Autumn, 1984: last days . . . . .

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E. McManus Images March 2010

Emily McManus: Images, March, 2010

The pictures and notes below by courtesy of Mark McManus.     

Mark and his daughter, Emily, have created valuable documentation of the remains of the Plotlands before final obliteration.  Although he had not personally experienced life in the Plotlands in its prime, like many later visitors, Mark was struck by the unique atmosphere of  a vanished community.   Here are his impressions on discovering a derelict shack in the undergrowth between Fourth Avenue and the Poultry Farm.

February 1984, Dunton Hills, Essex:   "Blackthorn"

I first see it as a deformity, a thing not belonging, an object interfering with the mind's perception of what the undergrowth should look like.  Brittle shards of blackthorn peck at my skin as I squeeze through deep, dank foliage; the ravages of Winter leave their mark, the leaf mould clinging to my shoes, the morose silence of the scrubby woodlands broken by the occasional flight of alarmed woodpigeons from the forlorn arboreal canopy, my own laboured breathing clouding the chill air.

When first my eyes alight upon the shack, I halt and stare, not fully comprehending.  In this close, wild scrubland, a small and decrepit building jars at the sensibilities. This should be a human thing, a sign of mankind's one-time presence, a symbol of Arcadian endeavour... but it seems unworldly, unnatural, as though it has sprung from the soil itself, a tree in twisted form, as though nature - having reclaimed the efforts of Man to impose a rustic lifestyle - is now mocking those efforts through mimicry. This is a vista Puck would have enjoyed, the remnant of a lost village looming through the trees.

The shack leans at an awkward angle as its lower courses gradually rot through damp.  Blind, sightless windows, long denuded of glass, stare blankly at views long since obscured.  A skewed rectangle of space proves the past existence of a door.  Privacy has forgotten this small building. Nature has claimed it, ridiculed it, allowed it to stand as a testament to the vanity and precociousness of the human mind.  I glance over my shoulder but my perspective is limited by the swathes of tangled haw and blackthorn I have just struggled through. The path I left several minutes ago is completely obscured, part of a different world, a dimension where human creation still holds sway.

The shack beckons, tempts, mocks. Through the creaking doorway, into a single room, traces of colour on the walls, a dappled mixture of curling paint, mildew and lichen. The floor is soft, mulched paper, twisted and rotted slivers of wood  that once passed as furniture.  Years have lapsed since this place was a holiday home, a sylvan retreat from the oppressiveness of the Smoke, a place to which its owners would flee on a Friday evening, tearing along the railway line from London to this portion of South Essex.  Yet they are not quite departed.  Their wraiths remain, so long as the shack remains.  The human touch, faded and forsaken, dabs at this small space that nature has reclaimed.

Bones. Mixed with the shattered scatter of wood are damp, dull bones, mummified skin still stretched over the joints.  What has happened here?  Why is there the remains of a pet, a family dog, buried under this detritus?  Another mystery, a chill enigma, a historic riddle that will never be answered.  A few years from now the shack will be gone, foundations and a few charred remnants as its memorial, static on the leafy woodland floor while each passing season renders it an archaeological curiosity for the future, and the woods will be a popular Nature Reserve. 

Yet nothing is really reserved about Nature.  Defy it, attack it, scorn it, and as soon as your back is turned it will creep up and reclaim its dominion.  The brief, half-century lifespan of the shack will be a blip in the history of the woods, but Nature is eternal. 

Mark McManus

colinx.JPG (63599 bytes)  "Colin", Crest Avenue; seriously damaged by fire in the autumn of 1983, owned by the Cakebread family of Canning Town.  Their relatives, the Howsons, owned "Rose Ville" at the junction of Margaret Avenue and Beech Hall Gardens.

hawthornx.JPG (55374 bytes)  "Hawthorn", Hillcrest Avenue;  owned by the Burke family until 1983, when it became a home for the wardens of The Haven Plotland Museum.  It fell out of use following the construction of the visitors' centre and was demolished in 1999.

hibellx.JPG (77567 bytes)  A shack in Arcadian Gardens, only a few months after dereliction, used by the Hibell family of Limehouse.

