Laindon's Incongruities

Oddities of Laindon

By Alan Davies

Few of the contributors to these archives who remember Laindon in the 1950's and earlier would deny that it was akin to a third world country. However great an affection we might hold for that vanished world no rose coloured glasses can deny that fact. Loos at the bottom of the garden; half a dozen made up roads with the rest mud and water for much of the year; street lighting along the High Road, St Nicholas Lane and maybe two or three others and the rest of the streets unlit and pitch black; the need to carry a torch after dark; high unemployment; low wages; one open fireplace to heat the entire bungalow; cars and refrigerators unknown; a minimal change of clothing; the Sunday roast in diminishing portions served in various guises through Wednesday, Thursday sausages, Friday fish, Saturday cold salad (in season); a bath once a week on Friday.

Yet there were a few oddities that, in retrospect, seemed out of place in such an economically challenged rural Essex village. I mention only two such oddities but perhaps other contributors can add to the list.

At the rear of the Crown, on a Saturday or Sunday evening, one could encounter an idyllic sight. In the background stretched views as far as Kent and if one could not actually see London at least one knew the general direction. All set at the top of the hill with a blue sky and patches of high white fluffy clouds. A huge oak gave some shade and, removed from the inevitable noise and traffic from the Crown bars lay an immaculate bowling green. Bowling on the green? In Laindon? Darts, snooker, football, and even cricket but bowling on the green? The players were all immaculately dressed in white from head to toe. The game proceeded at a deliberate and peaceful pace. Voices were soft and decorous with only the occasional murmured "well bowled sir." The entire scene looked as if it belonged in an up market and better moneyed area. The pretty village of Stock perhaps. But Laindon?

In Douglas Road a few bungalows from where it joined St Nicholas Lane was a large two story house on the east side of the street. Douglas Road was an unmade road, impassable for vehicular traffic except in summer. On the east side of the road lay a series of cement stepping stones. Pedestrians hopped from one stepping stone to the next hoping to avoid the mud and water in between them. The large two story house, quite grandiose compared to its neighbours, was occupied by the Cole family. Mr Cole worked on the Stock Exchange. In what capacity I do not know. Each morning dressed in black striped trousers, black coat, tie, a bowler hat, and carrying an umbrella Mr Cole made his way to the station. Compared to the other travelers to Fenchurch Street he looked quite grand.  I always assumed that Mr Cole rode in the first class carriage. I never saw him with the hoi polloi.

During the summer the Coles would sometimes have guests for the week end. I always assumed they were business associates. At the side of the Cole's house was a large field which appeared to have been part of their property. During these guest week ends jumps would be set up in the field and horses brought out. (Where the horses came from I do not know.) Dressed in fox hunting gear, jodhpurs, boots, pink hunting coat, black cap, the group would spend the morning jumping the various obstacles stationed around the field. How incongruous! This display of upper class equestrian prowess in the middle of downmarket struck me as very odd. It was the sort of sight that one felt would be more appropriate in the Cotswolds.

This page was added by Alan Davies on 04/10/2014.
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The late and much missed Ian Mott ended his comment dated 13/10/14 with the words "if we are not to make Basildon a slum". While my comments regarding Basildon Development Corporation may seem scathing, they do, however portray my own personal opinion of them and their actions. Many of the estates within the Basildon boundary, Laindon, Pitsea, Vange and Basildon itself, were slums on paper, before construction ever began.

Craylands, Felmores, and the highly successful Siporex and Five Links estates are just a few examples, there are others. Some have been, quite rightly, demolished then redeveloped, others have been improved by the removal and relocation of certain elements of their inhabitants. But this in itself has created ghetto like areas within other estates. As a result of this, these areas will, like others before them, rapidly deteriorate.

And so it goes on. I, for myself, would greatly prefer the old Laindon, mud and all, with its much friendlier, caring community. Oh yes, nearly forgot, what happened to the estate just off Clay Hill Road where Sunnedon once was?

By Donald Joy
On 18/09/2015

I think there was an influx of people from East London to Laindon which may have come from those escaping the awful conditions during and after WWII. These were possibly Londoners who could have thought they were coming for a short time but who stayed on and braved the conditions described here, rather than returning to their origins. Some may have had relatives in Laindon to stay with, others may have had to fend for themselves in rented bungalows and houses on unmade roads in harsh winter conditions and with fewer facilities until they adjusted to country life. Some of those coming in the late 1950s like my family, already had good homes but were looking to upgrade or start in a new home as were many of that era. Some of Laindon is still recognizable but I fear even those locations would be developed if nobody seeks to protect the remaining greener areas and other zones of interest.

By Richard Haines
On 13/10/2014

I in no way was intending to imply that all people moving to or escaping for a weekend to Laindon were poor. I was only pointing out that the conditions in many parts of London were not so wonderful that people could not see the benefits offered by the Laindon countryside.

I am also well aware that there were many well built large and smaller home in Laindon that have been standing longer than many of the houses built by the Development Corporation, now on their first or second redevelopment, have or are likely to. Many of the original dwellings are likely to still be standing after the current developments have become rubble for another development.

The old Laindon, was never a picturesque village but it did provide space for the occupants to breath and children play and enjoy the freedom to explore and learn. It is now rapidly becoming an overcrowded urban sprawl with building at higher densities than those that existed in the old slums of London. This could be laying down problems for future generations especially as there is becoming less open space and greenery for the residence to enjoy.

The open space is not purely for the pleasure and release of exuberant energy of children it also provides space for trees and vegetation that is required to help in the absorption of the pollution produced by urbinisation.

I understand that Basildon has a high level of respiratory problems indictating that we need to give greater thought to the effects of developments if we are not to make Basildon a slum.

By Ian Mott
On 13/10/2014

I think that many of the families moving from East London into the plotlands of Laindon, perhaps building their own houses, were not necessarily as poor as Ian Mott has inferred. Many of the homes pre war were for weekend use only, suggesting that those bringing the materials in by rail and transporting them to site would have needed access to money which the very poor would not have dreamt of. Most of the plotland bungalows were well constructed, from approved plans and using good quality brick, concrete and timber, with tiled or slate roofs. I imagine that some of their owners had good quality detached, semi detached or terraced properties in London and were only trying to escape into the countryside for the weekend. Hence the possibility for families like the Coles of the story by Alan here, who had moved permanently to their country retreat with a journey back on working days to Fenchurch Street. 

By Richard Haines
On 07/10/2014

What must be remembered is that although the conditions in the community were primitive many of the families coming and settling in the area had come from the over crowded slums of the East End. Many of the homes were two up two down terraced properties shared with other families, with an outside toilet and possibly a bath in the kitchen.  The chance to escape the smog and high levels of pollution could well be worth the inconveniences of the Laindon and surrounding community.

By Ian Mott
On 06/10/2014

Alan has served up some amazing images when he talks about Douglas Road. From my aspect I can only remember Douglas Road from the Autumn of 1957 when it was in decline, many of the bungalows were empty, the inhabitants probably having sold out and moved on. However in the following few summers it was a playground for us youngsters, being easily reached from home yet far enough away to be an adventure. Walking south from St Nicholas Lane into Douglas Road there were one or two houses on the right followed by a densely wooded area, probably overgrown plots never built upon. On the left there were about four or five bungalows, all on separate plots until an unmade road was reached called Berwick Road. Beyond this and standing alone was the house and large plot Alan is talking about. How wonderful to think that horses were brought onto the plot to perform equestrian jumping right in the middle of Laindon. It would be interesting to find out exactly who lived in the house and for how long. Thanks Alan - really fascinating.

By Richard Haines
On 05/10/2014
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