The Haven and Plotlands

by Jennifer Shirley, Assistant Museum Manager at The Haven Museum

By Ian Mott

The four-roomed bungalow built by the Mills family in 1934 is the last remaining home of the Laindon Plotlands phenomenon of the turn of the last Century.  Originally intended as a weekend retreat for the Romford family, the house was actually inhabited until 1983.  Built on three plots bought for £20 in 1934, the bungalow originally consisted of two rooms.

Photo:Fredric Mills outside the Haven

Fredric Mills outside the Haven

courtesy of www.Roselake.com

Photo:Mena Mills in front garden of The Haven

Mena Mills in front garden of The Haven

courtesy of www.Roselake.com

During the Second World War Mr. Frederic and Mrs. Mena Mills took out a loan of £45 to add a kitchen and a bedroom for their two sons, Brian and Terry.  Now in its second life as The Haven Plotlands Museum at Essex Wildlife Trust Langdon, The Haven would originally have had nearly 200 neighbours on the 461 acre site.

The Laindon Plotlands began life in the early 1900s, when the cheap cost of imported American grain (combined with bad weather) meant that the value of farm land fell.  Much of the farm land was sold off to property developers at a time when the Fenchurch Street to Southend railwayline was shortened and a station built at Laindon.  By the early 1900s developers were organising ‘Champagne Sales’, luring Londoners to the countryside with special train tickets, free champagne and exaggerated claims of the amenities which were expected to be available.

In 1924 183 of the Dunton plots were sold at roughly the cost of £6 a plot (several times the average weekly wage at the time).  As three plots combined The Haven plot measures 60’ by 180’.  Although originally intended as holiday homes and weekend retreats, by the Second World War many families decided to move to their plots permanently (with fathers often commuting to London from Laindon station). 

Although The Haven eventually had mains gas and cold-running water, life for the Plotlanders was hard work.  Most Plotlanders grew their own fruit and veg and kept livestock like chickens, goats and pigs.  Conditions on the hills of the avenues were so muddy in winter time that a special path was built along the front of all the houses, allowing the residents to transport coal and other supplies up and down the hill in two ‘basses’, modified bassinets.  Some of these paths can still be seen today amongst the long grass on the reserve and also outside The Haven.

As the Plotlanders designed and built their own homes there was a wide range in styles amongst the different plots.  Some were brick-built bungalows, whilst others were small wooden structures and, in at least one case, a railway carriage.

The Plotlands story finally came to an end in the 1980s, when the remaining houses were compulsorily purchased by Basildon Council.  The Basildon Development Corporation began attempts to compulsorily purchase the land in the 1950s and many of the buildings were demolished in the 1960s and 1970s.  The land was originally intended for housing but in the 1980s Basildon Council had a change of heart (possibly due to the sloping nature of the land) and decided to keep the area as green space.  Although the Plotlands residents were offered accommodation in the new town, many chose not to accept the offer or were disappointed with their new accommodation.  For people used to large gardens, open spaces and a tight-knit community of friendly neighbours, the new flats were a poor substitute.

Photo:The Haven Museum today

The Haven Museum today

Jennifer Shirley, Assistant Museum Manager

 At The Haven Museum we have tried to return the house to its 1930s beginnings.  As well as the four-roomed bungalow (and out-house!) there is also a workshop (Mr. Mills was a carpenter), where the family originally cooked while The Haven was being built.  There is also a washroom, complete with a brick copper and tin bath.  We are currently working on the vegetable plot, sowing only seeds available in the 1930s (no mean feat with no direct water supply!)  The stable where the Mills family once housed their pony, ducks and chickens still stands, as does the Anderson Shelter.  According to one of our volunteers, the Anderson shelter is one of the best examples in the country and work is currently under-way to restore it to its 1940s glory.

The Haven Museum is open every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday, except Christmas weekends.  The opening times are 10 ‘til 4 April to September and 2 ‘til 4 October to March.   

This page was added by Ian Mott on 11/09/2011.
Comments about this page (Add a comment about this page)

Thank you for this site. The Mills family played a very important part in my life as a young man in the late 50s early 60s. I remember visiting them on many saturday evenings to watch Juke Box Jury. Brian thank you for your kindness I often remember those times more than 50 years ago.

By David Muncey
On 03/04/2015

My grandmother Letitia Holmes had a few plots. My dad told me once that when she was leaning over the well (pulling water up), the goat butted her into it.  Does anyone have any memories of Letitia Holmes later Veevers?  She had twin boys, Bert, my dad and Bob.

By Diane Dinch
On 21/11/2014

We turned our Anderson shelter into a pig sty, bred saddle backs in it for years after the war. Then it was turned into a garage for our motor bike and sidecar.

By Ken Page
On 09/07/2014

In regard to the Anderson shelter. I was more than a little surprised to read that "work is currently underway to restore it to its 1940s glory." What glory?

If it was anything like our Anderson it was unheated, unlit, uncomfortable and the floor was permanently covered with about four inches of stagnant water which continually seeped in through the walls. No way anyone was going to use the shelter. We took our chances under the dining room table with a game of Ludo.

By alan davies
On 06/07/2014

My grandmother's bungalow, built by my grandfather and his brother-in-law, in Southway off Dry Street is still in occupation. Her youngest son aged 78 has just died having lived in Louisville for the last 51 years and his widow hopes to remain in the same place for as long as possible.

By Jackie Twinn
On 05/07/2014

I have pointed out to Jennifer Shirley that the Haven is not the last plotland property even in the area of the Avenues at Dunton.

By Ian Mott
On 11/09/2011
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