Laindon and its Roads
The influence of history
This website, Laindon and District Community Archive, is, to all intents and purposes, concerned primarily with the recording of events and matters that are domestic to the area in which we live. Although we think of “ our” community as being the districts of Laindon, Lee Chapel, Langdon Hills and Dunton it must not pass notice that very often our local history is and often has been determined by matters that have been decided much further afield. A good example of this is illustrated by the history of a district’s transport arrangements.
It is generally accepted, for example, that it was the arrival of the railway and the building of Laindon station in 1888 that began the radical change of the district from being just a series of scattered farms into becoming a more developed residential community. Concealed within the often heard statement “the coming of the railways” is a great deal of history which stretches back for a long time and also involves a considerable number of locations other than Laindon itself. The chain of historical events that led to the building of Laindon’s station can be traced back as far as the Roman Empire!
The long list of events began when an inquisitive Roman discovered that the steam created in a novelty device he had created called an aloipile produced enough pressure and, therefore, power to cause movement. Centuries later, a Spaniard (Jeronimo de Ayanz) used the same effect to produce a rudimentary pump to remove from mine workings, a system that was improved upon by Thomas Savery in 1698 to the same end. Greater improvement was achieved a decade or so later when Thomas Newcomen developed his “engine” to pump the Cornish mines clear of unwanted water and something of a new industry was born. In 1781 James Watt and his partner, Matthew Boulton, went global, creating a considerable commercial empire in stationary pumps out of which, their associate William Murdoch, introduced the concept of adding movement of the very machine itself by mounting the pump on a boat and using the pump’s power to move it. The expansion of this idea in 1804, by Richard Trevethick led directly to the perfection by George (and, in turn, his son Robert) Stevenson to the creation of practical steam locomotives , to the birth of the whole Railway Industry being born, and, of course, in time, the building of Laindon Station.
The sequence of ideas that I have just identified which most people would probably regard as “beneficial” from Laindon’s point of view, also, paradoxically, had a down side which is also relevant to our area’s development. The fact that a machine had been devised in the shape of the steam locomotive which enabled persons to move across country from place to place with very little effort on their own part and, furthermore, at a speed greater than that of a horse was not only intriguing, but also challenging. This was because the limitations that where imposed by the need for a special track upon which to run these new machines meant there was an inflexibility that demanded to be overcome. Out of this demand grew the need to adapt the machine in such a way that it could be made to run on both a road and over open countryside; the steam driven traction engine was the consequence. The unforeseen result of this latter development was the widespread introduction of the traction engine into the agricultural scene enabling the use of improved machinery particularly in the production of grain. It requires little imagination to realise that it was the switch from horse flesh to machine, or rather the failure to do so, that led to the demise of the Laindon’s long-time standing as a wheat growing area in the face of greater efficiency elsewhere, particularly the USA. Thus steam traction was both advantageous and disadvantageous to Laindon at one and the same time.
This situation of a sequence of a series of historical developments leading, on the one hand, to “an improvement” and the other “a setback” is a continuous process. It can be seen that the advantages that accrued from putting traction engines and similar machines like steam driven Lorries on the roads of Britain were mixed. While larger and heavier loads became moveable, a favourable advantage, this was offset by the fact that so many of the country’s roads were revealed to be inadequate to deal with the increased weight of traffic that was engendered. Even before the evolution of the railway system, the state of the county’s roads had been an issue of contention. For centuries, the cost of expending both effort and material on attempting to improve their condition had been a charge on each parish and its inhabitants. Rebellion in the Scottish Highlands and the threats of invasion from France concentrated the State’s mind on the inadequacies of this arrangement and the turnpike system coupled with improved methods of construction adopted by people like George Wade and Thomas Telford meant that by the 18th and 19th centuries thought and priority was at last being given to rectifying the general condition. Steam traction in the shape of the steam roller was, in due course, involved in that rectification. While there appears to be no clear evidence, the road from Billericay to Horndon on the Hill, which is, through Laindon, now called “High Road”, may well have been a “turnpike”, it having been set out with wayside stone markers at mile intervals, the last of which, severely weather beaten, survived in situ just south of the old “Fortune of War” until very recently,.
