2013 Memory Walk No. 1 - 26th May.

Crown Hill to Laindon Station.

By Nina Humphrey (née Burton)

At last! A beautiful warm, sunny day, only one of a handful since the end of a long winter and the very late arrival of spring. Westley Heights was extremely busy when seven of us mustered at 2 pm, suitably dressed in cool shirts and comfortable shoes. Ken Porter, Sue Ranford, Colin and Nina Humphrey, Paul Sargeant, David Osborne and Trevor Hart. Hand-outs were distributed giving details of the route and some features to be seen along the way. In good spirits we set off with, amongst other things, a sun hat, binoculars, cream for insect bites, camera, sun glasses and an ice cream cone.

The view from the Harvester (sorry, it will always be The Crown Hotel to us) was magnificent and we could see Little Burstead Church in the distance. During the start of the descent we recalled our early experiences of climbing ‘Crown Hill’ when children, either walking or cycling to see the bluebells, going for a picnic or to watch some cricket.  We noted the position of some of the former buildings i.e. thatched post office, police cottages and the various large houses that had been built by Isaac Levy. We then followed the route of the original High Road, where it was interesting to see that several of the newer houses along there have retained the names of those which they had replaced  e.g. Fleetwood Lodge and Park Lodge. On the corner of Berry Lane we were delighted to be joined by John Rugg.

At this point, we were slightly led off track by Colin who earlier in the week had gone exploring and made a discovery. With the aid of an old map and Google Earth he had been able to locate the site of the old clay pit which provided the clay which was transported by a rail link to the brickworks near Laindon Station. Entering a little gate and wading carefully through a thick patch of tall stinging nettles we became aware of a deep incline in front of us.  Looking up, we could see a couple of houses high above on the other side which had been built on the side of the quarry. The brickworks had only operated from around 1900 to 1910 but the clay pit had been left undisturbed in the undergrowth. Without the aid of the overlay map, it’s quite likely to have remained that way.

We left Berry Lane where the area of the burnt out Triangle shops is still fenced off, and returned to the High Road, pointing out as we walked, the position of previous buildings including the nursing home, “Sissinghurst”.  We stopped on the corner of Samuel Road to admire ‘Albany’, one of the few remaining large houses. Then on to the Methodist Church on the corner of Emanuel Road, where we saw the memorial stone laid in 1907 by Isaac Levy who provided the ground for the church. We noticed a tree (a confer) in the middle of the roundabout just before the station, which is said to have been in the front garden of one of the large old houses. I suggested it may possibly have been “Rosemary Lodge”, the home of Dr Shannon.  (The following day, with the help of a Google Earth overlay map, we were able to confirm this was correct.)

We walked across the bridge noting the former position of the old Laindon Clinic and The Railway Cottages, then continued to the front of the station passing the car park where Churchill Johnson had once stood.  Station House still remains, while the area around it has changed considerably. Work is at present underway to make the access road a one-way system which I am sure will be an appreciated improvement.  It was now 4 pm and after a few last reminiscences of the old steam trains and signal boxes, we agreed the walk had been a great success. We’d chatted, laughed, remembered, learned and apart from one of two gnat bites and nettle stings, had spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.         

Photo:About to walk through the stinging nettles to see the clay pit.  From the left: John Rugg, Sue Ranford, David Osborne, Colin Humphrey (crouching), Ken Porter, Trevor Hart and Paul Sargeant.

About to walk through the stinging nettles to see the clay pit. From the left: John Rugg, Sue Ranford, David Osborne, Colin Humphrey (crouching), Ken Porter, Trevor Hart and Paul Sargeant.

Nina Humphrey

This page was added by Nina Humphrey(née Burton) on 29/05/2013.
Comments about this page (Add a comment about this page)

Most rural English villages might average four pubs and two churches. One of my favourite Essex villages is Stock and it has exactly four pubs and two churches. Or used to in my day.

