Why They Came to Harlow: Jim Noble: From Sunderland to Sharpecroft

Jim Noble

Harlow Pioneer – Jim Noble

As told to his daughter, Barbara Noble

OUR family moved from Sunderland to Sharpecroft in Harlow in November 1954, as My Dad had got a job at STC, with a Development Corporation house included in the deal. My Dad came down first, and got the keys to the house, and my Mum and I followed a few days later. I was 18 months old. Sharpecroft was surrounded by muddy fields and building sites, and there was no town centre. We had to walk to the Stow to buy food, but there was also a set of garages at Slacksbury Hatch where Nicholson’s used to sell groceries. We also has meat, vegetables and coal delivered weekly. Every week, we got a new neighbour – almost all from the East End, and all but one are still in Sharpecroft.

Here are My Dad’s early memories:

“It started on a Thursday, for this was the day when the ‘pioneer’ would collect they keys for his new house and sign the Contract of Tenancy and get his rent book from the Development Corporation office in the Stow. Mr Swain officiated. It was easy enough getting into the office, but getting out was another matter. All round the door were tradesmen hoping to start business. Brochures and bill heads and printed promises of all kinds offering goods and services were waved in one’s face. Being a tall, skinny person with sharp elbows, I managed to get through this mob, and set off to walk back to Sharpecroft, in the Hare Street area of the town. There were no suitable buses then.

Some tradesmen were a little more enterprising, and followed a new keyholder to his new house. My example of this is quite amusing, though I did not think so then. There seemed to be so many of them – regular deliveries of washed potatoes, window cleaning services, milk, cement and other materials for making garden paths (we had no garden fences at first, and builders rubble instead of grass), made-to-measure pelmets, coal, local newspapers, car hire, cement mixer hire, garden tools, plants, baby goods, etc, etc.

The arrangements my wife and I had made to move furniture from the north of England worked well, and I paid the removal men on the spot, and then had to make a start on arranging some of the furniture. My wife, who was to follow me down, had not yet seen the house, so I thought to leave most of the decisions about this until she joined me on the Saturday. I had heard about the Hare pub, so I nipped round and had a bottle of Guinness to give me strength. At 8pm, I began the job of making the place habitable. Drawing pins made short work of temporary curtains, but I noticed this was a dusty job, and I had no spare clothing. My new bosses at STC expected a smart suit, so I could not risk messing it up. To protect my trousers, I took them off.

Although I was tempted to ignore the loud knocking at the door, I thought this could be unwise so I pulled on my trousers and went to the door. There was a pleasant young man who said that he represented a local farm specialising in diary products and could he put me down for regular deliveries. I explained that my wife would deal with this and he should wait until she arrived. Sounds simple, but…… Back indoors, I took off my trousers and carried on with moving the furniture.

Perhaps 5 minutes later there was another loud knock on the front door, so I put on my trousers again and went to the door. It was the same young man who apologised for disturbing me again. This time his business was to give me a pint of milk with compliments of his company which was called Radbournes. I said this was welcome. Back in the house, I took off my trousers and began work again.

My wife had packed away the bedding, so that night I thought I would sleep on the sofa, and was just arranging things, when there was loud knocking at the front door. It just cannot be the same chap, I thought, so I put on my trousers and went to the door. It was him again! This time he gave me 4 eggs with the compliments of his company which was called Radbournes. I said Good Night, and went in and took off my trousers and finished the job, and settled down on the sofa. In the morning, I drank the milk, pulled on my trousers and went out to catch the bus to take me to Boreham Wood. STC had not yet opened their factory in Templefields. In those days, the bus to Boreham Wood went from Hare St Springs.

I have told few people this story – I can still smile when I think about it – it was early November 1954.

By 1956 I had made quite a few friends, not all of whom were incomers. One of these was a lady who lived in Kingsmoor Road and who ran a little riding school in the fields on which Princess Alexandra Hospital was later built. She had stables at Parndon Hall which had been the home of the Arkwright family, but was being used by Mrs Kitty Claire as part of her private girls’ school. The lady with the horses was Peggy Law.

Parndon Hall is only a few minutes’ walk from Sharpecroft, and in those days there was just a field and a little bluebell wood in between. One morning when I stepped out of the front door to go to work, I was astonished to see a horse on my lawn having a good breakfast. I recognised it as being one of Peggy’s horses, and it must have escaped from the field where the hospital now is. There was nothing I could do, but the horse stood little risk as there was very little traffic in those days. When I arrived at work I phoned Peggy, who had no idea a horse of hers was loose, and she came to collect it.

Months passed, and we noticed a great deal of activity on the field (now the Harvey centre multi-storey car park) between my house and where the theatre would one day be. The next morning when I left to go to work, on the pavement opposite my house, where builders were still working on Edmunds Tower, were three elephants. This was too much and I stood a while for it to sink in. The elephants were drinking out of a large sheet iron tank belonging to the builders. By now on the field at the end of the street was a large marquee and lots of caravans and a banner announcing Chipperfield’s Circus. I suppose Miss Chipperfield had come to an arrangement with the builders in view of the amount of water elephants need. What could I have said if the boss had seen me coming into work late that day and asked for an explanation?

This was not the end of the story, for that night was the most severe thunder storm for years with terrific lightning and thunderclaps. I heard the trumpeting of terrified elephants as I lay in bed. If they had escaped, I am sure they would have made straight for their water hole opposite my front garden. I was very glad when the circus moved on.

Intro by Barbara Noble, memories by Jim Noble.

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2 Responses to "Why They Came to Harlow: Jim Noble: From Sunderland to Sharpecroft"

  1. JerryFromQueens   March 26, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    Love hearing stories like this. The book Harlow: The Story Of A New Town is an absolute must read for anyone interested in the town.

  2. AWR   March 27, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    This brings back great memories of when I moved to Harlow with my parents in 1953. It was like a ‘sea of mud’ with all the building going on, we didn’t have fences for a while as the rolls of fences were stolen!

    It was great coming from London where we played on bombsites to be able to play in fields.

    What Barbara says mirrors much of what we found with the tradesmen etc. They often waited outside the rent office in the Stow when people went to pick up the keys to their new house.

    I can remember circus animals arriving at Harlow Mill station and being walked along Elizabeth Way but not sure what year that was

    I also remember Jim from when he worked at United Glass

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