|From the early 1930s to the 1960s a family called the Wooldridges farmed at Kemps Farm. Maurice and Bessie Wooldridge moved to Peldon in about 1930 with their family of five, Stephen, Geoffrey, Dora, Aline and Eva. At the time of writing (September 2018), Dora is still alive, having just passed her 104th birthday. Her account of being a Land Army Girl in World War 2, working at Kemps Farm, can be found elsewhere on the Mersea Museum (Peldon) site. Her niece, Anne Lee, now resident in New Zealand, has been putting together a Wooldridge family history and much of the information quoted here comes from her memories and research.
Maurice and Bessie Wooldridge
My grandparents, Maurice and Elizabeth Wooldridge, were originally farming in Kent (in Hoath, near Canterbury). My understanding is that they could hear the sound of fighting in France during the First World War, and so moved to Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire, where my father [Stephen], the youngest of their 5 children, was born. The others, including Dora were born in Kent. The farm in Hertfordshire was rented, but when my grandmother came into a legacy they bought a farm near Maldon (Little Totham Hall). They also lived in a houseboat on the canal at Heybridge Basin for a while between their time at Little Totham and finally buying Kemps Farm, in the early 1930s.
Their eldest child was Aline, who married Ken Gowen. Their daughter Jill grew up in West Mersea and is a bit older than me. Next was Geoffrey, who later emigrated to New Zealand. His three children still live in New Zealand. Eva married Russell Ewens and lived in Mersea for many years running a nursery school at White Gates, Bower Hall Lane and bringing up two daughters. Dora was the second youngest of the family. My father, the youngest, didn't say much to me about what life was like in Peldon during the war and afterwards, but I do remember him saying that they used to grow birdseed in the middle of a field (so that it could not be seen) to sell on the black market because farmers were supposed to concentrate on food for humans. Anne Lee
Maurice and Bessie farmed at Kemps Farm from the early 1930s to 1951.
Maurice in the farm yard in 1932.
The Wooldridge siblings left to right Stephen, Dora, Eva, Aline and Geoffrey
During the war years, Maurice continued running his mixed farm, mainly arable, producing corn, straw and hay; he also had sheep and pigs and a few hens with one milking cow for the family's own use.
His wife, Bessie was very involved with village life and the war effort, hosting the Knitting Party many times at Kemps Farm where local women knitted 'comforts' - gloves, hats and socks - for men from the village who were fighting in the war. She was also very involved with the church being voted onto the Parochial Church Council. She regularly helped with sales of work at the church fete, and manned the refreshments stall. She played piano at functions for the Peldon Girl Guides of which daughter Dora was a member and played the organ in St Mary's Church.
Following military service during which he married a young Belgian woman called Gil Smets, son Stephen returned home to continue farming with his father and moved into a bungalow next door, called Kemps Bungalow, especially built for him and his family. Stephen and Gil's daughter, Anne, was born in 1946 and son Anthony two years later.
We did not move into Kemps Farm itself until after my grandfather, Maurice Wooldridge, died in 1951. My grandmother, Elizabeth (also known as Bessie) then moved into the bungalow. She later moved to a house in Colchester, but she was in the bungalow all the time that we were in the farmhouse. The bungalow no longer exists. It was acquired by Geoff and Rosemary Wilson in about 1971 but was later replaced by another house, called Whitethorns.
Kemps Bungalow, renamed Whitethorns by a subsequent owner and since demolished to make way for a modern detached house also called Whitethorns.
Anne Lee with her mother Gil Wooldridge in a field of stooks at Kemps Farm circa 1948.
Gil Wooldridge baling straw at Fingringhhoe 1959.
It was Stephen who was to take over the running of the farm after Maurice's death in 1951, following a brief partnership, lasting about two years, with older brother, Geoffrey. The business was known as 'The Wooldridge Brothers'.
Farming had only been a spare-time job for Stephen; he was actually employed by Colchester Tractors (part of Ernest Doe's) where he became managing director. He resigned from that position in 1952 to concentrate on farming full-time.