The improvement of the condition of roads inevitably led to speculation on how they might be better used. The idea that a machine, like the railway engine, might be devised that could assist a person to travel upon them without the assistance of a horse led eventually to the development of the bicycle. This was very much a process of trial and error chiefly because of varying qualities and practicalities of the materials that were used in the machine’s construction. However, in the 1870s advances in methods of construction were such that there was widespread enthusiasm for the machine such that led to the growth of its use as an instrument of leisure. Ultimately, because of the truly practical and simple design of the so called “safety” bicycle being achieved in the 1880s that enthusiasm for leisure became one of regarding the machine as a particularly useful device, so much so that it was considered vital by the many families who eventually settled in Laindon in the first half of the 20th century to own one.
Paradoxically, the popularity of the bicycle in Laindon’s households was not because of “good” roads, rather the reverse. The majority of residential streets that were set out in the new “estates” by the land developers who followed the railway builders into the district were left unpaved. As a result newly settled inhabitants often found themselves marooned in their isolated residences situated in a virtual swamp. This was particularly the case in winter times if the adjacent road had been used by wheeled vehicles to convey building materials and the like and become heavily rutted as a result. The absence of drainage in wet weather simply worsened the position. The practical answer to the problem that this created (a solution that was almost universally adopted throughout the district) was a series of concrete strip pathways constructed alongside each “road”. These were invariably wide enough to accommodate a pram or barrow but, above all else, the bicycle which thus became the vehicle of the greatest value, particularly for commuters and those wishing to reach the station and the High Road from the outlying areas of the district.
The High Road, being one of the very few roads through the district that had been “made up”, became, inevitably, the temporary repository for those bicycles that were being used as a means of reaching the railway. At locations in the High Road, as well as the station itself, several commercial premises provided a means of secure storage of the machines until such time as they were required for their return journey to their owners’ homes. It was not unknown for the same locations to be used, alternatively, to stow pairs of rubber Wellington boots also for either the non-bicycle owner or for those who wished to arrive on the main road clean shod.
The same inventiveness that had produced the bicycle was, during much of the 19th century occupying the minds of a great number of ambitious people. The growth of steam traction and the advantages it was capable of bestowing upon human beings had long spread well beyond the limits of the part of the world where it had been conceived. Railways were being constructed throughout the globe and with them went a considerable increase in wealth accumulation for those able to exploit the fact. The possibility that a more personalised type of machine could be devised to aid mobility that would not be encumbered by the considerable size and weight that steam traction represented exercised the attention of many who were ambitious to obtain a share of the financial rewards clearly to be gained.
What was required, it was reasoned, was some means of converting and minimising the manner in which power was derived from combustion (as represented by the firebox of the steam locomotive) to a more manageable and far less bulky form. The logic of what was required took the form of finding a way of producing a machine that could internalising the combustion process from which was derived the same sort of after tractive effort. Throughout most of the second half of the eighteenth century many minds concentrated on the problem, a lot of them concentrating on attempts to find a way in which “town” gas,(the gas derived as a by-product of converting coal to coke which was available on a widespread for domestic heating and lighting), might be used as fuel for such a machine. Many found to their cost that trying to confine such a fuel in a small compression chamber and exploding it could be a lethal matter, including one of my own distant relations who lived in Droitwich, Worcestershire. Success in the main objective only came when a more suitable fuel (petroleum) was eventually identified as being the most suitable. When success was achieved, again in the 1880s, and the internal combustion engine was born, its application was rapidly adopted by engineers throughout the World.
