The Story of Dene Park Estate from its early days in 1973 to 1997 when it came under Elmstead Parish Council

Dene Park came initially under the electoral parish of Elmstead Market and Tendring District Council but, after a long tussle, it was transferred to Colchester Borough Council in April 1997.

Page created by Peter Hill from written research prepared by a resident of Dene Park in 2024

Map of Wivenhoe with ‘Dene Park’ area enclosed in red.
A garden in Claremont Road in 1978 showing the edge of the old quarry, the gravel soil and the chain link fences demarcating property boundaries.
Estate Agent's details of a 5 year old property for sale in Dene Park in April 1977 for £10,500
The 'gap' between Wivenhoe and Dene Park
Tim Laughton's election leaflet for Dene Park in Elmstead District
Rates Bill for Dene Park in 1978/79
1996 Letter from Colchester Borough Council informing residents that they will come under Colchester Borough Council as from April 1997
A bookmark created by Town Mayor Geoff Langsdon to commemorate the official joining of Dene Park with Wivenhoe on 1st April 1977
An original tree in Dene Park

This is the fascinating story of that part of Wivenhoe that was built adjacent to Wivenhoe’s Valley Estate inside the then parish boundary of Elmstead Parish Council. It was called Dene Park and for the first 25 years of its existence residents voted in Elmstead Parish Council elections and looked to Tendring District Council for a lot of its services.  It was Tendring Council which gave planning approval for the estate in the first place. It was only in April 1997 that the Boundary Commission eventually agreed for Dene Park to come under Colchester Borough Council, now Colchester City Council.

This story has been brought together by a longstanding resident of Dene Park who needed a certain amount of persuasion to do so. She has given it to me on the basis that I don’t reveal her identity as she doesn’t welcome publicity. She has put a lot of time and effort into researching the facts to substantiate what she has written. I am extremely grateful to her for all of her efforts. I think it is a story worth telling.

Peter Hill

The Dene Park Estate

As the first properties built on the Dene Park Estate are now more than fifty years old, it would seem appropriate to celebrate their part in Wivenhoe’s history. The earliest homes became occupied in January 1973. This article looks at the location and context of the Estate and the long debates about whether Dene Park lay within the parish of Elmstead Market or Wivenhoe. Finally, it records some of the social history based on the recollections of some of the first residents.

Dene Park officially incorporates the Valley Road area, Bobbits Way, and the roads off Bowes Road and Claremont Road. However, in this article the author has written only about that area of Wivenhoe which originally lay within Elmstead Market in the Tendring District. This does not include the Valley Road area or Bobbits Way and its Closes.

Planning consent for Dene Park was given by Tendring District in the beginning of the 1970s.

When planning consent was granted by Tendring District Council, property prices were rapidly rising due to the high demand for housing in Britain during the early 1970s. Inflation and unemployment figures were high, economic growth was comparatively low, strikes were constant. Strikes by coal miners, supported by railway and power station workers, led to coal shortages and electricity power cuts, with the knock-on effect of shortages in building materials, particularly bricks. Additionally, the summer of 1972 saw a strike by construction workers to argue their case for a fair wage of £30 per week to enable their personal finances to keep pace with inflation. It was a time of social unrest as people struggled to keep pace with the cost of living. Inevitably, these political, economic and employment crises had an impact on the construction of new homes, including the development of Dene Park estate. As a result, it took five years to complete what is a relatively small development, and it remained a building site with piles of spoil until the last garden wall was built on the corner of Bowes Road and Claremont Road in the spring of 1978.

Dene Park houses were built in an old ballast quarry on mainly sand and gravel

Dene Park is on land that historically lay within the parish of Elmstead Market in the Tendring District. The site was an old ballast quarry famed for its bogs and steep slopes, with parents warning their children of the potential hazards should they play there. Undeterred by warnings, children found it a great place for adventure and play, especially in the winter when the slopes were perfect for tobogganing. The terrain had to be levelled and landscaped to facilitate the building of houses. The steep excavated edge of the old quarry can still be seen behind houses in Claremont Road and Petworth Close.

