Midwives in Laindon ( 9 of 10)

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

In 1957 work on the new bungalow in Basil Drive to replace “Cranford” was completed and I took up possession of the 1933 construction, changing its name to “Homemead” The new bungalow was then given the name “Cranford” in deference to the fact that the choice of name in 1933 had been Lillian’s, a choice based more on the sentimental relationships of her youth and courtship with that part of once rural Middlesex rather than with any literary associations with Mrs Gaskell’s novel of that name. In similar regard, “Homemead” was chosen on the basis (incorrect, as it was later learned) that many fields close to farmsteads were often so named and it was certainly the case that the vast majority of dwellings in the Laindon district were individually identified by the name chosen by their owner, a fact that was not only confusing to the postal service but also of considerable ingenuity on the part of the name devisers. “Dunroaming” and “Restawhile” may proliferate but the vast variety of chosen names could well be worthy of a special study. Otherwise, how can a strange composition of a name like “Orterav” be explained away?

In 1957 the renamed “Cranford” became the scene of another home birth, that of my youngest daughter, Helen. By 1957 the commonplace had, consequent upon the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS), become hospital births. Both daughters Jill (1956) and Jean (1957) had been born in the maternity wing of St. Andrew’s hospital at Billericay. It is not now exactly clear what the particular motivation was that encouraged Barbara Bathurst, the writer’s wife, to depart from the by then established norm and elect for a home birth but I am personally indebted to her for doing so. My reasons for saying this are directly linked to the circumstances I outlined in an earlier paragraph in this essay when I related how the whole question of childbirth and the ailments peculiar to women had been treated as taboo to the male sex of earlier generations. It was as though, after WWII and in particular following on the establishment of the NHS, there was a complete reversal of attitudes in the minds of the general public. Rather than leaving the expectant father pacing up and down outside the labour ward sweating in anticipation of the outcome of what was happening, mysteriously, behind closed doors, there was a very distinct change of attitude by all concerned that led to father being welcomed to not only witness the event itself but to actually take as active a part in the whole process as was possible.

Thus it was in the December of 1959, I, who had never previously witnessed a live birth other than on film, was present in the same room as that that my brother had been born in in 1937 to see his niece, Helen, born with the expert assistance of the one of the local midwives of the time. To my lasting regret I am unable to recall the name of this clearly competent woman (everything about the birth was straightforward) but I do recall the fact that she stated at the time that although she had attended many births in her career she never ceased to be amazed on each and every occasion that it happened what a miraculous and almost magical moment it always was. In the circumstances of my presence there with her at the same time I could not do other than agree with her whole heartedly.

In the event, Helen was born in sufficient time for her maternal grandmother, Lillian Bathurst, to meet the last of her grandchildren since no other children were born to our Bathurst line after 1959. In 1963 Lillian was overwhelmed by the cancer that had been eating at her for more than a decade She died in St Andrew’s Hospital, Billericay and was cremated at Corbets Tey. From this time onward, the Bathurst links with Laindon began to decline quite rapidly. This was because, in the last years of the 1950s the long anticipated absorption of Laindon into the Basildon New Town was beginning to increase in pace. As has already been explained, the construction of the Laindon Link was considered to be necessary to the construction of the Basildon Town Centre and this commercial necessity was as the 50s concluded beginning to take shape. The effect on some of the occupants of the commercial businesses in Laindon High Road was immediate and at least two of them, Henbest the Tailors and Charsley’s Footwear, took steps to secure a footing in the new shopping centre. At the same time, housing development along Laindon’s eastern fringe in the Lee Chapel area was commenced and the district around Markhams Chase Primary School at which so many of Laindon’s younger children attended began to be immersed in a sea of building sites.

Just to the north of the Laindon Link road adjacent to Basil Drive, an area bounded by Leinster Road, St Nicholas Lane and Laindon High Road was designated for an experiment in high speed dwelling erection that, in the event, turned out not to be as effective as was considered it would be at the time. This was the Bluehouse Housing District also referred to as the “Siporex Estate”. Prefabricated units manufactured elsewhere from aerated lightweight concrete to a Swedish design were imported to the designated site with the idea that a basic house could be erected at the rate of one every 24 hours. The first line of these consisting of some four or five dwellings appeared adjacent to Basil Drive but remained uncompleted while fresh wage rates were negotiated. Not long after, a suspicious fire broke out in an adjacent contractor’s building, the contents of which included gas cylinders that exploded with considerable dramatic effect. The causes of this fire were never to my knowledge satisfactorily explained but suffice it to say that despite the fact that the estate was eventually completed and consisted of a series of enclaves (named “Spurriers”, ”Rising Grove”, “The Lynge”, “Northey” and “Danacre”) containing 950 dwellings, its somewhat inauspicious beginning remained as an influence on its existence. Constantly the source of complaint arising from the estate’s poor construction which required frequent remedial and reinforcing work (some occupants complained that not only could they hear their neighbours changing their minds but could actually see them doing so through gaps between dwellings!) some of which involved changing the expensive under-floor electric heating for a gas fired system, this eventually led to the whole estate being demolished in the 1990s and being replaced by totally new buildings constructed by the traditional method. The enclaves that resulted were all renamed with monikers like Parsonage Lane, Ministry Road, Pilgrims Way, Chancel Close, Spire Road, Vestry Close, Cathedral Drive, Chantry Lane and Deacon Drive. These names bear little relationship to what had existed before, presumably having all been chosen from the “Boy Estate Developer’s Best Book of Street Names”.

9 of 10

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