Stories

Childhood Memories

The Middlewick Ranges has formed a part of the history of colchester for many decades, many residents today will remember their childhoods spent roaming and foraging the land for fun and adventure, as many people both young and old still do today. 

MIDDLEWICK RANGES

I remember from my childhood feeling safe and free to roam

Happy days on Middlewick Ranges fields and woods behind my home.

Climbing trees, jumping streams, making dens, just having fun.
Picnic of meat paste sandwiches, a bottle of pop and a homemade bun.

Tarzan calls, cowboys and indians, war games and robin hood.
Spears, lassos and cap guns – bows and arrows carved from wood.
With dresses tucked in knickers, off with shoes and socks.
We paddled all day in the stream making dams with clay and rocks.

Boys recognised each bird they saw and knew them by their call
so many different wildflowers, us girls could name them all.
Red flag down, no firing. Wick warden and soldiers not around.
Jumping off the sandy Butt, collecting bullet cases that we found.
Blackberries, chestnuts, firewood, holly and a Christmas tree.
Eating scrumped apples, tummy ache – everything was free!!

My home for over fifty years looks across the Middlewick Range.
Always hoping in my lifetime that view would never change.

Stoney Hill, Donyland Woods, Polo field and Weir Lane.

I still walk the same old footpaths wishing I was 10 years old again.

Each day dogs take their walkers to enjoy their favourite place.
For joggers, cyclists and families its a green and open space.
My sons roamed free as I did and often reminisce with me.
Grandchildren riding bikes, flying kites with Grandad – a special memory.

For future generations we have no right to say
There is no ‘green and pleasant land’, no fields and woods to play.
We’ve left a world of streets and houses as far as you can see.
No flowers will grow, no birds will sing, no woods to climb a tree.

No green fields for having fun and running wild.
Nowhere to see and learn of nature – no place to be a child.
Jan Rayner

Mark Rayner
So proud of my Mum for this poem, though the games and pastimes have changed over the years, the Wick was a playground for so many of us growing up. I learnt to ride a bike on the Wick, I also learnt many other things but I’m not going to mention those in public! The friends I made from my Wick days are, and will always be, friends for life.

David Wotsie Watts
1943 to 1947. tank traps, german bombers flying overhead, could see the black crosses underneath the wings. Collected the unfired parachute mortar bombs knocked the ends off and removed the parachute and magnesium flare material. I remember the American and Canadian soldiers firing on the ranges. Anyone remember the spitfire that landed on the Wick, a check pilot who lost his way, I watched him take off and just missed the butts by feet. Saw the doodlebugs, the bomb crater in the school playground and the mass of broken windows. I also remember when little baby boy Nicky Rothery drowned in the tank trap at the bottom of speedwell road one Sunday afternoon. “Got any gum chum” we would say to the yanks. Remember John Twidel falling off the pillar box and getting the soldiers to carry him home? Old Heath School teachers were Miss Keable , Miss McKeaver , Miss Hart , Miss Leveridge, Miss Godbold, Mr and Mrs Holms, and Headmaster Mr Hindle who wrote beautiful copperplate handwriting. I am 83 now but the memories remain. Airaid Sirens, bombs, and the constant armada of American bombers and fighters in the sky.

I lived on Monkwick and the ranges were a giant playground. Walking my mate’s dog up past the Cherry Tree pub, down the track at the side which brought you out at the back of the butts then across the firing points back to Mersea road. Watching out for the skylark nests! Loads of interesting nooks and crannies to explore……

Kids around the estate would carry around bandoliers of used 303 cartridges held together with machine gun band clips – then the army realised how much scrap brass was worth and started collecting it. You had to be careful because there was always the odd live round lying around.

Our father was stationed in Colchester and finished his Army career just after WW2 teaching new recruits to shoot on the Middlewick Range..we grew up in Barnhall and the ranges were our playground! We used to “ride” the targets at the back of the sand butts and leap from the numbers on them!