The birth of the motor vehicle at the end of 19th century and its growth into the gargantuan manufacturing industry it spawned throughout the whole of the twentieth century has had a considerable influence on the way in which Laindon’s community has developed. The advent of the motor car meant that a far higher standard of road surfacing was necessary than that demanded by use of bicycles. As a result, the long standing roads of the district, (The High Road of Laindon and Langdon Hills, St Nicholas Lane, Basildon and Dunton Roads, Lower Dunton Road, Pound od Doves Farm Lane, School or Church Road, part of Oxford Street or Lee Chapel Lane) as well as the main routes into and out of the district, all became well dressed in time with tar-macadam finishes. Unfortunately, the great bulk roads set out by the speculative land agents and builders did not. As a result the “state of the roads” remained a contentious issue for most of the first half of the twentieth century. It also had a dramatic effect on the manner in which the so far undeveloped areas developed.
Potential plot purchasers who were attracted to the area by the advertisements of the land agents tended to fall into one of two types; those who were considering permanent settlement or, alternatively, those seeking no more than a weekend or holiday retreat. Not surprisingly, many of those seeking to take up permanent residence were attracted towards plots on “hard” roads such as the High Road. Over time, this had a particular effect; the district effectively became a “linear” settlement, that is a small town which, having no particular centre, is set out in a long line which, in the case of the community dominated by the parishes of Langdon Hills and Laindon extended as far as the “old” Fortune of War in the north and the “Crown” hotel in the south. While this pattern of development was known of elsewhere, it was unusual in this part of England where the general pattern is of a village based on a nuclear pattern represented by a cluster of buildings grouped around a central green or church. A considerable number of linear pattern settlements had been a special feature of the Western states of North America as its railway system had advanced westward in the 19th century, a style regarded with derision by town planners and, consequently, Laindon High Road came to be burdened with the stigma of being described as a “shanty town” for a considerable period of the time of its existence as a shopping precinct!
The development of both the bicycle and, in particular, the car was to have a long lasting effect on the district’s road development in the twentieth century, an effect that remains a considerable thorn in its side to the present. Improvements in the surface of roads encouraged their use for leisure purposes and organisations grew up like the Cyclist Touring Club and the Royal Automobile Club which provided information on suitable excursions for their members. The proximity of Southend-on-Sea to London made Thames Estuary an attractive destination for pleasure seekers and the LTSR soon found that its excursion traffic was being rivalled by coach (or “charabanc”) operators, particularly those based in the East End of London. The major difficulty that road users found in reaching Southend was the tortuous routes they were required to follow. The routes eastwards out of London were either via the Mile End Road or via the Commercial Road. The former involved passing through Stratford, Romford, Brentwood, Billericay, Wickford and Rayleigh, the latter via Barking, Rainham, Purfleet, Thurrock, Stanford-le-Hope, Pitsea, Benfleet and Hadleigh. On the western approaches to Southend, both routes merged into a plethora of country lanes and byways all or any of which might or might not lead the unaware into Prittlewell. This is why Southend had developed in the manner in which it had chiefly because the principle means of reaching it as a destination had, heretofore, been by either the railway or by means of the River Thames.
The rapid growth of a new transport system that needed good roads led, in 1913, to a conference in which the topics discussed were the need for improved and direct, speedy, communication between conurbations and the relief of already overburdened town centres. Out of that discussion decisions was made to construct both town Bypasses and, what were to be called, “Arterial Roads”. The latter, in particular, would reawaken a principle long left dormant in road construction, the straight road so much favoured by the Romans. Although the advent of WW1 was to intervene and cause delay before the conference’s plans could begin to bear fruit as far as Laindon was concerned, work eventually began in 1919 on creating a completely new route from north of Romford directly across country as far as the northern fringe of the parish of Prittlewell. This was to be called the “Southend Arterial Road”, the road now far more conveniently referred to as the A127. In the interval between the initial inception of the project and its realization much had occurred with regard to the development of motor vehicles as well as a considerable increase in their use and it is debateable if enough regard was given to these factors when work finally commenced.
