Laindon and its Railway; or how the Ancient Institution of the parish was lost
The study of old maps can reveal a great deal about the history of the town or village were you live. A study of the older maps of Laindon, for instance can produce some quite interesting facts about our town. Furthermore, it is often a matter of some importance to those who might want to find out more about their family history. Those whose forbears come from Laindon will often need to keep abreast of the changes that may have occurred since they lived here.
One of the reasons for this is that the expansion of Basildon since the New Towns Act of 1946 has led to the obliteration of “old” Laindon as well as a considerable alteration to boundaries that now make up the district as opposed to those of old. For example road signs have been erected that are meant to indicate different parts in the town that bear little relation to those of the past. “Laindon East” for example is now sign-posted for a part of that parish that was in the south of Laindon. Similarly, the Tesco store at the junction of Highview Avenue and Mandeville Way is detailed on its store guide as “Basildon: Laindon Hills” despite being in the original parish of Dunton.
These sorts of “mistakes” are not new. The coming of the railway to Laindon in 1888 introduced some changes to the way people thought of the parts of Essex it passed through. Many people will be aware that the station next to Laindon on the way to Fenchurch Street in London was once known as East Horndon but which became known as West Horndon in 1948 without having moved an inch. The reason is said to be that the then Lord Petre of Thorndon Hall, Ingrave who was the owner of the land on which that station was to be built insisted on the name in addition to the fact that the station should be provided with a private waiting room and special facilities for loading and off loading his horse boxes.
The builders of the railway who were usually pretty precise in relating the naming of their stations and other structures to the topography of the area their lines ran through seem to have accepted the Baron’s strictures without demure and this may have had some influence on what happened in the Laindon area.
Those who regularly use the railway will know that after leaving West Horndon on the “down” line trains climb what is known as Dunton bank before passing through a cutting to reach Laindon Station. This bank has always been a problem for the railway companies because of its instability, a weakness that has been costly to put right and before electrification many a steam hauled train would grind to halt exhausted and unable to proceed without assistance.
On the north side of the railway at the point of entering the cutting at the top of the bank lies Dunton Park (only accessible by road off Lower Dunton Road). This is the site of what was the Dunton Farm Colony, a colony that remained in use by the destitute of Poplar right up to the close of the second world war. The colony was made famous by the actions of, among others, Joseph Fels and George Lansbury. (Grandfather of screen actress Angela Lansbury of “Murder She Wrote” fame) and had previously been Sumpners Farm. The farm was still in agricultural use when the railway first arrived and this necessitated the construction of three of what were known then to the railways as “occupation” bridges, a means by which the farmer could cross from one side of the cutting to the other.
Only two of the original bridges remain, the most westerly of these close to Sumpners farm having long been demolished and has since been virtually replaced by the modern road bridge taking Mandeville way over the railway. Of the remaining two, both now provide only a means to walk between Mandeville Way on the south side to Durham Road on the north. However, both are important as landmarks. Of these two, the most westerly marks the point at which the railway line ceases to run through the parish of Dunton and runs into, surprisingly, the parish of Little Burstead. The railway correctly marked this fact because at a point just 100 yards to the west of this bridge was a small signal box on which there was a plate for those interested in reading it that this was in Dunton East.
One night, at the height of the V2 rocket raids on Britain from the continent a V2 exploded close to the top of the railway cutting just a very short way on the east side of the bridge. For such a large explosion the damage caused was very slight. The top course of bricks on one side of the parapet was dislodged and little more than a barrow load of spoil from the embankment fell on one rail of the Southend bound track. So much for “Vorsprung durch Technik”.
The third of these three occupation bridges and the second of the two footbridges was the last railway bridge before the train running into Laindon station ran under the road bridge taking High Road over the railway. High Road is said to have once been a gated level crossing and all that was necessary when the rail tracks were first installed. No documentary or photographic evidence has, to my knowledge, come to light to support this contention. Meanwhile, the second footbridge served as a link between that portion of Little Burstead parish that was south of the railway to that part of the same parish to the north. But it was also an indication of closeness to one another of all the parishes that make up present day Laindon. To the north of the railway, Durham Road represented the southern boundary of Laindon. Similarly, on the south side of the railway, it was only a short walk into Langdon Hills.
