When I was a young boy my Ma was the ladies bathing hut attendant at the Maldon prom lake. And generally, tho’ especially in the school summer holidays, I lived on Maldon prom. It was a secure feeling to know my Mother was close by, if I needed the odd sixpence to spend at the kiosks on top of the hill leading to the lake, or comfort of some variety. Or the odd couple of pence to spend down the Valley. The Valley was my childhood Shangri-la. Shangri-la is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel by British author James Hilton. Hilton describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley, a permanently happy land. And aside from the odd outbreak of boy-ish thuggery it was exactly that, a wonderful place to go, with swing boats and donkeys and a firing range, a miniature electric train and other stalls where all sorts of tawdry plastic prizes could be won. But there were two attractions I loved the most: the arcade with its promise of instant cash prizes in big old pennies from it’s numerous slot machines, and the Roundabout. The reason why I loved both of them especially was the music. They both had record players with big speakers, bigger than my families radiogram, and they played all the current hits, really loud, from 7 inch vinyl singles, the medium of the day.
Meeting my girlfriend Sally Clark several years ago reminded me of those halcyon days. We always listen to the Tony Blackburn hosted “Pick of the Pops” radio show on a Saturday afternoon, and every time a hit from her era working as a Valley girl is played she’ll say “that’s a Valley song”! Recently I was in the Blue Boar with several friends, and a chap from out of the area was wondering what the Dale hire shop used to be in days gone by. Jimmy Reeder promptly informed us it was Copsey’s chip shop, and he said he remembered clearly, as he was a “Valley boy” and would fetch the fish and chips for his co-workers from there. That really inspired me. Several other friends used to work there, and I became intrigued……
The Promenade Park was first opened on 26th June 1895 by Mayor and local historian Mr Edward Fitch, who also gave his name to Fitch’s crescent, where my family lived. The Marine Lake, formerly part of the River Blackwater, was opened by Lady Rayleigh 10 years later. The valley was formed during the 1925-26 Prom Extension work. This huge area of land was dug out, and the soil used to make what is now the extension where the statue of Brithnoth is located.
The valley was ran by a fellow called Winkle Williams. I recall the man clearly, a pleasant soul, a fellow still talked about with great fondness by his ex workers. Winkle employed many local kids to run the stalls in the Valley. Sadly he passed away in 2004, but his son Steve(affectionately known to all as “Bumski”)still lives locally and runs the Cricketers pub in Goldhanger. I decided to track Steve down and find out more about the history of the valley and his Father’s beginnings.
I started the interview by asking Steve about his Father’s origins and upbringing.
TR: So tell me where your Pa was born and how he came to Maldon?
SW: My Father was actually an orphan, his Mother was a dancer, and his real Father was an impresario, but didn’t really hang about after my Dad was born. He was adopted by the Williams family in Maldon, around 1929 when he was three months old.
TR: How did Winkle become involved in the attractions at the Valley?
SW: My Mums Mum(nee Orriss) and Dad leased part of the Valley from Maldon council in the late 1940’s. Prior to them Sid Smart, a relative of Billy Smart, had attractions there, as did a chap called Davis. My Dad ended up owning half the Valley, buying bits and pieces off of my Nan and Granddad. The other half was owned by a chap called Harvey, who came from Southend. They ended up going into partnership and built the first wooden arcade. It really took off, and at that point Mr Harvey wanted to buy another arcade in Clacton. Winkle sorted that out for him, on the condition that Harvey would sell him his half of the business. And that’s really how the Valley as we know it came about, around 1964. I started working for my Dad when I was six or seven.
TR: What stalls did Winkle have when he started proper?
SW: There was the arcade, with all the different slot machines, cork guns, ball bearing guns(health and safety would love that nowadays!)a miniature railway, a hall of mirrors, swing boats, a coconut shy, an octopus ride, donkeys and a merry go round. The heads and poles from the merry go round were sold to a collector in America, they were all antique .When the merry go round was sold, the Speedway took its place.
TR: So, what’s your happiest memories of those times?
SW: The camaraderie really. There were always about five or six boys running the stalls. And the school summer holidays seemed to last forever in those days, and they always seem bright and sunny in my memory. We were Maldon’s version of the Fair boys and no one messed with you, we could do any thing, get away with anything. We had money, and all the girls flocked to us. And we had so many laughs, we were always up to something. But I don’t think we were really naughty or malicious, just cheeky and cock sure.