The Wick was my playground, From D’arcy road / back of Cavendish Avenue area (before being built on) to Donyland Woods. We used to ride the target lifts, climb the butts, ride bikes, motor scooters, collect live shells and cartridge clips, climb trees and make dams in the stream. we even rescued a badger from one of the trenches using wood from a building site in Speedwell road. Not forgetting the model aircraft flying club. It was a wonderful real-life adventure playground for many years. Whilst I understand we need to build houses, I would be very sad to see this place go under development.

Spent the first 11 years of my life with the Wick as my playground, I lived opposite on Mersea rd, night firing watching all the tracer rounds. going into the tents and being given food when they had competitions over there. we used to find lots of live rounds in and around the trenches. the house next door was let out to the army so we always had soldiers and their families next door. I road my first bike down one of the butts and fell off knocking myself unconscious, our neighbour ran all the way with me in her arms and met the ambulance at the wick entrance. we would find scooters and motorbikes stashed over there round the back of the butts in the woods. every Sunday there would be the radio-controlled aircraft mob spent hours with them, to this day have always wanted one. A fair bit of parking went on there as well lots of canoodling couples. We used to ride up and down on the target holders in front of the butts. 

I used to live in the police house in monkwick. My earliest memories are playing over the wick. I must have been about 6. The strongest memory is of the sound if the skylarks and long sunny days. My favourite bit was something like a disused railway station? It was fifty years ago so my memories are vague!

There appeared to be railway tracks along the bottom of the target trench leading to a mysterious corrugated iron shed. Rumour had it that there was a steam train in there…..

The targets were pasted on large wooden frames. Two frames for each up and down iron target holder. These wooden frames were kept in the hut along with the paper targets and the rest of the kit necessary to repair and patch targets. Had to be set up and dismantled for each shoot.

When I was about 14, I was over the Mersea road end of Friday woods and found an unexploded mortar bomb.
I thought that looks interesting I’ll take that and show my uncle in Monkwick.
I took it in my bike saddlebag and went to his house to show him.…
He didn’t seem to happy to see it.
First, the police turned up and then the bomb squad who took it away.
I got a bit of a telling off!

Fond memories of being chased off the ranges by soldiers with their rifles. Also, I remember a huge fire on the wick that spread right down to our garden in Barnhall Avenue luckily our gardens were backed right up to keep us from the allotments.

From the top of D’Arcy Road, before houses were built there, you could cut through to Abbots Road and then onto Middle Wick. As children, we all used to enjoy the freedom of playing there and in surrounding areas.

Used to pick up bullet cases from the ranges also found bottles and some old, pots some great memories from those days 💕

Born and raised in speedwell road, old heath but spent most of my childhood over the wick. We walked wick lane, sometimes across the first field to the twin trees (You either know it or you don’t, it was something about being local) we climbed and played on the butts, we were from old heath so we owned the butts, at least the first, second and third, we gave the pistol butt to the kids from monkwick because it was the smallest. We collected the lead bullets and melted them down to sell to the Scrappy although we never made more than a few coppers. Brass case shells were prized but occasionally we’d find a live tracer bullet or even a live round, don’t know how dangerous they were but we slammed them on the ground and hit them with stones and bricks trying to make them to off, never succeeded though thank God. It was strange how we became used to the army firing so we never really noticed the sound. We also used to climb the rear side of the butts when they were firing, we were immortal and dared the Gameys to catch us.
Sliding down the butts on sheets of plywood like sleds on snow, climbing over the Gameys huts and using the target lifts as a kind of seesaw. Playing war in the air raid shelter at the top of the playing field (we called it the Threepenny bit). Jumping from the twin trees onto piles of hay, games of hide and seek that lasted all day, the “battle” with monkwick that lasted over a week, every evening until the redcaps spoilt it, but nobody got hurt. My mum telling me to go over the wick and not to return till dinnertime. Endless memories and fun, too much to mention but I wish I could relive it. BTW. We never knew it as Middlewick ranges, it was “the Wick.”