These quirky twists and turns of the parish boundaries are clearly less important today. Time was when knowledge of them was so vital that regularly many English parishes practised the ceremony of the “beating of the bounds”. Parishes are no longer responsible for the local administration that they were when, often, the local parish priest, rector or vicar made decisions regarding the distribution of alms or charity behests. This is particularly true in Laindon where the rector of St. Nicholas, the parish church of Laindon-cum-Basildon (Laindon with Dunton since 1990) controls the purse strings of the John Puckle charity of 1617.. The somewhat bizarre parish boundaries of old that now make up the township of “modern” Laindon led to a situation that when the railway lines from London reached Laindon and a station was built, what name that station should be given. This is because although this new facility was convenient for the parish of Laindon to the north and the parish of Langdon Hills to the south (two parishes whose names have always been confused for centuries) the station when built actually straddled the boundaries of the two parishes of Little Burstead and Lee Chapel.
The choice of best name for the station must have been difficult because “Langdon Hills” was already established as a well-known beauty spot and early tourist trap. On the other hand, in order to progress towards its new Pitsea Junction, the railway developers must have been anxious to exploit their acquisition of the fields of Little Gubbins Farm on which the station had been built. The old farmhouse, speedily demolished, itself was actually situated just north of the southern boundary line of Laindon parish and was connected by a farm track to the main road now bisected by the railway. This farm track through the farmyard and onto the fields beyond was given a name “Windsor Road” and led to a series of speculative road names alongside which building “plots” were being offered for sale.
Some of the road names that were chosen reflected a general enthusiasm for the Crown and Victoria’s long occupancy of the throne. They continued in use until obliterated by the development of the New Town more than half a century later, and related to the names of royal residences; names like Balmoral, Buckingham, Osborne and Sandringham interspersed with the names of counties, Cumberland, Essex, Hertford, Kent and Rutland. At the same time, as if to reflect the aspirations of the speculators, the main road from Billericay to Horndon on the Hill and Stanford-le-Hope appears on the map for the first time with the name ”High Road”. This emphasised what was a clear wish; the “centre” of Laindon should henceforth be its commercial heart of newly constructed shops hard by the station. The township would no longer be the rambling, disconnected rural parish it once was. Much the same concept ruled to the south where High Road, Laindon became High Road, Langdon Hills.
The “Windsor” of Windsor Road that connected the hoped-for new housing estate with the High Road was chosen as the name for the Working Men’s Club constructed right beside it. In a later moment of patriotism in 1940 “Windsor” became “Winston” and remained so right into the New Town era when Windsor Road was reduced to no more than a simple footpath leading to Little Oxcroft.
When trains bound for Southend-on-Sea and Shoeburyness leave Laindon station they rattle down hill from Laindon’s high point through the extra-parochial parish of Lee Chapel . This is a parish that, if it ever had a chapel, nobody has discovered where it was. Taking its name from the two manors of East and West Lee or Ley (only West Lee Hall is extant hence Westley Heights), the parish remained under the jurisdiction of the parish of Langdon Hills despite the great bulk of it being convenient to Laindon-cum-Basildon.
Before leaving Lee Chapel parish the railway sliced its way through a grove of trees referred to as “The Plantation” Much mutilated, just a remnant of this remains today and is preserved on the south side of the track as a nature reserve between the railway and Mandeville Way. Another remnant remains south of Mandeville way parallel with Staneway. Just to the east of The Plantation the railway builders were compelled to install a level crossing to allow passage of the users of the ancient way between St Nicholas church and Corringham. This road sometimes called the “Way to Willow Park” but more recently was known as Green Lane, an extension of Markhams Chase, and ran in very nearly a straight line over the hill via Lee Chapel Farm to One Tree Hill.
