Down the line ( 4 of 16)

Chapter 1 The Dunton Hills Estate

Fourth Avenue, looking uphill, taken from outside the Young bungalow, opposite the junction with Central Avenue. The bungalows look complete and the Avenue grassy and free of ruts, which would date this picture from about 1948.

The avenues were not paved or surfaced in any way. Although there were hardly any private cars in the early days, the lorries delivering building materials created huge ruts in the wetter section of the avenues. In the summer the ruts in the London clay were as hard as concrete, ankle ricking for the unwary. In the winter the ruts filled with water turning to mud and were treacherous. To walk 4th Avenue the plot-holders would have to carefully pick their route, and place their feet with care. Although I cannot remember it myself, I am told there was a scheme to help the plot-holders catch the Sunday evening bus to Laindon Station. Wellington boots were essential to negotiate the mud and ruts of the avenue, so the plot-holders would carry their shoes round their necks or in a bag; then at ‘Sunnyside’, a permanently occupied bungalow at the road, they would leave their boots and change into shoes. This service must have been appreciated by all the week-enders. In the other avenues the plot-holders formed co-operatives and laid a concrete path down one side of the avenue – an excellent idea. For some reason 4th Avenue did not show this civic initiative!

So there were never hard roads on the estate. There were no services at all: no gas, electricity or drainage, no telephones, no pavements or street lighting. When the Estate came into being there were water standpipes at various points on the estate, there was one at the bottom of 4th Avenue. It was a whole chore to trek to the standpipe with buckets and pots and pans and get back without spilling too much. I remember at our bungalow we had a couple of white enamelled buckets with lids for this water carrying purpose, something I have not seen for years now. Later on, in 1937, the Southend Water Company decided that there were enough dwellings to justify running a supply up the avenues and we had the luxury of piped water to our premises.

There was no main drainage; I don’t remember any of the bungalows having cesspits or septic tanks. So the ‘loo’ was the basic wooden cubicle at the bottom of the plot. Dad made a comfortable hole in the seat that straddled the walls, the container was an old oil drum, to which Dad had fixed sturdy carrying handles. When the container filled up my father enlisted my help to empty it at the back boundary. This was the 1930s and we were poor East Londoners, so we never had toilet rolls – torn up squares of the Daily Herald newspaper on a string was our standard – we were made of sterner stuff in those days! Our loo was quite cosy; I remember the warmth of the summer sun on the shiplap cladding, and the rustle of the grass on the bottom of walls. I can still recall that smell of the can of disinfectant that was kept under the seat. The cubicle was well ventilated; we did not catch any diseases, other than tummy-ache from eating too much local fruit.

Because of the terrible state of the Avenues and the paucity of civic services, there was no refuse collection either. Dry rubbish and kitchen waste was buried.

In these pre-war times there were no petrol electricity generators, and no Calor gas. Or if there were, the plot-holders would not be able to afford them. So we managed without electricity or gas. Mothers bought perishable food more frequently and in smaller quantities; we had food safes with perforated mesh sides outside in the shade, and we had water cooled butter and milk containers. We cooked on a Primus paraffin oil stove, and a double burner wick stove. And we had oil lamps for light when it got dark. Some lamps had wicks, some had mantles. My father used to take me to an ‘oil shop’ back in Angel Lane, Stratford to get replacement lamp glasses and wicks. And there was the folk knowledge about paraffin oil lamps: not to turn the wicks up so they smoked; a gentle warm up so the glass did not break and putting the lamp in front of a mirror to increase the light. We managed quite well under these rudimentary conditions. I remember the glow and hiss of those oil lamps. Indeed the atmosphere of dusk itself. To save oil, the lamps would not be lit until it was quite dark. Nowadays with light at the touch of a switch, it is easy to forget the peacefulness of dusk.

For food and general provisions the plot-holders managed without supermarkets or refrigerators. For a weekend stay the plot-holders usually brought their own food with them. For a longer stay, Laindon town was the source. No one had cars. One could catch a bus (only a four hourly service) that ran between Laindon and Brentwood along the Lower Dunton Road. Or one could walk across the hilltop from the Avenues into the town. This took about the same time as the bus journey. For incidental items of food and provisions, there was Hendersons small general store near Second Avenue on the Lower Dunton Road. It was just a simple single storey wooden building, much like the bungalows of the estate. They sold groceries and confectionery, the basics. They also sold the all important paraffin oil. In an extension at the side was a post office. Hendersons had another shop, I think it was called the Union Jack Stores, more of a tea shop, at the top of 1st Avenue. They had a flag on a flagpole there, which you could see from anywhere in the estate.

The local farms were alternative sources other than Laindon town or Hendersons stores. Robinsons farm, a few minutes walk along the road, sold milk. A little further on was the McKenzie farm, that sold eggs and chickens, killed but not plucked or cleaned. Then there were several bungalows where one could buy honey, jam, fruit and vegetables. For fresh fruit and vegetables one could do no better than ‘the Colony’. The Labour Colony was along the Lower Dunton Road, and was a London County Council institution for the re-training of London unemployed men in farm work. The institution farm included an orchard and market garden and the produce was on sale to the local population, at give away prices. Their Victoria plums were the best ever. These local sources of produce are described in a later chapter.

So, as usual the Dunton Estate plot-holders managed quite well. Despite only a rudimentary water supply, no drainage, electricity, gas or hard roads and pavements, or nearby shops, they enjoyed their own little plot of peaceful countryside. As long as there was paraffin oil for the lamps and for the Primus, and the roof did not leak this was home. It was a bit more comfortable than camping under canvas, indeed as the bungalows became habitable it was probably more comfortable than the East End homes in which the plot-holders lived during the week.

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