Down the line ( 2 of 16)
I should think all of us have a chunk of our lives that is memorable for some reason or another. Maybe a change of career, a change of home, marriage, military service, an illness or other misfortune, even a war. A period that is significant when viewed in the perspective of time.
For me, such a period was ‘the bungalow’. My earliest memories, from about five years old, were of the bungalow. My childhood was inexorably bound up with the bungalow.
This era of memories started in the early nineteen-thirties when my father bought a plot of land at Dunton, near Laindon, in Essex. This was not as spectacular as it sounds – it did not make my father a landowner in the grand sense, since the plot was only maybe fifty feet wide by a hundred and fifty feet long. He was not the only one to embark on this adventure. A whole area of rural land was acquired by a Land Company, who then sold it off as building plots to many individual buyers. One of my very early memories, now just a blurred impression, was going with my Mum and Dad to an office in High Holborn in London, something to do with buying the land.
The background to this sale of rural land was a result of a severe depression being experienced by farmers in he late 1920s. Cheap wheat imports from North America caused a collapse of home grown cereals. Farmers, especially on the poor Essex soil, were only too willing to sell off tracts of their farms to land agents, who in turn saw money to be made by selling it off in quite small plots to many individuals.
The prospect of acquiring a plot of land appealed to my father and to many other East Londoners. The idea was to buy a plot and to build, as a do-it-yourself project, a week-end and holiday retreat. The plots were evidently affordable, just about, even for working class folk, and the cost of the building could be spread over as long as it took – there was no particular urgency. The idea appealed to anyone with a yearning for the open-air and the country, and with the camping, outdoor fun spirit. Also, having your own week-end country residence, however modest, was an escape from the tedious week-day existence in East London.
A further attraction was that the LMS railway line between London and Shoeburyness was established, with a station at Laindon. So cheap travel from the East End of London was available. Indeed, my father never referred to his venture as the bungalow or even Laindon. He always talked of going ‘down the line’. Weekends we would go ‘down the line’. Items would be bought to take ‘down the line’.
It is not difficult to understand the appeal of owning a plot or two of land in the Essex countryside in the 1920s and 1930s. Daily life for the working class was pretty dismal, comprising hard manual or semi-skilled work, low wages, poor housing conditions, and overcrowding. Perhaps this went unnoticed if the routine of the man of the house revolved around the pub, a local football match or dog race. But for any one with a trace of imagination and intelligence, something more was yearned for, something to alleviate the monotony of daily life. It is not surprising that this was also the time for the outdoor spirit: cycling clubs flourished, hiking and camping was popular. Train and coach travel was becoming affordable, at least over Home Counties distances.
So acquiring a little bit of country for one’s self was a lifeline. One man from Bow in East London, is quoted as saying ‘I’m going to Laindon. I’m going to buy a plot of ground. If I don’t buy a plot of ground where I can go one day a week and see no one I shall go mad’ Even so, finance was the stumbling block. Plots were priced around £5 each, but the weekly wage for an East End manual worker might only be £3 a week. So after rent, food and clothes, feeding the gas and electricity meters, there was hardly any money left for ventures. ‘Disposable income’ is a modern phenomenon. In fact the land agents had difficulty selling all their plots, offering easy payments, with a deposit and interest of course, and ran special excursion trains to get people to attend their local land sales.
However, in spite of the Depression and the 1926 General Strike the plots did eventually sell and the new plot-holders with little money but with perseverance and ingenuity set about fulfilling their dream. Some of the name boards that soon appeared on the fences reflected the vision of a quiet spot in the country, the dream of owning a peaceful little place of their very own: ‘The Haven’, ‘Bonhomie’ ‘Joyville’, ‘Rosegarden’, ‘Happiness’. And so was created an estate of several hundred separate ‘plots’ with a great variety of simple buildings.
This book describes the thirty-year experience of our family retreat, ‘Lansbury’, built by my father Sam Young, situated on 4th Avenue, Dunton Hills Estate, Laindon, Essex.
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