The geology of glacial gravels impacts on the gardens of the homes even today. Moody Homes, the developers, scattered only a couple of inches of topsoil over the sandy, gravel strata leaving a soil devoid of any quality growing medium. Few plants can survive in the soil making it suitable only for drought tolerant plants even when well fed with compost. In periods of drought the gardens become like dustbowls. However, one resident is always amazed that roses manage to thrive whereas growing vegetables is almost impossible. The one benefit of such poor soil is that when making concrete or a gravel garden the required materials can be dug from the garden to save costs!

Not easy to walk into Wivenhoe initially

When building began, Bowes Road was the only means of access to the estate. This caused problems for the new owners as, even on foot, there was no easily accessible route into Wivenhoe. As a pedestrian you had to wade the mire of Ballast Quay Road, terrible even now in wet weather. But it was worse then, as Farmer Bowes’ cattle were frequently moved on hoof along the track making it even more treacherous.  One former resident said that walking the track was like the old nursery rhyme where Doctor Foster fell in a puddle right up to his middle! The alternative was to walk to the top of Bowes Road to run the gauntlet of Rectory Hill watching out for fast cars. As many of the new home owners had very young families, pushing a laden pram along either route was not a choice without risk.

Even as the last phase of housing was being completed in 1978 it was not possible to easily walk to Wivenhoe. There were the two existing options (the track and Rectory Hill) plus the opportunity to tackle several metres of uneven muddy land between the end of Claremont Road where it meets The Dale. It was rather like crossing an international border point as one was stepping from Elmstead (in the Tendring District) into Wivenhoe (in what was then Colchester Borough)! Even when the two roads were finally connected with a road surface and a pavement, the boundary between the two parishes was marked by a line of cobbles. However, the residents of The Dale and Valley Road were less pleased as more traffic was generated, although they appreciated that all the corners in Dene Park did slow down the boy-racers! When Bobbits Way was developed in the early 1980s a similar situation was created with cobbles again demarcating the boundary. However, the good news for residents was that they now had safe and unmuddy walking routes and vehicle access to the facilities of Wivenhoe. The cobbles have now gone but the evidence of the old parish boundary remains where the road names change from The Dale to Claremont Road and from Bobbit’s Way to Bowes Road.

Parish Boundary issues began in 1974

The issue of parish boundaries was the subject of many years of debate between councils and the Local Boundary Commission. Parishes welcomed new housing development in the 1970s as new properties meant more rate payers and hence increased revenues for councils to improve community facilities to meet the raised expectations of the ever-aspirational public. Elmstead Market was delighted, as a result of the new Dene Park development, to receive an extra £4,000 or more into their parish coffers plus another 570 electors. However, despite being part of the parish of Elmstead, the residents of Dene Park perceived themselves to be part of the Wivenhoe community, using its shops, pubs, restaurants, church, doctors and schools. A tricky problem for Dene Park residents was that their postal address did not match their electoral address which made any application for a credit card particularly difficult.

Boundary discussions first commenced in February 1974 before the development was complete. Elmstead councillors had heard ‘common talk’ that the residents wished to become part of Wivenhoe. Wivenhoe Town Council (WTC) received a letter from Elmstead which concluded, that the parish had ‘no intention of surrendering’ this area to Wivenhoe.  However, in November 1977, proposals for a boundary change were presented by WTC as Dene Park residents were using the town’s resources. But, due to the slow cogs of local government and the reluctance of Elmstead and Tendring District Council (TDC) to relinquish this land, nothing was resolved. Furthermore, Colchester Borough Council (CBC) was handling the situation with caution as its priority was to incorporate the part of Essex University Campus that lay within Wivenhoe into the boundary of Colchester. When this was implemented, it led to WTC losing more than £4,000 in revenue. In May 1979, WTC was again requesting CBC and the Local Government Boundary Change Commission to make an urgent decision to include Dene Park as part of Wivenhoe. Their grounds for this request were that it would be beneficial to community interests, improve public transport facilities and rationalise the parish boundaries. The residents not only used the shops and amenities of Wivenhoe but they were also some considerable distance from the centre of Elmstead.

