Christmas in Rainham in the 1950s

Sadly Christmas in Rainham appears to be much quieter these days with only the dull street decorations and in contrast the colourful lights in the houses to remind us of this special time.

Christmas in the 1950s, for those involved in the Church, was always a time of organised carol singing round the village behind the Vicar's elderly Austin 7, towing a trailer upon which was tied an old piano. Choir boys and girls in their surpluses followed the trailer with the Sunday School Staff making up the rear including Miss List and Mr Dennis accompanying the piano on his squeezebox accordion. Some would carry improvised lanterns. It was I recall a very festive sight.

Another annual event at this time of year was the Sunday School Christmas parties at the Church Hall in Orchard Street. The Vicar, the late Rev Jordan, nearly always played the part of Father Christmas. One year I remember he wasn't able to do it. Miss List who always organised such events with military precision asked me to be Father Christmas. Dressed in the time honoured way, Miss List said make a lot of noise as you enter the stage by the back door, then she continued 'I can tell the little ones that Father Christmas is coming'. After being duly announced by Miss List I began to hand out the presents. The remarks of those little children, who must be in their 60s now, as to who Father Christmas really was still make me smile. 'It's the Vicar' 'No it's not, it's Mr Cumberworth from Ivy Street' 61 think it's Mr Dennis from Station Road' said one little girl, 'No it's not said another 'He's too tall.' One little girl, I recall said it all 'it really is Father Christmas.'
Happy memories of old Rainham

John K Austin School Master (retired).


As can be seen from the plans below the grandly named Broadview Garden Estate consisted of Broadview Avenue, Herbert Road and Arthur Road. The estate was sold off as individual plots of land for residents to build their own property on but the developer had a series of designs that had to be used hence the reason many of the houses have a similar look and feel despite the years that have passed.



What is now Orchard Street was at the time just a road that joined Broadview Avenue through to Arthur Road. It didn't continue any further towards Rainham although the Church path footpath did exist and Maidstone Road also continued to the A2.

The adverts offered a choice of building plots from £30 Freehold and boasted of Company Water mains on the estate and gas supply being available, that roads and paths would be made and offered Railway Bus and Tram services. It was described as "The finest building estate in Kent".

The vendor was C.E. Andrews of Wigmore House, Wigmore, Chatham (interesting that it was Chatham not Gillingham given as the address)

You can see the rural nature of Rainham at the time of the land sales in this 1930 aerial photo of Rainham


The new Tilbury estate off Station Road including Finwell Road in Rainham was built in the late 1960s and my parents moved there in 1967. This is the photo of the house shortly after they moved in.

The purchase price of a new bungalow in 1967 was £4150. The same house now is estimated by Zoopla to be worth £407,000!

After the article about The Missing Rainham Bypass - Rainham Southern Relief Road Maggie Francis has kindly passed on this copy of Action Forum showing the plans for the road and the rest of the area from 1965 which originally were for a full ring road around Rainham in addition to the bypass. The full story is below


I recently noticed a report which indicated that  Gillingham Borough Council had agreed to compulsorily acquire land on the northem side of Longley Road which they considered an eyesore and  I wondered if the members were told that it was the  Council which caused the original blight.

This goes  back thirty years when a plan was produced (reprinted herewith) by consultants, after an  exhaustive survey, for the regeneration of the village. I started the process by putting down a motion of  ‘no confidence’ in the Planning Committee who had  been turning down applications for the enlargement  and the development of shops in Rainham High  Street. This was brought to a head when Woolworths  applied to enlarge premises, now Lukehurst’s main  shop, which had previously been a cycle shop with  the old cinema adjacent. The Council refused this  application with others and I considered that the  natural development of High Street shopping was  being stifled to the detriment of Rainham residents.  I knew that the Borough Engineer strongly  favoured a new Shopping Centre and I felt that the  refusals were part of a plan to bring that about. My  censure motion created a degree of personal  acrimony but the Council resolved to appoint  consultants to advise on the future shopping needs  and its location and changes which might improve  the central area of Rainham.  I considered this a waste of public funds as if a new shopping centre was to be created then there were only two possible locations in close proximity to the top of Station Road which has always been  recognised as the central point of the village.

