By Sir Bob Russell

With major planned disruption to railway services over Christmas and New Year – with no trains anywhere on Christmas Day – it is interesting to look back to see how things were 80 years ago with this snapshot of when life then was so different.

  •  Colchester United’s first season as a professional football club was 1937-38, and in those days teams played matches on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

The U’s first Christmas Day match in the Southern League was away to Exeter City Reserves.

The long journey from Colchester to Devon started early on Christmas morning by coach to London to catch the train from Paddington.

Alas, there was heavy fog.. and the coach arrived at Paddington 30 seconds after the train had left. It was the only train that day to Exeter. The game was postponed.

A crowd of 8,000 was at Layer Road the next day to watch the Boxing Day encounter, which resulted in the U’s beating Exeter Reserves 3-1.

  • Colchester’s first council houses were built 98 years ago in Defoe Crescent, Mile End. They were officially opened on February 17 1921 by the Mayoress, Mrs A J Lucking.

Benham’s Directory for 1922 lists the names of tenants of the first 16 houses – among them J Huddlestone at Number 1, A H Ewers at Number 3, and E Wade at Number 5, W A Comer at Number 2, L E Cording at Number 4 and F P Hawkins at Number 6.

Progress was slow. The last of the 105 council houses in Defoe Crescent was not completed until 1930.

  •  “Lord Haw-Haw” – the British traitor William Joyce who broadcast radio propaganda from Nazi Germany during the Second World War – spoke at a public meeting in Colchester in support of local members of the British Union of Fascists.

This was in October 1934 at the Albert Hall, now the Co-op Bank.

Joyce was sentenced to death for treason in September 1945, prompting the Essex County Standard to recall when he came to Colchester and spoke for two hours on “new patriotism” and stating he did so “without a dissentient voice being raised”.

  • Oswald Lewis, MP for Colchester from 1929 to 1945, was the son of the founder of the firm John Lewis and Co (described in a profile ahead of the 1945 General Election as “the Oxford Street drapers”).

Mr Lewis was a National Conservative. Charles Smith, after whom Charles Smith House off Abbot’s Road is named, took the seat for Labour, the only time the party has won Colchester. In 1950 Cuthbert Alport regained the seat for the Conservatives.

  • Britain’s oldest manmade air raid shelter during the Second World War was the one under Colchester Castle, the vaults to the Temple to the Emperor Claudius built in the first century AD.

The black and white “S” sign is still there – inside the Castle entrance, at the top of the steps leading to the vaults.

  • The Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, Rector of East Mersea from 1871 to 1881, wrote the inspirational hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

Music is by Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.

  • An improvement scheme for buildings and public area at Colchester’s historic Scheregate Steps was officially opened 50 years ago, on December 5 1967, by the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Sir John Ruggles-Brise.

A plaque on the wall, cleaned last year, states this was for the Scheregate Traders Association.

The architect was Ronald Geary, and the contractor J. Collie.

Sponsors are listed as Colchester Civic Society, Borough of Colchester, Essex County Council, and Colchester and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce.

  • Colchester’s first pre-fabricated houses – approximately £1,000 each – were built at Tufnell Way, off Bergholt Road, in September 1945.

This type of emergency housing was needed because of the loss of houses bombed during the Second World War.

Pre-fabs were also built at Sussex Road, on the King George Estate off Pownall Crescent, and Gurdon Road off Berechurch Road. None survive.

  • Under the headline “Lights go up again”, the Essex County Standard reported on August 3 1945 that about 60 per cent of Colchester’s street lights had been switched back on following six years of blackout during the Second World War.

The Lighting Committee reported to the monthly meeting of the Town Council two days previously that 860 electric and 130 gas street lights were now operating.