Boundary Commission reviews into the County Boundary in 1980 causes further delays and arguments

Next, despite all the discussions, delays were created by reviews to the County Electoral Boundary which commenced in the autumn of 1980 leaving insufficient opportunity for the Boundary Commission to make the Wivenhoe/Elmstead case a priority. In August 1983, however, WTC’s determination to resolve the problem led to the Local Government Boundary Commission requesting further detailed information from the Council, including evidence of residents’ views, before resubmitting their case with detailed arguments. The Commissioners were concerned that any boundary change would increase the electorate and result in Wivenhoe residents being inadequately represented on Colchester Borough Council. The Commission would be prepared, however, to conduct a second electoral review of the Borough. It also required WTC to share copies of their case with Essex County Council (ECC), TDC, and Elmstead Parish Council inviting them for comments. In October 1983, CBC notified the Commission that both TDC and Elmstead objected to any boundary change. In November, CBC were supportive and requested the Boundary Commission to prioritise the review in advance of the electoral review. In March 1984, CBC wrote to all residents of Dene Park requesting their thoughts by means of: ‘a form which I’d like you to complete before 6th April 1984 and return’.

TDC responded with all guns blazing by issuing their own letter to the residents stating their council’s position. Its arguments recorded in the archives were as follows:

  1. TDC facilitated all the necessary groundwork for the development of Dene Park estate in liaison with Elmstead Parish Council.
  2. Anxiety that WTC might reiterate these same arguments over any future land developments close to the parish boundary with Wivenhoe.
  3. Dene Park Estate provides balance between the whole community of Elmstead, complimenting Elmstead village while providing a more balanced population.
  4. Arguments and requests had previously been rejected by the Boundary Commission in 1978/79.
  5. Loss of attractive features – Colne Valley, mineral working, and arbitrary transfer of residents in Keelar’s Lane.
  6. No demand from the Dene Park Estate Residents for transfer to Wivenhoe.
  7. The impact a boundary change would have on the Council’s approved Local Plan of February 1983.

In August 1984 Colchester decides not proceed with the boundary change

Eventually, on 14th August 1984, three months later, CBC wrote to the Boundary Commission stating that following public consultation with the electorate it had decided not to proceed with the proposed boundary change because TDC strongly objected. The results of their consultation of the 550 electors showed that only 51% were in favour, 28% had failed to reply, while 21% were opposed to change. The addition of 550 electors would also necessitate ward boundary changes. At this time, CBC were negotiating with TDC for a boundary change so that all of the proposed Highwoods development could be within Colchester, and did not ‘at this stage want to become involved in disputes with our neighbouring authority’. They wished to wait a few years to see how the inevitable ward boundary change at Highwoods would progress, and then they would give further consideration to ‘boundary changes affecting Tendring, especially where a number of points along the boundary were beneficial for alterations and justify claims for very substantial transfers from Tendring’.

In October 1984 Wivenhoe Town Council argues in favour of the boundary change

In October 1984, WTC were opposed to the CBC decision stating that their reasons were unacceptable. WTC also wrote to the Boundary Commission urging them to proceed with an immediate review. The Wivenhoe councillors believed that re-warding was not an issue. Their argument was supported by the fact that the Church Commissioners were in the process of changing the ecclesiastical boundary so as to include Dene Park. This was a significant issue, as prior to the church boundary change, residents of Dene Park could not be married at Wivenhoe’s St Mary’s Church even though it was their nearest place of worship. In December, however, the Commissioners confirmed that at this time they would take no action with respect to the boundary

Wivenhoe is not a place where residents give up on a fight. February 1985 WTC requested CBC to review their last decision of August 1984. It argued that, as the ecclesiastical boundary change had now been implemented, then the administrative and electoral boundary should be changed. But it was not until May 1985 that CBC agreed to request a review of the electoral arrangements for CBC in general and to include Dene Park in this proposal to the Boundary Commission.

The debate continues into 1988

But still it dragged on! In October 1987 WTC makes the same request to the Boundary Commission with the reply in March 1988 stating that it ‘feels the time is not right for a review as they are still conducting a further electoral review of CBC district and Wivenhoe’s case would considerably delay that for Colchester’ but it would be considered in the future.

