Hill View, New Avenue, Langdon Hills

photographs and memories  contributed by Sue Norton (Gaskin) 

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My Plotlands

Grandad, Mumís Dad, must have known about Plotlands in the late 20ís when he was advised by the doctor that the best treatment for his less than robust middle son was fresh air and countryside.

He moved the family home from West Ham to Chadwell Heath, the nearest he could get to the country and still be a copper in the Met, and he took his wife and four children on holidays to Langdon Hills.  They stayed at that time in a holiday home, in what was then the top end of Alexander Road at the south western corner of the Recreation Ground.  I notice that Alexander Road now stops at Berry Lane but at that time, and when I used to walk that way home from school in the 50s it extended way past, gradually becoming less populated the further you went.   All unmade, of course.

When my Dad met my Mum in about 1938 he and Grandad hit it off immediately.

Dad was in a reserved occupation as a carpenter and joiner working as a shipbuilder for Harland and Wolff in the East India Docks when war broke out, but by November 1941 when he and Mum married he was serving in the RAF.  I imagine he and Grandad decided to buy three plots each next to one another in New Avenue, the opposite side of the Rec. about then.

Granny and Grandadís weekend bungalow

Rob and me outside our bungalow

I donít know how often they would have been able to visit during the war years with Dad away.   My brother was born in 1942 and me in 1946.   Grandad had taken early retirement because of ill health at some point and sadly died aged 50 in 1948.

Certainly they had managed to visit enough to build two weekend bungalows and I remember visiting in the summer of Ď53 for all of the school summer holiday.   Dad would have been commuting from Laindon Station to Hornchurch where he now worked in a company supplying timber components for the building trade.   By the Ď50ís there was a house building boom on.

Following Grandadís death, Mum, Dad my brother and I had moved in with Gran in her big house in Chadwell Heath leaving our rented house in Dagenham free for my Mumís youngest brother and his new wife.  Housing was obviously in short supply just after the war, especially anywhere in the London area.

Unfortunately mother and daughter found sharing difficult and after our return from our long summer holiday there were yet more disputes and in September 1953 Dad put his foot down and moved his family back to the two roomed weekend bungalow in Langdon Hills on a permanent basis.

My brother was unable to attend an ordinary day school because of poor sight and went back to his special boarding school and I was enrolled at Langdon Hills Primary.


Mum and Aunt Lil outside our weekend bungalow

I guess Dadís ambition had always been to own his own house.  Quite a big ambition for a working class boy from the East End!  He applied for building permission to build a three bed roomed bungalow on two of our three plots but before his plans came to fruition we were ďshoppedĒ to the council for living permanently in a weekend bungalow and told to get out.

My Dad wasnít stupid and when he went to see the local JP he took his wife and children along too.  I think the JP was called something like Mr Jobson and he lived next door to my school and I remember very clearly standing in his study at the age of seven feeling very serious but not understanding why.  Fortunately he was sympathetic and managed to get us a stay of execution while the bungalow was built.

I donít know how my Dad raised the money.  He managed to get an instalment mortgage but that only paid lump sums in arrears, i.e. you had to complete each stage and then got a proportion of the total sum.

That first winter in the weekend bungalow must have been hard.  Dad had a burst varicose vein and ended up in hospital.  With my brother away at school, Mum and I went to stay for the weekend at Dadís brotherís in Hornchurch.  When we returned on Sunday so I could go to school, the teacups we had hastily left in the sink to catch the train were frozen solid!

I guess we were luckier than some.  We did have electricity laid on to the bungalow. Water was laid on to the site but at the top of our plot, so needed to be carried down.  I really donít know how Mum managed to do a family wash.  The outside Elsan toilet goes without saying!   I think New Avenue was the last road before you went over the hill into Dunton to have electricity laid on.  Once you were in Dunton you needed an accumulator to work a radio and water was much further away.

My best friend at Primary school was Kathy Imber, she and her Mum lived in Dunton and Kathy would come home to tea every Tuesday after school and we would watch Rin Tin Tin on the tele. You couldnít run even a black and white tele on an accumulator.