In “plotlands” Laindon a general shop hard by this gated level crossing led to the crossing being known to all and sundry as Barker’s crossing. It was much in use by the people who lived on the Primrose Hill estate a little south of the railway. This included the redoubtable, horse riding, Mrs. Chataway whose rather distinctive style of dwelling in Uppercrest Road has led to the naming of the “Castle Mayne” public house in Lee Chapel South. The crossing is no more and no public right of way across the tracks exist any longer here, the New Town development having led to construction of a new road bridge adjacent to the converging Staneway, Mandeville Way and Laindon Link roads approximately 300 yards further east.
In constructing this new bridge the planners seem to have forgotten that the embankment that carries the Laindon Link to being on a level with the bridge was an artificial construction built up by spoil extracted from the east of Laindon High Road at the very beginning of the Link. Most of it was clay and when the developers built the small estate called “Winter Folly” at the east end of Hatterill they discovered that the made-up ground was unstable and were compelled to demolish some occupied dwellings.
Shortly after passing under the “new” Staneway bridge, eastbound trains pass the site of a now demolished signalbox that the railway company had, Basildon West. This was perched on an embankment at a point just west of the large car park opposite the traffic-light controlled junction of Laindon Link with Great Knightleys. Here again, the railway went a little astray because this signal box actually marked the boundary line between the parishes of Lee Chapel and Fobbing. The parish of Basildon actually lay to the east of the narrow country road called Lee Wootens Lane. This narrow country road ran from Dry Street in the south, past the lonely Fobbing Farm with its mill to link with Lee Wooton Farm (now demolished) in Lee Chapel parish and on to Brewitt’s before turning left and becoming Earl d’Essex Chase. The west end of this chase linked into Laindon parish at Markham Chase.
After crossing Lee Wootens Lane on a rather dilapidated looking bridge,(at least it was in photographs shortly before its demolition), the railway proceeded on through Basildon parish en route to Pitsea. At a time when the New Town and its railway station called “Basildon” had yet to be built, despite the distance, the people who lived in this sparsely populated and rather water logged area looked to Laindon as being the community to which they belonged. The, by now nationalised railway, was a long time resistant to building a station at Basildon’s town centre and did not concede the necessity to do so until the Ford Motor Company assisted financially in its construction in 1974 with the building of their Trafford House.
Before the construction of Basildon station, Laindon station shared with Pitsea the responsibility of providing the means of Basildon residents using the rail service. In order to do this the, then, bus service provider (Eastern National) operated a service that ran in times that coordinated with those of the train. This ran between Laindon and Pitsea stations and served Basildon Town centre and by so doing perpetuated a long standing use of the forecourt at Laindon as a bus service terminal that went back to the times of Fred Hinton, Bill Watson and (Old) Tom Webster’s buses that operated a Laindon Circular service in the 1920s. Widespread private car ownership as well as the creation of Basildon Station ended the need for this and now Laindon station is but another call on the routes of local services.
1 Not all maps, however, are reliable. The early (1678) Ogilby and Morgan map in very small scale indicates the approximate position of parishes including both Great Burstead (“Bursted mag.” and Little Burstead (“Bursted parva”), Dunton, Laindon, Langdon Hills (with what may be a mill indicated in Lee Chapel Lane), Fobbing and Basildon. The parish (ex-parochial) of Lee Chapel is omitted. No farms, manors etc are indicated with the exception of Hawkesbury Bush in Fobbing.
The larger scale and later Chapman and Andree map of 1777 (Plates XVII & XXII) Laindon appears as “Langdon Clay”and LangdonHills as Langdon Hill (no plural) and what appears to be a manor or habitation referred to as “Chapel Lee” rather than as Lee Chapel parish. Other sites indicated are Dunton Waylet (sic), South Field Farm, Whelp-pease, (Whelpers Farm, Dunton Rd.), Barley Lands, “Ponds” (Laindon Ponds, Wash Road), An indication is given (accurately) of Langdon Hills that implied it is merely a topographical description rather than the parish it should be, with Goldsmiths and The Hall indicated close by. Both Nightingales and West Lee are accurately shown. The manor of Great Gobions is shown but Little Gobions Manor or farm is indicated where Blue House farm appears on later maps. There is an indication on the map of something in the vicinity of where on later maps Little Gobions appear but no name is given.