Laindon, had the requisite four pubs, The Crown, Laindon Hotel, Prince of Wales, and Fortune of War. I exclude the cloth capped working men's clubs, the Winston and the Regal and the up market Basildon Country Club, as these were not traditional pubs. Laindon also had the requisite two churches, St Mary's and St Nicholas.

However, what made Laindon different was also the bewildering number of non conformist chapels and churches situated mainly but not exclusively between Bebington's corner and the railway station. Most of these were simple, wooden, one room places of worship. In the vicinity were scattered similarly modest social halls for weddings, scouts, cubs, brownies, girl guides, Sunday school, meetings. In this respect Laindon was atypical. The exception to the plethora of non conformist churches was the wooden, white painted and always well maintained, St Thereas's Roman Catholic church on the corner of the High Road and Alexandra Road.

I realise that Laindon came to be populated in large measure by east Lodoners and that many or most were non conformist. This made Laindon different from most Essex villages. Again I will reference Stock whose population was largely unmixed for centuries and was not subject to an east end migration.

By Alan Davies
On 02/02/2014

For those who have never seen the Herongate ground, it is situated in a' horseshoe' with buildings on three sides and the Ingrave Rd. running the width of the ground on the western side and the wickets ran east to west, so that when batting from the eastern wicket. one would see the traffic passing along the road. When ever I played there, I was always reminded of a cricketers 'after dinner' tale as follows. It was the last match of the season and also for one of the older players his last match. He had never ever attained his ambition of scoring a century, yet at his very last game he seemed set to do so and was on 99 not out. He was waiting for the next ball and his team mates standing up to applaud his achievement. The bowler had just started his run up when the batsman stepped away from the crease, the fielders did not understand what was wrong but the batsman removed his cap and pointed to the road at the end of the ground where a funeral procession was passing. After it had passed, the batsman again took up strike but was clean bowled. After the match while enjoying a few refreshments, the bowler went up to the batsman and stated that he admired his action even though it had cost him a life long ambition. The batsman replied that did not regret his action as cricket was only a game and came second to the respect we should show to those who have just departed this life, but in any case it was it was the very least he could have done as they had been married for over 40 years.

By W.H.Diment
On 28/07/2013

I am not familiar with the Herongate cricket ground but totally accept Bill Diment's claim that the setting was beautiful with, of course, its "adjacent hostelry." The crown had its own "adjacent hostelry" across the road. The view from the crown pitch on a clear afternoon was surely unsurpassed and added to the smell of freshly mown grass, warm sunshine, men in whites and the crack of willow upon leather. While the Laindon area was our home, reality must admit that it was not a pretty village. Far from it. The cricket ground at the top of the crown was an exception. Perhaps the Langdon Hills ground and the Herongate ground both belong in my imagined coffee table book!

Editor: Alan, The Herrongate cricket ground can be viewed with Google Earth Street View, enter the following postcode into the 'Search box' and it will take you to the Hillcrest plant nursery, the village green is on the opposite side of Ingrave RoadCM13 3NZ

By alan davies
On 28/07/2013

Glancing through the archives, I noticed that John B. referred to the Langdon Hills cricket ground as probably one of the most spectacular venues in Essex. In my opinion, it cannot be compared to the Herongate pitch which brings to mind the way in which cricket was played on the village greens, complete with the adjacent hostelry for reviving ones failing energy and discussing the pros and cons of the result.

By W.H.Diment
On 27/07/2013

I do indeed agree with John Bathurst that the sight of men in whites, on a warm weekend afternoon, playing cricket on the ground across the road from the crown was charming. So English. It was the sort of scene that one might expect to find in a coffee table book , filled with photographs, and entitled "England's Most Beautiful Villages." The word that comes to mind is bucolic. I am not sure I have the facts straight but my memory says that the ground was owned by the crown, and therefore by Allied Breweries. From making the ground available as a good will gesture, Allied eventually demanded a rent which the team could not afford.