At this point despair must have set in but the fight continued. And in March 1990 WTC took up the sword once more. ‘Please commit to a review’, led to the Commissioners’ response that the council must again seek agreement with CBC that a review should take place and to jointly put a strong case to TDC and to Elmstead Parish Council. They were not going to make it easy! Again, in June the Commission insisted that CBC and WTC must seek the views of the other councils in response to their proposals.

In September 1990, TDC erect a ‘Welcome to Elmstead’ sign at the railway bridge on Wivenhoe Road

And what was the response of TDC? The response was somewhat amusing, for suddenly in September 1990 a sign was erected on Alresford Road close to the railway bridge. Coming from Alresford, the signs informed travellers that they had arrived in Elmstead! ‘Welcome to Elmstead’. How confusing that must have been to those unfamiliar with the area? Residents of Dene Park and Wivenhoe were up in arms. The Reverend Stephen Hardie, the Rector of Wivenhoe’s St Mary’s church, wrote firmly to TDC stating that the signs should say ‘Civil Parish of Elmstead Market’ as it was not the Ecclesiastical Parish. He stated the ‘Wivenhoe people, including the Dene Park area concerned, are very conscious of being Wivenhoe. Not Colchester or Tendring’. This led to the eventual removal of the signs, but there was continued antagonism when Wivenhoe erected signs close to Bowes Road which said ‘Welcome to Wivenhoe’!

Elmstead Parish Council requests Dene Park’s post code be changed from Wivenhoe to Elmstead

Letters continued between WTC and the Boundary Commission. WTC was still pursuing enquiries with local authorities and awaiting a response. Councils were dragging their heels. Elmstead even requested that WTC should get the Post Office to change Dene Park’s postcode from Wivenhoe to Elmstead. Even an Elmstead potential Labour councillor, Tim Laughton, in his electioneering leaflet of May 1991 supported the case for Dene Park to become Wivenhoe, and described it as a ‘kind of no-man’s land’!

In April 1997 Dene Park eventually comes under Colchester Council

At this point, we enter the world of ‘no file-land!’ as archives appear to have been lost so that the final long years of debate cannot be recorded in detail. However, in the mid 1990’s, the residents of Dene Park received a small A5 yellow survey which comprised three questions. These were carefully phrased but which, according to one resident, could only be answered with a ‘yes’. The results of the survey must have been subsequently shared with all the councils involved, and provided additional weight to WTC’s argument presented to the Boundary Commission. On 14th October 1996, residents were officially notified by letter of the boundary change and that from the 1st April 1997 Colchester would be responsible for the billing and collection of council tax.  Finally, on the 1st Aprill 1997 (April Fools’ Day!) and after years of wrangling, Dene Park became part of Wivenhoe and Colchester Borough. Councillors and residents must have breathed a huge sigh of relief. Wivenhoe Mayor, Cllr. Geoff Langsdon, a resident of Friars Close, was keen to celebrate the event and collaborated with the previous Mayor, Cllr. Peter Hill, to create a commemorative bookmark which also promoted ‘Wivenhoefirst’, a scheme to encourage all Wivenhoe residents to use their local shops and businesses.

In the light of this long-running dispute about the parish boundary, it is no wonder that those original residents still feel they need a passport to enter Wivenhoe! One resident in The Dale never ventured into Dene Park until the new Millfields school opened. Wivenhoe Town was the focus for all residents which, at that time, had most of the shops and services residents required. Sometimes there would be no need to go beyond the town for months on end.

Roads and Planning Issues

The road names of Dene Park require mention. As recorded in Nicholas Butler’s book, The Story of Wivenhoe, the main route from Rectory Hill into Dene Park, Bowes Road, is named after the Bowes family, the farmers over whose land the relevant road was built. However, the other names represent the aspirations of the 1970’s with them being named after historic houses, castles and gardens of Great Britain and Ireland.

