Dunton Farm Colony/Caravan Site

By Ken Porter

Over the centuries Dunton like the rest of the surrounding area had seen many changes, although admittedly nothing exceptional or spectacular, however the farm colony experiment in the early part of the twentieth century was quite unique.

It was an American Jew, Joseph Fels, who became a leading light in trying to find a way of solving the acute poverty problem at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1903 he met George Lansbury who had become one of the most expert Poor Law administrators in the country, having served a long period on the Poplar Board of Guardians where he endeavoured to improve the scope of poor relief.

Joseph at this time was busy advocating the establishment of small holdings and farm holdings to help relieve the problems of the poor. With the support of Lansbury, Fels in 1904 purchased Sumpners Farm in Dunton about one hundred acres and the first Farm Colony for the unemployed in England was established.

Lansbury’s greatest concern was that of Poplar, one of the poorest of the East End districts, so because of his support Fels lent the land to Poplar Board of Guardians on a three year agreement at a peppercorn rent with the Guardians having the option to purchase at any time during their tenancy for the original price.

The land was taken over in March 1904 and one hundred able-bodied paupers from Poplar were set to work. Temporary buildings for dormitories, kitchen, laundry, toilets and a reservoir for water was built.

One of the major differences between a Farm colony and the work house was the great freedom. Papers, books, games and a piano were provided. Although there was a great amount of criticism of the scheme a great number of influential people visited and it was initially a great success. A large number of the men were old soldiers who had had at least 10 years service but no pension to show for it.

In November 1904 a reporter on the Municipal Journal wrote: -

“The first Poor Law Labour colony in England , run by the Poplar Board of Guardians, near Laindon, has now had a three month trial. It is quite easy to understand, when one has seen the working of this labour colony, why it should be considered the broad way out of the unemployment impasse. Sumpners Farm, acquired for the purpose of the colony, is completely isolated…….”

The report went on to praise the new project in glowing terms and so did another report a month later. They were also impressed with the superintendent, Mr John Clark who was to be in charge for the next thirty years until his death in 1933 at the aged of 63.

Mind you it was not always peaceful on the farm. The local papers had a field day over the next thirty years reporting various misdemeanours, such as drunkenness, stealing and assaults etc.

The Poplar Board of Guardians handed it over to the London County Council (L.C.C.) in 1928 and they continued to run the self-contained community on similar lines until 1941.

They authorities certainly meant business and it could only be described as a small self-contained rural village. It comprised of two large dormitory buildings (both 150ft x 50ft) and three smaller dormitories. There were workshops of all kinds, including tailors, cobblers, carpenters, plumbers. There were also stables, piggeries, chicken and poultry houses, cow sheds, milking parlour, dairy, slaughterhouse, laundry, boiler house and a clinic, sick bay and dispensary.  Doctor Henderson whose surgery was at Hiawatha in Laindon used to attend 2 days a week during the 1930s.

If this was not enough it had a dining hall with a large kitchen, several offices, cottages on or near the site for the permanent staff, its own sewage plant and of course there was a general store and clothing store. The general store supplied cigarettes and tobacco to the inmates. It also sold the fruit, vegetables and dairy produce etc produced on site to the inmates to take with them on the week-ends when they were given passes and allowed to go home. Local residents were also allowed to purchase goods from the store.

At its height the inmates numbered between 200/300 and were housed in either the dormitories or in movable huts in and around the farm and orchard. The inmates were employed either on the site farm or sent to other farms, hospitals or similar institutions in the locality. 

In 1941, owing to the hostilities, the colony was closed. The records show there were 175 inmates at the time, what happened to them, as yet I do not know. The permanent staff however, remained in occupation.

The camp was immediately taken over by the Civil Defence and prepared and equipped as a Hospital for local air raid and war casualties; fortunately the occasion to use it never arose.

In 1942 the Military Authorities took the whole camp over from the Civil Defence and every available building or accommodation was used to house troops and more camped out under canvas in the fields and orchard. Then in early 1943 the Military Authorities moved out and the Royal Air Force moved in and remained until the end of 1944.

During all this time the permanent staff of the L.C.C. had remained in occupation (what they were doing I have no idea) and they did not leave until 1956. Early that year the main batch of permanent staff were transferred to various hospitals, etc., leaving only Mr P Hibbard the gate keeper and Mr Goldinggay the accountant and superintendent who both retired in June 1956 when Mr C Gray acquired the colony and changed its name to Charles Caravan Park.

Photo:1960s

1960s

Photo:1960s

1960s

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Dunton Farm Colony/Caravan Site' page

In June 1960 Mr Gray sold the site and by August of that year there were 148 residential and holiday caravans on site.

Photo:Summer 2010

Summer 2010

Ken Porter

The site is now known as Dunton Park , it has 173 permanent residential park homes, storage capacity for 700 Tourers and two function suites

Photo:Function Rooms

Function Rooms

Ken Porter

Fletchers suite that can accommodate 120 people and the Weavers Bar that can accommodate 50 people.

