26. The Avenue

The Avenue in about 1900, with people in the distance.
The Avenue in about 1900, with people in the distance.

In 1920, The Avenue in Witham was said to be “known all over the country – in fact, its fame was world-wide for the beauty of the trees”. They were lime trees, and had been planted about 150 years previously. They stood on either side of the unpaved driveway to the Grove, which was the large house on the other side of Newland Street.

It was all owned from the 1890s up to the First World War by Mr Percy Laurence, J.P. He was one of the most wealthy people in Witham, and was President of most of the clubs and societies. Mr Edgar Sainty remembered “the ladies of the house used to drive through there when they went to church in an open carriage, don’t know if they call it a landau or whatever it is, with the old boy on top with a cocked hat.” Mrs Amy Taylor was then a little girl whose family lived in the lodge at the top of the Avenue (which is still there). She wrote that “We used to see the maids come up the Avenue to go to Church on their Sunday mornings off”. And also that “they made quite a stir when the younger ones started wearing ‘pneumonia’ blouses (low necked)”.

Mrs Frances Hawkes and Mrs Gladys Baker (both born in 1897) once told me some of their memories of the Avenue. “The gentleman at the Grove used to drive through the Avenue every morning in a horse and carriage to the station, didn’t he ?, Pedestrians could go through, but no traffic was allowed through, was it ? There was a small sort of hoop shaped iron gate at the side of the big gates where you could go through and we, as children, used to play in the Avenue.” Mrs Coleman, a little younger, remembered “lots of hollow trees, in which we used to play ‘hide and seek’”. Adults were perhaps more dignified. Thus in 1894, people were said to be “promenading” when a bullock, being walked to the station, leapt over the fence and caused “a good deal of alarm”.

The extensive grassy space on either side of the Avenue, between Avenue Road and Collingwood Road, was used for special events. In particular, soldiers in training camped there during the First World War. Mrs Ann Redman said “the regiments used to drill in the Avenue, and I remember tents up, for the men who were under canvas.“ And Miss Flo Pavelin recalled “There was a lot of soldiers billeted in there. And just over the hedge from Collingwood Road was all field kitchens. All the ovens, they used to do all the cooking and that in there. And of course, the other side of The Avenue they’d got all the horses in that meadow there.”

Needless to say, there was outrage when a building firm cut most of the trees down during the early 1920s, and the iron gates from the top were sent to Great Ruffins, a large house in Great Totham. The final clearance was in 1935, to make way for a road, some new houses, and some small new saplings. Straight away there were complaints about heavy vehicles. It was reported that the Council “put up notices at either end of the Avenue, asking that heavy traffic doesn’t use it.”

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