By alan davies
On 25/07/2013

I am most grateful to Mr Alan Davies for reminding me in his post of 8th June 2013 that Ames was, indeed, the surname of the first “Keeper” appointed at Westley Heights open space. It reminds me, also, that at the age of eight or nine in the 1930s I experienced a short run in with Keeper Ames when he discovered me disfiguring one of the trees on the heights. I had been given what was called a “scout’s knife”, an implement with a somewhat ornate blade and handle with a reasonably sharp point. This was normally carried in a leather sheath attached to the owner’s trouser belt. I was attempting to use this knife to carve my initials in the bark of a newly planted sapling when found and admonished by Mr Ames in front of my mother for my efforts and I was also warned about the possible long term adverse effects upon the life of the tree being so disfigured. I am pleased to say that, despite never forgetting the admonishment, the sapling was one of the grove of such that had been planted in the dell situated a short distance to the east of the present day car park at the Heights. All these saplings appear to have thrived and grown to become the mature copse that immediately, today, greets visitors to this well patronised beauty spot! I doubt very much that my puny efforts at leaving my mark survived.

I believe Mr Davies to be a cricket fan. I wonder if he agrees with me that the abandonment of the pavilion and cricket ground across the road from “The Crown” following vandalism was a serious loss of what was probably one of the more spectacular village venues for the game in Essex? The subsequent “improvement” of the High Road at this point and the turning of the B1007 road into a rat run by the increase in car ownership more or less excludes any chance of recovering the loss.

By John Bathurst
On 19/07/2013

What an extraordinary, informative, and detailed comment from John Bathurst. Superb! I must confess that, despite living in the area, in that direction I seldom ventured beyond the open spaces, One Tree Hill, the Crown Hotel, the crown woods and the cricket ground. I now begin to realise how little I knew about what lay "over the hill." 

John makes reference to the first keeper being a brother of a Kent cricketer. This must have been Lesley Ames who was the Kent and England wicket keeper in the 1920/30's. In 1929 he was named Wisden's cricketer of the year. 

I can confirm that, prior to its widening, the footpath on the last steep ascent of the B1007 as it approached the Crown Hill was three or four feet higher than the surface of the road. The footpath (unusual for the Laindon area) was a hard tar and pebble surface. A metal seat was situated half way up which was definitely needed by the elderly and infirm. This footpath was on the east side of the road. There was no footpath of any description on the west side although the road surface was similarly sunk below the level of the adjacent land.

By alan davies
On 08/06/2013

John. Thank you so much for your very interesting comments. Please rest assured that we aren’t ‘put off’ from walking in any part of the beautiful Langdon Hills. We are looking forward to doing more. We undertake four or five 2 hour walks during the summer months and plan them carefully taking into consideration the time limit and the various ages and ability of the group. 

We planned this particular walk earlier in the year to compliment an article recently published on the website featuring Isaac Levy and the houses he had built. Somebody requested a look around Laindon Station, so we decided to finish the walk there, estimating that a leisurely walk from ‘The Harvester’ (Crown Hotel) to Laindon Station would take 2 hours. This worked out just right, we were able to note the position of several former features and buildings including the old cricket ground opposite the pub and ‘Sissinghurst’ nursing home which is of particular interest to me as my older brother was born there in 1930.

We would love to have walked through all the areas that you describe so well in great detail, but, as only so much can be achieved in 2 hours, we will have to tackle those at a later date. We really do appreciate all your contributions which are always full of facts, descriptions and historical information that make fascinating reading. Thank you very much.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 06/06/2013

John, another very interesting and informative comment, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. As usual your vast local knowledge provides a fascinating insight to the growth of our community. Thanks

By Patsy Mott (née Tyler)
On 05/06/2013

All well and good but why did what looks at first to be a walk from South to North across the parish of Langdon Hills actually start half way? Langdon Hills extends to the south almost as far as the foot of South Hill about a quarter of a mile from Great Malgraves Farm so I would have thought you would have done well to start at the junction of North Hill, South Hill and the Lower Dunton Road. There is much to see between the corner the junction of those roads makes and the beginning of Langdon Hills. This corner has a name but I have, regrettably, long since forgotten it.

