The Haven and Plotlands

by Jennifer Shirley, Assistant Museum Manager at The Haven Museum

The Haven Museum today
Jennifer Shirley, Assistant Museum Manager
Mena Mills in front garden of The Haven
courtesy of
Fredric Mills outside the Haven
courtesy of

The four-roomed bungalow built by the Mills family in 1934 is the last remaining home of the Laindon Plotlands phenomenon of the turn of the last Century.  Originally intended as a weekend retreat for the Romford family, the house was actually inhabited until 1983.  Built on three plots bought for £20 in 1934, the bungalow originally consisted of two rooms.During the Second World War Mr. Frederic and Mrs. Mena Mills took out a loan of £45 to add a kitchen and a bedroom for their two sons, Brian and Terry.  Now in its second life as The Haven Plotlands Museum at Essex Wildlife Trust Langdon, The Haven would originally have had nearly 200 neighbours on the 461 acre site.

The Laindon Plotlands began life in the early 1900s, when the cheap cost of imported American grain (combined with bad weather) meant that the value of farm land fell.  Much of the farm land was sold off to property developers at a time when the Fenchurch Street to Southend railwayline was shortened and a station built at Laindon.  By the early 1900s developers were organising ‘Champagne Sales’, luring Londoners to the countryside with special train tickets, free champagne and exaggerated claims of the amenities which were expected to be available.

In 1924 183 of the Dunton plots were sold at roughly the cost of £6 a plot (several times the average weekly wage at the time).  As three plots combined The Haven plot measures 60’ by 180’.  Although originally intended as holiday homes and weekend retreats, by the Second World War many families decided to move to their plots permanently (with fathers often commuting to London from Laindon station).

Although The Haven eventually had mains gas and cold-running water, life for the Plotlanders was hard work.  Most Plotlanders grew their own fruit and veg and kept livestock like chickens, goats and pigs.  Conditions on the hills of the avenues were so muddy in winter time that a special path was built along the front of all the houses, allowing the residents to transport coal and other supplies up and down the hill in two ‘basses’, modified bassinets.  Some of these paths can still be seen today amongst the long grass on the reserve and also outside The Haven.

As the Plotlanders designed and built their own homes there was a wide range in styles amongst the different plots.  Some were brick-built bungalows, whilst others were small wooden structures and, in at least one case, a railway carriage.

The Plotlands story finally came to an end in the 1980s, when the remaining houses were compulsorily purchased by Basildon Council.  The Basildon Development Corporation began attempts to compulsorily purchase the land in the 1950s and many of the buildings were demolished in the 1960s and 1970s.  The land was originally intended for housing but in the 1980s Basildon Council had a change of heart (possibly due to the sloping nature of the land) and decided to keep the area as green space.  Although the Plotlands residents were offered accommodation in the new town, many chose not to accept the offer or were disappointed with their new accommodation.  For people used to large gardens, open spaces and a tight-knit community of friendly neighbours, the new flats were a poor substitute. At The Haven Museum we have tried to return the house to its 1930s beginnings.  As well as the four-roomed bungalow (and out-house!) there is also a workshop (Mr. Mills was a carpenter), where the family originally cooked while The Haven was being built.  There is also a washroom, complete with a brick copper and tin bath.  We are currently working on the vegetable plot, sowing only seeds available in the 1930s (no mean feat with no direct water supply!)  The stable where the Mills family once housed their pony, ducks and chickens still stands, as does the Anderson Shelter.  According to one of our volunteers, the Anderson shelter is one of the best examples in the country and work is currently under-way to restore it to its 1940s glory.

The Haven Museum is open every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday, except Christmas weekends.  The opening times are 10 ‘til 4 April to September and 2 ‘til 4 October to March.   

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  • I don’t think the Anderson shelter was original to the Haven. There wasn’t one when my husband and I lived there, but there was a truly splendid one at Hawthorn, the bungalow previously occupied by Lou and Tom Burke and which we moved to in order for the Haven to be turned into a museum.

    By Mary Cook (22/04/2023)
  • My late husband Nick Cook and I were the last occupants of Haven when it belonged to Basildon Development Corporation. We were allowed to take on the property at a low rent. In return we became voluntary wardens to the nature trail and museum.
    The museum was opened by the local MP David Amiss. Guest of honour was our pet goat Rosie.

    By Mary Cook (21/04/2023)
  • My family the Royden family had three plots on Fourth Avenue almost opposite central avenue, it was used mainly on Sundays and bank holidays. It was a 2 room wooden structure, that had a wood burning stove for heating, a three burner paraffin stove for cooking etc. Water was brought from home initially from Bow East London, any more was got from the standpipe opposite the avenue and in later years from the top of Fourth Avenue when the first one got cut off. In winter we had to park to one side in the entrance to forth avenue as it got so boggy cars couldn’t get up the avenue. This changed when a land rover was bought and we could drive up in any weather. It was idyllic for a small child, always quiet with birds singing and collecting fruit and flowers in the seasons and creosoting the ‘SHED’ as it was known. Unfortunately this came to a very quick end due to constant break-ins and damage in the late 70s and then burnt out in the early 80s as most of the remaining properties unfortunately were. Then the compulsory purchase order of the land which was opposed by a number of people who did not want to sell the land but to no avail.
    I am old now but still have very fond memories of the place prior to the troubles. it is a shame time cannot be reversed.

    By K Royden (22/12/2022)
  • I remember staying in one of the plotlands with my mum and older cousin in 1946. Whether she rented it or it belonged to a relative I do not know.
    It was close to Laindon Station. In the evenings we would sit in the garden catching grasshoppers. Finding this post recalled memories long forgotten. Thanks for sharing.