Geoffrey had a spell working as a young man on farms in New Zealand and didn't move into Kemps Farm with the family until 1933. He married a Mersea girl, Suzanne Hamilton Reeve, at West Mersea Parish Church in 1938, and during the war worked for Ernest Doe's who had a contract for building and repairing airfields in the east of England. He and his new wife lived in Epping and he was in the local Home Guard.
I believe Geoff continued working for Doe's during this time, while Stephen lived on the farm.
Mike Wooldridge, the eldest of Geoff's children remembers repairing sacks in the old barn
Stephen had a work shop in there too. I also remember helping to remove the bed litter and spreading it on the fields. I drove one of the trucks at harvest time.
Geoff was to emigrate to farm in New Zealand with Susanne and their three children in 1953.
With Stephen and family living in the farm and Bessie in Kemps Bungalow, Anne remembers spending time with her grandmother in the 1950s.
I remember that she went to church regularly and that about 4 times a year she would take my brother and me to such services as harvest festival, mothering Sunday, Easter etc. When she lived in the bungalow and we were in the farmhouse we would have to go to her for an hour or so each Sunday instead of going to Sunday school. I don't remember much about what we did on those occasions except that she usually gave us jellies to eat. On one occasion, it was a lovely day and I persuaded my brother to go and tell her we couldn't come that day and we got a bus to West Mersea and went to the beach. I don't think either of us could swim at that stage! My grandmother had smelt a rat and she and my parents were livid when we got back! (I expect they were also very worried!) I don't remember what punishment we were given, if any. Anne Lee
Bessie lived to the age of 94 and died in 1974. Both Maurice and Bessie are buried in Peldon Churchyard.
Stephen Wooldridge ran Kemps Farm from 1951 to when it was sold in the 1960s. His son Anthony relates.
I lived at Kemps farm as a boy with my sister Anne (now living in New Zealand) where my father Stephen farmed after taking over from his father. I think my father initially was in partnership with his brother, Geoffrey, who later moved to New Zealand to farm there.
My father, Stephen, was a mechanical engineer officer in the war. Building bailey bridges and repairing roads etc using heavy machinery after D day. He got as far as Brussels when the war ended, He met my mother there and married her. I remember him saying that it saved him being sent to the Far East where the war was still raging. But I'm sure that wasn't the reason he married! Anyway, he returned to Kemps Farm, later becoming managing director of Colchester tractors (now part of Ernest Doe's) although he still farmed as well. He was also tenant farming land behind the ranges and land belonging to Mrs Lennon at Fingringhoe, also MOD land at Upper Haye Farm, Fingringhoe, where we lived for a while after selling Kemps. He, like his father, tried to drop out of farming and we lived in The Avenue, Lexden, for a while before he bought Rookery Farm in Ardleigh in the 1960's, which is where I am now still farming after a career in electronics. Anthony Wooldridge
In 1958, Stephen was featured in the Essex County Standard following bad weather and a late harvest.
Stephen Wooldridge surveying weather damage to crops at Kemps Farm in August 1958
Mr S Wooldridge of Kemps Farm, Peldon, who farms 300 acres of corn at Peldon, Fingringhoe and Blackheath estimates that 25 per cent has been flattened by the weather this year.
Manure put on the land increased the yield of corn, but made the heavier crop more susceptible to the ravages of the elements.
'A combine harvester, however, will pick up most of the flattened corn, although there will be a slight loss in quality' he added.
'Things should not be too bad if good weather comes. If it does not it may upset schedules for the coming season. Usually we start harvesting about the end of July, but this year we have only just begun.'
Apart from the weather Mr Wooldridge says he has to contend with courting couples and youngsters who trample his corn at Blackheath.' Only people living around towns do this kind of thing'. Essex County Standard 15.8.1958
Anne mentions her father was also a bit of an inventor and he designed and built the "Blackwater Sacklifter" - a machine to lift up sacks of corn to make it easier for people to handle them.