Those Laindon pupils who regularly travelled to grammar school in Grays by the hourly Harwich to Tilbury Ferry coach once knew the route over the hill very well but no regular bus route goes that way now! 

Perhaps you were put off by the fact that the B1007, which route this is, has become such an appalling “rat-run” from the A13 to Basildon either via Dry Street, Staneway or High Road, Langdon Hills. This means that pedestrians are no longer welcome! 

I remember walking it one winter on the way home from school when the driver of the aforesaid coach decided not to attempt the hill in deep snow and went instead, via the Lower Dunton Road to Wayletts thence via the Arterial Road to the New Fortune of War. As I was to discover, the walk home to Basil Drive off Tyler Avenue took me about one and a half hours! 

Or, perhaps, you were put off by the fact that much of the south part of the parish of Langdon Hills is administered by Thurrock, including Westley Heights Open Space where you commenced your walk. This now seems rather strange; not that I am suggesting that Thurrock doesn’t manage to do a good job of looking after it! But Westley Heights has, I always thought, been something of a memorial to Basil Brooks who donated so much of the area to the County of Essex. 

The keeper’s cottage was built in his time and, I believe, the first appointed keeper was the brother of a Kent County Cricketer (Eames?) I appreciate the fact that the account of the walk you give probably does not list everything that is of historical interest along the way, which is why it would have been nice to have started on the very southern edge of the parish. After leaving what is now the Horndon-on-the-Hill bypass (North Hill) that I have suggested as a starting point, the B1007 performs a dog leg or two of corners and has a very narrow section of road that is not good for nervous drivers and, in which, it was impossible for two coaches to have passed in opposite directions! Years ago efforts were made to straighten this corner out and the revised route was set out. Yet, eighty years later the work has not been done. The last time I passed that way I noted that the proposed route had become a nature reserve. Shortly after passing through this bendy bit of the B1007, the road passes Tyelands Farm on the east side of the road and it is here that entry to Langdon Hills properly begins although whether the farm house is in the parish or not is uncertain. 

The road begins a reasonably straight run uphill to “Goldsmiths”, passing, first, Sutton Hall Farm, then, adjacent to the garage, the turning off eastwards of Old Hill Avenue. It was down this latter road that Elsie Hill grew up and who gives an account of her life in this very rural area elsewhere in this website. I recall the coach stopping regularly at the garage to pick her up on her way to school at Grays with rest of us. 

It was on this section of the B1007, aboard the south bound coach en route to Grays and after passing “Goldsmiths” on the morning after a particularly heavy air raid during the “Blitz” that the flames below the tall column of smoke coming from the Shellhaven Oil Refinery came into view to us passengers. That fire took nearly a week to extinguish and fire brigades attended from all over East Anglia. The refinery is now going but the view on this section of the road looking south across the Thames Valley to the hills of Kent is, to my mind, better than that on the north side of the hill. But I am prepared to accept that the view from Westley Heights eastwards to Hadleigh and Southend Pier is probably just as good. Langdon Hills remains a remarkably good viewpoint, a fact that was so well-known generally that when Laindon Station opened in the nineteenth century, the Railway ran specials from East London for “Sunday School” outings to enable visits to Hall Woods in Bluebell time. This was the start of the habit of hundreds of visitors pointlessly picking the blooms to take home despite the fact that the flowers lasted for very little time once this was done. The practice became so bad, threatening the delightful woodland’s plant’s very survival, and a special campaign had to be mounted to dissuade people from doing so. Luckily, the campaign appears to have been successful. 

