My father, Samuel Richard Young, was a remarkable man. What I remember most was his practicality – he could make anything. I was told that prior to getting married in the 1920 he attended cabinet making evening classes and actually made all the furniture – not orange boxes nailed together, but properly jointed with decorative mouldings and all French polished. We lived with this furniture for a lifetime. That is only one example of his acquired skill – he could put new leather soles and heels on our shoes, give him a blue print and he could make a radio that really worked; he could develop and print his own photographs. Indeed he was only really contented if he had a practical project of some sort under way. This may not be the place to describe the several other interesting aspects of Sam Young – he was a pacifist, went to prison in the first World War for his beliefs, learned to play the clarinet, formed his own dance band. A life long socialist and atheist, worked tirelessly for trade unionship.
But above all it was his practicality I shall remember; I never knew him without some practical project under way.
It was against this background my father was attracted to the idea of owning a plot of land and building a weekend and holiday retreat for the family. His early socialist principles embraced the outdoor life, self-reliance and effort. So in the early 1930s he managed to buy two adjacent plots, numbers 646 and 648, Fourth Avenue, on the new Dunton Estate.
Although I was too young to remember the very origins of the land purchase, I should think the first things he did was to build a loo, away from the proposed bungalow site – the standard ‘sentry box’ one-holer with an oil drum container that was emptied on the rear boundary. Then I should think came the shed, a reasonable structure on concrete plinths out of the damp. It had openable windows and even a vent over the cooking table. This shed was to be our base whilst he built the bungalow. I can’t remember when there was only the shed on the plot and what was to become its permanent position. But I do have early memories of the operation of moving that shed about. My father would enlist the help of visiting relatives and with poles and bulks of timber would contrive to manoeuvre the shed, in situ, into a new position. With much effort it was managed somehow. What did not work was the idea that we would roll the shed along on glass bottles – the bottles broke!
My earliest clear memory of the bungalow is the framework being in place. I could have only been about five, and I recall my dad lifting me on to the woodwork to have our picture taken. I still have that photograph.
The bulk building materials for the bungalow – sand, cement, ballast were delivered from local suppliers. At the bottom of 4th Avenue was Noaks, a timber merchant. Just along the road was a supplier of sand and cement, Mr Davidson, only a small business operated by one of the permanent residents at Dunton.
I would think the doors and windows were made by Dad back in Stepney. He had a workbench in the cellar; and it must have been a test of ingenuity how to manufacture large joinery items in such a confined space. I do remember once a year Dad would hire a lorry to transport this joinery and other large items and materials from Stepney to Dunton. As a child riding in the back of an open lorry to Dunton was all very exciting, ‘The lorry’ was an annual event on our family calendar.
There was no piped water to the shed in those early years that came later. We had to fetch water from a communal standpipe in enamel buckets.
My father must have found it most satisfying to design his bungalow, back in our three room flat in Stepney. I remember a coloured plan, long since lost, so presumably some drawing was submitted to the Local Authority, and approved. Perhaps our bungalow being well built – it looked a permanent construction – did get Council attention. My Dad told the story of when a Council surveyor came to inspect the foundations, he remarked that my Dad’s foundations would hold up a block of flats.
The bungalow he built was quite an achievement, all designed and built by himself. The only outside help I can remember him having was a plumber who eventually brought mains water into the shed, and a local bricklayer who did a tricky off-set in the chimney flue. The bungalow had three rooms, and as many features as my father could work in. Maybe he overdid the design and created a lot of complications, but he had the energy and patience. It had an inset veranda, a bay window, a hipped tiled roof. I don’t know how he worked out the complicated roofing cutting angles.
The construction was quite superior compared with the efforts of some of the other amateur builders. Our bungalow had proper concrete foundations; a braced timber frame, a cement rendered, and pebble dashed on the outside. The inside of the framing and ceilings were plaster board and properly decorated. Although it was a cavity construction there was no heat insulation as we know today. The only heating was an open fireplace in the main room – if it was cold outside, you expected it to be cold inside.
What impresses me now is the sheer manual labour that went into the construction of the bungalow. All the concrete for the over-site slab and wall upstands was mixed by hand, which must have been a backbreaking task. My father worked in the docks, which was a hard manual job, so although he was accustomed to hard physical work, he must have been supremely keen on his bungalow dream to work so hard at the weekends.
Then came the timber framework; this again must have involved great humping of lengths of timber, measuring and cutting and nailing. How he managed to assemble the whole frame on his own, and to build it true, I don’t know. The sheer labour of hoisting and fixing the roof rafters must again been a Herculean task for someone on their own. He did get some help when relations visited us in the summer, but this was only occasional. Also, I should think he might have co-operated at times of need, with his life long friend and neighbour, Tom Driscoll, who was building his own bungalow on the adjacent plot. The frame erected and braced, the next operation would have been covering the walls on the outside of the frame, with expanded metal. This gave a surface on which a layer of cement mortar could be applied – again mixed and troweled on by hand.
5 of 16