1948. The tenants were told they would finally have shops and a pub.
February 1948: The Tenants' Association complained about a number of things, including poor construction of the prefabs. Mr Sebbinger, a tenant at Monksgrove Crescent, complained about ill fitting windows, cracks appearing around the fireplace, and no plugs in the bath and sinks. Other tenants complained that months after moving in, many roads were unmade and some of the bungalows still had no glass in their front doors.
May 1948: The Oakwood Arms Pub hosted an exhibition of drawings showing the layout of the new estate. By this time, some houses had already been built. The exhibition attracted many hundreds of people, according to the local paper, including prefab tenants who assumed they would be rehoused on the new estate.
June 1948: A resident wrote to the Council complaining about 'Sunday Hawkers'.
September 1948: Fluorescent lighting installed in Oakwood Hill.
November 1948: 'Weekend raids on shops'. Underwoods was broken into on Saturday morning, and the only thing taken was fireworks (just before fireworks night). The same evening, the bakery next door was broken into and tins of meat, fruit and polish were stolen. Two days later, Underwoods was burgled again, this time tobacco and sweets worth £30 were stolen.
November 1948: Edward Davis of Oakwood Hill was fined for selling groceries from his van. He was fined 5/- and ordered to pay 52/6 costs.
Throughout 1949: Frequent complaints about a lack of schools. Many mothers were still forced to walk down to Staples Road School every day and some children were taken on coaches to the Garden City Temporary School in Woodford Bridge or the Catholic School in Chingford.
From 1950, Oakwood Hill and the main Debden Estate effectively merged; a new Tenants' Association had been formed uniting the Debden residents and the Oakwood Hill residents.
Eventually, the costs of maintaining the prefab estate increased as it aged, and in common with other councils, the decision was taken to close down the estate. The road was remodelled to slow down traffic, and eventually new homes were built.
Memory-change is a reoccurring theme in my work on the Debden Estate. While they stood, the prefabs were often the subject of complaint, but now when I speak to former residents, they all lament their loss and speak glowingly of their former homes - and of the people who lived in them.
If you walk along Oakwood Hill now, near to the road, you can see where some of the flowers planted by the old residents still flourish. The only other thing that remains is the Oakwood Pub, but not at Oakwood Hill.
The Oakwood Arms Pub
The Oakwood was a prefabricated pub that was erected in 1948. Mrs Mills very famously sang there and as pubs go, this was not just a place to drink, I am told it often acted as the local village hall and social club.
In 1952 the owners applied to pull the pub down so they could rebuild it using conventional methods. Planning permission was granted, but the new pub was never rebuilt. In the end it closed down - can anyone remember which year?
In 1962, the pub was dismantled by a group of football enthusiasts from Herongate in Essex. The football club's Vice Chairman sent me the following:
"About the year 1962 our Chairman, Len Ardley, heard that the Oakwood Public House could be ours if we were prepared to take it down and remove it. We at the time were looking for a new ground and Clubhouse, so after playing football on Saturday afternoons, we would go to the Oakwood and start to dismantle it.
We would buy fish and chips Saturday evening, stay the night and work again all day Sundays. The building had cedar tiles on the outside walls and was in sections. After many weeks of work it was ready to be transported. We contacted Ford Motor Company, who kindly transported it to Herongate for us. It was stored until we had our ground in Billericay Road, Herongate.
In 1966, it was erected and it still stands there today, where the bar is still called 'The Oakwood'".
I am very grateful to Mr Kettle for sending me this information and the photographs (above and below). The Herongate Football Club website is: [email protected]