As the B1007 continues its climb to the summit of Langdon Hills on its approach from the south, the fabulous view eventually becomes obscured on the east, by the foliage of the trees in The Park and Coombe Woods. “Goldsmiths” has several mentions already on this website but detailed research done by Ken Porter and published elsewhere has never been included so far. Why is this? To my mind, of all the extensive woodland available to be rambled around commencing at Dunton and extending as far as Vange and yet enabling the walker to return to Dunton by a different route, it is The Park and Coombe woods that are the most scenically attractive. Perhaps, because they used to be the least visited of all they seem natural and unsullied, particularly with the distinctive topographical feature that gives Coombe Wood its name. 

As the B1007 sweeps uphill past the dual entrances to ”Goldsmiths" the road embarks upon a short steeper climb which bears left around a bend before breasting the summit of the hill and is then the viewer is afforded a totally different and magnificent vista, this time to the acountry as far as the City of London and, subject to the prevailing atmospheric conditions, identify the Canary Wharf Tower 30 miles distant. This means, providing that pollution permits, it should also be possible to pick out the “Shard”. With this in mind, this viewpoint must have afforded any witness in the past a good view of at least two significantly historical events; the 1940/41 “blitz” and the 1666 “Great Fire”. Understandably, wartime censorship would have prevented a contemporary account being published of the blitz but I have yet to establish that there was anybody, standing on top of Crown Hill at the time with such a sight as must have both puzzled and excited at one and the same moment by the events of 1666, did not feel moved to record the fact. 

Beyond this point views from the B1007, now joined from the west by the narrow lane of Old Church Hill, are once more obscured by the foliage of adjacent Hall Wood. At this point and for several hundred yards further, the road is essentially running across level ground on the top of what has long been known as “Crown Hill”, a section of the B1007 that here takes up the name of “High Road”. Firstly, on the east side the road passes the small building which was once the school serving the parish of Langdon Hill and in a short distance across on the west side of the road stands the church of St Mary, Langdon Hills, built in 1876. The old school is now converted into a private dwelling. The church, however, is in regular use and is described by Pevsner (“Buildings of Essex” Penguin) as being ”tall and very narrow, standing immediately along the road, with wood behind- a romantic setting.” In 1941, while the blitz still raged and affected East London, this church, on the 30th July in that year, the Hospital Savings Association held its annual thanksgiving service with the permission of the Rev. Wilmot Hickson, St Mary’s incumbent priest. The Rev. Hickson lived with his family in the Victorian rectory in Old Church Hill nearly opposite the older parish church of St Mary the Virgin and All Saints (built in the 1500s) which is now a private dwelling. This old church with its surrounding graveyard, is also well worthy of being described as being “in a romantic setting”. The graveyard was still in use during the Second World War when the remains of German POWs who had died in the Dry Street camp were buried there. Are the graves still at Langdon Hills? So many bodies were subjected to repatriation one way or another. 

Langdon Hills Rectory was the childhood home of Roly Hickson and his older sister Phyllis. A few years ago I was on a genealogical course with Roly and he informed that he had found no familial link with the professional actress Joan Hickson of Wivenhoe, Essex, who had made the TV Character of Miss Marple famous. However, Phyllis, his sister, had been a keen member of the Langdon Players, the amateur dramatic group joined by Joan Sims and Phyllis had greatly encouraged Joan into taking up her acting career. 

Wilmot Hickson did much to encourage members of the Scouting movement to hold their camps in the grounds of the Rectory which was ideal for access to the adjacent Gravelhill and Hall woodlands and many young scouts must, over the years, have been introduced here to the delights of rural Essex. Just how rural the area once had been was brought home to me in the 1960s when I gave an elderly lady from Bowers Gifford a lift to hospital for her clinical appointment. She informed me that she and her sisters had spent their childhood at Doesgate Farm just off the Lower Dunton Road. Although this was in Bulphan parish, she and her sisters went to school at Langdon Hills (the original school). The children would walk up the steep Old Church Hill carrying their lunches in a hand basket. Because, sometimes, the small school could not accommodate all the pupils, overflow classes were held at the “Crown” public house and the lunch basket often turned out to be suitable to disguise the fact that it was being used to take home the children’s father’s nightly bottle of beer! It was a measure of my informant’s considerable age that she also told me she remembered walking from Doesgate along the Lower Dunton Road to watch the engineers building the bridge and embankment adjacent to Sompner’s Farm as the new railway advanced from Upminster through to Pitsea. 

