A New Beginning
They came from dark cobblestone streets, living in back-to-back
houses with hardly a patch of green or a tree in sight.
And during the war many of their homes in east
London's streets had been torn apart by the colossal bomb devastation.
One building in every four was destroyed, making thousands of people homeless and causing
overcrowded, appalling conditions.
Often there would be three families to one house and some
were forced to live in temporary accommodation like Nissan huts.
Only 34 miles away was Basildon, a sleepy backwater flanked by two rural communities - Laindon
Roads were unmade and in winter the heavy Essex clay turned them into an impassable quagmire.
There was no main drainage and most of the homes built on plotlands by the very early pioneers sporadic concoctions
of timber and brick.
It was here that Clement Attlee's post war Government turned to renew the waning hopes of the war-torn people from the
The Government, recognising swift action was needed, set about developing a strategy to create new
towns around London and other bomb-damaged cities across the country.
Quiet rural backwaters like Basildon
would be transformed into places where people could start afresh.
Not only would it be good for the city people,
life would also be improved for those already living in the district.
It was on a cheerless night in October 1948 that the
wheels were set in motion to turn Basildon into a new town.
The Rt. Hon. Lewis Silkin, Minister for Town and Country
Planning came to address a packed meeting at Laindon High Road School.
He wanted everyone to know about the
"Basildon will become a city which people from all over the world will want to visit ... a place where all
classes of the community can meet freely together." said the Minister. "It will be the best possible town that modern knowledge,
commerce, science and civilisation can produce."
Under the chairmanship of Sir Lancelot Keay, KBE, a Development Corporation was formed to begin work on a Master Plan,
and the technical report they drew up to accompany the first plan in 1951 is now an historical document
Though detailed amendments were made over the years, this first plan formed the basis for Basildon's development during
the next 35 years.
If Basildon was to succeed, the Development Corporation knew that the two main existing towns - Laindon
and Pitsea - had to welded together. There had to be a central core, a main town centre as the focus of town life.
Housing development had to be carefully planned to include primary schools, shops and playing fields.
And industry, too, had to have its base, sighted not too far from the main centre, but away from the residential areas.
Originally the master plan accounted for 80,000 people, but in 1960 the Government recognised this original target would
be far exceeded and set a new one of 106,000.
In 1965 this was again amended as a Development Corporation technical study revealed a population of 140,000 could be
accommodated in Basildon district without changing the actual area size.
The first homes built in Basildon were in
Redgrave Road in Vange.
They were houses with "good sized family rooms," complete with all mod cons - running water,
gas and a bath (a luxury then!), a kitchen and gardens in the front and back for children to play in.
For young families waiting to escape the East End of London they were the homes of their dreams.
On Friday, June 22, 1951, the first house was opened by Lady Whitmore, wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, and the first
family, Betty and Jack Walker, helped to cut the ceremonial ribbon.
Today, the Basildon district population stands as
almost 160,000 and still growing. The rest is history.
The Pioneers of ...
"We lived in a Nissan hut and hated every minute of it. Coming to Basildon New Town
was like moving to paradise".
On returning home from the war, Stan Martin, a skilled carpenter and joiner got a job
with West Ham Council, and they provided him and his family with one of the dome shaped Nissan huts in the run-down area
called Custom House.
Recalls his wife Phyllis today: "It was a place of our own, I suppose, but we hated every
minute of it. We longed for a proper home where we could settle down and bring up the children in a nicer, cleaner
Two years later, that chance came. The couple heard about plans for the new town of
Basildon and the need for carpenters, bricklayers and other skilled tradesman. Those taken on would be given a tenancy in one
of the Development Corporation's new homes.
They moved to Basildon New Town in August 1951. "I can remember like yesterday",
says Phyllis. "There in the middle of the countryside was Redgrave Road and the very first half dozen new town houses to be
built. They were lovely. We were the fourth family to move in".
Albert and Rose Smith along with the eldest of their three daughters Carol moved into
Redgrave Road on 5th November, 1951. But before leaving their East Ham home they off fireworks to celebrate their new
adventure. Their second daughter Linda was born in February 1952. She was the first baby girl to be born in the New Town.
The Hailstones, one of the first families in Redgrave Road, never regretted the
move. Ivy's children, David, John, Pauline and Lawrence, spent happy days there.
There was a mountain of clay and rubble to greet Harry and Mabel Timckea when they
arrived at their newly-built home in Redgrave Road. Said Mabel: "It was hard work, but after twice being bombed out of our home
in West Ham, we had no complaints".
A word from Cllr. Frank Tomlin (Chairman of Basildon Council)
This year we will celebrate Basildon New Town's 40th Birthday in style. I believe that the achievements of the past four
decades are something to be proud of, something to shout about. To create an urban community of more than 160,000
people starting from scratch, is no mean achievement. I stress the word "community". The New Town is not just houses and
shops, roads and factories, hospitals and parks. The New Town is people.
It is the people of Basildon, represented by their elected councillors, who have made
the town what it is today. On January 4th (40 years to the day since Basildon was designated a New Town) I was honoured to
host a birthday party attended by some of the men and women who among the pioneers who moved into the New Town in the
first few years. It was particularly pleasing to find that so many still live here, and were able to attend. Their reminiscences of life
in those early days are fascinating - history in the making. I hope that as many of their stories as possible will be recorded for
posterity, and that the "Basildon 40" events programmed for the rest of the year will open up their memories further.
Looking to the future, there are difficult times ahead: but life has never
been easy, and past difficulties have always been overcome. I am confident that we will cope successfully with anything
which lies ahead. The spirit and determination of the people will make sure of that.
So let us celebrate "Basildon 40" with pride. Let's give a resounding cheer for Basildon, forty years old and growing in
strength and confidence.
Chairman of Basildon District Council