    By ROY BEILEY (23/09/2022)
  • I have found this information very interesting.
    My grandfather bought six adjoining plots, four were off Third Avenue and two through the hedge on Fourth Avenue, which he accessed via a wooden plank across a ditch. He built a bungalow over weekends and holidays in the 1930’s and lived there for many years. I remember staying there in the 1950’s. I think it was eventually bought by compulsory purchase and my Grandparents moved to a house in Kavanagh Terrace, Brentwood next to the main railway line.

    By Sally Newton (16/04/2022)
  • Hi all, and thankyou for this website.
    I proudly retired to Brooklands, Jaywick 18 years ago on a cold wet January day back in 2004 after selling our previous big three bed semi in Romford we owned for 25 years previously, you’re mad said my family and friends but, both my late wife and I was both working very hard, at 55 years of age we just had enough, so 30 metres from great beaches sounded better.. Currently most of the homes here are nearly 100 years old still standing defiant despite the local District Council trying to compulsory purchase it all.
    BUT I have memories being a young boy of visiting friends of my mum and dads in Laindon, going over the railway line via two gates I believe, then revving the car derived van in thick mud as we climbed up the hill led by mum and dad’s friends on the motorbike fitted with mud tyres.. What a great day out that was for me and my younger brother.. I’ve looked on Google Earth but seem to have lost the actual train line crossing it once showed many years ago…. Me and wife once lived for a year in the ill fated SPURRIERS number 184 I believe, hated the place but was our first home as a family..We even used to look for this crossing then off the once new road Laindon Link was it / but found very little of the once route to up hill plotlands.
    Anyway, thanks all.
    Ian Burpitt. now aged 74.

    By ian burpitt (14/03/2022)
  • My father and his wife owned and lived in the Haven in the 80’s and I spent many a lovely summer there and later when they moved to the larger house on top of hill some 100 yards up.

    By Dave Cook (12/01/2022)
  • Hi David ranger, after reading your comment I believe I know exactly where this is…my daughter and I have been to the area where 196 and 197 once stood this was recently confirmed by a map I looked at that someone had put on here, we just found it all so interesting, I would love to help pass any info on…thanks

    By Laura gordon (27/02/2021)
  • I am at this time making enquiries about a plot of land at the site that my late Sister and her Husband a Mr and Mrs D Mott ( not sure if there is and family connection to Ian Mott mentioned on this site, ) had left to them some years back, that has just come to our notice whilst dealing with their Estate. We have papers and plans about the two plots numbers 196 and 197. We have plans of the plots dated back to 1953, giving approval for a contruction to take place on the plots, plus a paid water rates invoice from Thurrock Urban District Council dated April 1971, all in the same surname of Mott. We also have a letter of assent showing the Land being passed down to their Son from the previous owner Also named Mott. What we cannot find is any papers relating to the Compulsorily Purchase by the Local Council at any time, if anyone does have any information to assist us in our search it would be most helpful.

    By David Ranger. (22/02/2021)
  • Hi Shaun. Unfortunately we don’t have any photos of the opening of the Haven on the LDCA website (something we hope to put right). A few suggestions are that you contact Ken Porter who may have a photo or two. Karen McKay, Education Officer who is still based at the Education Centre, at The Dunton Visitor Centre (although the main building is closed at present for a rebuild). Or Brian Mills, the son of Mena Mills who owned the Haven. He also lived there with his family for a while. I can provide you with his email address on request, if you wish. (I believe his mother Mena Mills was present at the opening).

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (06/11/2019)
  • I have read somewhere recently that The Haven was opened as a museum in May 1984 by Basildon Development Corporation chairman Dame Elizabeth Coker. I was wondering has any seen any pictures of the opening of the Museum? or if anyone was there?

    By Shaun Badham (05/11/2019)
  • Thank you for this site. The Mills family played a very important part in my life as a young man in the late 50s early 60s. I remember visiting them on many saturday evenings to watch Juke Box Jury. Brian thank you for your kindness I often remember those times more than 50 years ago.

    By David Muncey (03/04/2015)
  • My grandmother Letitia Holmes had a few plots. My dad told me once that when she was leaning over the well (pulling water up), the goat butted her into it.  Does anyone have any memories of Letitia Holmes later Veevers?  She had twin boys, Bert, my dad and Bob.

    By Diane Dinch (20/11/2014)
  • We turned our Anderson shelter into a pig sty, bred saddle backs in it for years after the war. Then it was turned into a garage for our motor bike and sidecar.

    By Ken Page (09/07/2014)
  • In regard to the Anderson shelter. I was more than a little surprised to read that “work is currently underway to restore it to its 1940s glory.” What glory?

    If it was anything like our Anderson it was unheated, unlit, uncomfortable and the floor was permanently covered with about four inches of stagnant water which continually seeped in through the walls. No way anyone was going to use the shelter. We took our chances under the dining room table with a game of Ludo.

    By Alan Davies (06/07/2014)
  • My grandmother’s bungalow, built by my grandfather and his brother-in-law, in Southway off Dry Street is still in occupation. Her youngest son aged 78 has just died having lived in Louisville for the last 51 years and his widow hopes to remain in the same place for as long as possible.

    By Jackie Twinn (05/07/2014)
  • I have pointed out to Jennifer Shirley that the Haven is not the last plotland property even in the area of the Avenues at Dunton.

    By Ian Mott (11/09/2011)

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