The area we called the Pits is now termed Ham Lands. When I was growing up – some would still call it the Pits – because it was a lot, lot larger than it is today – the area –because where all the Wates housing exists now, when I was growing up it was still an open area of waste ground. It was called the Pits because there used to be at least six huge gravel pits where they dug down to remove the Ham river gravel to be sold, obviously, and taken away in lorries. There was even a small light railway track over there to cart it from the pits towards a docking station.
Do you remember the railway running? I don’t, unfortunately. That again was all late 50s and I came here in ‘60. The pits by then were then being filled in – they started being filled in in the 50s up until the early ‘60s. There were several great big huge pits; about half of one exists today as the Thames Young Mariners Club but that is only about half the size as it was; it was a huge area. We would go and play. It was a huge adventure playground. We used to make camps, hide-a-way camps. By the river side someone adventurous had tied a huge old rope high up in the trees and we used to do Tarzan swings and swing out across the river – at least not quite but out across the water a little way. We used to make camps all over there. There was lots and lots of sheet metal, old corrugated iron sheeting. We used to like picking those up and see the mouse-runs underneath. A big adventure playground.
Ashburnham Road and Woodville Road ended abruptly and then there was this waste land and nearby, over on what we call the Pits, there were small hills of topsoil. Where they had dug the gravel pits they had dug down through the initial topsoil to get down to the gravel. They had kept this soil and they mounted it up and up where the hills were about the height of a 2-storey house in like a long range – maybe about 100 yards or so, long. There was one particular one I remember, was opposite Stuart Road, dumped away from the riverside and away from where they were digging the Pits. So over towards Stuart Road there was a range of sort of earth and hills there and some more over by Beaufort Court just near the Beaufort Court flats; so that was where they dumped this top soil and it became compacted down and weathered down and it became great play areas. The lads would either ride push bikes up them or those who had a motorbike used to do scrambling of their bikes up and down these hills. Or we would find a sheet of tin or an old piece of lino and we would go down it like a toboggan. Great play areas then.