Stephen Wooldridge's Blackwater sacklifter
Dora Banfield nee Wooldridge
In the Essex County Standard newspaper, the local news columns for Peldon between 1931 and 1948 reveal both Dora and her mother are very involved with village life. Dora is a member of the Peldon Girl Guides and receives her badges for 'Child Nurse' and 'Sick Nurse'. Both she and her mother play piano for various Girl Guide concerts. There are entries in the West Mersea School log book for Dora starting as a student teacher in 1931, and then eventually leaving in 1937 to go to Chingford to teach. She leaves London once the war starts to work on Kemps Farm.
At various times my aunt Dora has written to me about her life in Peldon to help me with my family history.
As well as her work on the farm, she trained in her spare time as a Red Cross Nurse - V.A.D. - and she worked one day and one night a week in Essex County Hospital in Colchester, both in the women's ward and in the military ward. Of the latter, she said: "That was very rewarding but very sad, too, to see some of their war wounds." Matron once asked her if she would like to train as a nurse. "You'd make a good nurse", she said. However, that didn't happen. In the evenings Dora helped in the NAAFI coffee bar. She said that what with the farm work, the work in the hospital and in the coffee bar, she must have been very fit! It was in the coffee bar that she met her future husband, Robert Banfield. He had left Taunton, where he lived, to join the R.A.S.C. motor boat company. They got married in Peldon church in 1943. She said they then lived in a "romantic little cottage" called Rose cottage, on the edge of Kemps Farm. (Kemps Bungalow was later built between Rose cottage and Kemps Farm). Rose Cottage still existed in 2009 but had been restored and enlarged. After a while, Robert was moved to Scotland but
Dora stayed on until her first child Mary Aline, was born in Colchester on 29 September 1944 (in an air raid! - as the sirens were going, the new mums were told by Matron to "get under your beds, girls, get under your beds.") Mary was baptised in Peldon church. As Robert was working in Rothesay, Dora and Mary went to live with him in Scotland for a while and then went to live with Robert's aunt in Taunton. After the war, the family settled in Bridgwater, Somerset. In 2008, in recognition for her work as a land girl, Dora received a Land Army Badge from DEFRA and a letter signed by Gordon Brown. Dora said: "It's a very pretty badge of a wheat sheaf. It has made me realize how much we did on the farm during the war and many memories have been coming back which I had almost forgotten - such as using the cart horses and pitch-forking the corn stacks."
Dora Wooldridge and Robert Banfield's wedding in 1943 at St Mary's Church, Peldon.
Kemps Farm, Mersea Road, Peldon
Kemps Farm and pond in the 1930s - the pond has since been filled in.
In The Place Names of Essex the name 'Kemp's Farm' is thought to be associated with the family of John Kemp who is first mentioned in 1351 in a court document called 'The Foot of the Fine' which pertains to the transfer or settlement of property.
Today's farmhouse was Grade II listed in 1982. According to the British Listed Buildings website, it is 17th century, timber framed and plastered, with red plain tile roof. It has a gabled crosswing at the east end, undercut, and was extensively altered in the twentieth century.
Anne remembers it was very dark inside the farmhouse due to the heavy beams. There was no electricity until after the war years; a generator was used for power. As children she and her brother remember going to bed with a candle. There was a Rayburn in the kitchen, and a piano in the dining room alcove. Early on, their grandfather Maurice had built a downstairs bathroom - just big enough for a large bath - and a separate inside toilet.
Anne Lee recalls
After we moved in c 1951, an extension was added to the back of the house which included a bathroom.
It was then extensively altered following a serious chimney fire in 1955. There are modern casements but the original l7th century central chimney stack remains.
A picture of the interior of Kemps Farm in 1932
Next to the farm, a listed 19th century barn stands propped up by scaffolding and in danger of collapse. It is described as an early 19th century black weather-boarded barn; timber framed, with grey corrugated asbestos roof. It has five bays, with gabled wing to the road, and later lean-to and flat roofed extensions. Its roof, which is original, is side purlin (large support beams) with ridge board.
