Personal memories of the Dunton Hills Estate, near Laindon, Essex
The Dunton Hills estate covered a hillside, some 460 acres in area, adjoining the Lower Dunton Road, about two miles from the A127 Southend Arterial Road. The estate was laid out by the Land Agents in a rectangular grid of four broad avenues (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Avenues) running from the Lower Dunton Road to Hillcrest Avenue along the top of the hill. The four avenues were interconnected about halfway along by Central Avenue.
This estate was one of a several similar estates in the general area, centred on Laindon town. The estates joined and overlapped, and were developed at varying times, probably with differing agents and auctioneers. Each had its own character and history. As an example, the northerly continuation of the Dunton Estate, from the 1st Avenue to the railway, was developed and occupied at the time when the Dunton Estate, the subject of this book, was derelict and being demolished. There does not appear to be any overall plan as such, but this was in the period between 1920 and 1940, when building controls was vague, and later when wartime conditions intervened.
So as the plots of land were sold, and the plot-holders became established, the estate started to take form. Boundaries were ‘marked out, front fences and house nameplates soon appeared; pride of possession, a new experience for the East London folk, manifested itself.
Then came the bungalows. Every bungalow was as different as the owners wished. The design and construction was dictated by the skills and resources of the owners, it was essentially a do-it-yourself operation. Plot-holders seldom, if ever, employed a professional builder – that was not the idea. There seemed very little, if any, control by the Local Authorities. Hardy and Ward in their ‘Arcadia for All’ quotes an official source:
‘Each authority had only one building inspector to encompass a wide rural area, and there were the added disadvantages of bad communications and wilderness areas of scrub which hid so many shacks. Large areas never saw a building inspector, and building permits, or refusals were easily ignored. Where inspections were made it was then difficult to trace the often temporary occupants. The hundreds of sub-standard shacks offered little in the way of a tax base for the local authorities to provide basic utilities. Furthermore, with so many temporary occupants and squatters, it is clear that over whole areas of plotland, rates were never paid .’
Plans and applications, where they were submitted were merely an administrative requirement and I should not think taken seriously by the plot-holders. Most of the bungalows were timber framed, clad constructions, with simple pitched roofs. There were odd exceptions, where the owner was perhaps a skilled bricklayer or indeed a builder. One owner, I remember, was a stonemason, and most of his place was built of Italian marble no less. He named his bungalow Carrara. Some owners were not too ambitious and put up little more than over-grown beach huts, just somewhere to sleep and cook for the weekend and to store the garden implements. Here and there people somehow obtained old railway carriages and buses and put these on their plots. There was one tall simple bungalow halfway up the hill in 4th Avenue, all flat asbestos sheeting on a frame, that could not have been fixed to its foundations, and in a storm the whole building blew over, tumbling down the hill, ending up a jumbled heap of asbestos and timber.
Bungalows on the hill had the problem of the slope, usually overcome by supporting stilts and columns on the downhill side, with steps up to floor level. This obviated the sheer labour of digging out the up-hill side to achieve a level site. Verandas were a common feature, some bungalows had a veranda on more than one side, some with cane roller sun screens – a Colonial touch. Windows were usually of the simple casement type. More substantial roofs were tiled or slated; lesser roofs were of bituminous felt.
Certain standards became established. The bungalows on the four Avenues were generally quite well built. On other areas of the Laindon plot estates a lesser standard was deemed sufficient: hardly bungalows as such, but simple rectangular framed huts with a felted roof, little more than a garden shed.
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