The first stage of establishing the Southend Arterial Road involved the construction of a single carriageway road as close to a straight line as possible in a west to east direction starting at a point just north of Romford where the lane from Havering-atte-Bower (now known as “Straight Road”) linked with the once Roman road connecting Romford to Brentwood. This point was known locally as “Gallows Corner”. It was the point at which, also a newly constructed bypass of the Ilford and Romford conurbations merged with the existing road from Romford to Brentwood converged. Cutting in a south easterly direction, the new arterial road crossed over the bridge that had been constructed to carry the Ardleigh Green road over the Great Eastern Railway’s main line to Norwich before proceeding in a generally easterly direction to the Southend district. In the process it created some two dozen crossroad intersections with established local lanes or byways before following the line near Eastwood of the existing Rayleigh to Prittlewell Road as far as what is known as “Cuckoo Corner” a distance of some 21 miles. As a sop to the cycling community, the route was paralleled throughout by a specially constructed track designed exclusively for their use in addition to a path for pedestrian traffic.
Because the habit of cyclists, particularly those of an enthusiastic nature who had formed into often quite large groups with a common goal such as “touring clubs”, there was frequently a desire on their part to ride two abreast, and many chose to ignore the specially constructed cycle track. In the absence of any legislation to the contrary, cyclists’ insistence on only using the universal carriage way was soon regarded as being obstructive by motor vehicle drivers. Even the doubling of the carriageways that followed on very soon after the original road was constructed did not change the overall position. Although in doubling the carriageways to two in each direction was again accompanied by the construction of an accompanying cycle track and footpath, the cycle track on the eastbound side from Gallows Corner reached no further than what is now known as the “Fairglen Interchange”, the construction of which, at the time, was in a distant future. Here the special cycle track was merged into the main carriageway at the very point at which the cyclist, whether alone or in a party, was called upon to exert extra effort as the road began its ascent of the rising gradient towards the Raleigh Weir crossroads. It is not altogether clear why the cycle track died out at this obscure point, although it was probably because the contractors ran out of finance rather than having lost enthusiasm for the project.
The enthusiasm for Southend as a short distance destination made the Southend Arterial Road it very popular with day trippers and quite obviously its use by cyclist and motorist alike quickly built up eventually leading, particularly after WW2, to it becoming a commuter route also, so much so that traffic now never appears to be “slack” with the road in heavy use at almost any time within any 24 hour period. Victory in the initial conflict between cyclist and motorist now appears to have been won lost by the motorists, the cyclists appearing to have accepted that its use is a lost cause. This, despite the fact that no prohibition has ever been put upon them.
Long before these developments and before the outbreak of war, however, and acting in response to the growing number of accidents that seemed to occur in the vicinity, the St John’s Ambulance Brigade at Laindon had decided to set up a regular contingent of “First Aiders” at busy times adjacent to the garage they had had built for their ambulance. This was situated just to the west of the “new” Fortune of War crossroads, where the first attempts were being made to exert some officially based control of the traffic using the road. It was at this crossroads, in particular, that it had been decided it was necessary to regularly place a member of the Constabulary to direct vehicles, stopping those on the A127, if necessary, for the benefit of High Road traffic. At the time, this was considered to be so revolutionary a step that picture post cards of the “bobby on point-duty” were on sale to seekers after local scenic views! Four “Police Houses” were provided adjacent to the crossing as accommodation and this appears to have been the nucleus of what later became the Laindon Traffic Police Unit.