chook-a-berryx.JPG (80839 bytes)  "Chook-A-Berry", Western Avenue;  occupied by the Bletch family until its destruction in late 1984.

grangewoodx.JPG (70709 bytes)  "Grangewood", Beech hall gardens; occupied by the Hayball family until late 1984.

beech hallx.JPG (94953 bytes)  Beech Hall Gardens, showing one of the thin paths built by the plotlanders for their shopping trolleys.  "Grangewood" is on the left.

glencrestx.JPG (64331 bytes)  "Glencrest" at the junction of Glenwood Gardens and Crest Avenue.  A holiday home at the time of its demolition in summer 1984, it was once a home to the Hinchcliff family (electoral register, 1964).  Its nameplate is an exhibit in the plotland museum.

thorngrovex.JPG (112887 bytes)  "Thorngrove", First Avenue;  occupied by the Thompson family until 1992.  Its remains are still highly visible.

anthelenx.JPG (129641 bytes)  Overgrown by scrub, a derelict shack to the rear of the remains of "Anthelen", Fourth Avenue, owned by a Mr Anthony of North London.

hightreesx.JPG (72091 bytes)  "High Trees" and "Four Elms", Hillcrest Avenue;  the overgrown patch in the garden is the remains of an air-raid shelter (see note from Jacky Joyner below); used by the Joyner family until 1985.

Louise Clark has contributed the following images of "High Trees" and "Four Elms"



Louise writes:

"High Trees  . . .  plots 579-580.  I don't know who the boys on the bikes are - although they might be the grandchildren of Henry Hawkins who I think is the man standing in the doorway behind.  Henry Hawkins was the second husband of Elizabeth Stone.  Elizabeth Stone's sister was Beatrice Joyner which would be where the Joyner connection comes in . . "


Jacky Joyner writes:

"Following the comments on the above properties I can advise that the overgrown patch in the garden was not an air raid shelter but it was used for storage of filtered water which then supplied the water tap that was at the top of Third Avenue.  This became obsolete just before the 2nd World War when Mr and Mrs Hawkins bought the land.  The water was filtered through sand filters and the site was covered with asbestos and the stored in this tank. This then supplied a tap at the top of Third Avenue and was in a locked shed.  Those who then paid the water charges had a key to access to the water tap for drinking, washing, cooking etc.


In the next black and white photo it is Henry Hawking in the doorway and Beatrice Joyner in the chair; the 3 lads on the bikes are my father, Alan Joyner, in the middle and then two of his friends.

Alan Joyner was the son of Beatrice Joyner (my dad and nan).

In the middle of this picture is a shed that has a screen in front.  This was the toilet for Four Elms and was originally the shed used for the standpipe that was used for the water tap at the top of Third Avenue, supplied from the water storage tank.


In the last picture I believe that this is Elizabeth Stone in the chair on the right and Avril Joyner (my mum) on the left with me playing on the grass.  You can again see the shed at the back with the screen that was the shed for the standpipe.


Along by where the sheds are there were a number of pets buried."



rosemaryx.JPG (81959 bytes)  The derelict "Rosemary", Highland Gardens;  despite its diminutive size, it was once a residence for the Wallace family (electoral register, 1964); collapsed in 1985.

viewgrandx.JPG (46626 bytes)  "Viewgrand", Hillcrest Avenue;  destroyed in 1985, the small chimney is still visible on the site;  not "Iona" as the leaflet for the plotland trail suggests!

ionax.JPG (46445 bytes)  "Iona", Hillcrest Avenue; owned by a local man, demolished in summer, 1984.  The nameplate can be viewed at the museum.

everestx.JPG (47478 bytes)  "Everest", First Avenue;  originally a shop, it was home to the Elliott family until demolition in 1985.

maplex.JPG (55115 bytes)  "Maple Leaf", Berry Drive; originally home to the Seeley family (electoral register 1949), later to Ernest South.  His neighbour at "Ruby", whom he mysteriously called Ada, was actually named Rose Frasi.  "Maple Leaf" was demolished in summer, 1984, but its nameplate survives in the plotland museum.