Once the roads of the estate were completed, it took a protracted length of time for them to become adopted by Tendring and Essex Highways. Even in 1978 remedial work to drains and kerbs was ongoing. One original resident recalls the surprise additional bill received from Tendring District Council demanding payment from each household. He stated: ‘Having done all our financial calculations on the cost of purchase etc we were completely taken aback by a substantial bill from the Council for the cost of the road. When the Council eventually adopted the road, they requested a major contribution from the first residents of the estate’. That would no doubt have been a shock to first-time purchasers struggling to manage their limited budgets!

Within the original planning application, pedestrian through-routes were included. Paths were to link the bottom of Rectory Hill to the bottom of Amberley Close through to Milford Close and again into the lower part of Bowes Road. This provided an easy and safe access route through the lower slopes of the estate. However, at some point, the path between Milford Close to Bowes Road was removed from the plans, the land being absorbed into a garden in Bowes Road. When a resident enquired, TDC could give no clear explanation for this modification to the plan. Had it been provided it would have made a very convenient reduced gradient path.

With respect to the planning and the architecture, the developers of Dene Park Estate were Moody Homes. One of the original purchasers initially looked at the Moody development at Great Horkesley but, as all those properties were sold, they were directed to look at the Dene Park development where they were building identical houses. A decision was made to purchase a property by looking at the planned designs and agreeing to purchase a plot demarcated with angle-iron posts and a single strand of wire. In 1973, the price of a three-bedroom semi-detached house was £9500, while a four bedroomed detached property was £12,500.

The architecture reflects the distinct lines and fashion of the 1970s. Homes have large windows to let in the light and were set in large gardens with an open-plan design to the front of the property. With the modern return in this millennium to designs incorporating small windows and plenty of insulation, there might come a time when houses like those on Dene Park become a subject of architectural interest!

A lack of trees in Dene Park

Landscaping with trees was of importance, but unfortunately many of the trees subsequently died due to lack of watering by the developers plus the selected species not being suited to the poor soil. One resident recounted how ‘one day a small hole was dug in my neighbour’s garden into which three large trees were rammed. Needless to say, they did not survive!’ On the other hand, some of the existing trees remained. For instance, the houses backing onto Ballast Quay Farm still have a row of sycamore trees at the end of their gardens. These trees were reputed to have been used to tie up horses which were to be shipped from Wivenhoe Quay to the First World War battlefields.

The homes were built to minimum requirements to keep house prices low in order to be able to sell them at a time of rapid inflation. Thus, the basic three-bedroom semi-detached houses came without a garage or, initially, a drive. Fences between properties consisted of chain link. Fixtures and fittings were minimal or non-existent. Heating was by means of Economy 7 electric storage heaters, bulky items which were inefficient as they became cold in the evening just when families wanted to be warm. They were reheated overnight using the cheaper night-rate electricity. In the smaller houses, only five heaters were installed: hall; dining room; living room; front and back bedrooms. The bathrooms were freezing. Many recall that drying their babies’ terry towelling nappies was nigh on impossible during the winter months. Those who could afford it installed gas fires in the living room to improve warmth but this method of heating tended to create a problem with condensation. As wealth increased homeowners began to invest in gas central heating to make their homes much warmer.

Stories from Dene Park

It is interesting to note that some of the first houses built, those in the first part of Claremont Road, were built using unusual concrete bricks, an import possibly from Holland and Belgium. According to one resident these more expensive bricks had been used because there had been a shortage of construction materials at that time due to the industrial disputes in Britain. Thus, building construction was maintained without having to lay-off the work force. According to a resident, ‘Moody Homes would not have chosen lightly to use a more expensive brick.’

Industrial disputes between Moody’s and its employees might have led to a rather unpleasant incident for a resident of Trinity Close who saw raw sewage flooding from a drain into their garden. Being at the lower end of the Close, the drains all flowed in the direction of their house. A frantic young mother ran to all her neighbours asking them not to use their washing machines, flush toilets or run baths. The resident describes how their home ‘quickly became a castle complete with a moat of sewage’. Apparently large lumps of concrete had been deposited in the main drain. The garden was later disinfected by the council! Who had put the concrete in the drain? Unhappy employees? Fortunately, the problem was soon rectified but not without distress to the resident concerned but who now recalls what has become an amusing memory.

