I HAVE lost count of the number of times I have been asked about the meaning of Volwycke Avenue.

Having spent my childhood just around the corner at 204 Fambridge Road, I grew up knowing the Avenue well.

I learned to ride my bike there – much to the annoyance of some of the residents of their “private” road.

The clue to its unusual title (which has nothing to do with voles by the way) can be found in James Wentworth Day’s book A Garland of Hops (East Anglian Magazine 1978).

He quotes an interview with Len Guiver, then landlord of the Hurdlemaker’s Arms, at Woodham Mortimer.

Len harked back to the days of farmer Stanley Ratcliff’s big “shoot”. This was held across a large tract of land and took in the area that we still call the Wycke.

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One of the regular “guns” in those days was ‘Vol’ Crittall, later Lord Braintree.

Then Len says: “An avenue in Maldon is named after him called ‘Vol Wick Avenue’.”

Vol – Valentine George Crittall (1884-1961) – was the eldest son of the owner of the Crittall window company.

Valentine served as Maldon’s MP from 1923 until 1924 and in 1926 he founded the garden village of Silver End to accommodate workers in the family’s growing business.

Described as a “wonder of its time”, the village is still a famous feature of the Crittall history, but not many people know that the company also once had a factory in Heybridge.

Located in Hall Road, it was built on the site of Last’s builders’ yard and the company started manufacturing their distinctive metal windows there from 1922.

Vol (eventually elevated to the peerage in 1948 to become Baron Braintree) lived nearby in a stunning 1926 modernist house, designed for him by the architects CHB Quennell and TS Tait, and called Crockies, located in Station Road, Wickham Bishops (now Fairplay House).

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With any successful company comes investment opportunities, not least in land and property, and the Crittall Housing and Investment Society was active in the Maldon district.

In 1928 the society offered 16 plots of building land in their newly named Volwycke Avenue.

Local builders the Borehams began purchasing the plots and constructing homes. They started submitting planning applications in 1930 (for a bungalow – L Boreham owner, F Boreham builder) and these continued through 1935, 1936 (for two houses), 1937 (another bungalow), 1938 (two more bungalows) and into 1939.

The layout of the avenue is largely as it was then – long and straight with a top turning circle and semi-circular lay-bys half way.

By the time the 1939 Register of England and Wales was taken, there were 29 properties in place, some with just names, others numbered and a few with both.

‘Greenways’ (number 28) was the home of motor engineer Cecil Hinks and wife Lily.

The Halls lived at ‘Orontes’ (26), Ronald (a carpenter/joiner) and Elsie Isley were at ‘Redcot’ (22), Clifford and Lillian Redgewell at ‘Troon’ (20), and Bertie and Avis Freeman at ‘Granada’ (18).

Those buildings identified by both number and name included 19 ‘Stanton’, where post office engineer Norman Jarrold lived with Edna, ‘Heywood’ (21) with Cecil (rather tellingly described as a “metal window maker”) and Ivy Sach, 23 ‘Glendhill’ the Smiths, the Jacks were at ‘Crathie’ (number 25), the Swans at ‘Roselyn’ (27), and a now familiar name in our story – Leonard J Boreham – at 29 ‘The Four Winds’.

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Other names appear against the remaining numbers. In the evens – Burrells at 16, Cooper (14), Everett (12), Pittman (10), Newman (8), Eves (6), Wallis (4), and Sumner (2).

In the odd numbers – Johnson at 1, Chaplin (3), Gooch-Cracknell (5), Vince (9), Bees (11), Shuttleworth (13) and Semper (15).

Other properties – ‘Adalil’ (24), and numbers 7 and 17 – appear empty or still not completed.

As it was 1939, the Avenue was also temporary home to evacuees, including nine-year-old George Goldsmith, who was staying with William E (“Eddie”) and Alice Gooch-Cracknell at number 5.

Not that the Avenue was entirely safe, as it felt the blast effects of bombs dropped on nearby Washington Road on May 30, 1942.

It was a close-knit community then, still was during my childhood and, I am told, still is today.

The families who live in the Avenue like to stay.

Some of those 1939 names were still there in 1966 – Isley, Redgwell, Freeman, Cooper, Everett, Newman, Wallis, Chaplin, Gooch-Cracknell, Vince, Bees, Semper and Sach amongst them.

I eventually moved away from the area (but not all that far) and, apart from occasional visits to see my old mate Fred Yuill at number 17, the Avenue became a less familiar place to me.

As part of this research I popped back there.

The painted entrance sign of a riverside scene looks fantastic, but still reminds outsiders that this is a “private road”.

The road surface itself (maintained by the residents) looks much better than I remember during my cycling days.

There are more cars now (as everywhere) and some of the properties have been altered, but apart from that the Avenue remains largely unchanged – ‘Redcot’ and ‘Troon’ still proudly display their names.

I suppose you might say, in some respects it is a timeless place. Born of Crittalls, built by Borehams and loved by successive generations of its (private) residents – both past and present.