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New Town Story

Basildon New Town Poster - Picture appears courtesy of the Basildon Council website

New Towns Act

One of the first acts passed in then Prime Minister Clement Attlee's post-war Labour government was the New Towns Act, 1946.

Amongst the many aims of the Act was to create 'overspill' new towns in an effort to alleviate the overcrowding problems in London following the Second World War and the damage inflicted on its already ageing residential developments.

In November of the same year, Stevenage in Hertfordshire became the first of eight designated 'new towns' between 1946 and 1951.

Official Confirmation

In 1948 the government granted provisional approval for Basildon to follow suit. Lewis Silkin, Minister of Town and Country Planning, came to Laindon on 30th September 1948 and addressed a large gathering at the High Road school with the words "Basildon will become a city which people from all over the world will want to visit. It will be a place where all classes of community can meet freely together on equal terms and enjoy common cultural recreational facilities."

On January 4th 1949 he officially designated Basildon a 'new town'.

The story and planning of this began many years earlier. At the time of the designation order the designated area of 7,818* acres (some sources 8,834 acres) had a population of around 25,000, mainly concentrated in the existing settlements of Laindon/Langdon Hills, Lee Chapel, Pitsea and Vange. Just how things had progressed to this point can be identified in a number of events occurring in the previous century. For centuries the land was farmed extensively, but as the farming industry faced an agricultural depression in the late 1870s large pockets of land were sold off to enterprising land companys who offered cheap plots at auction. All this had been made possible by the arrival of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway which saw stations open, firstly at Pitsea, in 1855, and Laindon in 1888, when a new direct route from Barking to Pitsea was completed. Within a short few years a scattered plotland development had emerged at both Pitsea and Laindon and this continued to expand as far as Dunton where an entire estate of 'weekend' properties; in some cases shacks, began to appear in the 1930s.

Early Years

In February 1949 the government appointed Basildon Development Corporation was formed; its task, to transform the designated area into a modern new town. Under the chairmanship of Sir Lancelot Keay a Master Plan was drawn up for an expected population of 80,000, though this was later revised to 106,000. One of the first undertakings of the Corporation was to conduct a land and property survey of the designated area which was carried out between 1949 and 1950. The survey identified around 8,700 properties, of which a large proportion, 5,600, were below the Housing Act standard. A high proportion were also not connected to the main sewer. Vehicular access was also very poor, with the district having 78 miles of unmade roads.

Having established a headquarters at Gifford House in Bowers Gifford the Corporation were soon able to put out tenders for house building contracts and by 1951 the first new tenants had moved into homes built at Redgrave Road in Vange. By 1953 the 1,000 new house had been completed.

Work on creating an Industrial area at Nevendon had also begun with the first new factory operational as early as 1951. Bonallack coachbuilders were one of the first big names to move to Basildon in 1953 followed soon after by the Ford Motor Company, who opened a purpose built radiator plant in 1957.

Some parts of the town required extensive drainage to the landscape - most notable at the area that became Gloucester Park - and this was not considered idealy suitable for a large scale development. Much of the excavated spoil; consisting mainly of London Clay, was used to create artificial hills at various sites around the town, including Gloucester Park and the site of the first Pitsea refuse tip.

Compulsory Purchase Order

In order to create the space in which to build future estates it was first necessary to clear the areas of properties deemed to be an obstruction. In some cases the job was straightforward when the occupier chose to sell to the corporation, but this was not always the case and, there are many instances when the corporation used its power and issued a compulsory purchase order on the property. The right of Freehold became an issue and a residents protection group was formed to advise and in some cases fight against these orders. The corporation was accused of paying derisory amounts of compensation and development was often held up during these times. Many existing residents were naturally aggrieved to find that the property that they had built themselves now stood in the way of progress. In some instances where the original occupier held out, development had to be altered to then fit in with the existing property. Further problems were encountered by the corporation in establishing ownership of some of the plots; some never developed, and others long since abandoned.

Education

Before 1949 there were already established schools in the designated area like Markhams Chase, Langdon Hills, Pitsea, Craylands and Nevendon. To cater for the growing population new schools were built, and this began when Swan Mead infant and junior opened in 1954. Whitmore infant and junior followed soon after, and at secondary level Fryerns Grammar and Technical School took in its first pupils in 1956. A second Grammar school, Barstable, opened in 1962, and in 1965 Chalvedon became the first Comprehensive to open.

