Oddities of Laindon
Few of the contributors to these archives who remember Laindon in the 1950’s and earlier would deny that it was akin to a third world country. However great an affection we might hold for that vanished world no rose coloured glasses can deny that fact. Loos at the bottom of the garden; half a dozen made up roads with the rest mud and water for much of the year; street lighting along the High Road, St Nicholas Lane and maybe two or three others and the rest of the streets unlit and pitch black; the need to carry a torch after dark; high unemployment; low wages; one open fireplace to heat the entire bungalow; cars and refrigerators unknown; a minimal change of clothing; the Sunday roast in diminishing portions served in various guises through Wednesday, Thursday sausages, Friday fish, Saturday cold salad (in season); a bath once a week on Friday.
Yet there were a few oddities that, in retrospect, seemed out of place in such an economically challenged rural Essex village. I mention only two such oddities but perhaps other contributors can add to the list.
At the rear of the Crown, on a Saturday or Sunday evening, one could encounter an idyllic sight. In the background stretched views as far as Kent and if one could not actually see London at least one knew the general direction. All set at the top of the hill with a blue sky and patches of high white fluffy clouds. A huge oak gave some shade and, removed from the inevitable noise and traffic from the Crown bars lay an immaculate bowling green. Bowling on the green? In Laindon? Darts, snooker, football, and even cricket but bowling on the green? The players were all immaculately dressed in white from head to toe. The game proceeded at a deliberate and peaceful pace. Voices were soft and decorous with only the occasional murmured “well bowled sir.” The entire scene looked as if it belonged in an up market and better moneyed area. The pretty village of Stock perhaps. But Laindon?
In Douglas Road a few bungalows from where it joined St Nicholas Lane was a large two story house on the east side of the street. Douglas Road was an unmade road, impassable for vehicular traffic except in summer. On the east side of the road lay a series of cement stepping stones. Pedestrians hopped from one stepping stone to the next hoping to avoid the mud and water in between them. The large two story house, quite grandiose compared to its neighbours, was occupied by the Cole family. Mr Cole worked on the Stock Exchange. In what capacity I do not know. Each morning dressed in black striped trousers, black coat, tie, a bowler hat, and carrying an umbrella Mr Cole made his way to the station. Compared to the other travelers to Fenchurch Street he looked quite grand. I always assumed that Mr Cole rode in the first class carriage. I never saw him with the hoi polloi.
During the summer the Coles would sometimes have guests for the week end. I always assumed they were business associates. At the side of the Cole’s house was a large field which appeared to have been part of their property. During these guest week ends jumps would be set up in the field and horses brought out. (Where the horses came from I do not know.) Dressed in fox hunting gear, jodhpurs, boots, pink hunting coat, black cap, the group would spend the morning jumping the various obstacles stationed around the field. How incongruous! This display of upper class equestrian prowess in the middle of downmarket struck me as very odd. It was the sort of sight that one felt would be more appropriate in the Cotswolds.