Behind the right-hand range was a scrub area we used to call the seven hills Many a good day running around there Camping out as kids and there was a pond on the lane that went down to the cherry tree pub One fond stupidity. Do any of you remember Peter Entwistle who lived on Queen Elizabeth way Monkwick. His first car was a three-wheeled Isetta bubble car, in blue. Anyway, we were the best of mates and went everywhere in it including trying to drive it to the top of the right-hand butt. We nearly got there but obviously, we weren’t going to make it and there was only one way down. Two guys screaming like a banshee, hoping like hell it didn’t roll as we came flying down backwards.

Lived in D’Arcy Road, went to old heath school then Wilson marriage, so few familiar names appearing, great times, played football cricket etc before Abbotts Road was built on, used bits of lino or corrugated iron as sledges to slide down the butt’s, remember starting my BSA Bantam in dad’s back garden then rode up D’Arcy Road across fields across Abbotts Road then across Middlewick to see a mate at Blackheath, collected old brass bullet cases & sold them to some dodgy character on Monkwick to make enough money to buy petrol for the bike.
Does anyone remember the November 5th bonfires??

Your post bought back happy childhood memories. Every year (about 1950 ish) the MOD would completely clear the stream cutting back trees and bushes allowing it to flow clear and naturally, also leaving a wide path alongside the banks. My friend and I would walk to the last Butt to the stream and paddle a good half a mile to Fingringhoe Road. The rule was not to get out of the water at all. We crawled under arched stone bridges (no wooden ones then) and walked through mud and ducked under trees. Today it is impossible to walk a few yards it is so overgrown.

Save the Wick. For my first years, living in Old Heath playing in the cornfields, noticing the Searchlight in the corner near Mersea Road remembering the planes flying going over. In the days before the Barn Hall estate development. The German POW’s being involved with the groundwork. The WD land behind Cavendish Avenue now a housing estate and Supermarket up to Abbots Road, and across was turned into a military Theatre Massed Army units under canvas tents, a number of brick-built cookhouses and water towers were built, these were left in situ for several years after the Army left much to our enjoyment, climbing up the towers playing and hiding in the now empty water tanks. In later years spending time after school filling a sack along with my father collecting the greenery from plants growing wild. Sheep parsley, dandy lion, clover, plankton, etc. food for our show rabbits.
I Lived in the area for my first 21 years, my Late father was Councillor and Alderman in Old Heath Harbour Ward for 22 years, he would I’m sure would have been leading the fight with you to retain The Wick for the wildlife and enjoyment of all. Not a housing development.
Now living in Clacton. thinking of you all.
I spent my childhood rummaging in the sand on the numbers looking for bullets. For some reason, I was always scared of the tracks with all the cogs & pulleys in front of the numbers. My Mum & I would also rescue frogs that had fallen in the firing dugouts.
Winters were great, sledging down the butts.
Happy memories of our wonderful Wick.
Sara Wass
Literally mine and my brother’s childhood too!! Used to love finding the shells my dad even made one into a key ring, also used to jump in and out of the dugouts playing dens, etc. sledging down the hills even without snow. Biking up and down the hills, picnics with loads of munchies we had sneaked out the house 😂 exploring the train tracks, playing manhunt building dens, so many amazing fun memories but then again this was when kids were kids not coming home unless you were hungry! and when you did eventually come home you’d be covered in the mud always late begging to be let out to do the same tomorrow 😂🤦‍♀️👌 Children’s life nowadays is far far from ours.
Sadi Ann Pinfold
Grew up with the Wick spent so much time with friends over there. The MOD itself gave us all the memories of firing, bullet carcasses..was always a magical place to us..full of adventures..even seeing the Soldiers and hearing the night firing..it’s our history and a wonderful space for future generations of the people of Colchester..our Father finished his army career teaching new recruits to target fire there.
Theresa Clewley

Reflective Walks

Greenspace provides an essential place for people to escape the hustle bustle of everyday life, offering both physical and mental health exercise and therapy. Greenspace has been recognised as an essential requirement for humans in terms of recreation and preventative health care for tackling loneliness and other forms of mental illness.  