Steve’s top five Valley Boy tunes are:-
1) Rock your Baby – George Macrae
2) Spirit in the sky – Norman Greenbaum
3) Band of gold – Freda Payne
4) Harlem shuffle – Bob and Earle
5) Natural born bugie – Humble Pie
Next I spoke to a chap Sal reckoned would have some great memories of the Valley, step forward Stephen Cockett:
TR: How did you come to work at the valley? And which stall did you run?
SC: Alan Bentley and I used to sit on the edge of the roundabout, just hanging around, that must have been about 1970. We used to go to the old arcade(which at the time was behind where the railway was)and bump the machines for pennies and Gerald Orriss would chase us out. Winkle married old Mrs Orriss’ daughter Gwen. When we were 13 both Alan and I got jobs there, via our association with Andy Gregory. Andy was a year older than us and already working there, he introduced us to Ben Saywood, who employed us, tho’ Winkle was our boss.
We ran all the stalls at one time or another: the little roundabout, the trampolines, swinging boats, donkeys, all of them really. We’d go in first thing in the morning and empty all the pennies from the machines, that would be our first job. There’d be a big bucket on a trolley and we’d put the money from the machines in it. Winkle used to say if we could pick the bucket up and carry it to the door we could have it! But of course there was probably £300 worth of coins in the bucket, no one could ever pick it up, it was really heavy.
I was also one of the trusted ones, I’d have to take the money up the bank, we’d go in Winkle’s Jag, it was unbelievable!
TR: So tell me about Winkle(Peter)Williams.
SC: I got on really well with Winkle, he was a lovely man and as I say I was one of the trusted ones. He lived in Fitch’s crescent opposite my Dad, near the alley. I also worked with Bumski, delivering logs, a sideline of Winkle’s. He really looked after me. We used to get paid £1.50 a day, £2 on Saturdays and £2.50 on Sundays. I was earning more money than my brother who was in full time work! Andy’s Mum Brenda used to work at the Jolly Sailor on the quay. When we finished work we’d go there and she’d serve us with a couple of beers, even tho’ we were still a year or so under age. There was a communal spirit amongst the people who worked at the Valley.
Winkle would feed us too. We’d go to Copsey’s chippy when it was at the top of North street.
I remember one day I was working down there on the swinging boats, and a gang of Skinheads came down, a whole coach load of them. They wouldn’t get off the boats, so Winkle and my Dad came down, they soon got off then! Winkle was a really nice guy, but he didn’t take any nonsense from anyone.
TR: When I saw you a couple of weeks ago you mentioned(and did an impression of)Ben Saywood. Tell me about him.
SC: He used to look after the arcade mainly, he worked closely with Winkle. He lived opposite the Wave house and the whole yard was full of logs. He took his stairs out cos they needed replacing, but he never put them back! His poor old wife Pat had to climb a ladder everytime she wanted to go to bed! He had something wrong with his leg so he walked with a major limp. He was a pretty aggressive bloke, if people tried it on on one of the rides or in the arcade he tell them to “fuck off!” He was like the security guard! After Ben died his wife Pat helped out in the arcade.
TR: So what’s your happiest/funniest memory Stephen?
SC: Well there’s so many. I remember another time a load of Skinheads came down, they were walking around giving it the big ‘un, and Carl Mead(TR’s cousin)went up to the biggest, nastiest looking one and said “which one of you wants it first?” And they just scattered, it was so funny. I also remember we’d play on the Speedway once it closed. We’d have it going really fast, and jump on and off it. Carl Mead and Keith Moss both ran it at one time, we thought it was really cool to be able to jump on and off it without losing a step. Anyway, this particular time, me and Alan Bentley decided we’d go one better, he got on my back and we tried to jump on together! Needless to say, we ended up on our arses in a bruised heap! Another time my mate Ray Walker put the train through the back of the shed! The were no brakes, you had to switch it off just at the right point to park it in the shed. Ben Saywood was screaming at him “stop the fucking train!”, but it kept going……
It was a wonderful time, a great laugh and as Bumski said there was great camaraderie. Incidentally, I have another origin for Bumski’s name. We always said he was the only man we knew who could carry 3 trays at once, cos of the way he walked. One in each hand and one balanced on his bum!
