Lovely Laindon (Part 4)

"A Family Moves" (Continuing the theme of "how is it you became a Laindoner?")

As explained in part 3, at least one sizeable organisation in the shape of West Ham Borough Council decided that the Laindon area provided a sufficiently healthy environment in which to build a TB isolation hospital for the children of some of its citizens. However, it was not only large social organisations like borough councils that decided to act in this manner.  In the case of at least one family, and possibly many others, it was very real concerns over the children’s health that was the driving force that led to them taking up residency in Laindon. Because the extent of the advertising of the availability of property in the area, whether it be just building plots or fully fashioned dwellings, knew, from the point of view of the vendors, no boundaries, inevitably the possibilities of moving away from London came under the notice of many, One such example was as follows.

In the 1920s, the Diment family were living in Clapton Park, that part of the Borough of Hackney adjacent to the Wick and, consequent on its proximity to the River Lea, the traditional dividing line between the counties of Essex and that of Middlesex and also the traditional dividing line between the East End of London and East London.

By virtue of both its geographical position and the climate of the British Isles, the East End of London has, historically, attracted a considerable number of the more obnoxious and socially undesirable industries within its confines. While the upper reaches of the River Lea came to serve as the source of much of the drinking water of the city, the lower reaches were well placed to serve as a convenient overflow for many of the commercial activities of the River Thames.  The phenomenally fast expansion of the population of the whole London area in the 19th century saw an accompanying increase in the type and variety of crafts, industries and businesses that complimented and provisioned that population and many of the less desirable of these became concentrated in the East End, eventually spilling over into that area of what is now alluded to as Metropolitan Essex. This concentration embraced industries whose by-products and methods of manufacture were often particularly obnoxious, like that of glue making or leather tanning, both notable for the fact that they were, in turn, by-products of the butchery trade. This was, perhaps, a not inevitable consequence of the fact that the marshes on the eastern banks of the Lea had long served as a means of fattening cattle as a prelude to slaughter. With the prevailing wind from the south west, the resulting fumes from these and other noxious industries like dye and paint manufacture were dissipated to the east, a situation that must have been to the total satisfaction of the Burghers of the City while those expanding boroughs further east found little with which to recommend the situation.

Responding to the demands of the Metropolis’s expanding population, the Borough of Hackney had become a centre for the furniture industry and much of the servicing of that industry became concentrated on the lower reaches of the Lea.  Many of these services were labour intensive and, by their nature, placed low in the wages scale the overall effect of which was a general lowering in social standing of the area in inverse ratio to its expanding and heavily concentrated population. The inevitable consequence of this social development followed the same pattern as elsewhere. Overcrowding led to an increase in poverty and, as the district declined, so standards of hygiene declined with it and the spreading of infectious diseases became rampant, outstripping the efforts of those tasked with keeping it under control. The expansion of the sewer system, while it had greatly reduced the risks of the major epidemics of diseases like cholera, however had done little to reduce the effects of diseases like TB, Scarlet Fever, Diphtheria, Poliomyelitis and these scourges that afflict childhood, Chicken Pox, Measles, Mumps and Rubella, all of which would have to await the slow advance of the knowledge of medical science for the arrival of fully effective combative drugs.

Although in no way confined to any particular area of the capital, inevitably in a district like Clapton Park in Hackney the risk attached to these diseases seemed to be more acute and it is no surprise that the Diment family regarded themselves at risk as long as the continued to reside in the area. The consideration of moving out was brought to a head when William who had recently started at school fell victim for the second time to Scarlet Fever and, with his older siblings who had also falling victim it seemed almost as if the family were being singled out for special attention when it came to being apportioned misfortunes. While, in retrospect, this was clearly not the case, it is exceedingly difficult to explain to a small child the reasons why certain actions are being taken, particularly if those actions are deemed at the time to be in the child’s best interests and some lasting effects arising from that action may ensue. In the 1920s, given the circumstances of predominant medical understanding of the time and the circumstances of the severity of the illness, it continued to remain customary to isolate victims of infectious disease, removing them to what was considered to be a safer environment, although, often, there was no guarantee that that environment could not be merely a further source of cross infection.

A large number of cases from the London area were treated in like manner and, since 1905, Dartford in North Kent had been chosen as a suitable location sufficiently distant and, at the same time, easily accessible by a means also sufficiently isolated from the general public. At Dartford a whole complex of hospitals, ranging from the Smallpox Camps and what was known as the River Hospitals located in vessels moored on the river to the large purpose built collection of interconnected wards known as Joyce Green had been constructed to which affected patients of all types and of all ages could be conveyed by what had grown up to be a river ambulance service operating from the piers of the River Thames within the city direct to a landing stage at Dartford. The young members of the Diment family were conveyed to Dartford by this means and confined within the Joyce Green hospital, a vast where the routine was based on the administration of a combination of rest and fresh air. This was done in total disregard of the traumatic effect that such separation of very young children from their families and the environment with which they were most familiar might have.It was also done in disregard of the weather, since patients spent a great deal of their time languishing in the open outside of the respective wards to which they had been assigned.