What precipitated these developments was the fact that, as already stated, the New Arterial Road had, in its initial creation engendered a considerable number of peculiar traffic hazards for the unwary which were already having an effect. Although there had been a long standing idea that attempts to regulate motoring by means of preceding the machines with a person holding a red flag to avoid frightening the horses had been abandoned long before as absurd, the truth was that, outside of the cities little attention had been given to problems of road safety. The general feeling of many people using the Arterial Road, passing as it did through a predominantly rural area, must have been that of freedom from regulation. Initially, apart from needing a licence for run a vehicle on the public roads, motorists were not required to provide any evidence that they were capable drivers. Furthermore, although so far not officially graded, the Southend Arterial Road, by virtual of both its straightness and duality, was clearly a “Main Road” which demanded of itself a “higher” priority than the “lesser” roads with which it intersected. This latter view was greatly encouraged by organisations like the CTC and the RAC who, together with the later formed “ Automobile Association” (The AA) erected, for not only their own membership, but for all and sundry, “helpful” wayside signs. These signs, like those reading “Give Way Ahead” or “Halt at Major Road Ahead” or others giving warnings of the need to reduce speed for particular hazards (usually specified) became commonplace long before they received official approval and, ultimately, legal authority. Paradoxically, the AA owed its origin to an attempt to thwart Authority’s one and only attempt so far to act in a censorious manner. An official restriction having been placed on the maxim speed of motor vehicles (twenty miles per hour) the AA’s first “patrolmen” (on bikes) were expected to warn drivers of any approaching speed traps, a practice that, when it was legally challenged, led to the introduction of membership badges being attached to the front of cars. The Association expected its members to stop and enquire of the patrols why that had not received a salute of acknowledgement of their membership!
The presence of the police constable on duty at the “New Fortune” reflected the fact that Laindon’s linear High Road had been bisected by the route adopted for the Arterial Road between Dunton Wayletts and the Nevendon Road east of Basildon. In fact, the construction of the road successively divided the parish of Laindon into two distinct areas, one north, the other south, of the Arterial Road. At the time of its construction, the development in the area was just beginning to expand but no regard of that fact was given by the road planners with the result that this division persists to this day. This actual division arose because the A127’s route traversed the irregularly shaped parish of Laindon at its widest point east to west. Thus, in its way, Laindon in particular, has become something of a notable focus point on the journey between London and Southend, a point that was quickly observed by the Brewers who, despite having sited their “Halfway House” at West Horndon, made sure also that their scene of operations was moved from the “old” Fortune of War to adjacent to the police patrolled intersection of the High Road. Here they had a much larger new “road house” constructed to deal with the extra business that ensued as a result. It is a reflection of changing attitudes that while the “Halfway House” still exists, the “Fortune of War” has now been demolished.
As much as supervising the movement of motor vehicles at the crossing, particularly of coach bearing seaside parties who, invariably, seemed to be insistent on “convenience stops” regardless whether they were going or coming back, the policeman on duty was required to supervise the safe passage of pedestrians to and from Laindon High Road. Most of Laindon’s commercial activity lay south of the Arterial Road although some was rapidly established along its length for reason of both convenience and because it was encouraged to do so by virtue of the fact that land adjacent to that taken up by the road became available for development. This latter attribute led to a new planning phenomenon known as “ribbon development”. In much the same way as the properties built along Laindon High Road (a mix of residences and commercial undertakings) had been encouraged by an already existent road so the new constructs like bypasses and arterial roads did the same, particularly those running close to already existent developments.
In particular, this effect can be seen at the western end of the A127 where commerce and homes closely line both sides of the A127 east of Gallows Corner and much the same process took place at Laindon. The installation of a properly paved road running at right angles to the district’s main thoroughfare and cutting its way through those parts that were well within the confines of the area designated for future development was too much for the land agents to resist. In consequence plots adjacent to the new road were sold like hot cakes and for some seventy or so families “Southend Arterial Road” became their new postal address. Several commercial undertakings also positioned themselves adjacent to the road; firms like SX Tools, Keepdry Dartboards, Cole’s Motor Bodies as well as café’s and the inevitable filling station and vehicle maintenance undertakings. Oh, and the renowned “Bon-bon” Factory was also amongst this congregation!