Love these open spaces of the wick. We live adjacent to the Ranges and spent hours walking the dog there in all weathers. Also spent many many days there shooting when in the Army and the TA. Although a MOD property the local community will miss this open area when released for yet more housing.

My parents lived in a caravan on the park off Whitehall Road when they first got married, one of my first memories was walking across the wick, my sister in her pram, me holding onto the pram, it was loaded with saucepans, boxes with China loaded on top, think we rattled all the way to our new home in Moy Road, on Monkwick Estate!!

I have been living in Old Heath (down Mount Batten) since I was 6. It’s been a firm place in my childhood memories and my future. I am a huge lover of nature and still spend most days over there with my mum and dog, or on my bike. Whenever any of my friends from out of Colchester come down, I always take them to the Wick. It influenced me to learn more about the environment, birds, and wildlife and how I can make more conscious eco-friendly choices going forward. I loved Colchester before, however now, due to the news of construction, I now feel like I have no choice but to move away from this area as the countryside is all I crave in my future (that makes me very sad). I currently do content creation on Instagram and continually use the wick as a place to get amazing photos. I suffer from anxiety, depression and have just been diagnosed with a vitamin b12 deficiency. I use the wick as a sanctuary for my mental and physical health. It’s got such a big place in my heart and every day I feel sick at the thought of staring at a block of houses rather than natural beauty.
Abigail Milner
Been Walking there since I was at school and would like to think it’ll still be there for my grandchildren to feel the breeze on their cheeks and hear the songs of birds and have the peace it’s always given me!
Chris Low
Near the brook
I’m going to the dark wood
(The windy wood)
Where green trees
roll and tumble
Would you dare my feet to defy me?
Should I happen to fall or stumble
There is thought, and wondrous things
I’ll sit quite – lost and lonely
Yet, quite alive with this solitude
With the things I’ve yet to show you
© W R Baker 10/08/19

Keeping Fit

Access to the outdoors is vital for encouraging us to keep fit and active, especially important in our largely sedentary lives. Whether it’s walking, running, cycling or yoga, the wick offers the space for residents to choose a style of activity that suites them. 

Been mine & my family’s place to grow up & enjoy since I & they were kids. Lived with my parents nearby, then moved my own family here simply because of the Wick. We walk, run, cycle, play there & are still doing so in our 60s with grandson. As an athlete who has represented the UK at marathon & GB at triathlon, the Wick has been my training ground, providing all the space I need.
Mick Bond

Before I was born, but my mum was expecting, my parents lived in a flat in Cheveling Rd, they used to visit friends on Barnhall & Shrub End. They would cycle over the wick as a short cut – that was fine, in the daylight, the problem came late at night with little or no light and the fact there were still tank traps all over the wick in 1952, and inevitably my mum, & her bike, fell in. Some people say that explains things – I’m sure I don’t know what they mean…

Helen Mccutcheon
That made me laugh 😂😂 Reminds me of the time I was walking my golden retriever. He suddenly disappeared he’d fallen into one of the holes the army stand to shoot in. My oldest son who was about 10 climbed in and lifted him enough for me to grab the collar and drag him out. I still chuckle to myself when I pass those mounds. 

Natural Suprises

Memories of the wick range from the everyday to the extraordinary. 

Just over the Wick boundary fence which runs along the bottom of our garden, there used to be a field and a brook. At first, there were three horses in the field who crossed the brook over a wooden bridge. One year foals were born and loved to see them. Another year some cows escaped and one ended up in our back garden. A violent thunderstorm one night took the bridge away and the brook flash flooded right up to the end of our garden. The horses were taken away and, over the years, what was once a field is now totally covered in vegetation. It is going to be a sad day if it all gets removed to make way for yet another housing project.
Diane Appleby