Lovely Laindon (Part 6)
"The Builders" (Continuing the theme of "how is it you became a Laindoner?")
When, some dozen years or so after Laindon Station became the focal point of the expanding township of Laindon, Langdon Hills , Dunton and Lee Chapel, Walter Birtley set off around the district he had been allocated by the Home Office as ”his” area for the task of “taking” the census, he found he had to visit no less than 99 dwellings, only 6 of which were unoccupied at the time. At that time (1901) the greatest concentration of homes were concentrated in the Laindon Common area, presumably because of the close proximity of Billericay, and the employment opportunities that the town provided.
The remainder of the homes in Mr Birtley’s district was widely, scattered with a number of farms apparently rubbing along just about managing to survive. Mr. Helmore and his family were living at Manor Farm just off the High Road and, since he was an aspiring developer of the newly acquired fields around him upon which he had marked out on his recently published “plan” of new roads given names like “New Century”, “Worthing”, “Somerset” and “Victoria” he was, presumably, keenly awaiting for the many house and shop “plots” he had indicated to be “taken up” and built on. However, Walter Batley’s returns to his superiors clearly indicate (unless the enumerator was too lazy to explore) that by 1901 very little had developed, and that only the previously well stabled thoroughfare like School Road (now Church Road), Wash Road and Noak Hill showed any sign of recent additions to the dwellings they contained. “Laindon High Road”, as such, was non-existent in as much as no body lived along it, so nobody, it would seem, considered it worthy of such an exalted name! Several of the unoccupied dwellings on census day were linked to the “Station Estate” where the only recognisable street names being used were Windsor and Buckingham Roads, that new cinder covered link for wheeled vehicles between Blue House Farm and Laindon Station, created to expedite the proceeds of the farm to a wider public.
Much the same appears to apply in Langdon Hills where a Mr Wheaton took the census, visiting 70 properties to do so. Only one of these was declared unoccupied, the “big” house named “Goldsmiths” where everybody, the bigwig owner and his serving staff, were “away” on census night. The biggest concentration of occupied properties were in Dry Street were it is possible to detect that several of the inhabitants were employed on the adjacent brick making establishment. As in Laindon, “High Road, Langdon Hills” was non-existent as a location and, the future township’s incumbent developer was Henry Foulger living then at Nightingale Farm with many of his neighbours living in “Oxford Street, the name by which the present day Lee Chapel Lane is best known.
As far as the peripheries of the future Laindon/Langdon Hills townships of the “Plotlands “ era is concerned, the parish of Lee Chapel is no more than one farm of that name. That part of Little Burstead upon which Laindon Station had been constructed which, due to the surviving quirks of administration, had to have yet a different enumerator exploring its mysteries, yields up just the string of cottages to the west of the station built to accommodate the “servants”, ie members of staff of the London Tilbury and Southend Railway Company. Because the house built for the benefit of the station master and town agent at the eastern end of the station and booking hall is so close to the actual boundaries of the parishes, its true location in Little Burstead must have so confused those administrators devising the census and it was, in fact, Wally Birtley, the Laindon enumerator, who notes that it is George Chapman who is the SM in 1901, living alone with his childless wife, Florence, in that year. The fact that the number of people living in the eight cottages of which the terrace of railway houses was composed was 49 (26 males, 23 females) suggests that the small parade of shops adjacent that were to form the nucleus of Laindon’s future shopping street had potential custom, a fact, no doubt, pleasing to Elijah Collings who had been doing his utmost to encourage this “new” Laindon to emerge. It is significant, however, that even as late as 1911 that it had not become customary to speak of the road that ran past these shops as “High Road”, and, even when it did become a customary practice, there was a period in which there was an apparent lack of agreement about calling the thoroughfare a “Road” or a “Street” that lasted until such time as the former became the norm.
Not surprisingly, then, that there are so few a number included in the census of 1901 who can be linked to what might appear obvious as the most important business associated with to an expanding community; namely the building trade. One of the two names of people listed in the Laindon area who make any claim to be thought of as builders was a Henry Budgen of Nelson Road. As Nelson Road was a turning off Basildon Road very close to the eastern boundary of Laindon parish with that of Basildon and as Budgen’s residence is recorded as “Mafekin Cottage” there is every reason to think that he, described as “joiner and builder and employer” might well have been an early arrival of the many who chose to a act in that capacity in the area over the years. The name, “Mafekin” redolent of the Boer War and the relief of the South African town of that name in May 1900 suggests that this was a new build and that Budgen would go on to build further properties and develop the district. The only drawback to that suggestion is that this particular part of the Laindon parish remained comparatively under developed until absorbed into the Basildon New Town Industrial Estate.
The other Laindon resident happy to be recorded simply as a builder and employer was a Francis Webster living in Church Road. Apart from these two names, other persons whose trades link them to the building trade, include bricklayers labourers (5), Carpenters (1) and painters and decorators (2). Are all listed in the census although the overall numbers involved are no more than might be expected in a community of such a size. No evidence has been found to suggest anybody was doing business in the district merchandizing the needs of house building, so it is possible to divine that there was insufficient building of new properties taking place in the district to justify speculative involvement in that activity.
