From the Milk Bar to Temple Bar – on a Scooter

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Award winning author and barrister, Elizabeth Woodcraft, was Chelmsford born and bred.  Her dad, who came from Heybridge Basin, was a trade union official (the AEU) and an Essex County Councillor.  Her mother and aunts moved to Chelmsford after a WWII bomb flattened their house in Woodford.   Two of her aunts still live in Chelmsford. 

uniform 1963 

Elizabeth grew up on the Woodhall Council Estate and attended Broomfield Primary School and Chelmsford County High School for Girls.   She began her writing career, aged 7, publishing tiny newspapers – the Woodhall News – delivered to neighbours on the Estate.  Then she turned to crime.  Good Bad Woman and Babyface are novels loosely based on her experiences as a human rights lawyer.  She has now written two further books, both about Chelmsford. A Sense of Occasion is a collection of stories about life in the Sixties and beyond.  Beyond the Beehive is a novel that takes place in the year of 1965, when mods ruled the streets on their scooters and rockers roared by on their motor bikes, when espresso coffee made its appearance on every High Street and when Ban the Bomb marches regularly filled Trafalgar Square.

It was while she was at the High School that she became a mod, dancing at the Corn Exchange and working in the Milk Bar on the corner of London Road.

She took her A-levels at the Mid-EssexTechnical College in Colchester before studying at Birmingham University. 

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After receiving a degree in philosophy, she became a barrister, via teaching jobs in Leicester and France and work as a co-ordinator for Women’s Aid. 

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Beyond the Beehive – out now – continues the story begun in A Sense of Occasion.  In 1965 Linda and Sandra dance at the Corn Exchange, drink coffee in the Orpheus, skirt round the pubs in Tindal Street, cheer the Chelmsford City Football team to victory and dream of a future away from Chelmsford.  Even though Sandra and Linda are mods, Linda wears a Ban the Bomb badge and refuses to buy South African fruit. And now Sandra has started to backcomb her hair for reasons of her own, so that she has almost achieved a Beehive.  Meanwhile, Linda has met Sylvie, the bad girl of the estate. Sylvie is an unmarried mother, and no-one knows who the father is.  Linda thinks it is important that Sylvie and the baby reconnect with the man that Sylvie once loved, even if it means dealing with the United States Air Force and the contradictions of the Vietnam war.

‘…it’s her unerring attention to the minutiae of those everyday lives that also evokes long forgotten memories: Lux Soap; Billy Cotton; Dolly Mixtures and the Never-Never Man. The veracious language is rich and wry set against a musical backdrop of Rhythm and Blues…. Bill Greensmith  ‘A Blues Life’.  ‘Blues Unlimited. The Essential Interviews’.

Elizabeth says ‘I wanted to write about a very important period of my life.  Being young in Chelmsford in the 60s was very exciting.  We were mods, we had the clothes, we had a coffee bar with a juke box, and we had Ready Steady Go! on TV on a Friday night.  And we had the Corn Exchange – at a time of great music, all the best performers came to Chelmsford including the Who, the Yardbirds, Wilson Pickett and Georgie Fame. And at the same time, the fear of the H-bomb was very real, the Vietnam war was taking the lives of thousands, and apartheid in South Africa was shocking the world.’

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Also by Elizabeth Woodcraft

Final cover_1622x2500px        A Sense of Occasion – the Chelmsford Stories

A Sense of Occasion, takes us back to the 1960s, when Elizabeth was a mod and with her friends, drinking coffee in the Orpheus coffee bar and riding on Vespas and Lambrettas, dreamed of a different life.  Anyone who lived through the Sixties or wishes they had, will enjoy this heart-warming collection of short stories about the journey of four adolescent mod girls to adulthood. 

In these nine poignant, interlinked tales, Woodcraft describes the agony and small happinesses of young people on the brink of adulthood. Childhood fan-dom and the disappointment of being too young is deftly painted in ‘Tea for Tommy’ as Linda invites Tommy Steele to tea.  A Ban-the-Bomb march that passed through Chelmsford is the backdrop to the tragic story of one particular bomb that fell in Woodford during the Blitz.  Deirdre  bakes a cake with three eggs which leads to a dramatic event.  In the final stories, a wedding, the promise of a trip to London, and a reunion in the Golden Fleece point to new beginnings.

With memories of the war and the effects of rationing still being felt, young people were tasting the freedom a little money can bring.  Whether dancing to Geno Washington, drinking tea at a wedding reception on the estate or feeling uncomfortably out of place at a cocktail party, the stories share an insight into the minds of young working class women.  Humorous and moving, A Sense of Occasion is set in the Sixties but deals with timeless emotions.

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‘A lovely lovely read.’  Tommy Steele

‘Wry tales of teenage love, loss, languor and Lambrettas that bring a lump to the throat long after you’ve closed the cover.’  Val Wilmer


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