Fords Research Centre - Before and After

My family’s plotland home in Laindon was surrounded by fields on all sides.  The view looking westward from our living room window was across several fields leading to Dunton.  Each had a pond, hence we referred to them as the 1st pond field, 2nd pond field etc.  To the east of our garden was a large corn field belonging to Buckenham’s farm and beyond that lay the unmade Bourne Avenue.  North of our garden was a lovely meadow that we children called ‘The Top of the World’ because of its domed shape.  We liked to walk up to the top, then turn and run very fast all the way down again.

My parents always referred to this field as ‘Snaggs’ although I’m unaware of the reason.  Beyond ‘Snagg’s’ was another field that led to the A127 with its high banks that we called ‘the slopes’.  A well-worn footpath across the fields was used by farm workers from Buckenham’s farm, who followed this track, through our hedge and garden to make their way further into Laindon.  To the south of our garden lay ‘The Top Field’ and Alexandra Road which led into the unmade part of King Edward Road.

My father’s family had owned our plot since 1915.  During the fifties the fields were our playgrounds and we roamed them freely, careful not to trample the corn in the summer, picking mushrooms in the autumn and avoiding the cow pats in winter.  There were occasional rumours of development but our parents told us we lived within ‘The Green Belt’.

However by the early sixties plans were in place for the building of Ford’s Research Centre.   During the winter of 1964/65, my brother Alan and I walked across ‘Snaggs’ field in the snow.   I seem to remember at that time it was already marked out with wooden pegs, as this beautiful meadow was to become part of Ford’s car park.

The construction firm George Wimpey commenced work on the Research Centre in 1965 after they set up their base in Lower Dunton Road.  A positive aspect of this was the creation of employment including general labourers and various clerical staff.

We watched as large vehicles arrived in Snagg’s field and flattened it, more accurately described by my sister Anne as, ‘completely annihilated it’.   We saw the progress of the building as it reached closer to our bungalow and became the new view from our window.

Bourne Avenue had since been made up and extended into Buckenham’s field and Bourne Close was built next to our hedge on the east side of our garden.  Our plot was now ‘sandwiched’.

There was an incident during construction, when the roof of one of the buildings collapsed.

Ford’s Dunton Research Centre was officially opened on 12th October 1967 by the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.  The Centre had been constructed by George Wimpey at the contracted cost of £6.5m.  The total cost of the whole Centre was around £10m and employed around 3,000 staff.

In July 2007, Prince Charles made an official visit to Fords of Dunton for their 40th anniversary.  He planted the first of 40 new trees to mark the start of the celebrations.  After being shown ‘behind the scenes’, he drove a Ford Focus with a prototype low-carbon dioxide engine that had been developed in Ford’s environmental test laboratories.

In recent years there have been rumours that Fords might leave the site.  However, due to a Government Grant in 2014, it appears they will be staying.

I still sometimes take a walk around the area.  Alexandra Road is now the far north part of Victoria Park and our former garden is the far western end of Bourne Avenue. In May 2012 we were lucky enough to take a flight in a light plane over the area.  Flying low, we were able to take some very good aerial photographs.

I have marked the photo showing how things were in the fifties.

A. ‘Spion-Kop’ – my family’s bungalow –  George and Jessica Burton.

B. ‘The Retreat’.  The derelict bungalow where the Cooper family had once lived.

C. The semi-detached, two-storey  farmhouse ‘Sunnymead and South View’.

D. ‘Pendennis’. my grandparent’s bungalow – Henry and Jessica  Devine.

E. ‘Rosedene’. the Whitehead family’s bungalow.

F. ‘Horton’ the Peall family’s bungalow.  Emily Peall was my grandfather Henry Devine’s older half sister.

G. Snagg’s field.

H. Buckenham’s field.

I. The Top Field.

The black dotted line running downward from C, then turning to the right was the unmade western end of King Edward Road.  The black dotted line running down from A passing D E & F was Alexandra Road.

Snaggs field in the snow 1965.
Nina Humphrey
Laindon Recorder 1965
Laindon Recorder 1965.
Laindon Recorder 1966.
Fords from Spion-Kop's front garden in the snow. My dad, George Burton on right of picture.
Nina Humphrey
Aerial view of Fords and Bourne Avenue. 2012
Colin Humphrey.

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  • I would like to add that before Bourne Avenue was ‘made up’ in the mid-sixties, it had been an unmade road which joined Archer Road which led to the High Road. Where they joined there was usually a large muddy puddle that I had to ‘jump’ when walking that way down to the High Road. The plotland bungalows along the unmade Bourne Avenue had been :- Bonavista, Herandi, Fairview, Alicia, Dadizzeele, Doreen and Pauline.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (22/02/2019)
  • Just a small point Bourne Avenue when built in 1965/6 terminated at the hedge that formed the Easter boundary of Spion-Kop. In fact the Western boundary of 59 Bourne Avenue followed was the hedge of Spion-Kop.

