Midwives in Laindon ( 7 of 10)

Some thoughts on the manner in which attitudes can be altered by changing circumstances

The spirit that seemed to bind the pre-WWII Laindon community together, composed, as it has been argued above, composed of not only neighbourliness but of a sharing of comparatively simple and inexpensive pleasures persisted throughout the period of WWII and into the first decade of the post war period. It even survived the onslaught on that intrinsic spirit when there was a considerable increase in the size of population caused by “refugees” fleeing the assault on the capital during the worst stages of the war. This was most probably due to the fact that many of the wartime “incomers” already had their weekend base in the area. As a result, there was little or no falling off of any of the old alliances and it is fair to say that right up and to the 1960s that same single minded sense of “belonging” persisted. However, in that latter period a veritable sword of Damocles overhung the area in the shape of the Basildon New Town Development, a presence that slowly and inevitably began to exert its influence and serve to erode that spirit.

It is virtually impossible to prove that any deliberate policy was invoked by the Commission for the New Towns or the Basildon Development Commission to overcome any opposition that may have existed in the Laindon area to the idea of the district being absorbed into Basildon. Certainly, general opposition to the idea had been forcefully expressed within the designated Basildon New Town area when the official announcement was made by the 1945 to 1950 Atlee government and most of that opposition seemed to centre on Laindon, Langdon Hills and Dunton. Was it a response to this fact that a decisive decision was then made to concentrate the initial development on the eastern half of the designated area and leave Laindon and district to stew in its own juice for the time being? Certainly, it became clear from subsequent events that it was in Vange, Pitsea, Basildon and Nevendon that the first major developments took place, resulting in a considerable influx of new residents to the area, a new expanding population that often expressed concerns about their pioneering position and their unhappiness at the lack of provision of those factors that go to make up a viable community. It was from this district that the concept emanated that such a thing as “The New Town Blues” should exist.

As far as Laindon was concerned, right through the 1950s and much of the 1960s, to many there appeared little difference in what had existed both pre-war and during WWII. Old alliances still persisted although for some there may have been a sense of anticipation in the air. The friendship between Lillian Bathurst and Maude Burling (now Maude Burgess following a re-marriage), cemented by the latter’s midwifery function in 1937, continued and the writer recalls that, at the end of the war, he visited her home at “Barrington”, New Century Road, in order to purchase a bicycle, complete with drop-down handlebars and three speed derailleur gearing to up-grade his existing machine, having been informed such a second-hand machine was available at a reasonable price. As it turned out, the owner of the “for sale” bicycle was Nicholas Smith, who, as I understood it, was the youngest son (the other was Leonard) of the proprietor of what was, effectively, the most southerly of the shops in the long, long line of retail businesses that stretched along the High Road from the old “Fortune of War” in Laindon as far as “The Crown Hotel” at the top of Langdon Hills. The senior Smith traded as a Newsagent with a sub-post attached under the nomenclature “W H Smith” which could be confusing because, despite appearances to the contrary, there was absolutely no link with the nation-wide business that traded under the same name! His shop was situated on the west side of the High Road, just a few yards south of the junction with Butler’s Grove. As I understood it at the time, his son, Nick, had taken up residence at “Barrington” as a consequence of the sudden death of his father, no doubt the generosity and sense of social obligation of Maude Burgess having something to do with the situation. When later re-development led to the demolition of all the High Road retail outlets, Nicholas Smith was allocated the News agency and sub-post office business at the Knares in Lee Chapel South which he continued to run until his eventual retirement. It must have been around this time that Mrs Maude Burgess formerly Burling ceased functioning as a midwife.

Quite understandably, the end of WWII in 1945 led to an atmosphere of anticipation and renewal. In the Laindon area, independent of any considerations of development following the decisions made under the New Towns act, the local authority under the guise of the Billericay Urban District Council, encouraged as all councils were by the now dominating Labour Government, embarked on an ambitious house building scheme. In Laindon, the first stages of this resulted in the King Edward Road estate much of which replaced an earlier effort to overcome the housing shortage which had resulted in an estate of pre-fabricated houses imported from the US and erected at high speed during the latter period of the war. One person who was encouraged to a certain extent by observing all this activity was Stanley Bathurst. Ever since the birth of his second son, David Michael, he had nursed the ambition of increasing the size of the bungalow (“Cranford”) he had built in 1933 in Basil Drive. The ambition was to increase the size of the second bedroom which at only approximately five foot by eight could only accommodate a single size bed. Up until the outbreak of WWII, the major setback to achieving the ambition was a general lack of funds due to frequent bouts of unemployment occasioned by the depression. This, together with his compulsory absence from Laindon due to his conscription into the Royal Corps of Signals all added to his heightened enthusiasm for getting busy again as soon as was possible after his discharge from military service.

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