The builders had a store for their building supplies on the corner of what is now Denham Close and Claremont Road where, in traditional British fashion, the friendly workforce seemed to spend most of their time drinking tea. A joke between residents was that this area was busier at weekends because, although turf had been laid at the front of homes, the back gardens’ only feature was the chain-link fence, and so paths, patios and other garden features had to be constructed. The builders’ storage area provided readily available building supplies!

Who were the first residents of these homes? The majority were young professionals: teachers, lawyers, employees at the university, journalists, businessmen travelling daily to London or Colchester, engineers, civil servants and company managers. The bungalows suited the needs of the retired with one area on Bowes Road at one time being called ‘Widows’ Corner’ by the younger residents.

Friendships were forged in the early days many of which still exist

There were many young families with the wife being at home to care for the children as was the custom. With so many people of the same age and background coming together, it was a time where all sorts of friendships were established and various circles formed, many of which still exist today. In the 1970s, the friendship and support of other residents was important as many lived miles away from their parents and family.

Isolated young mothers at home with children got together in their homes for coffee, chats and children’s play dates. Two babysitting circles were established with a maximum of twenty members per group. These worked on a token system, one token per hour with double time after midnight. Every month a different member took on the role of secretary taking requests for sitters, telephoning the member with the least tokens to check their availability.  There were many dinner parties which could place a demand on the need for babysitters, making it a race to get one before anybody else! There were restrictions on how many tokens could be accumulated and nobody was permitted to go into a negative balance. The secretary for the month would hold a coffee morning for the other members to attend with their children. Familiarity and trust were essential to the circles’ success. It was reassuring for parents to spend an evening away from home knowing that their children were in the care of a family friend with parenting skills. Records were kept of children’s dates of birth, their registered GP, and phone contact number for the absent parents in case of emergency. This proved essential when one couple returned home to find the sitter and a GP on the landing treating their unwell child.

Refreshments were required to be left for the babysitter and in some homes these were very generous treats. This did backfire, however, when one male was left babysitting with a pint glass and the home-brew barrel! He must have had quite a headache the next day as he’d not appreciated the strength of the beer! Television provided entertainment, especially when sitting late into the evening. One sitter recalls looking forward to spending the evening watching a special celebration and was disappointed to find only a black and white TV, making the finale fireworks not quite what was expected! The circle was a very successful system which only ended when most of the children became teens and many of the mothers were able to return to work. However, friendships were made which still exist today.

Socialising in Wivenhoe

Dene Park parents also met at the Philip Road Playgroup, now the GP surgery, and in the George V Playground beside the main Wivenhoe car park. A ladies’ lunch group was created with turns taken to make a Friday lunch, initially with children present but, as these children became of school age, the lunches became longer and more elaborate. Some of these ladies still meet each Friday for lunch plus a good chat and catch-up.

There was also a Dene Park social group which on one occasion organised a bonfire and fireworks on the waste ground at the end of Claremont Road, between The Dale and what is now Conway Close. Also, many of the first residents soon discovered the jewel at Ballast Quay House, The Arts Club, which opened up a direct line to the established and fascinating inhabitants of ‘old’ Wivenhoe.

Socialising also occurred on the long walk to the schools at Broome Grove. The school walk was dangerous for the young families as the footpaths to Rectory Road were incomplete. Most families had only the one family car which was used by the wage-earner to get to work. Organising children into prams, marching the reception-aged child to school while dragging an additional toddler was quite a feat of management although welcome exercise to some. Parents were relieved and pleased when the new primary school at Millfields opened in April 1981.

Millfields School opened in April 1981

The family friendships fed into the atmosphere of the school with its open-door policy. Parents could be found wandering into the office, classrooms and the playground at any time of the day. They were welcomed and encouraged to participate in the children’s activities. Even an hour after school mothers could be found chatting while their children enjoyed the school field and climbing frame. Parents created supportive and adventurous fund-raising events: a well-attended summer jazz night in the hall with bar and barbecue in the central courtyard; bonfire night on the waste ground opposite the school, now Millfields Green; plus the usual Christmas Bazaar, Summer Fete and jumble sales. It was a thriving friendly environment and a social hub. One mother became a first school governor, the governing body being appointed while building was in progress. The school’s red uniform was her suggestion. At the first meeting, the governors discussed the need for parking but the newly appointed Head Teacher, Geoff Turton, responded that it was not a concern ‘as it was a local school where all parents and children would walk to school’. How wrong could he have been! As the open-plan school only had a teaching-head and two infant teachers, classes were of mixed ages, the junior class being from ages seven to eleven. The junior class was the responsibility of the Head Teacher who taught for four days but had one day for administrative tasks. Another mother from the estate became the relief teacher for that administrative day. It was truly a family school in those days.