    When Spion-Kop was compulsorily purchased to allow further extension of Bourne Avenue and Bourne Close. The residents dug out your fathers compost heap to enhance their gardens.

    By Ian Mott (11/03/2015)
  • My dad was a wonderful gardener and always had a magnificent compost heap.  I’m sure we were all pleased that it was put to good use.

    Your quite right Ian, Bourne Avenue and Bourne Close were on Spion Kop’s eastern boundary (the correction has now been made).   Bourne Avenue to the north and Bourne Close including the garages was to the south.  In fact No. 14 Bourne Close was directly behind where the compost heap and our pond had once stood (just the hedge in between).  The family who moved into No 14 came from a flat in King Edward Road.  Their youngest son was a friend of my younger brother.  He used to come and play tennis with us on our front lawn. His mother was able to watch us from a bedroom window as No 14 overlooked our garden.

    Early in 1966 my parents approached the council and asked if it would be possible to open our hedge to gain access through the garages, into Bourne Close.  They agreed and said to go ahead.  My dad removed part of our hedge and installed gates. He then built a concrete pathway from our bungalow, to the gates.  This meant that we could walk through the garages onto the made up Bourne Close instead of walking the long way around the unmade path.   I was 19 then and I can’t explain how wonderful it felt not to have to suffer muddy shoes ever again.   

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (11/03/2015)
  • A great article by Nina Humphrey. The overlaid house names on the aerial photograph stirred my memory. In 1962/3 I had a paper round with Boons in Laindon High Road. Alexandra Road was the end of my round with Spion Kop being the final delivery. The area was a bit treacherous during winter time. The path was narrow and slippery and there was mud and puddles everywhere. However during the summer months it was quite a pleasant place. The only downside was the German Shepherd dog which if my memory is correct lived at Pendennis.

    By Bob Connell (20/02/2015)
  • Hi Bob.  Many thanks and ‘congratulations’ even, for delivering the papers to my family at Spion Kop.  We, the Burton family, lived quite a long way off the beaten track, which wasn’t easy to reach in the winter when the unmade path became a quagmire,  so you did very well to stick with it.

    The German Shepherd dog you remember was owned by the Bird family who lived in a bungalow called California, a few yards along the unmade part of King Edward Road.  This would have been in the late fifties. The dog’s name was Rex and he was known in the neighbourhood for being very fierce.  In fact when he was let out for a run, everybody would go inside and close their doors.

    My grandparents moved away from their bungalow Pendennis approximately 1958 and it was demolished soon after.  The farmhouse and Rosedene were vacated in the mid-sixties. My parent’s moved away in 1975 following the completion of the compulsory purchase.  The last people to leave were the couple who lived in Horton.

    I’m really pleased that part of the grassy area was retained as a park although I was disappointed it wasn’t named Alexandra Park after the road that once been there.   

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (20/02/2015)
  • Hi Ken.  Yes it was Harry who took us flying.  We spent a very pleasant afternoon with him and although the weather had been quite dismal earlier, once we were airborne, the conditions were almost perfect for photography.  Hopefully we will be able to put some of the other shots on this website from time to time.     

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (11/02/2015)
  • Brilliant article Nina, well done!

    By Anne Burton (10/02/2015)
  • There was a public inquiry into the building of the Research Centre held at Laindon Community Centre.  The main opposition was Essex County Council who claimed there was a grave risk that Ford’s would expand their activities at the site in the future with the center to be built on green belt land.  You would not think this with what’s going on there now.

    By Barry Ellerby (10/02/2015)
  • Sorry Nina, I forgot to say great article.

    By Barry Ellerby (10/02/2015)
  • Nina a brilliant article, especially the aerial map showing how close you were to this development. I recall going into Ford’s Research Centre in December 1970 as a newly wed young man, asking if they had any vacancies for draughtsmen. They hadn’t and outside it was starting to snow, a bit like your pictures I think. I remember there was an escalator going from reception up to what looked like the offices. An exciting place for a newly qualified young man to work but not for me on that occasion.

    We had just moved into Chichester Close on the Fryerns estate, a grim place even in the summer. We had no garage and our little dark blue Mini had to stand outside in all weathers. By March 1971 we moved away to Maldon but I often think of that winter’s day as I drive past Fords and what might have happened had they given me a job? I later moved from Mechanical to Civil Engineering, designing roads and not cars as my career.

    By Richard Haines (10/02/2015)
  • Great story Nina, I take it the pilot was my cousin Harry?  Ken

    By Ken Page (10/02/2015)

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