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Here is story about the Whitbread tanker that crashed into the garden of No 5 Warden Mill Close:
A memory can be a very fallible thing and this story is told to the best of my memory.
Our family moved into 3 Warden Mill Close in, I think, the summer of 1963; into one of nine surrounding, identical looking, two storied, detached red brick houses, with their asymmetrical pitched roofs.
I have always wondered what inspired the architects and builders to create such roofs, perhaps a fashionable, ‘feature-istic’ architectural thought of the time, or a reflection of something local, even the shape of the asymmetrical vents of the local Oast houses.
Three Warden Mill Close was the first home that my parents owned. Earlier in the year we had moved up from Cornwall after my father had been posted as Trade Master for Submarines in the Engineering Division of the Production Department at H.M Dockyard, Chatham.
As well as memories of arriving, a half empty house with no furniture in the kitchen, I have recollections of sunny days, and playing outside in the incomplete, and in places overgrown and undeveloped back garden, which at one end was bounded by the septic tank smelling, Mill Stream. At that time there was no lawn in the garden, but it came later, layered turf and then molehills.
Nineteen sixty four; my fifth birthday. For a present my mother went to the Maidstone markets, or was it auctions, and bought a second hand, chain driven tricycle. I have a vague memory of going with her to buy the tricycle and possibly even one for my sister, and going to a place seeming to be outside, where there were lots of people and canvass awnings.
The tricycle was brought home and I remember my mother putting newspaper on the dining room table and then placing the tricycle on top, dissembling the mud guards and using a brush to re-paint the same and the tricycle frame; the former blue and the latter red. I might add that I was intrigued by the oil sump for the bottom bracket housing the spindle for the pedal cranks, which could be refilled with oil by lifting a small, hinged cap.
The tricycle and resulting mobility it provided was fiendishly attractive and weather permitting, and when not attending Wateringbury Primary School, I had an unsupervised run of the pavements and road that comprised the lower, down-hill end of the close.
At that time I think that, like other residents in the close, we were keenly aware of the brewery, located on the higher east side of Bow Road; an imposing industrial edifice that dominated the surrounds. The busy road entrance to the brewery was opposite that to the close.
There was also the brewery’s rooftop wind vane (was it a Cockerel?). I used to sit at the end of my top bunk bed and look out through the bedroom window at the wind vane to work out, which way the wind was blowing.
The view also included the lane that ran down the side of our back garden. It crossed the Mill Stream and at a junction one part, less defined, and more of farm track, went straight ahead and crossed the hop fields to the rear of the ‘big house’ on the high, other side of the fields.
The more defined part of the lane, turned to the right, and lined each side with wrought iron fencing, led around to the top Mill Pond. At that time the area, which had been the bottom Mill Pond and which had been drained leaving only the stream, was quite wild and overgrown with nettles and brambles.
Quite often after school, and although only aged five or six, I would head out on my own to follow the lane and farm track across to the ‘big house’ to play with school friends, Andrew Snell, or Steven Maltby. The house, subdivided into two, and with treed gardens was the home of the Snell and Maltby families.
And then there were the brewery’s brown coloured brewery delivery tankers. They were a visible fact of daily life, coming and going along Bow Road on their various journeys.
In my memory the brewery entrance off Bow Road gave way to a parking area, with a possible chain linked wire fence and gate on the south side that gave access to the brewery buildings. The tankers were sometimes parked on the north and east sides of the parking area, with those on the north side often pointing slightly down hill, towards the close.
Also on the north side of the entrance was a two storey cottage, it is still there, where lived an elderly lady who would come and babysit my sister and I when our parents went out in the evening. My recollection of her was my mother complaining about her boiling the electrical kettle dry.
One day I was out riding my tricycle; summertime 1964, or 1965, I am not sure. Nobody else was about. I think it was mid, or late morning and perhaps a cloudy, overcast day; a weekday and I was on holiday.
I was riding along the pavement that ran from our driveway and across to No 7 where Penny, an older child lived; I eventually inherited and learned to ride her two wheeled bicycle.
I stopped and looked up towards the entrance to the brewery. A tanker was parked on the north side facing towards the close. As I watched it started to roll slowly forward into and across Bow Road and then into the close. There was no sign of a driver.
Seeing that the tanker was heading in my direction I got off my tricycle, leaving it beside the lamp post at the bottom of the close, and ran back towards the driveway to our house. I then turned to watch the unfolding drama.
With the steeper gradient of the close the tanker gained momentum and mounted the pavement on the north side, clipping and churning up the edge of the front lawn of No 8 (displaced soil from the lawn can be seen in one of the photographs), before plunging over and down into the front garden of No 5 and coming to rest against the front wall of the house. I seem to recall the sound of a dull thump as the tanker came to a stop. The lady who lived in No 5 favoured a bee-hive hair arrangement, short skirts and stockings.
Men soon started to arrive, first from the brewery. My tricycle remained by the lamppost where I had left it. My mother and I watched proceedings from our home.
I recall, that after a time a press reporter arrived and spoke to my mother. Shortly after I was spoken to and then I think, photographed sitting, or standing alongside my tricycle.
In the afternoon a tow truck came into the close and reversed down towards the tanker. Men moved about inspecting the tanker. A towrope was attached. The tow truck began pulling. I watched from our upstairs sitting room window.
The pull seemed to be too much for the tow truck. It surged forward, but nothing happened. The rear wheels spun, ripping up and digging down into the tarmac. I do not know what happened next, but have an impression, which may be incorrect, that late in the afternoon, a second vehicle arrived and was attached to the tow truck. Together they eventually pulled the tanker clear and it was towed away.
As it left I remember looking out at the empty close, feeling a bit empty, an anti climax to all the excitement of the day.
At breakfast, some days later, my mother showed me my photograph, which had been published in the one of the local papers. Which one? I do not know.
The holes left by the tow truck were eventually filled in using a coarser tarmac than the original, leaving two visible, dark scars.
In December 1980 I visited the close. The scars were still visible.
I have been looking at the sequence of photographs showing the recovery of the tanker.
The first in the sequence, taken at the top of the close, on the other side Bow Road, must have been taken soon after the crash and shows the first tow truck and an excavator, which I now remember was initially used to try and move the tanker.
Interestingly, if you enlarge the photograph, and look at the gap between the tow truck and a person standing beside a vehicle, and on the right side of the lower lamppost outside No 5, you can see what looks like an upright saddle, a wheel and part of a frame; I think that this is the rear side of my tricycle. Looking at it I can see that the tanker came quite close to where I left it.
The subsequent photographs of the tanker seem to show that its wheels sank into the lawn in front of No5, possibly reducing its momentum, and preventing it smashing into and through the house.
The last photograph, taken later in the afternoon shows the arrival of the second tow truck and also the damage/marks left on the tarmac by the first tow truck.
For some instinctive reason I think that the chap leaning against the lamp post with the jacket is the reporter I mentioned. I may be wrong.
Reassuring to find that my memory was largely correct-there was more than one tow vehicle. and damage was caused to the tarmac.
Clive Long sent us the following:
My dad was born there and grew up in the school house with my nan and grandpa until he went off to join the Royal Air force. My siblings and I spent a lot of time there during holidays and I even attended the school its self for a couple of terms.
Here is my father's service record, as one of Wateringburys own, I feel very happy to share this as it's another great example of achievement from a small community.
There are many references to Clive's father John Long and his family on the website and some can be found on this link:-