This is a story of a town like any other, only more so. Wickford is not a town that has been blessed with the excitement of Stroud, it doesn't have the interesting name of Leighton Buzzard or the cultural highlights of Oldham, yet it has made its own small mark in history.
What and Where
The name Wicforda was recorded around 975 AD, and it was listed in the Domesday Book as Wicfort. The name seems to come from a ford by a Romano-British settlement, though it could mean 'a ford in the River Wick'.
The south Essex town is in the district of Basildon, although there have been suggestions that it should join neighbouring Billericay and South Woodham Ferrers in forming their own council. The nearest towns are Basildon to the south, Rayleigh to the southeast, South Woodham Ferrers to the northeast and Billericay to the west.
The best way to leave Wickford is quickly, so it comes as a bonus that the transport links are very good. The town is at the junction of the A132 from South Woodham Ferrers to Pitsea with the A129 Brentwood to Hadleigh. The A130 and A127 truck roads are within five minutes drive. Also, it is the point on the railway where the Crouch Valley Branch Line towards South Woodham Ferrers and Burnham On Crouch splits away from the London Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria mainline.
Buses through Wickford include:
- 25A - Langdon Hills via Laindon and Basildon to Shotgate
- 25B - Langdon Hills via Laindon and Basildon to Runwell Church
- 25 - Southend via Rayleigh to Basildon Hospital
- 221 - The Wick to Wickford
- 232 - Basildon Hosptial to Shotgate
- 237 - South Woodham Ferrers to Basildon Hospital
Wickford has its own bus company, Nelson Independent Buses, which provides school bus services across South and Mid-Essex as well as some local services.
The non-tidal stretch of the River Crouch, confined by concrete, flows through the town. The River Wick flows into the Crouch from the south.
The town has an adult population of around 28,000 with about 60% in the three higher social classes (A, B and C1).
There are two secondary schools, Beauchamps and Bromfords, both of which perform well in league tables.
Things to do in Wickford When you are Bored
Nobody has ever died of excitement while visiting Wickford.
The two main shopping centres are called 'The Ladygate' and 'The Willowgate'. They sit either side of the high street and each contain about a dozen shops. Possibly the shop most worth a visit is 'Adrian's' (the record store), which claims to be the largest independent record shop in the country. Both shopping centres are sad remnants of the 1960s; however while Ladygate is plastered with posters for club nights elsewhere in Essex, Willowgate has been tarted up recently.
There is a swimming pool for the sports-orientated. There are no gig venues or night clubs in Wickford. Nearby Basildon is a better bet for nightlife, with the Festival Leisure Park being home to a number of nightclubs, a cinema and a bowling alley. The car park of the Festival Leisure Park is often used for meets of custom car groups where teenagers show off how they have spent their pocket money on butchering their mum's Vauxhall Corsa. Barleylands Farm on the A129 between Wickford and Billericay is one of Essex's leading blues venues.
Wickford has a number of public houses, most of which offer the same blend of over-chilled lager, brightly-coloured and slightly-sticky carpets, and the unmistakable sound of Essex laughter. The Swan on the High Street has alternative music nights once a week.
The Wick Country Park, which is south of Wickford, covers about 50 acres. It boasts a lake, and, like most of the nearby Essex countryside, is dotted with WWII pillboxes1.
Wickford Station was built in 1888 and became a major commuter centre in the 20th Century. With only hourly service on the Crouch Valley line, many residents choose to drive to Wickford and get their train from there. With grammar schools in Southend and Westcliff, a private school in Billericay and public and convent schools in Brentwood all taking pupils from South Woodham Ferrers and beyond, there are normally quite a few schoolchildren lurking around between four and five o'clock.
During their first week, children learn that there is really nothing to do outside the station, so will spend months of their lives sitting in Wickford station.
Driving in Wickford
The A132 runs as a dual carriageway through the town. Drivers going eastbound on the A129 have to join the A132 on one large roundabout, pass under the railway, go all the way round the roundabout, and then turn off to the left. This task is made harder by the rather unpredictable road-markings and a whole town of dangerous drivers, many of them with subscriptions to Max Power magazine and cars to match.
Famous People from Wickford
There have been almost a handful of notable people who have lived in Wickford: The name Edmund Reade (c1563 - 1623/4) may seem unfamiliar, but he has had a considerable effect on the world. His daughter Elizabeth married Connecticut governor John Winthrop, and it is believed that the naming of the town of Wickford in Rhode Island was down to her. Two of Edmund Reade's descendants are John Kerry and George W Bush.
Wickford's greatest musical star originally got his break rebranding the second incarnation of Shane Fenton before becoming glam rock idol and face of road safety, Alvin Stardust.
It is a measure of Wickford that two of its residents decided it would be preferable to be locked up in a house with 10 other wannabe stars for the amusement of the general populace on Big Brother, to living in Wickford. The long-forgotten Paul Something-or-other featured in the second series, while glamour model Chantelle Houghton pretended she was a singer from a made-up band throughout the run of Celebrity Big Brother 2006. She ended up winning thanks to the viewers' votes; and also won the heart of a fellow housemate, a singer who also came from a band that nobody had ever heard of - The Ordinary Boys.
In March of 2006, Guinevere, the black vulture who escaped from South Woodham Ferrers, was eventually captured in a back garden in Wickford after spending nearly a week in the Essex countryside. The fact she was lured away by the bright lights of Wickford says something for the delights of South Woodham Ferrers. Guinevere became big news in Essex, mainly because very little else happens out there.
Some Places Near Wickford:
Runwell sits on the eastern edge of Wickford and is part of the Borough of Chelmsford. It proudly proclaims to be a nuclear-free community. The train which transports the nuclear waste from Bradwell Power Station passes within a mile of Runwell.
Runwell has its own psychiatric hospital, which is home to one of the world's first brain banks, the Corsellis Collection.
Battlesbridge is where the Crouch becomes tidal. It is a major centre in the Essex antiques industry, and the mill is a local landmark.
Rettendon Turnpike used to be the junction of the A132 and the A130. The new A130 bypasses the junction, however there are now two roundabouts to negotiate.
Rettendon's most ghoulish claim to fame is the shotgun murders of two drug dealers down a farm track off the old A130 in 1998. The crime inspired the film Essex Boys.