In addition to this example of the manner in which “Ribbon Development” became a reality as far as Laindon was concerned, the Arterial Road also became either the only or the best means of gaining access to several other developments. West of the “Fortune of War”, the habitations built in Kings Road , Kings Crescent, Queens Road, Latimer Drive and Chesham Drive were all most conveniently accessible from off the north side carriageway of the main road. On the south side of the Arterial Road, Victoria Crescent containing some dozen habitations was (officially) only accessible from the London bound carriageway. To the East of the “Fortune”, two roads, Dove’s Avenue and Rusticana Crescent, were turnings straight off the dual carriageway southwards and northwards respectively. Of these “estate roads”, Rusticana Crescent in particular is known to have had official recognition of its existence because it was “adopted” by the Billericay UDC and recommended for road “make-up”. These facts about the uses to which the A127 was put in the Laindon area called into question in the eyes of the local community, the relative “importance” of the A127 in juxtaposition to that of the High Road it bisected.
By the mid-1930s history began to repeat itself. The somewhat free-for-all manner in which the motor vehicle as well as the Southend Arterial Road had been regarded by all and sundry, especially by the motoring fraternity, was demanding action on the part of the government. What was being revitalised was the urgent need to regulate traffic matters but as it turned out this proved to be a rather cumbersome affair involving a process of trial and error. As in the nineteenth century with the laissez faire attitude that had been taken with railway development it was a case of action only occurring when events made it clear that remaining inactive would not suffice. The strict rules and regulations that had been introduced and which controlled the safe working of the Railway Industry had only come about following a series of incidents, many involving fatalities. These had been officially enquired into and resulting regulations being imposed by law. In contrast, measures designed to “improvement” in road safety tended to be only on an ad hoc manner, that is on an as and when basis only when their need became so blatantly obvious the need could be ignored no longer. The introductions of these “rules of the road” occupied many minds for much of the latter half of the twentieth century and still continue to do so.
Because accidents loomed high when it came to the question of what should be done to regulate traffic upon the roads (first recorded fatalities in the UK involving an automobile accident was in 1899 at Harrow, Middlesex), no attempt had been made to retain records and publish such accident figures until 1926. Had WW1 not intervened in 1914, no doubt the interest in road building and improvement engendered in 1913 might have highlighted the associated problems associated with “progress” much sooner. As it was, however, the war period had led to a considerable advancement in the production of vehicles leading to faster speeds and a greater increase in car ownership all of with which was coupled with that euphoric feeling that has led to the 1920s being regarded as a period of gay and reckless abandon. As a result it was a considerable shock to a great number of people when it was revealed in 1926 that road causality figures for the UK were running at 7,000 per year and rising. (The worst figure was in 1941 when it reached 9,000 aggravated by the ‘blackout’ necessitated by the outbreak of WW2). Clearly something had to be done.
As part of the study in 1913 of the state of the UKs roads and the decision made to make improvements like bypasses and arterial roads a system of classification had been devised which, in effect, graded the countries roads according to their usefulness for the various communities they served. Although entirely bureaucratic for the purpose of assessing the varying costs of making improvements, the system became known to the makers and publishers of the maps that the travelling community were demanding. As a result the road numbering system which is now used on a widespread basis came into being and the Southend Arterial Road is now universally and conveniently known as the A127. Conversely, by exactly the same process the road from Billericay to Horndon-on-the Hill known to us now as “High Road” which dissected the A127 at the new “Fortune of War” became the B1007. Thus, by this simple system the relative importance of the two was immediately apparent to those who used them. No longer could the people of Laindon claim that their High Road was just as important as the Arterial Road.
As the increasing number of accidents on the road had become public knowledge it is axiomatic that the whole matter of road safety was bound to become a political matter. The prospect of the need for regulation being applied to road vehicles was not entirely unrecognised because, as I have indicated earlier, motor vehicles were already restricted to a maximum speed of twenty miles an hour. The problem with this was that by the last years of the 1920s far higher speeds could very easily be reached and, with only rudimentary means of measuring speed available to the police, it was proving very difficult to secure convictions of those who ignored the rules. Accordingly, when an enquiry set up under a Labour administration to enquire into the relationship between speed and road safety reported in 1929, it led to the Road Traffic act of 1930 which, paradoxically, abolished all speed restrictions on the grounds that the widespread ignoring of the 20mph restriction brought the law into disrepute. However, at the same time, it became a legal requirement for all vehicles to be fitted with correctly calibrated and working speedometers. When in 1931, Herbert Morrison who had been Transport Minister in 1930, was replaced by Leslie Hoare-Belisha after a Conservative government had been formed, a new restriction of a maximum speed of 30 mph applying in built up areas only was re-introduced. This was followed a few years later by (in 1935) the instigation of what have ever since been known as “Belisha Beacons”, the indication of a point on the road, marked out by studs (now black and white stripes)upon which pedestrians have priority over vehicles.
