Wickford - a short history
Wickford nestles in a meander of the River Crouch, just north of Basildon in south Essex. Another river, the Wick, flows into the Crouch from the south. Its name, at various times written as Wickeford, Wyckford or Wygford, is Saxon in origin and means 'a sheep farm on a river crossing'. However, the town predates the name and has existed since the Bronze Age or earlier.
Wickford - A History, by Judith Williams, traces the town's fortunes from its humble beginnings as a tiny farming hamlet beset by regular flooding and poverty, to the bustling commuter town it is today. The author studies factors such as population growth, changing economic activities and town development to shed light on the challenges the town has faced. These include agricultural depressions, cholera outbreaks, exploitation by land developers, heavy bombing during the Second World War and near absorption into the rapid urban spread of Basildon New Town.
Before the 20th century Wickford was an agricultural village. Thomas Churchman Darby was an agricultural engineer who moved to Russell Gardens, Wickford in 1900. He designed and constructed his digger, which could do the work of 70 men, and sold them throughout the world. It was not an amazing success, but he continued to make cultivating implements and barn machinery. After his death, his younger son, Sidney took on the business, which became Sidney C. Darby (Wickford) Ltd.
In 1832 the population was 402. The coming of the railway in 1887 lead to a slow growth from East Enders moving out to the Essex countryside, the so-called 'Plotlanders', but by 1910 there were still only 1000 residents. After the war there was a need to house the London homeless, and the tiny hamlet of Basildon was chosen to accommodate 50,000 people. In 1955 Basildon Urban District Council was set up, and Wickford was transformed from a remote village into an urban suburb almost overnight. The current population of Wickford is 32,500 following a number of developments including Shotgate and the Wick, and is set to rise even more in the coming years
Not the prettiest town in England, it is nevertheless home to over 30,000 people who would like to retain many of its features whilst improving others. The Wickford Masterplan, although now abandoned, resulted in the building of many unsightly blocks of flats with none of the promised benefits or supporting infrastructure improvements. Care must now be taken to ensure that any further developments are carried out with consultation with the people of Wickford, and it is the aim of the Wickford Action Group to monitor this.
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