We had one neighbour next door in a much bigger and more established wooden bungalow. Our next neighbour was much further away towards the top of the unmade road. I canít remember when they moved in- they seem to have been there always in my memory.  Cyril Dowling was a Fireman and had three children a little younger than me.  My Mum and his wife were good friends.  There were a few more well established houses across the road but you had to cross the muddy ruts to get there!

Our bungalow was about 12 feet by 12 feet in total and consisted of two rooms.  Tthe back one had bunk beds up one end for my brother and me and the rest was a few cupboards and shelves, a two ringed hob and small oven and a sink.  The front room was our living room and the put U up settee doubled as my parentís bed.   But we did have a black and white tele!

Dadís friend Stan helping out


That first winter Dad took Mum to a much deserved Christmas treat of the firmís ďdoĒ, a dinner and dance in Hornchurch, leaving Rob and me aged seven and eleven tucked up in their bed with the tele on.   It was a tremendous adventure for us but I think my Mum canít have enjoyed it much.  She would have worried the whole evening.

I think it took Dad about a year to complete the bungalow working weekends and evenings.  Mum would mix up a load of mortar by hand, no cement mixer, before he got home from work and few more bricks were laid every evening.

When we moved into the bungalow, my brother and I had the best of both worlds, a modern Ď50ís home, four vacant plots to play Cowboys and Indians and build numerous dens in, plus the Rec and the cowfields only a stoneís throw away.  In the summer we would disappear for hours. Our favourite plaything in the Rec was a large communal swing that it took a minimum of two children to work ďupĒ.  We traveled imaginary miles on endless imaginary train journeys on that swing until it got dark and we had to go home to bed.  We were often the only two children in the Rec Ė it belonged to us.

Hill View, New Avenue complete, later no 17

One of our finest dens!

Fortunately the family rift was patched up, thanks to the intervention of Mumís lovely Aunt Flo and our extended family would descend, sometimes in droves, unannounced on summer weekends on the train.  They always came with provisions and everyone mucked in.   Uncle Henryís family came from Barking on the train and he always made my cousins get up at the crack of dawn so he could get a full day of grass scything in on Granís plots.

Most visits would include a trip to the cowfields to either pick armfuls of bluebells, wilting before we got back but proudly displayed in a jam jar or, more usefully, baskets of blackberries to make blackberry and apple jelly. This always involved an elaborate system of juice dripping through a net curtain tied to the legs of an upturned stool. Dad didnít like the pips in Blackberry Jam!

I still remember the distinctive smell of the feather and flock mattresses being put out in the sun to air from Granís bungalow on the first opening after the winter. Gran would stay for a week or more at a time, She slept in her own bungalow but about 10 or 11 oíclock one of us would go and fetch her She was never too steady on her feet and needed help to cross the uneven path from her plots to our house.

The scaffold boards and saw benches came in handy!

Visits from little cousins involved dressing up


By this time Basildon was on the drawing board and school friends living in Laindon were frequently under threat of compulsory purchase but we seemed to be a bit safer in Langdon Hills.  When the next door neighbour decided to sell, it was bought by the Council but only to house a family of five that had already been compulsory purchased in Laindon.  They were eventually rehoused in a new council property in Great Knightleys. 

Josie, the youngest of the household and I were friends for many years and spent our money going to the Laindon bughole at least once a week- usually lying about our ages to get in for the X films!  When she moved into Basildon our evening teenage excursion was generally to the Bowl where you could hang around for hours for free.

New Avenue was adopted by the Council in 1962 and the road was made up Ė at last you could bring a car or delivery lorry down the road.  By this time there werenít too many empty plots down the road and my Dad sold his one remaining plot to my Uncle in the late 60s and Uncle Bern built a house on two plots and sold the remaining two plots which became Welbeck Rise.

After my Dadís death, my marriage and subsequent move to Tiptree, my Mum sold the bungalow in 1973 and moved to Witham to be nearer her grandchildren.

I suppose most of us look back on childhood with rose tinted spectacles, but I donít remember the hardships, except having to carry the shopping back from Laindon up Berry Lane hill maybe. 

I certainly appreciate being brought up a country girl as opposed to the townie that I would have been if Iíd stayed in Chadwell Heath and now realise just how hard my parents had to work to give us a better life.