In the earlier editions of the ordnance survey the etching of which is dated 1843, Laindon parish appears as “Laindon” but “Langdon Hill” persists, missing its plural with the topographical description of the 1777 map repeated. The extra parochial parish of Lee Chapel is reduced to a farm entitled Leigh Chapel and, similarly West Lee becomes “West Leigh”. Even more confusion reigns than 1777 with Gobians. What was Great Gobians becomes just “Gubbins”; What was Little Gobions becomes Little Gubbins and the true (from the 1888 perspective) Little Gubbins becomes Great Gubbins.
The later and larger edition of ordnance survey done in 1868 seems to sort out the Gubbins Manor locations to what it is generally accepted today as being correct.
2 It is not altogether clear why this should be because East (later West) Horndon station was not opened until 1886 and Thorndon Hall had been made uninhabitable in 1878 due to fire¸ the Petre family having reverted to Ingatestone Hall, the nearest station to which is Ingatestone on the then Great Eastern line. Was this a case of the 13th Baron throwing his weight about? Whether the special aristocratic facilities were ever used or not, in 1953 the exclusive waiting room was in use as the West Horndon stationmaster’s office, a fact that, given his relatively lowly status, other SMs regarded as somewhat excessive.
3 The gradient’s instability arose from the initial basic material that was used to construct it. This was the spoil from numerous steam locomotives’ fireboxes accumulated over a long period. The ash was not sufficiently consolidated and due to weathering, much was absorbed into adjacent fields, discolouring the soil. Because of the risk of slippage, electrification necessitated a special design of gantry (upright) that was hinged to support the catenary wires. A section signal box (see: further note below) situated adjacent to the south side of the track at Dunton West was so unstable on its foundation that the incumbent signalmen feared that it might be carried away in the back-wash of London bound trains hurtling by. They claimed it was only the heavy signalling equipment that held the structure in place.
4 Dunton had no police station and relied on that opposite “The Hiawatha” in Laindon. The war necessitated that a siren to warn of impending air-raids be attached to the roof of the dining hall at the colony to repeat the warnings being broadcast by the siren on the roof of Laindon’s station, it being thought that this was too far distant to be heard at Dunton. The author’s father (Stan Bathurst) under the special emergency powers act enabling the direction of labour was allocated the special task of “attendant” at the Colony with the additional duties of operating the Dunton siren upon the direction of the police at Laindon. For this he was issued with a steel helmet painted black. The result, because of the time lag, was that, some minute or two after the “raid immanent” warning or “all clear” signal could be heard warbling across Laindon, there always came the inevitable echo being carried on the prevailing wind from Dunton! Stan cycled to and from Laindon to the Colony. One night in 1940 when the Luftwaffe’s assault on London was at its height he was in Helmore Crescent approaching the Colony along the narrow concrete-strip path that ran alondside the cutting when he was amazed to see a huge ball of fire advancing towards him at high speed along the railway track below. He jumped from his bike and crouched down behind the hedge as this apparent wraith rushed by. It was a blast of hot gases from the fires raging in the city over twenty miles away that had been funnelled by the embankments at the top of Dunton Bank.
5 The advancing railway lines, necessarily being constructed as close as possible to the straight and level meant that in rural areas the routes cut through Britains patchwork of fields willy, nilly. This in turn meant that a whole host of bridges and level-crossings had to be provided in order for the agricultural community to carry on its occupation without too much inconvenience, hence “occupation” rather than the “public” bridges and crossings when roads were involved.
6 These signal boxes (like Dunton East and West and Basildon East and West) were intermediate between the main Station signal boxes that were manned all the time Known as “section” boxes they were not always required to be open. Before the introduction of the modern electric colour light system, the mechanical “lock and block” semaphore system at times required no less than 30 or more signal boxes to be manned between Shoeburyness and Fenchurch St. just for trains to run via Upminster. Those running via the Tilbury “loop” were another matter.
