On a fine Sunday afternoon at the end of July 2002 a special reunion took place at the Essex Wildlife Trust Langdon Reserve in Basildon. A gathering of people who travelled from places such as Staines, Leyton, Hertford, Bishops Stortford, Witham, Colchester, Chelmsford, Pitsea and Felixstowe. What brought them together? The answer is the Dunton Plotlands.
All the people at the reunion used to own little plotland properties on the Dunton Estate, or used to visit family who owned plots. It was an afternoon for sharing memories, taking strolls around the lanes, looking at old photographs from the 1940s to the 1970s and for visiting The Haven. The Haven is a bungalow on Third Avenue off Lower Dunton Road which has been preserved as a plotland museum.
As the plotlanders mingled and soaked up the atmosphere of The Haven there were some wonderful moments. My cousin, Linda, whose family owned San Souci in Berry Drive, excitedly discovered the name-plate for Maple Leaf which had presumably been rescued at some point and was now on display in an outbuilding in the gardens of The Haven. Maple Leaf had been the name of one of her neighbouring plots and was owned by a gentleman called Ern South. I had very clear memories of Ern and his dog, Bob, taking walks around the grassy lanes in the 1970s when my parents owned the plot Halliford in High Bank Drive. ‘I remember Ern,’ said another of the attendees – Jill whose parents owned The Cabin in Hill Top Rise. ‘He had built a miniature railway at the end of his garden, and he once let my dad go and see it’. And so the reminiscing went on…
Standing outside the Anderson shelter in the back garden there was a pause for an interesting photo opportunity. The meeting of two families, both named Anderson who hailed from the Leyton/Leytonstone area of London but who were totally unrelated. Dave Anderson’s family had owned Iris Villa in Beech Hall Gardens from the 1940s – 1960s, and Arthur Anderson’s family had owned Bonanza in High View Avenue from the 1960s – 1980s. They shook hands and introduced their wives – both called Jean! Now, that’s what I call a coincidence.
My cousins Val & Ron who used to visit family plots such as ‘Erma’ in High View Avenue, hadn’t been back to Laindon since the 1960s, and my other cousins Diane & Dave’s last visit had been in the 1970s. Although the lanes around the Visitor Centre were still very similar, they couldn’t get over the fact that there was a housing estate lurking behind the trees in Hillcrest Avenue at the top of the hill. It didn’t do to dwell too much on the changes that had taken place. However at least Karen McKay, the Education Officer at the Langdon Reserve, was able to tell us about the positive impact that Essex Wildlife Trust’s management of the reserve had made on the area.
After strolling around the avenues, looking at the outlines of the gardens of former plots and the ruined remains of some of the actual buildings, the plotlanders made their way back to the Visitors’ Centre for snacks and a chance to look at old photographs. It was great to see how these photos helped to jog people’s memories. Gladys Fenn, whose family owned Rose Villa in Hill Top Rise, looked at a photo of my mother Gladys Darwin and me walking along High Bank Drive when I was a young girl, and she suddenly remembered seeing the pair of us on our regular rambles along the lanes. ‘What happened to your blond hair?’ she asked comparing the photo to my dark brown locks of today. It is my belief that the inhalation of paraffin oil fumes from the lamps in our hut must have had a bleaching effect because as soon as my parents sold their plot in 1984, my hair started to get darker!
Dave Anderson’s photos of Iris Villa (which appear elsewhere on this website) were on display for the reunion and they provided a wonderful insight into his family’s days as plotlanders. I share Dave’s view that we were privileged to experience the plotlands and looking at the photos is a special way of sharing the happy memories of sunny weekends gone by. Of course we always choose to ignore thoughts of the rainy weekends when we sat inside our little huts waiting for the rain to stop so we could squelch down the garden in our wellies to visit the toilets in sheds! I guess that is the beauty of selective memory.
I’d like to thank everyone who came to the reunion, and also thank Karen McKay and the staff at the Langdon Reserve for allowing us to use their facilities.