Presumably on the basis that since so many patients arrived at Dartford were found to be verminous then all such should be so regarded and incoming patients were divested of the clothes in which they had been committed and provided with a suitable “uniform” which, in the late 20s was described as being of “Derby Tweed” presumably on the basis that providing an outfit of a robust nature would provide some degree of protection from any inclement weather experienced while enduring the kill or cure regime that prevailed. Given the young age and level  of understanding, the isolation and the fact that once incarcerated, patients were allowed no visitors, the fact that, with time, patients recovered and returned home probably owes far more to the fortitude of the human determination to srvive in adversity than it does to medical science.

Their survival of this particular ordeal, was, unhappily, marred by the death of an older sibling, Lillian, during a diphtheria epidemic; a tragedy that represented the final straw for the whole family and set in course the actions that would take them away from the environment that was, to all intents and purposes, the basic cause of their misfortunes. Notwithstanding the fact that living at Clapton Park was, from the point of his commuting to his place of employment, (he worked for as a constructional engineer at the Paddington Ironworks) reasonably convenient, William Diment Snr., realising that the health of his children had to be more important, decided to explore the possibilities of moving to a healthier environment. Despite being well aware that he, personally, would be inconvenienced by the fact that an additional hour would be added to his commuting time, the possibility of moving away from Hackney to Laindon was given serious consideration when what was being offered, as exemplified by local advertisements, might well be within his means, he went ahead and explored the possibilities. What happened is best described in William Diment’s son, Bill’s, own words.

“We came to view [what was on offer at Laindon] at the end of 1927 and Alf Palmer (A.E. Palmer, one of several speculative builders active in the area at the time) met us at Laindon station with his little two-seater car, a Morris, which had an open air dickey seat in the back. We travelled down to the new Arterial Road, which, at the time, was still only a single lane, to what had become known as the Palmer Estate, on land that had previously been owned by the Church of England around the Wash Road, Pound Lane and School Lane area. The building up of Martindale Avenue and Royston Avenue of Wash Road was getting well underway at the time. I believe Palmer had started developing in and around the few made up roads in the early part of the 1920s and Royston and Martindale were new ventures. Even to this day, Martindale remains “un-adopted”, its original concrete road still being that as laid down by Mr Palmer. Alf Palmer himself lived in one of the nice detached bungalows that lined the Arterial Road known as “Knob’s Row”. These stretched along as far as Summerhill  (at the junction with Harding Elm Road) and the dwellings were the homes of such local entrepreneurs as Bert Malthouse, one of the first shopkeepers to open in Basildon New Town, the Sizers, Arthur L Cole, of the vehicular bodybuilder works (brother of E K Cole of the Ecko Works, Southend), Charlie Brown of Gale and Brown Accountancy still in business and the redoubtable Mrs Violet Hauser. Having seen what was on offer my father bought the semi-detached bungalow and we moved in at Laindon in 1928. I still live in the same building and one of the strange features relating to the property built on a 30 foot building line and contained in its deeds is that I am not allowed to have a roundabout or carousel in my front garden!”

(Editorial Note: “Knob’s Row”; The construction of properties fronting on to roads that, like the Southend Arterial Road, had been constructed specifically for motor transport, became known as “Ribbon Development”. The construction of such roads were seen as an opportunity by some speculative property developers to expand without the need to provide the accompanying civil engineering, a process that continued until the wider implications were realised and legislation was introduced in the shape of more constrained planning regulations. The ribbon development that had occurred adjacent to the A127 represented a major headache for the planners of Basildon New Town and for the Essex County roads authorities who were faced by the need to upgrade the road and at the same time preserve its integrity as a feeder to both the New Town and the remainder of area, the Borough of Southend and its hinterland in particular. So far the answer to that headache has led to the demolition of most if not all of the bungalows that formed “Knob’s Row”. However, other headaches associated with the upgrading persist because the obvious solution of diverting the A127 northward around the built up area from Dunton Wayletts in the west to North Benfleet in the east has so far been avoided. In the meantime, all the roads that once linked the southern part of the parish of Laindon with its northern reaches remain absurdly severed. JCB)

(I am indebted to Mr W H Diment of Church Road, Laindon for his assistance in the preparation of this essay JCB)

(To be continued)

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