I finished working there in 1976, to start a full time job, but thinking back we had such a laugh, so many good times……
Stephen’s Top 5 Valley Boy tunes are:
1) Rock your Baby – George Macrae(which also reminded Stephen of the Big Wheel at the Fair on the Prom)
2) Rock the Boat – Hues Corperation
3) Band on the Run – Wings
4) Kung Fu fighting – Carl Douglas
5) You’re so vain – Carly Simon
Next up, I spoke to an old mate of mine, and formally a close neighbour, Andy Gregory.
TR: So how did you come to work at the Valley, and what stalls did you run?
AG: Like all of us Maldon kids, I was always hanging out at the Prom, especially in the Summer. My Mum and Dad ran a kiosk. My Auntie had three at the top of the hill by the Valley at the time, around 1970. Peter(Winkle) wouldn’t give me a job initially, he said I was too small. But when I got to 13 he gave me a job as what he called a “spare boy”, which was essentially an errand boy. If any one needed food or a drink or any thing, I’d go and get it. I’d help out in the Arcade too from time to time. I remember the old Arcade, which was more central in the Valley. It sat on big railway sleepers and there were gaps in the floorboards. People would drop pennies, and sometimes they’d fall through the floorboards. We could see them and try and fish them out with candy floss sticks. The old Arcade was opposite the Roundabout. In those days there were only 3 stalls, the airguns that shot tiny ball bearings, the bazookas which fired big rubber balls, and the Hoopla. Then they built the new Arcade in 1970, which was closer to the toilets, towards the lake.
After a while I’d get to run other stalls. What I really liked tho’ was running the Speedway, which I did occasionally. I could jump on it in 7th gear at top speed, and not everyone could do that. The main 2 people who ran the Speedway were Keith Moss and Roy Claydon. The Swing boats were my first stall proper, tho’ I did the Pick a Straw stall, the Darts with Dorothy Orriss(Gwen’s Mum, Bumski’s Grandma)and the Donkeys.
TR: So how did you get on with Winkle?
AG: Very well, he was a lovely man, a decent fella. I was told his was a real rags to riches tale, and that he’d originally been a milkman. A very fair man, and he kept us fed and watered too. He had a lot of respect, and he gained our respect. But you wouldn’t mess with him. I remember a group of Hell’s Angel’s came down the Valley one time, y’know, the genuine article, 20 or 30 of them. We were all shitting bricks, and Peter strolled over to them swinging his big bunch of keys and……well, we felt reassurred when Peter was about, his presence was enough most of the time. Funnily enough, one of the Hell’s Angels helped someone in a wheelchair get into the Arcade, lifted them in, so perhaps they weren’t that bad after all.
Winkle made a big impression on a lot of people’s lives, it’s hard to imagine he’s no longer with us.
TR: And how about Ben Sayward? Did you know him well?
AG: I worked with Ben not only at the Valley, but on the logs too. They came from Blackwater timber.
We got on very well, I liked him alot. Again, you didn’t cross him. He had a terrible limp, and there were several stories how his leg got injured. He said he had hit an ambulance riding a motorbike in Italy, in the Second world war, but other people said he got so pissed one time he fell and broke it, and it was never set properly, but I’m not sure how it happened really. His wife Pat was a lovely lady too, they were very down to earth people. I remember Ben came home pissed one night and took the ladder away that served as the stairs in his house. Poor old Pat got up the next day and fell through the hole where the ladder had been, and broke both her legs!
I spent many evenings working at the Valley with Ben in the 70’s, I had lots of happy times with him. He was the Arcade manager, and most of his kids worked in the Valley too.
TR: So what’s your happiest/funniest memories of working at the Valley?
AG: They were mostly happy days, Summer seemed to go on forever in the 70’s. It was probably the happiest time of my life. It was like a gang, we took care of each other. They were lovely times. The other thing I have to mention, in light of the recent weather, the Valley always used to flood. The water would probably be 6 foot deep by now!