Another recommendation made in 1929 that was taken up in 1931 was the official introduction of what is still referred to as the “Highway Code”, a list of an admixture of rules and advisory instructions with regard to the use of the roads by all citizens whether in vehicles, on cycles or on foot. This Code, which subsequently has been frequently updated in response to changing circumstances and by which all road users must abide, carries the weight of law in that it is taken into consideration at any infraction of its content. Out of its introduction rose in 1935 the concept of conducting a test by accredited representatives of the State into the ability of would-be drivers of mechanized vehicles and the issuing of a certificate of fitness of competence to that end, in other words “The Driving Test”.
Despite their introduction, for the majority of residents of the Laindon/Langdon Hills community, the rules of the road, initially, meant very little, simply because the majority of the district’s roads were incapable of taking motor traffic and there was a general absence of cars in the district. Nevertheless, the crossing of the B1007 by the A127 remained a headache for pedestrians as well as for the handful of motorists living in the district. In particular, there were many of the district’s school children whose homes were positioned on the north side of the ever increasingly dangerous A127 who were continuously presented with a crossing headache in reaching school since all of these lay on the south side. Roads, or, in particular, the “unmade state” of them was so deeply ingrained in the minds of the local community and so often the focus of attention that the question of the threat to the district’s children’s safety that the A127 presented was just one other item on the agenda during any discussion that took place over what needed to be done. Such discussions were, in any case, often contradictory by nature. On the one hand there was a general agreement in the district that Laindon and its environs’ roads were, for the children, the safest in the country and few parents nursed qualms about allowing their progeny to roam freely and without supervision upon them while, at the same, there was a general feeling of deprivation engendered by the fact that seeking to own a motor vehicle was a fruitless exercise if there were no roads upon which to drive it!
Notwithstanding, late in the 1930s a petition was organised by the community on the question of the erection of a footbridge adjacent to the new “Fortune of War” to enable people to cross the A127 in greater safety. The fact that in 1936 the status of the Southend Arterial Road had been elevated to that of a “Trunk Road” and, therefore had become the responsibility of Central Government meant that any decision on the petition’s content was delayed and, in the event, was not acted upon until the late 1940s, that is, post WW2. For that reason, it is not clear if the provision of the footbridge was a belated response to the petition or, in fact, just one of the many “improvements” to the A127, the local roads and the district in general that came about as a result of the War. So many things that reflect earlier concerns about road transport began to change and improve in a short period mid twentieth century that it is increasingly difficult to apportion the reasons for such improvements. Not least of these motivations was the considerable increase in pressure on the use of the A127 due to the big growth of individual car ownership that occurred in the 1960s.
In 1935, legislation had been passed which had placed a prohibition on further so called “ribbon development” taking place. This posed particular problems for those of the town planners who were given the task of absorbing Laindon and its district into the New Town of Basildon when that project was designated in 1946. This was especially the case with regard to those existing properties that fronted the A127. Both this road, and the A13 which passed through Pitsea and Vange on the south eastern fringe of the New Town’s designated area, had been included as relevant entities within the redevelopment area. Since it was not considered wise to have what were essentially primary avenues of communication between cities running through residential areas, the principle was well established that bypasses should be constructed accordingly. While the problems of the existing A13 was partially “solved” by the road being almost entirely realigned further to the south of the New Town, the A127 was not considered worthy of any diversion at all with consequences that remains a persistent headache. This can only be regarded as an serious error on the part of the planners particularly as the published master plan of the New Town clearly indicates the A127 skirting the northern boundary of the town. Although that plan has, over time, been much modified it seems particularly perverse to have allowed considerably greater development to take place in the area immediately to the north of the A127 in defiance of the bypass principle.