Within a decade, however, evidence emerges that matters had begun to change. James Henry Parkinson (Jnr) has set up in business as Builder’s Merchant with Frederick Alfred Fordham and Mansfield and Son in Laindon and Charles Thomas Johnson in Langdon Hills acting as builders, clearly letting it be known they are ready to build to any client’s wishes. Even humble Lee Chapel, previously seemingly devoted only to agriculture, has its own builder, Robert Simmons together with Alfred James Potter as its bricklayer. The only snag, however, the Great War from 1914 to 1918 interrupts proceedings and the impetus must have slowed right down, taking to the early 1920s to pick up again. However, one side effect of the period of interruption caused by WW1 was the fact that it brought a degree of moderate prosperity to many in the population of east London, particularly among those whose type of work had protected them from the rules of conscription imposed in 1916. The longer working hours and supplemented wage levels introduced as part of the war effort, coincided in many cases with a degree of improvement in working hours and the granting of holidays with pay. This was an inducement to many families to give serious consideration to the blandishments of the land agents, as a result of which by the early 1920s more and more building plots in Laindon were being taken up, either to be used as weekend retreats or as new permanent residences “in the country”.
As the result of this renewed interest, by 1923, the Carey Brothers, Messrs Churchill Johnson, W. N. King, La’Plain and Son, T. E .Collings and Sidney Simmons are all advertising that they are all in business as Building Merchants, ready to supply the builders of the district (public or private) with whatever materials they required. Of these advertisers, the Carey Brothers and Churchill Johnson were to remain in business through to the time and beyond that Laindon became merged into the Basildon New Town development. Sidney Simmons, an East Ham firm, never actually set up in business locally, being happy to arrange delivery from its home base. Churchill Johnson made much of the fact that they had easy access to the railway at Laindon Wharf next to Laindon Station, the significance of which began to decline as goods conveyed by rail began to decline as well with the result that railway wagons containing bricks manufactured in the brickworks at Cranham Sidings were being replaced by road vehicle loads of flettons etc. which came from Peterborough direct to the building site. Churchill Johnson’s sawmills at Vange Wharf continued to shape timber floated by barge along the creek off the River Thames, however.
Messrs T. E. Collings, never became “big” as a building trade merchant, being quite happy to supply the individual shoppers with the nuts and bolts, nails and tacks etc. that they might require along with many other forms of ironmongery in their oil shop, surviving finally by stocking paints, varnishes and wallpapers for the DIY era of the 1970s and 80s. W.N. King, who, in 1923, was based in Oxford Street, Langdon Hills which was the name by which Lee Chapel Lane was then known had no actual merchandize to sell but acted, instead, as an agent for various London based suppliers. The builder’s merchant trading as La’Plain was somewhat unusual. It was, in fact, a Woodford firm and had a yard in Laindon High Road on the corner of Worthing Road that was open only on Saturdays and Sunday mornings. The yard was stocked with recovered but perfectly re-usable materials, like doors and window frames, which had been obtained from the vast slum clearances taking place in London. This made the yard a haven for self builders who were happy to often obtain what they required at considerably less cost than when bought new. J. H. Parkinson, who before the war had been happy to advertise as Builder’s Merchant, had by 1923 been happy to restrict his activities to those of an estate agent.
In response to the post war expansion in business, the number of building firms in the area in the 1920s has increased, so that F,A. Fordham, C.T. Johnson and, possibly, Henry Budgen are now joined by names like Hussey and Crabb in Lee Chapel Lane, Langdon Hills, D. Jones on the “Rusticana Estate”, Laindon High Road, F. Patrick in Leicester Road and Alf Palmer in the Wash and Church Road area. At the beginning of the 1920s Mansfield and Son are still in business in Sandringham Road, off Windsor Road but, as that part of Station Estate, Laindon, began to expand, their business became “Mansfield’s Posters” and continued in that vein for many years.
By the early 1930s the names of the builder’s merchants have been swelled by adding Donald and Leslie & Co. in Laindon High Road, B. Peters in Durham Road, Laindon and the AMA (what did those initials stand for?) in the yard in Laindon High Road which was, until recently, occupied by Ashton’s. The number of building firms also increased although not all of such advertised their businesses, many preferring to rely on the Estate agents of the area to either recommend their services or sell or rent examples of their work. A roll call of Builders and associated trades advertising in the 1930s includes the following surnames although the list may not be complete: Byron, Carter, Cass, Coleby, Cullis, Fordham, Goff, Hussey and Crabb, Lane, Malthouse, Palmer, Robinson, Sherill, Stubbs, Tyler and Wellesley. All these and possibly more moved into Laindon and its environs to help swell the population and just how one of these names, that of Albert Tyler, left a mark on Laindon that persists this day will be the subject of part 7 of “Lovely Laindon”.
(To be continued)