There is a memory that I have to mention, quite a dark one really. A coach full of trippers came down from London, and a load of kids got on the train. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly an ambulance and the Police showed up. Apparently a young black girl had somehow stepped on the track and the train had almost severed her foot. In the mayhem, with loads of people running towards the train to see what had happened, I remember Jimmy Reeder walking away saying “don’t look at that, whatever you do, don’t look at that”. That’s always stuck in my mind.
But accidents were few and far between, and the Valley was mostly a very happy place. Wonderful times……
Andy’s Top 5 Valley Boy tunes are:
1) Rock your Baby – George Macrae(Andy also mentioned it as a Big Wheel tune!)
2) Rock the boat – Hues Corporation
3) You can do Magic – Limmie and the Family Cooking
4) The Israelites – Desmond Decker
5) The Hustle – Van McCoy
And from the “Valley girl” herself, who gave me the inspiration to write this piece, it’s none other than the Mad Princess, Sally Clark!
TR: So how did you come to work at the Valley and which stalls did you run?
SC: I can’t recall how I got the job, but I worked for Mrs Orriss(Dorothy)on the darts and the cork guns stalls.
People would buy corks for the rifles and shoot at boxes of sweets and loose sweets which we had stacked on shelves. Whatever they managed to shoot off the shelf they won. With the darts stall prizes were given according to what score the customer achieved, the higher the score the better the prize.
TR: Did you know Winkle? And how did you find him?
SC: I can see him now, with a nice smile on his face, he used to say “Alright Gal?” He was always very pleasant towards me, although he wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone. I believe he was a fair and reasonable man.
TR: And what about Ben Saywood?
SC: I did know Ben Saywood. He was rather a scarey character! Although he was nice to me, I can remember him shouting and chasing people, mainly boys, out of the arcade, usually because they’d been banging the machines.
TR: And your happiest/funniest memory?
SC: It was my first job and I used to save up to buy clothes and bits and pieces, which was nice and it helped my Mum out, as she wasn’t very well off. My friends used to come and chat to me whilst I was working and lots of local teenagers would hang out in the Valley, well there wasn’t much else to do in Maldon! Girls in particular would come down to flirt with the Valley boys, which the boys loved and they’d try and impress the girls. Also they came down for the music……
And Sal’s top five Valley Girl tunes are:
1) You can do magic – Limmie and the Family cooking
2) Rock the Boat – Hues Corporation
3) Rock your Baby – George McCrae
4) The Hustle – Van McCoy
5) Young Girl – Gary Puckett
And lastly, but certainly not leastly, a gal I think is a “chip off the old block”. She ran the Valley for the last 10 years of it’s existence, Andrea Williams.
TR: How old were you when you started working at the Valley, and how did it come about?
AW: I was about 3 years old. I loved to go to work with my Dad. I had to pick up the corks that had been fired at the sweets. It was to keep me out of mischief mostly, so I wouldn’t be a nuisance. I’d also go to the back of the cork gun stall and nick the sweets when no one was looking! When I was 7 or 8 I started working at the darts stall. Nan used to count all the coppers we’d earnt at the end of the day, and put them into rusty cans, which I hated, especially when I’d scrape a nail on the bottom of a tin.
By the time I was 10 or 11 I worked on the pick a straw stall which I was really good at. I could work the customers well and made sure I hung onto a winning straw so I could regularly give out the prizes, which were balls of all shapes and sizes.
I’d travel to work with my Dad, sat in the middle of the front seat. The prom entrance was different then, no ticket machine, just a box by the gates. We’d drive past the queues of cars and be waved in by the parking attendant. I used to feel like a V.I.P! It was great. I was a spare girl sometimes, so I’d have to go to Copsey’s at the top of North street and get the fish and chips.
TR: You said you loved it when the fair came to town?
AW: When Nicholl’s fair used to come to Maldon one week a year(that was in my Dad’s contract, the fair couldn’t visit the Prom more than once a year)they’d ask us to borrow our power so they could run their tellys etc in their caravans. One night I inadvertently switched off the main fuse in the railway power shed. Apparently half the fairground came to a halt. They’d told us they wanted the power for their personal use, but the buggers were running the rides and stalls from it! They were always nice to my family, I loved Carnival night more than Christmas cos they’d let me go on all the rides for free and get lots of lovely prizes like baskets of fruit and things. Then all my family and lots of the workers from the Prom would go to the Ship and Anchor, then the family would finish the evening at the Chinese restaurant.