This page was added by Ken Porter on 19/02/2011.
Comments about this page (Add a comment about this page)

Hi Ken.  Love the article on The Colony, my grandfather Edwin John Burr worked there untill his death in 1938. On his death certificate he is down as Colony Attendant.

On reading the numbers involved of the inmates, are there any registers as to the Attendants? How many as a ratio to the inmates?

Is there a register of names of attendants and did they all come from the area?

My grandfather, I am sure, would have been within the farming/agricultural area as that is the background of all my ancestors.

I remember as a child asking my aunts, uncles etc., about my grandfather who they told me worked at the Colony, but I never understood what the colony was, I knew where it was but not what went on there.

By Ellen English Nee Burr
On 18/03/2016

Georgina Nottage says she remembers Pat Gray in 5X2 in 59/60. Can I ask Georgina if she remembers any of the other girls names in her class, I'm sure some of them were Prefects and looked after our class (I was a second year then in Mr Rees class). It might ring a bell for me to be reminded. Thanks !!

By Richard Haines
On 17/03/2016

I recall that there was a Pat Gray in my class (5X2, Mr Foreman, 1959/60) at Laindon High Road, School. If memory serves me right Charles Gray was her uncle and her father was a manager at the site.

By Georgina Nottage (nee Ellingford)
On 15/03/2016

I have been researching my family tree and found that my Great Grandmother's brother John Henry Pemberthy shows as being discharged from here in May 1905, one year after the opening.  He shows in the 1901 and 1911 census as living with his wife of over 30 years. So I assume he was here because he was unable to support them. His occupation was a General Labourer and he died in 1925 aged 64. What a hard life they must have had then. I have found your page very interesting and enlightening, thank you.

By Valerie Bird
On 13/03/2016

How facinating. I lived here for the first 2 years of my life, born 1968, and we only moved away to Basildon shortly after my sister came along in 71. My Dad owned and ran the shop on the site for a while, Anthony Tanner. I love listening to his tales of running the shop and will share this article with him.

By Gillian Pidler (Nee Tanner)
On 04/09/2015

Bill Diment in his posting of 15/06/03 is absolutely correct when he writes "....many families relied on "charity hand me downs", especially where the children were concerned and even one substantial meal a day was something for the lucky ones..... In our nostalgia, we seem to be in denial of the severe hardships and of which later generations while aware of, do not really understand and we older people try to minimise or forget." We tend to remember schoolday escapades, flowers, walks, play, friends, sports and brilliant summer days. The other side of the coin was inadequate housing, no indoor plumbing, a standfast outside for water, and a lack of adequate clothing. Who amongst us older generation did not personally know those afflicted with the ravages of polio or rickets. Who did not know of a family saddened by a death from the killer diphtheria. We school children all knew that impetigo, chilblains, pneumonia, scarlet fever, measles, chicken pox, jaundice, tonsillitis all stalked the corridors and classrooms. Life prior to antibiotics was often cruel or, to quote Thomas Hobbes, even "short, nasty and brutish." We were often wet though from incessant rain and no overcoat or mackintosh and spent much of our lives avoiding mud puddles and jumping from one piece of relatively dry cinder track to the next in an effort to keep our feet dry. Everywhere the mud, mud, mud! We grew up in the Laindon area and it is our childhood and our early experiences that we remember with fondness and nostalgia. Let us, however, not escape reality. For us older generation the Laindon of our childhood was a virtual third world country in many respects and just as dangerous.

By Alan Davies
On 16/06/2013

While once again reading the comments on past eras, I was surprised to read that Gloria's remembrances of Dunton Colony were somewhat 'forbidding' and quite the opposite to my own. The colony I remember of the mid thirties, was one of a settlement of buildings far more substantial then many of those of the surrounding plotlands. They had hard access roads, mains water and sewage facilities. It had orchards and plots providing fresh vegetables. The occupants were warmly clothed in their Derby tweed suits and stout boots, at a time when many families relied on charity 'hand me downs', especially where the children were concerned and even one substantial meal per day was something for the lucky ones. I believe the conditions of living in the colony were something many of the locals only dreamed of. In our nostalgia, we seem to be in denial of the severe hardships and of which later generations while aware of, do not really understand and we older people try to minimise or forget.

By W.H.Diment
On 15/06/2013

My father-George Arthur Roser-was employed by the LCC at Dunton Farm from 1935 until the outbreak of WW2, and subsequently until call-up, at LCC Luxborough St, London. In March 1936, at St Nicholas Church, Laindon, he married Ellen Margaret Peirce. One of the witnesses named on their marriage certificate is the Superintendent at Dunton, Ernest Arthur Goldingay. 8 Tyler Avenue was named as my fathe's residence. It was during this period at Laindon that my parents started a life-long friendship with John and Gladys Sims - John being the stationmaster at Laindon and father of Joan the actress. I remember visiting the family at Station House and indeed Gladys was a guest at my own wedding in 1962 in Westcliff, Southend.

