Sarah Ann Radley was born in Witham and came to live in Springfield as a young girl. She married in 1887 and had at least two children. Her husband died in 1900. Eight years later she married for a second time and by 1911 was resident in Brockley Road. It was there she was killed when her house was demolished in a German air raid in August 1940. Less than a year later her widowed husband committed suicide.
Sarah Ann POTHAM (formerly ROAST and RADLEY), Civilian
Killed during an air raid at Brockley Road, Chelmsford. Aged 73
In 1911 the census found Sarah, her husband, one of his sons, and her two sons living at 5 Brockley Road in Springfield. Her husband was an iron and steel turner, while his son 28 year-old son William was a steel hardener. Sarah's 20 year-old son William was a plumber and painter; her 15 year-old son Frank was an office boy.
A decade later a street directory recorded Sarah's husband as a mechanic.
In 1940 Sarah was still living in Brockley Road. She was well known locally and actively associated with the Chelmsford Sisterhood, Springfield Mothers’ Union and Springfield Women’s Fellowship. At 9.50 a.m. on 20th August that year, a Tuesday, a lone Luftwaffe aircraft, believed to have been on armed reconnaissance, appeared without warning above Chelmsford and dropped some nine H.E.s and an incendiary bomb in the Navigation Road area, before it escaped unchallenged. The likely target for the attack was the nearby Gas Works, but most of the bombs fell wide of there and hit residential areas and the canal banks.
One bomb fell in the vicinity of 5 Brockley Road which collapsed, burying 73 year-old Sarah in the rubble of her home where she died from her injuries. Four others were injured in the raid. Some 69 properties were damaged in the attack, including two demolished (5 & 6 Brockley Road) and seven seriously damaged (4, 7, 8 Brockley Road and 34, 35, 36 and 37 Navigation Road). A slight fire was started at 7 Brockley Road and a small gas main was fired. A dozen people from numbers 34 to 37 Navigation Road and fifteen others from numbers 4 to 8 Brockley Road were rendered homeless.
One of the bombs hit the Gas Works, striking an above-ground tank containing prepared road tar. It passed through the tank and formed a crater in the ground below, into which about 3,000 gallons of tar were discharged from the tank. Men working in the vicinity escaped injury, though considerable damage was done to the adjacent tar plant. Another bomb fell onto the road surface in Navigation Road, opposite number 44, damaging the utilities, but just missing a 15 inch gas main. Meanwhile another fell onto the roof of numbers 35 and 36. Another of the bombs fell on land between the Saracen’s Head Hotel and the River Chelmer, narrowly missing some workmen. No one was hurt and damage was slight, though a crater was formed by the explosion. Mr. Porter, the enterprising manager of the hotel, charged the public a shilling each to view the scene. Such was the curiosity that he was soon to raise more than £100 which was later donated to the town’s Flight of Fighters Fund which was to begin the next day.
At Bishopscourt in Springfield Road the German aircraft had been observed approaching Chelmsford by the Bishop of Chelmsford’s gardener. He rushed to tell the Bishop, who came outside, and watched the aircraft casually circle above Chelmsford, apparently looking for a target, before it released its bombs. Angered by what he had seen, the Bishop contacted the Mayor and together they later sent a tersely worded telegram to the Minister of Home Security. It read “Solitary raider bombed this town yesterday and once today. Several lives lost. Strongly protest - no warning given. Signed Mayor and Bishop of Chelmsford”.
On 24th August 1940 Sarah was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Springfield. Sarah’s husband was never to really recover from his wife’s tragic death. On 14th July 1941 the 81 year-old put on his best clothes and travelled to Brentwood railway station. He climbed down to the railway track, was seen to put his head on the rail and calmly wait for a Shenfield to Liverpool Street train to strike him at 50 m.p.h.
He died instantly and was subsequently buried alongside his wife.
In 1993 the son of a friend of Sarah reported:
“After the bombing I remember going to Brockley Road to see the wrecked houses. By that time it had been made relatively safe, but the rubble hadn’t yet been taken away and you could walk through the half-demolished walls. My mother was a friend of Mrs. Potham through the Mothers’ Union and I can remember her feeling at least relieved that dear old Mrs. Potham hadn’t suffered too much. We only lived a minute’s walk away from Brockley Road and I used to go and do shopping for Mrs. Potham on occasions. She was an elderly, very unassuming, quiet, ordinary, friendly, pleasant lady - the very last sort of person you’d wish to see injured or killed.”
Sarah's son William Roast died in 1942; his brother died in 1956.
Sarah was born in Witham in 1867, the daughter of Charles Radley (1844-1893) and Matilda Radley (nee Thorn) (1846-1920). Her parents had married in 1866.
Sarah's siblings included William Radley (born 1864), Charles William Radley (1869-1933), Arthur J. Radley (1871-1936), Ada Elizabeth Radley (1873-1930), George Radley (1875-1926), Alfred Edward Radley (1877-1957), Ernest Joseph Radley (1879-1947), Florence Emily Radley (born 1886), and Beatrice Alice Radley (1888-1945).
The 1871 census found four year-old Sarah living with her parents, two brothers, maternal grandmother and uncle at The Wharf in Springfield. At the time Sarah's father was a gas stoker, presumably at Chelmsford's gas works which were nearby. A decade later 13 year-old Sarah was recorded by the 1881 census at 2 Coppin's Yard, off Springfield Road in Springfield. She was a scholar,
accompanied by her parents and seven siblings. Her father was still employed as a gas stoker.
Six years later Sarah married William Roast and in 1891 census they were living at 5 Embankment Row, off Victoria Road in Chelmsford. They were accompanied by their elder son, William, an uncle and a nephew. Sarah's husband was a shop porter. A second son, Frank Harold Roast followed in 1896, but four years later Sarah's husband died, aged just 31.
The following year, 1901, the census listed 33 year-old Sarah 'living on her own means' with her sons, sister Florence, and a boarder in Arbour Lane, Springfield.
On 5th December 1908, when aged 41, Sarah married for a second time, to Birmingham-born widower Thomas Henry Potham (1861-1941) at All Saints' Church in Springfield. Both bride and groom lived in Springfield with Thomas then working as an engineer. He had at least two sons from a previous marriage.