One of  these sites was where the shops were ultimately built  and the other was between Station Road and Ivy  Street, just behind the Co-operative store which was  then open land having once been the grazing area for  Jacobs dairy.  The plan proposed by the consultants went far  beyond what was anticipated but it included various  pet ideas which had been ‘floated’ by senior officers  and some members from time to time. A major  bypass was included, running parallel south of the  A2 from Holding Street to just east of Miers Court  Road which itself would be widened and rebuilt  leading into a new loop road running eventually  along the line of Hothfield Road and Tufton Road  and then sweeping south around the outside edge of  a new shopping centre served by large car parks and  a bus station. Readers will note that the bottom of  Orchard Street was diverted to connect up with the  new loop road under a major fly over. Rainham High  Street and the top of Station Road would be for  pedestrians only with no through traffic between  Holding Street and Miers Court Road. 

It is interesting to see the number of shop units  recommended, less than half of which have been  built and some of those are empty.  The Council adopted the recommendations in  total. I was strongly opposed as I considered that the  centre of Rainham would be divided into four  distinct areas: (I) south of the bypass; (2) between  the bypass and the High Street, with hardly any  provision for access; (3) between the High Street and  the loop road; and (4) north of the loop road.  Both routes of the proposed bypass and the new  loop road with other properties covered by the plan  caused an immediate blight. The whole of the area  on the south side of Tufton Road to the north side of  Longley Road was a “reserved space’ all of which  caused consternation and a great deal of worry to  numerous residents who realised that their properties  were devalued and probably could not be sold. Both  Gillingham Borough Council and the KCC had to  buy properties along the routes of the proposed roads  and of course the route of the proposed bypass (as  amended) is still in the structure plan so much of that  area is still blighted.

Some residents in Station Road  moved and I know that Wilkin’s the hardware shop on the comer of Tufton Road had to be acquired.  Whilst many residents were worried and some  probably lost money inevitably there were other  landowners who prospered by the proposals. Much of the shopping centre and car park was a cherry  orchard and the Co-operative shop was built mainly  on the old school site.  I left the Council in I967 and have no record of  when the proposed new loop road was deleted from  the plan but it was in for some years and blighted the  area of land in Longley Road which is now the  subject of concern and possible acquisition. To the  best of my knowledge this land was owned by Holden’s, a firm of builders, who applied for various  developments which were refused.

It just shows how Authorities produce plans which have a profound effect upon residents for good or ill for many years.  The main point made by the consultants was that every effort should be made to ‘recapture an intimate  village atmosphere otherwise Rainham would be  swallowed up by the ever-expanding Medway  Towns and would completely lose any identity or character of its own’. I leave readers to decide if the  slightest vestige of ‘village atmosphere’ remains. It  was considered that the eastern part of the Borough  had a potential population of 40 to 50,000 which  would justify a new shopping centre but it was  emphasised that this should not be large enough to pose a threat to the main centres of Chatham and  Gillingham (how different from the attitude adopted  over the Savacentre).

The consultants claimed that  their plan would preserve and improve the character of the village but in my view one of the main errors  was the demolition of the old Church School at the top of Station Road, this took away one of the four  buildings in that area which were necessary to preserve the soul of the village and its retention  would have enabled community activities to have  been centralised in a building to which many of us already had a close attachment.  So what have we got from the grandiose plans of  thirty years ago — we have a shopping centre  comprising about half of the shops then proposed  with a car park but no bus station. Many of the retail  shops in the High Street have become banks, estate  agents or offices, the bypass has never been built but  remains in the plan causing blight along its proposed  route and the new loop road which caused so much  concern to residents was presumably subsequently removed from the plan. 

Whatever the intentions, Rainham was destroyed  as a village a long while ago — it’s just part of the  sprawling conurbation of Medway which looks like  spreading ever further in future years. 

Freddie Cooper

August 1995


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