Following the end of WW2, the second half of the twentieth century saw a massive increase in adjustment to the road network throughout the UK which was matched coincidentally as it progressed by an equally massive growth in the number of motor vehicles using it. It was as though there was a race between the road improvers and the vehicle users. Every road “improvement” seemed to have a magnet like attraction for a greater use to be made of that new facility. A number of so called “improvements”, it was discovered, had to be further improved when the original development attracted so much additional use that the primary objective of overcoming congestion was defeated. This situation arose with the A127. The earliest of the developments that were introduced was occasioned by the need to do something about the extremely dangerous number of cross roads that had been created by its initial construction. It had proved impossible to close off more than a tiny handful of these due to the need to retain the means by which local traffic could cross. A deliberate policy of closing only the intersection between the two lanes of the A127 was introduced which meant there was a need for a number of local diversionary roads had to be provided. These closures were reinforced by the later installation of heavy duty crash barriers along the majority of the A127’s length. Since local traffic joining the main road in the face of fast moving traffic had always represented a particular problem, a number of acceleration lanes had to be introduced some of which eroded the already existent cycle track which was not replaced and began to fall into total disuse.
In answer to the congestion that arose at local level at the remaining crossroads because of the increase in traffic on feeder roads like the B1007, a system of roundabouts was introduced. Initially, this idea was so revolutionary a concept that little improvement took place simply because the question of priorities at major roads had become so ingrained that local traffic remained continuously disadvantaged until such time as a specific regulation or rule was introduced which specified that traffic approaching a roundabout should give way to traffic from the right. The introduction of this “new” rule was, at the time, something of a remarkable example of how so many people could be re-educated in their conduct by mass appeal through signage and advertisement.
The crossing of the B1007 at the “Fortune of War” was one such site for this experiment. Unfortunately, as with the roundabout system introduced elsewhere such as at the A127/A128 crossroads (“Halfway House”), the volume of traffic on the A127 remained so high, particularly at peak time that, even with the addition of traffic light control, excessive congestion persisted. The only answer to this that was eventually adopted was the expensively constructed series of graded intersections with bridges carrying roads across one and other and the provision of space consuming slip roads for diverting traffic. By coincidence, the only crossroad were this solution has not been attempted is at the “Fortune of War” and at present (2015) this roundabout, modified as it has been to become a speed reducing chicane, remains as both a monument to the past and as a persistent thorn in the sides of the motorists on the A127. Although the problem of “ribbon development” was virtually eliminated in the Laindon area as part of the redevelopment which has at the same time “solved” the unmade roads problem, some of the initial properties adjacent to and fronting on the Arterial road remain. Since the status of the A127 has of recent times been reduced as has, also, the B1007 through most of Langdon Hills and Laindon, any future attempts at rectifying the “Fortune of War” circus rest with Essex County.
In this essay I set out with the expressed purpose of showing how that which is often thought of as local to our community may often depend more on what other people with no connections to the district have done and consequently contributed to what we think of as “our” history. The main topic has been our roads and how they have affected our lives. The story I have told, however, is far from over nor is it complete. For example, the story has yet to be told on how a so called “spine” road designed to provide a link to our community with the newly created centre of the town it is now part of, came to be no longer a “link”. Similarly, how did all those residential streets and the dwellings that relied on them get created and built only to be knocked down and completely replaced a few years later? An historical explanation is called for here. Furthermore, the changes that have occurred over time, some of which I have related above, have led to a situation in which what was once a vibrant community centre, namely the High Road, exists in name only and nothing has really replaced it. This fact alone is worthy of comment.