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.