Safe play spaces for children

As the children and adults were familiar to each other in the community and there was little road traffic, there was a lot of freedom and unsupervised play. The road was considered a safe play space! There were small play areas at the end of Trinity, Denham and Milford Closes but signed with ‘No ball games’. These provided safe places for the younger children. The older children were allowed to venture to ‘The Dump’ on Ballast Quay track at the end of Castleward Close, now part of the garden of Whitton Lodge. Here they would make dens, hide, get muddy, as it was always boggy with run-off from the track, and come home with ‘treasures’ (old jam jars and potted paste bottles from what must have been the old waste dump of Ballast Quay House). Millfields Green was another place to venture where ball games were allowed. However, when residents of Amberley Close complained to Elmstead Parish Council about the balls constantly coming into their gardens, it was decided to plant the hedge which now runs beside the track of the old part of Ballast Quay Road that runs to Rectory Hill. Children could play ball games and the Amberley residents were happy. A good outcome for all. The Brook that runs through the valley was another place for adventure, but when Bobbits Way was developed the fun ceased as it became culverted.

The field path which goes to Alresford Road and the Ballast Quay track, which runs beside Millfields School, provided adventures not only for families but also for some of the family pets. One memory is of a family cat frequently disappearing for a week before eventually returning home dusty and thirsty but not hungry. It was later learned from the farmer, John Bowes, that he had put the cat to work catching rats in his barn. The cat also kept the local rabbit population in check, on one occasion releasing a baby rabbit in a living room which led to a lively catching game!

Millfields Green

Millfields Green, opposite the school, has an interesting history. When the builders left, it was a muddy unkempt mess but provided the perfect place for Millfields School bonfire. As regulations were then less stringent residents threw all sorts of rubbish onto the bonfire, including mattresses, pallets and old garden and household waste. It was an enormous fire which would be left smouldering for days. The metal debris of bed springs etc was impressive and possibly the reason why the middle of the green remains slightly raised today. A metal detector would get multiple hits but many disappointments! Bonfires ceased when Moody Homes suddenly installed a concrete helicopter pad. All the residents were amazed but were told that it was to land the company director’s helicopter. One family recalls it only ever being used once!  Moody Homes subsequently donated the land to Elmstead parish for the benefit of the residents of Dene Park. It remains in their ownership. An electricity supply was installed and remains at the grey metal electric-box post near to the hedge on the Ballast Quay Road side. Suddenly, one December, a Christmas tree was erected with lighting, provided by Elmstead Council to match the tree of the main village. This occurred again the following year. However, it was vandalised on each occasion with the sad outcome that there were no more festive offerings to the Dene Park residents by their local council.

Dene Park Estate holds many happy memories for its early residents. Despite the protracted problems between rival local authorities in its early years it has long since been integrated into Wivenhoe and remains a pleasant area in which to live. It seems extraordinary that it was once part of the parish of Elmstead Market!  It would be a shame if the interesting and often entertaining saga of its early history were to be lost and for that reason the author considered the story was worth telling.



  • Wivenhoe Town Council Boundary Change archive
  • Information gathered from original residents of the area.
  • The Story of Wivenhoe by Nicholas Butler Published 1989, Quentin Press Limited
  • Hansard: Commons: Volume 832: Building Materials, 8th March 1972 
  • Hansard: Commons: Volume 842: Building Materials Shortage, 1st August 1972 
  • Remembering the 1972 Building Workers’ Strike by Eileen Turnbull, Tribune Magazine – 25th July 2022



This page was added on 18/03/2024.

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