7 By the time of the railways, the reliance on the “parish” to relieve the effects of poverty had passed to the Poor Law institutions (The “workhouses”). That at Billericay (St Andrews) covered Laindon. It was, however still necessary to be aware of the parish to which one belonged for the payment of tithes, where to be married (and buried) etc.
8 The present author had the experience in adolescence of having to make an approach to the late Rev. FWJ Reynolds when he was Rector at St.Nicholas at Laindon for a grant for clothing (a suit) in order to continue at school. An award was made under the terms of the John Puckle behest.
9 It was the shopkeepers of the “new” shops in Laindon and Langdon Hills High Road who did much to encourage the expansion and development of the area. T E Collings and family who opened their “oil shop” (hardware business) on the east side of Laindon High Road at the end of the 19th century before moving across to larger premises on the west side were very active. They continued to live “over the shop” as well as elsewhere and were still in business when Laindon High Road was destroyed as a commercial centre and all shops concentrated in the “new” Laindon Centre. J G Cottis (School Governor, local Councillor) had his Bakery and shop in High Road, Langdon Hills as well as opening another “Lock Up” in High Road, Laindon. In the long term these people and others were so successful in their endeavours that the two townships (Landon Hills and Laindon) became so integrated in the community’s collective mind that the original parish boundaries became neglected and the route of the railway took upon itself the task of representing the boundary between the two. This was greatly assisted by the creation of Billericay Rural District in 1894 and its elevation to an Urban District in 1934 when the old parish boundaries became irrelevant.
10 In that part of Lee Chapel that was bisected by the railway north of the of the line looked to Laindon for its township affiliations while people south of the railways were divided in such sentiments by the ease with which the High Road could be reached. For example, The Primrose Hill estate regarded Laindon as their social centre, whereas those closer south of the railway looked to Langdon Hills for their needs. The new town divisions of Lee Chapel North and South are now about right. Previously, Dunton was to all intents and purposes part of Laindon chiefly because of ease of access along un-made up roads; a similar reason being influential to those living on the western fringes of Basildon and the northern fringe of Fobbing. The disappearance of the obstacles like the state of the roads which compelled so many to walk long distances for their basic needs has so altered the social aspect of the area that is difficult to recreate the past for the benefit of those whose who did not experience it. There is a whole unwritten thesis on methods of transportation of goods and people in the district out there somewhere waiting to devised.
11 On the map (or “trewe and perfect platt”) of the Manor of Laindon Hall that is available at the Essex County Records Office (Reference: D/DU 64/1) “The Plantation” appears to be a grove of osiers or willow trees used for basket making. However, there is no real evidence from the remnants that remain that this type of tree predominated. A coloured photographed copy of the Laindon Hall plan slightly smaller than the original was made available to Laindon library.
12 The Ward family lived at “Apple Grove” Lee Wootens Lane a bungalow standing on an extensive plot of land north of and adjacent to the portal of the railway bridge which now spans Nethermayne. The bungalow and land has been absorbed into the car park adjacent to Roundacre. TheWard family children initially attended the school at High Road, Langdon Hills which they reached by walking to “Barker’s Crossing” along Elizabeth Drive thence by walking (illegally) by the trackside as far as the occupation crossing (still extant) known as “Water Works” crossing 300 yards from Laindon Station, Here they could access Gladstone Road to continue on to school. However, when in 1924 the “new” council school in Laindon High Road was opened to cater for all ages, it was ruled by the Essex Education Committee that the railway line should be accepted as a boundary line and all pupils living north of the railway would transfer to the new school to relieve pressure on space at Langdon Hills. The Wards’ children’s mother objected on the basis of the additional distance her children would have to walk. She hung out against the decision and only under threat of prosecution did she relent but managed to arrange for the children to be admitted to the school at Vange which they reached via Lee Wootens Lane and Bell’s Hill. In 1941, a note in the Laindon Recorder reports the death due to an accident in the black out of Mrs Ward’s son William and later of her other son, Edward James, while on active service.
13 The drivers and conductors of the buses using the forecourt of Laindon station used the facilities of Enifer’s Café which was run by the same people who ran Enifer’s café on the corner opposite the “new” Fortune of War, on the A127 now converted to a McDonalds outlet.