Beyond the church the northbound B1007 approaches its junction with Dry Street where on the east side adjacent to junction stands the water tower erected by the Southend Water to supply water to the Langdon Hills area. Beyond the junction with Dry Street and before reaching the access road to Westley Heights, the B1007 skirts an un-developed section of land on the east side of the road. This patch of ground is historically important to the area, yet seems never to have had much attention paid to this fact which is a pity because it played a small part in events that would turn out to be of an international nature. In 1789 the authorities in the UK became alarmed by what was happening in France where rebellion had created an industry, aided by the technical advance of machinery, of ridding itself of the aristocracy. The British fear was that rebellion might spread to the UK because they had already had the experience of what was involved following the Jacobean revolt of 1745 in Scotland. Recognising the need to be able to quickly move sizeable bodies of troops about the British Isles they realised that their knowledge of the country’s road system was rudimentary only and the survey of Britain’s coastal areas, already being undertaken against the possibility of invasion from abroad, was extended to cover everywhere in these islands. 

Completion of the task fell to Engineers of the British army. In 1798, the Army Engineers under Captain William Mudge started upon the task of surveying Essex and Kent simultaneously by the triangulation process. As they had already been required to provide an adequate map of the City of London, they had previously built a scaffold on the spire of St Paul’s Cathedral, hauled up the instrument known as the Great Theodolite and established heights and distances. Starting from there, they chose, in Essex, Epping Mill, Brentwood Steeple and Billericay Chapel as locations upon which to employ their smaller theodolite to establish heights and distances. However, when they reached Langdon Hills (and later Hadleigh Hill) it was here, adjacent to the “Crown” they established what has become known as a ”Trig Point”. In the usual way, such points became permanent features and all over Britain, particularly on open spaces like mountain tops, a Trig Point is easily identifiable having been constructed from permanent materials. However, this appears not to be the case at Langdon Hills unless it is well hidden. Do we know? There is no doubt that is was once here because early maps record a height above sea level of 385 feet at this point.(On the map of 1895 the height is given as 386 feet, presumably based on a later survey) It is interesting to note, however, that on the map of the area published just prior to the commencement of the construction of Basildon New Town, no trig point appears at all at this location. The first Ordnance Survey map (Number 1: “Brentwood”) was published at a scale of One Inch to the Mile in 1804. 

At this point the journey along the B1007 coincides with the walk from Westley Heights to Laindon Station undertaken on 26th May 2013 so little further comment is needed. I would enquire, however, if attention was drawn to the old cricket ground immediately across the road from the “Crown”? This was abandoned due to repeated vandalism destroying the Pavilion. I would also ask if I am right in thinking that the short stretch of the B1007 between the “Crown” and what was Lee Chapel Lane (AKA as Oxford Street), now widened and made dual carriageway, was once what was described as a “holloway”? There is an old photograph that shows that the footpath on the east side was some three feet higher than the carriageway. 

My final comment is to point out that the Langdon Hills Nursing Home further down the hill was run by the Misses Young. It consisted of two semidetached house, namely “Sissinghurst” and adjacent “Lyndhurst”. The home had two “front” doors as well as two garden gates but the ladies had had interconnecting doors cut through the party wall for convenience making the home into one building!

By John Bathurst
On 05/06/2013

Brilliant Nina. I was particularly interested in this walk as I go to Laindon Station twice a week en route to walk, and I try to work out the layout of the roads, and where things were. I'm so sorry to have missed it. Very informative write up though.

By Helen
On 30/05/2013
Add a comment about this page

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.