Kemps Farm barn and pond
Anne recalls the barn and pond at Kemps Farm
When I last saw the barn in 2014 or 2016 it was in a very sorry state and held together with scaffolding. In our time I think it was still serviceable (probably used for storage of corn etc). I remember hanging out in the newer barn and helping my father by mending sacks for the corn. In front of the barn - it's possible I've misremembered exactly where - there was a pit that corn was tipped into and fed into the dresser. One day my brother fell in and they had to hurriedly stop the machinery and pull him out. I can't remember how old he was at the time.
There was a pond (I think it is no longer there). One of my earliest memories is when it was iced over one winter. My brother and I saw a cat walking on the ice and I thought I could do the same. Of course the ice broke and I was left hanging half in half out of the freezing water and unable to get out. My brother, bless him, ran back to the bungalow (we were still living there then) to get help and I was rescued. I vaguely remember being wrapped in blankets to warm me up. Anthony could not have been much more than 3 year old. Quite a hero! On the subject of the pond, Colin Coan [who farms Kemps Farm now] in a telephone conversation in 2010 mentioned that there was a ghost story involving the pond and a horse and carriage. I don't remember the details, but maybe he can tell you more.
Colin Coan told me he started working for my father at the age of 15, and that he had taught him all he knew about farming. They got on well, but worked hard. Fred Francis also worked for my father, and his mother, (Mrs Francis to us children!), sometimes babysat for us. They lived in the village in one of the houses on the left hand side of the road as you go from Kemps Farm to the village centre [Peldon Crescent].
Early 1955 I believe someone had lit a fire in the fireplace to air the place before we returned from a holiday
in Belgium. There was a wooden beam in the chimney/fireplace which had probably been smouldering for years,
and finally it caught fire. I believe some family friends had driven past and seen smoke coming out of the chimney and commented that the Wooldridges had a good fire going! First my father rushed home from Belgium, and soon after my mother joined him. My brother and I were left in Belgium with my Belgian grandparents, and eventually we were put on a plane to travel home. Quite an adventure for us children! I must have been not quite 9 and my brother about 7. Even now, we have documents etc with singe marks from the fire. I had a beautiful pale green dress that my Belgian grandmother had made for me. It was singed and my mother had it dyed spinach green. I hated that dress after that! While the house was being repaired we lived in a small cottage called Dalmuir, which had an outside toilet and a bath in the kitchen! Anne Lee
Dalmuir on the main Colchester to Mersea Road not far from the Peldon Rose and no longer there. A temporary home for the Wooldridges after the fire at Kemps Farm.
Kemps Farm boarded up after the fire in 1955
Kemps Farm in 1956 after renovation following the fire
Following the Wooldridges' departure, Kemps Farm was taken over by Bayswater Estates and farmed by Colin Coan; it is now farmed by Peldon Hall Farm.
Aline's daughter, Jill, still lives at West Mersea and Stephen's son Anthony farms in Ardleigh while his sister
Anne came over from New Zealand for a visit in the summer of 2018, still keeping up the Peldon connection and
hoping to uncover more about her family's history here.
Peldon History Project July 2018
With thanks to Anne Lee and Anthony Wooldridge
Marriages of the Wooldridge siblings
2nd March 1935 at Peldon Parish Church Kenneth Arthur Gowen only son of Mr and Mrs Gowen of West Mersea, and Miss Aline Elizabeth Wooldridge, eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs M Wooldridge, of Kemps Farm, Peldon Essex County Standard 2.3.1935
22nd October 1938 Geoffrey Maurice Wooldridge married Susanne Hamilton Reeve at West Mersea Parish Church West Mersea Parish Register
Sat June 1st at Peldon Parish Church Mr Sidney Russell Ewens of White Gates, West Mersea and Miss Evelyn Mary Wooldridge, second daughter of Mr and Mrs Maurice Wooldridge of Kemps Farm, Peldon. Essex County Standard 8.6.1940
Sat 25th September at Peldon Parish Church Cpl Robert K Banfield RASC only son of the late Mr A G Banfield of Taunton, Somerset and Miss Dora Gertrude Wooldridge, daughter of Mr and Mrs Wooldridge of Kemps Farm Essex County Standard 1.10.1943
On 4th July 1945 Stephen Wooldridge married Gilberte Smets in Brussels.
Dora Banfield in the Women's Land Army