When Western Avenue was Buckingham’s Wild West

Elaine Fenables on Western Avenue, circa 1949
Elaine Fenables on Western Avenue, circa 1949

Back to the Past with historian Ed Grimsdale

Since writing about the Overnhill­-Pightle estate, I’ve been talking to some of its pioneer residents and finding out about life in its early days when there were just a few houses surrounded by green fields.

Circus advertisement 1955

Circus advertisement 1955

The houses were not built in numerical order.

The first completions were two pairs – 16 and 14, and 13 with its ‘mate’, 1 Overn Avenue.

In my earlier piece, I mentioned that Mr and Mrs Burgess moved in first.

Remarkably, I’m told by Elaine Squires that Mrs Burgess still lives in her home, next to John and Sheila Wilkes.

(A time there was when Sheila cooked my teas in the Latin School’s Boarding House.)

Elaine’s parents, Mr and Mrs Fred Fenables, moved in opposite the Burgesses in late 1946, having been re­housed from a pokey house on Mitre Street because of their two growing boys and little Elaine, then aged nine months.

Their new semi­-detached council house must have seemed huge to the Fenables, so they topped it up with twins in 1948 – two more boys, the first babies to be born on the estate.

Elaine, who remains in her parents’ former home with her husband John, keeps a snap of herself from about 1949.

Where is she? Well, a little down Western Avenue from Overn Avenue.

The wild grass to her left now holds the bungalows on the corner of Overn Avenue.

Can you see the temporary wartime prefabs in Pightle Crescent?

Elaine’s home is the rather blurred gable end on the right of the picture opposite the gleaming white semi-detached pair where Mrs Burgess lives.

To the right hand of young Elaine, two ‘new’ pairs of semi­-detached properties are going up. The nearest to us has rafters open to the skies.

Infrastructure lags behind, with kerbs in place but the road surface is yet to be laid down.

Part of the blame for the slow build was due to the ferocious weather early in 1947.

Just imagine being the Fenables. Their new home is full of damp air, and condensation, from plaster yet to dry, drips down every window.

Outside there’s a foot of snow and temperatures well below freezing shiver your timbers for months on end. Oh, and there’s a national fuel shortage to boot!

Elaine can remember cattle from Castlefields being driven to market in Buckingham past her house.

Once they ate all the plants in her dad’s front garden.

Elaine recalls happy times, too – two elephants lumbering down the Avenue to a circus. Its tent was pitched where Adams Close was to be built.

I’ve found the advertisement shown in an April 1955 Buckingham Advertiser – Hip Hip Zoo Ray!­