Down the Line (13 of 16)

Chapter 5 - The end of an Era

The war was the watershed. Nothing was the same afterwards. The interest of the weekenders diminished, the bungalows and their gardens started showing signs of neglect. Several factors contributed to this. There seemed to be a certain post-war apathy; the war drained people’s energies and zest, they were tired mentally and physically. At the end of the war, it was not a simple matter of carrying on where we left off in 1939. Families were split up and dispersed – some were killed. By the 1950s social patterns began to change, people were tasting affluence. People started owning cars and going further afield. Later on air travel was becoming affordable, and the weekenders were beginning to go abroad for their holidays. Television came, and a whole sub-culture evolved.

So the making do, the roughing it at the bungalows, still without electricity or gas, or main drainage had lesser appeal for the weekenders. The original generation of weekenders were that much older, and their bungalows were as finished as they were ever to be, and the younger generation had other attractions. The children, who had played happily at the bungalows in the pre-war days, were now teenagers with different interests. For me personally, going ‘down the line’ became more of a duty to Dad. I really wanted to spend the weekends with my mates, listening to jazz, going cycling, flying our model aircraft, playing tennis on proper courts, going to holiday camps for holidays. Another factor was that the bungalow was virtually finished. I don’t doubt my father had further improvements in mind, but tending the garden seemed to dominate. I think he was really more interested in the practical building work than the repetitive digging of the vegetable garden and cutting the grass.

That era when I was around 16, in 1946, was a unsettled period for me. My pre-war childhood memories of the bungalow were of sun and enjoyment. Now it was an obligation to help my Dad with the gardening at the bungalow. There did not seem much to do on the bungalow itself. I well remember Dad and I going down the line on cold winter Sundays to dig the heavy Essex clay to plant potatoes. We would make the usual train journey to Laindon station. Then we would go to the station cafe to wait for the Dunton bus, we would read the Sunday Reynolds News, hear the new commercial radio on the scratchy café radio, and wipe the condensation off the cafe windows to watch for the bus. Mum did not come on these days; she would provide us with a tin of soup and some sausages, which we would cook on the Primus in the cold shed. The cutlery drawer had dead insects from the summer, and Dad would worry about the damp in the bungalow. The Avenue was almost unusable, it being so muddy. The ruts were deep and full of water, it was a quagmire and we had to pick our way carefully from the bungalow to the bus. This was not an enjoyable period of my life.

Perhaps the biggest factor in the decline of interest in the bungalow was that my father’s health began to fail and he was off work for several years. This meant my Mum had to work to make ends meet

However, in the post-war summers we still had visitors, now arriving in their cars, and there were attempts to re-kindle those pre-war days of games on the grass and outdoor eating. These few years, in the early 1950s were enjoyable in a way. Indeed the bungalow was serving it’s intended purpose. But significantly, the chat was of ‘the old days’. The original weekenders we had known seemed to have disappeared. I didn’t see anything of my girl cousins Terry and Sylvia; I thought I once saw Reggie Nash, the boy next door who wanted to work in an office, but now with his wife and family! Pam and Billy told us of their motoring trips to the Continent, a far cry from when the Southend mud squelched up between our toes. All a bit sad really.

My father’s health deteriorated even more, and it became obvious that he lost interest in the bungalow, let alone maintain it. It must have been a sad time for both my mother and father. The Local Authority, seeing the decline of the Dunton Estate offered to buy the plots from the owners. Eventually came the coup de gras: compulsory purchase orders were served on the remaining plot owners. The proposal was to return the area to agriculture (which never happened). We were given the market price – not much. Ultimately the bulldozers moved in, and the bungalows were no more. And that after 30 years was the end of the bungalow. Strangely, and ironically this coincided with my father’s death in 1953. The end of an era.

13 of 16

This is the café at Laindon Station where we would wait for the Dunton Bus. This picture was taken in the 1960s, the café had not changed much from what the author remembers of it from the 1940s and before.
One of the last of the original bungalows, Hillcrest Avenue. 1950
1950s: The last Dunton bungalows - the bulldozers had demolished the estate.

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