By Michael Peirce Roser
On 15/06/2013

There is a strong connection between the American TV series and Laindon, specifically, the Dunton farm colony. Angela Lansbury is the grandaughter of the Socialist politician, George Lansbury, who was a labour MP, leader of the Labour party for 2 years in the 30's, and had earlier been a poor law guardian on Poplar council. It was George Lansbury who persuaded American businessman Joseph Fels to purchase the Dunton farm that became the labour colony, as part of Lansbury's campaign to reform the poor laws, and the dreaded workhouses. We owe a lot of the welfare state to George Lansbury and his pioneering. Something to think about the next time you see Jessica Fletcher solve another murder!

By David Bally
On 26/02/2013

I used to live in Worthing Road and as a young boy delivered papers to the Colony. I knew Billy Foyle and the Foyle family and passed many hours in play with them. This website has been most interesting as a trip down memory lane.

Editor: Stanley would you be prepaired to add your memories to our site is so please contact me

By Stanley Rogers
On 28/02/2012

Mr Higginbotham in his article on Dunton Colony stated that the Superintendent lived in a poorly constructed dwelling on the premises. However, the superintendent, Mr. Goldingay, mentioned by Ken Porter lived in Noak Hill Rd., in the first bungalow to the north and east of the bridge. 

I knew his son, Jack, well as he was the opening fast bowler for the Colony cricket team, for whom I played. 

Also Philip Hibbard played as wicket keeper and had connections with Dunton Church. 

Jack married Kitty Foyle, the sister of Billy Foyle, and Jack finished his working life as caretaker of Brooke House in the town square.

By W.H.Diment
On 05/02/2012

Hello John and Ken I have a little more to add on the Hollesley Bay colony you mentioned above as I only live just 30 miles away from it.

It used to be the largest open prison farm in England, along with the oldest established stud farm for the beautiful Suffolk Punch horse. In 1905 it became a farm colony for the unemployed, each worker being given a house and a piece of land. 

In 1938 the prison commission purchased it for a borstal, which I must add in the 70s became known as Holiday Bay by the inmates and in 2002 became a minimal security unit for adult offenders.

In 2008 the Suffolk Punch trust bought the farm part so the breed could be maintained locally. Well worth a visit by any old (or new) Laindoners who find them self this way.

By Gloria Sewell
On 24/08/2011

Just to place the Dunton Farm Colony in its wider, historical context; William Booth (1829 – 1912), founder of the evangelical and charitable Salvation Army, bought Hadleigh Farm at Benfleet, Essex in 1891 in order to establish a “Farm Colony” in which some of London’s destitute men could be trained for agricultural work. It still exists, concentrating much on organic farming and the provision of rare breeds of farm animal. 

Joseph Fells, in his association with George Lansbury, had already (1887) purchased a farm at Hollesby Bay, near Woodbridge, Suffolk to establish a colony along similar lines to those established at Dunton. The Hollesby Bay site is now an “open” prison. 

In 1895, the British Women’s Temperance Society established an “Industrial” Farm Colony at Duxhurst near Reigate, Surrey in order to provide for the rehabilitation of what they referred to as “Female Inebriates” It prevailed until 1923 before becoming a retirement complex for “gentlefolks”. 

In 1905, West Ham Borough Council, no doubt influenced by neighbouring Poplar, purchased Little Mollands Farm at South Ockendon, Essex to establish a colony along similar lines to those at Dunton. This lasted, apart from a period during World War I when it was used as a prison camp for German prisoners, until 1932 when it was converted to a Mental Hospital. 

These “utopian” experiments and many, many others through quite a long period of time can be seen to be experimental attempts, successful or otherwise, to solve various of society’s prevailing ills. From the point of view of the history of Laindon and of similar past communities in Britain, the very existence of such experiments, must have had a considerable influence on many who, seizing the opportunity of the availability of cheap land in the first part of the 20th century, decided to move in and try experiments of their own, thus establishing the very “Plotlands” community that has since been obliterated. That is why it is so important to preserve the details of that period.

By John Bathurst
On 22/08/2011

Another great article on the site. Very interesting and explains the mystery of why my Mother still to this day refers to Dunton as the "Colony". Keep up the good work.

By Jesse Joy
On 20/08/2011

What a really fabulous article. Really interesting, I always knew as a child that there was something forbiding about Dunton Colony but never knew what. I thought I knew everything about Laindon and its areas, but I never knew about this early history of the Colony. We have a similar story of a property in Beccles near where I now live, it looks very forboding from the road but its been now turned into luxury flats, that building like Dunton has many tales to tell.

By Gloria Sewell
On 19/08/2011
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