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South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, UK

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A clock tower at South Woodham Ferrers.

Found in an isolated corner of Essex (not actually isolated since it has a railway line, an A road and bus services), the town of South Woodham Ferrers has many claims to fame.

Sitting on the North bank of the River Crouch, below the hills of the Danbury ridge and bordered to the east and west by creeks and fens, South Woodham provides a last breath of civilisation before you enter the Dengie peninsula. The Dengie itself is a vast flat expanse of farmland between the rivers Crouch and Blackwater, home to small villages, the fishing port of Burnham-On-Crouch and also the villages of The Bradwells, Bradwell Waterside (near water), Bradwell St. Peter's (near St. Peter's chapel), Bradwell-On-Sea (not that near the Sea) The Bradwells are near the first National Grid Nuclear Power Station in the world. Nearby is St. Peter's Roman chapel, a bleak building overlooking the North Sea, which has been in use longer than any other church in Britain.

South Woodham can be reached by boat (not advisable since there are no customs officers), train (from London in a hour...ish), bus (once/twice an hour from Chelmsford, once a fortnight from Southend, Maldon and from the Dengie, once a lifetime on time) and car/motorbike/bike/horse/mule.

Over the past 100 years, the town has gradually spread south from the area around the railway station. When the railway was first built from Wickford (and London) to Maldon and Southminster, Woodham Ferrers station was chosen to be the junction where the line split. However, Woodham Ferrers station was nowhere near Woodham Ferrers village which is stuck on a hill somewhere to the North. Around the station grew cottages for the railway workers and holiday homes for the residents of London. Gradually more and more houses were built until the massive growth in the late 1970s. Finally, in May 2007, the station was renamed South Woodham Ferrers, a move that is sure to keep the makers of extra long signs in work.

Now classed as a new settlement, to contrast it with places like Basildon, Harlow and the like, a town was built on a village theme. The original areas are Woodville (north of the railway) and Elmwood, (between the railway and Ferrers road) named after the primary schools, Elmwood school being around for well over 100 years. The town centre was built at the south part of Elmwood and is entirely pedestrianised. It is dominated both structurally and economically by the ASDA superstore. In an attempt to make the centre seem quaint, buildings were modelled on medieval villages, with overhangs and arches. To this end, the vast ASDA has a white clock tower.

In the 1980s and 1990s, more and more commuters moved out of London and into Essex, and to accommodate them houses where built south onto the flood plain. To the east of the Hullbridge Road is Collingwood, home to many of the well-to-do, and to the west is Chetwood, which is just strange.

Not content with having little jokes in road-naming (just as having Colberg place running between Victoria and Albert Roads) in the old part of the town, they went the whole hog in Chetwood. They invited architects to build Dutch housing and other nouvelle buildings, then they named half the roads after Lord of the Rings. See Gandalf's Ride, Crickhollow and more.

There is a high school, combined with library, called The William De Ferrers School, after a Norman knight who was given land here. (Nearby are Woodham Walter owned by the Fitzwalters and Woodham Mortimer owned by the Mortimers.) Sadly, there's little else. The cinema is failing and a swimming pool has been promised for 15 years. Hence the problems that exist with teen violence, drugs, vandalism and skateboarders.

There are a good number of pubs, mostly with restaurants attached, but sadly few that that boast much in the way of character; they're mainly places to meet and drink too much. An exception to this is Shaw Farm, a restaurant/pub on the edge of town where drinkers can spend a relaxing summer evening outside being attacked by the resident geese.

The solitary nightclub is Tiger (Lil's) Joes, which doubles as the Oakland Hotel Bar. Music is normally 'Ibiza', drinks are normally very expensive and not the freshest, and the entry policy is strict. It is not recommended, but since the next nearest night club is ten miles away, it attracts many punters. It occasionally plays host to ex-disco acts such as the Rose Royce vocalist.

For those who like walking, the sea wall along the Crouch and the nearby creeks as well as the hills are a welcome break from the rat race. However, it has to be noted that the nature reserve is right next to a sewage works. There is a country park, Marsh Farm, and it is a regular trip in spring, for youngsters of the pre-Teletubbies generation to see the new born lambs.

Estate agents rate South Woodham Ferrers as one of the most desirable areas to live in the country. The office of national statistics says that out of the 8,414 local council wards in England, Chetwood/Collingwood is 62nd least deprived and Woodville Elmwood 222nd least. There are about 17,000 residents.

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