Lovely Laindon (Part 8) (5 of 9)

(Chapter 5; Life in West London)

For those who have ever flown from Heathrow Airport, it must be exceedingly difficult to imagine what this now smothered part of the old County of Middlesex was like before this international air hub was created following WW2.  In an area where everything seems to be mobile not only in the air but on the ground, with hurtling road traffic on motor ways and major roads (the M4, M25, A4, A30 etc.) on either side, it is very hard to think that area was, as recently as the 1940s, very much a rural backwater. The only thing that could be said then to have excited interest was that, to the east, was Hounslow Heath, once famous for the activity of highwaymen, were mostly one lane important roads like the Great West, The Bath and the Great Southwest Roads diverged on their way westwards out of London. The  Heath itself has had longstanding military associations but apart from that, before 1925, when a Royal Flying Corps plane had had to make a forced landing, no landing wheels had touched down anywhere near the tiny agricultural hamlet of Heathrow.

Apart from the artificial river known as the Duke of Northumberland’s River constructed in the reign of Henry 8th to drive a series of watermills, the area consisted of the small villages of Bedford, Stanwell, Hatton, Longford, Cranford, Sipson, Harlington and Harmsworth all typically English and, because it was the western margin Middlesex county, the village of Colnbrook in Berkshire, should also be included. Wild life abounded in the area, aided by the creation of a reservoir to supply London’s drinking water, and the whole district was an attraction to those who enjoyed walking or tramping such rural country landscapes.

It was what suited Lillian Vickery and Stan Bathurst; walking. Apart from the cost of the wearing-away of shoe leather it was virtually cost free and this was important because as they rambled about the still rural areas of Middlesex, including the site of the future International Airport, they were planning how, if they wed, what they could do to further their family life by making a home together.  Despite both living in an area of rapid urban expansion, with the construction of which Stan, as a House Painter and Decorator, was involved, money was a perennial problem. He had served an apprenticeship among the blossoming of the new estates that had spread like a rash across much of West London’s landscape, places like Sudbury, Harrow, Rayners Lane, Ruislip, Park Royal and Acton. These were places that could be reached on foot hauling one of those old fashioned builder’s barrows complete with wooden ladders and long shaft, which small–time tradesmen used in the absence of motor transport. It was barrows of this design that were beloved of Boy Scouts to use for their Troop’s lumber, and I recall using such a barrow to get a harmonium from Laindon Church to Oliphants at the request of the Reverend Reynolds  during WW2.

To see such a barrow left in the road outside a house meant, in days past, that the householder or the landlord was “having something done”.  If it was the work was clearly a ”doing up”, then clearly the “decorators were in”. The trouble with this was that this tail-end of the building trade tended to be very small beer, and for Stan, as a journeyman who was on the payroll of a small-time contractor called Fred Buchanan, wages were a hard won struggle. The Guvnor was often full of excuses or Stan would find himself “stood off” for wet weather, or the client needed time to come up with the cash. The excuses were legion. Therefore, prospects were not good for getting a dwelling of one’s own on such a low and uncertain income.

The glimmer of a solution appeared, however, not long after Stan met his future Father and Mother-in-Law when he and Lillian visited East Ham.  Stan’s intentions towards Tom Vickery’s daughter, Lillian, his determination and expressed ambitions must have made an impression on the old man, Tom Vickery, because in the light of what ensued from that visit and the fact that I never ever heard a word or experienced anything other than accord and cooperation between the Vickerys and the Bathursts when the two families lived next door to one and other, meant Stan hit it off with Tom senior. Learning, as he did at that, and subsequent visits, about the creation of country based residences at Storrington and at Basil Drive, Laindon, plus the fact that at Laindon there were four plots of land next to “Allwood” still waiting development, Stan’s mind was made up. If he and Lillian could not afford to get a house of their own, he was going to build one for them himself.

Years later, I was investigating my father’s family background and that included in-depth interviews with my Uncles and Aunts who were Stan’s older siblings.  Stan was the youngest of Harry’s and Emily’s boys and whoever of his older brothers I spoke to, Victor, Douglas or Cecil, or his older twin sisters, Margaret and Dorothy, what impressed them all most when they were all growing up, was Stan’s ability and determination to get over what was not available to him, by sheer single minded effort on his part. If I heard the story once about the bicycle he had wanted, but could not afford, and how he assembled and rode the machine himself from bits and pieces he had either begged, borrowed or stolen, I must have heard from each and every one the same on different occasions. My father, himself, confessed that, what he best remembered about growing-up was that he always wanted to be digging holes in the earth. He was said to have ruined several of his childhood friend’s back gardens in Kensal Green when he dug holes in their attempts of creating a lawn. There clearly was born in him some natural instinct to make some sort of mark on the landscape which could be made to work to his advantage when got a piece of ground of his own.

5 of 9

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