TR: Tell us about your memories of the coach parties that used to visit the Prom.
AW: Probably one of my earliest memories is seeing the Grays/Tilbury coachs pull up, full of dockers and their families, around ’69/’70. They were really really rough and caused havoc, my Dad used to employ extra lads just in case it got out of hand. I remember once they bombarded my Mum with balls when she was working on the coconut shy! And they’d jump on the rides and we’d have to try and pull them off. They’d come down once a year in about 20 coaches, they just wanted a big fun day out.
TR: And you mentioned the Valley’s involvement with Taxi day
AW: I’d always have that Wednesday off in June when I was at school, and help out for the day. My Dad would let all the kids on the rides for free, and give them money to play on the machines in the Arcade. He wouldn’t take a penny off them, and he’d always have a tear in his eye when he saw the kids, who were all disabled in those days. Meanwhile the cabbies would go to the pub and have a couple of pints. I don’t want to disparage the cab drivers cos they were lovely, and they certainly weren’t drunk, but they did enjoy a few pints over the afternoon. I used to get a postcard every year from the Father of one of the kids who I got close to, I used to take her on the trampolines, she was terribly handicapped but I’d make her laugh and smile. He kept me posted on her progress tho’ sadly I haven’t heard from them for a few years now.
TR: What are your memories of Ben Saywood?
AW: He was so feisty, I felt safe when he was there, I don’t know why because he probably couldn’t have fought his way out of a paper bag! He wouldn’t back down to anyone, if he heard someone swearing in the Arcade he go over and tell them to fuck off! He’d be effing and blinding and chase the bloke out. My Dad would always laugh at that. One time my Dad bet Ben a pound he wouldn’t dive off the top board at the lake, but he did, and it was pretty cold and they’d had a few. I used to cut his hair when he got ill and could no longer work. He was always very grateful. He was such a character, he used to take me to the pub when I was 14 and give me Holsten Pils.
TR: So your Pa took a little bit of a back seat business wise in the early 80’s, when did you take over?
AW: I took over the running of the Valley in 1991. Prior to me my Brother in law Colin Mead(TR’S cousin also)ran the Valley for a couple of years. When Colin left and went into demolition, my Dad asked me to cover, as I was working in the office, and I ended up running the place. Ten years prior to that I worked on the trampolines, from when I was 16. Things had changed a lot when I took over, and that was mostly down to Health and Safety. I had to fill in a form every night and detail any accidents, of which there were very few, possibly 2 or 3 through out the whole 10 years I ran the Valley. Once a silly lad jumped onto the train whilst it was moving and broke his ankle. We had warned him not to fool around but he did. Unfortunately his parents successfully litigated against us.
TR: So why did the Valley come to an end?
AW: Several years prior to my Dad’s passing the council told us our lease was running out, and that they were thinking of changing the Valley and the Prom generally. The council gave my Dad numerous promises that we’d retain our lease, but on the day of his funeral in July 2004, work commenced on clearing the train track from the Valley. The following year we were asked to submit a tender for an area of land on the Prom adjacent to the Valley, but unfortunately another company beat our price, by ten pounds!
TR: So give me your happiest/funniest memory
AW: God there’s so many. One that sticks in my mind was doing cross country at school, which was a run around the Prom at that time. I hated it, so as we ran, whilst the teacher wasn’t looking, I snuck down the Valley and hid in the Arcade, until I saw my class returning, at which point I was way in front, and I’d win the race!
Another great memory is one time I was with Kristian(Sal’s eldest boy)and Daniel Mead(another of TR’s cousins!)and they both wanted a pound. So I told them if they sang a love song to each other, in turn, pretending the other was a beautiful woman, whoever did best would get the quid. It was hysterical! Kris really put his heart and soul into it, he did the whole act, it was like Romeo and Juliet, “I love you Darling” says Kris, so funny!
Andrea’s top five Valley Girl tunes are:
1) Ben – Michael Jackson
2) Ain’t no mountain high enough – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
3) Three times a lady – Commodores
4) Why does it always rain on me – Travis
5) I can see clearly now – Jimmy Cliff
The Valley Boys is dedicated to the Mad Princess.