For fifty years the Hockley Residents Association (HRA) has worked hard to make Hockley a pleasant place in which to live. It is not boasting to say that before the Association came into being Hockley was a very different place. Even up until the 1950s there were open drains in the centre of the village often overflowing with sewerage from cesspits, and it was said Hockley had more unmade roads than any other town or village in the Rochford District.
It was the building of the railway station in Spa Road in 1889 which gave rise to the Hockley we know today. For the first time people could travel with ease to London and the age of the commuter was born. Seizing an opportunity to relieve themselves of unprofitable and difficult to work land, local farmers sold their farms and housing developments began to be built round and about the station. Sadly many of these Victorian villas were demolished in the 1960s to be replaced with the modem Hockley of today.
To see the really old Hockley we must go down to the bottom of Plumberow Avenue and visit Plumberow Mount. At the top of a steep hill and overlooking the lovely remote Crouch Valley is a tumulus thought to date from Romano British times. The mound was excavated in the 19th century by the Morant Society who hoped to discover a rich burial site. They were to be badly disappointed for all that was found were some broken pots and a single Roman coin.
To the west of the Mount also with wonderful views across the valley. lies the Parish Church of SS Peter and Paul. The present church was built in 1220 on the site of what was undoubtedly an earlier building. Hockley is mentioned three times in the Domesday Book, King William of Normandy's catalogue of his English possessions compiled in 1086. One entry refers to land held from the church by William of Boursigny and worth 21s. The church has a unique tower, the first stage square and the second octagonal. Outside the Tudor red brick porch is the coffin shaped tombstone of William Waight dated 1791. Tread carefully as you walk over it for it is said William left instructions in his will that he was to be buried outside the north door for having been trodden on all his life, he saw no reason why things should change after his death.
The church has a number of pointers to its ancient past: a font of Purbeck marble dating from the 12th century, a much worn but nonetheless precious medieval alabaster panel depicting the crucifixion, three piscina and the remains of the rood loft. Set into the small window in the Lady Chapel are four pieces of ancient glass bearing the poignant words Deus Ictus - God stricken. To what they refer is not known.
Standing next to the church is the old school house built in the 1840s to accommodate 50 boys and 72 girls and infants, some of whom walked as far as two miles to school and back each day in all weathers. Next door is Mill Hill built on land once occupied by Hockley's windmill, and opposite the ancient Hockley Hall.
On the south side of the busy BI013 is the old Bull Public House with its stories of smugglers and revenue men. The Bull was a favourite stopping place for the charabancs which travelled into Hockley at the turn of the 20th century to visit the popular Hockley Woods. Now in the safe hands of Rochford District Council the woods, with their huge wood banks said to date back to Roman times, are still a popular play area.
In the centre of the 'village' in Spa Road stands Hockley's most unique building - The Old Pump House. The story goes that in the l830s Leticia Clay, a bad asthmatic, moved from Cheltenham Spa and bought a cottage in the then Greenstead Lane. When the well was dug Leticia's health began to improve and it was discovered that the water had medicinal properties. She immediately saw the potential and set up a spa from her own house. In 1843 the business was bought by a London solicitor who erected a purpose-built pump room and further up the road a hotel (now the Spa Pub). Unfortunately the business failed and the pump room became derelict. Over the years the building has served a number of purposes including a Baptist chapel, shirt factory and billiard factory. Fortunately it is now in safe hands and in the process of restoration.
The history of Hockley demonstrates that change is inevitable. However, whatever the future may bring, the HRA will be there to represent the best interest of the residents.
(If you would like to know more about the history of Hockley, please see Lesley Vingoe's book “Hockley, Hullbridge and Hawkwell Past”, published by Phillimores and available in all good booksellers at £14.99).