Roads

Work on an inner Basildon road structure took much longer, made in part more difficult by the London, Tilbury and Southend railway line, which bisects the town from east to west. Two of the existing railway overbridges at Woottens Lane and Shelley Road, sited close to the eventual site of the town centre, needed to be completely rebuilt as the roads were both significantly widened during the creation of Nether Mayne and the Clay Hill Road extension. This allowed through access to Southernhay, which had earlier opened to traffic in 1957, and a major new roundabout called Roundacre, from which all major routes into the town would converge. The Roundacre roundabout became fully operational in early 1959 sometime after the completion of the direct Laindon/Basildon road; Laindon Link.

Shops

In 1949 at the time of designation there were close to 300 shops serving the area. They were mainly concentrated in the High Road at Laindon and Langdon Hills and along the old A13 route at Vange and Pitsea. New shopping amenities, though high on the development agenda, were slow to appear and these existing shops provided the best service for the early new town 'pioneers'. A series of neighbourhood shopping centres gradually appeared beginning in the Fryerns area until the eventual completion of the first phase of Basildon Town Centre, where the first shops began opening in August 1958. The Basildon market followed soon after and by 1965, when the Development Corporation once again revised their master plan for a proposed 140,000 population, the town centre had expanded to over 150 shops.

The 1960s

By the early 1960s the new town comprised ten neighbourhoods. These being: Pitsea, Laindon, Langdon Hills, Vange, Lee Chapel South and North, Fryerns, Ghyllgrove, Barstable and Kingswood.

The development corporation had, by March 1964, completed nearly 12,000 houses, including some for private occupation, but they were not the only house builder in the new town. Since the second world war the local urban district council had provided 1,432 new homes to March 1964, and by May 1966 total ownership stood at 1,640.

Work in industry and employment opportunities was also continuing apace. Almost 10,000 people were employed in the 60 or so factories built by the early 1960s. Ford consolidated their interest in the town by transferring their Dagenham tractor operation to a new purpose built Tractor Plant on a 100 acre site at Cranes Farm Road in 1964, and in 1967 their Research and Engineering centre at Dunton was opened by the Prime Minister of the day, Harold Wilson. Another major employer, cosmetic giant Yardley, relocated to Basildon in 1966 to further improve the local industry.

Recreational and leisure facilities within the town were also addressed during the decade, with the Mecca run 'Locarno' dance hall opening in 1961, followed by a 26 lane bowling alley at Southernhay in 1962. The residential tower block 'Brooke House', standing at 160 feet and designed by the Corporation's own chief architech Anthony B. Davies, was also completed the same year. A temporary Arts Centre theatre opened in 1967, and in 1968 the town's new championship size swimming pool at Gloucester Park was completed.

Shops around the town had greatly increased, with Lee Chapel North and South now both having their own neighbourhood centre, and as the 1960s drew to a close work on the shopping centre at Laindon was at an advanced stage.

The population census for Basildon in 1961 was 48,047 and within ten years this had reached more than 80,000 of which nearly 38,000 had come from London.

The 1970s to the present

Development continued into the 1970s when in 1971 the town centre cinema was completed, and Basildon Hospital finally opened in 1973 after a long campaign begun back in the 1950s. A year later Basildon Railway station opened; the result of a similar campaign.

The Housing programme had also continued with new developments at Laindon, Langdon Hills, Craylands, Barstable and Chalvedon all being completed during the 1970s. The Basildon Development Corporation were officially wound up in 1986 with new estates at Laindon 8 and 9 Durham Road, Noak Bridge and Felmores being among their last developments. Their successor, the Commission For The New Towns (CNT), became temporary landlords until the eventual - and much delayed - transfer of the housing stock in January 1994. The 'Right to buy', first announced around November 1970, accounted for some of the stock at the time of the handover, which was achieved via a tenants' ballot, with the choices being either Basildon District Council or the 1991 formed Basildon Community Housing Association. Following the vote the majority of the stock was transferred to the local council.

Basildon continues to expand, and this has been seen in recent years with the creation of the Eastgate indoor shopping centre in Basildon town centre during the 1980s, and the Festival Leisure Park at Cranes Farm Road in the late 1990s.

In 1999, as Basildon celebrated 50 years, the town was honoured in March by a visit from Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh to officially open the new steel and glass belltower in St. Martin's Square.

Basildon is no longer considered a new town and will celebrate its 70th birthday in 2019.

Notes:
Designated area 8,834 acres. Source: Basildon Development Corporation annual report for the period ending 31/03/1951.

Designated area 8,818 acres. Source: Basildon Development Corporation revised Master Plan, published 1965.

Lewis Silkin, 1st Baron Silkin CH (14/11/1889 - 11/05/1972), Labour MP for Peckham, South London (1936-1950). Minister for Town and Country Planning (1945-1950).

Keay, Lancelot Herman (Sir), KBE, M. Arch., F.R.I.B.A. (03/08/1883 - 02/11/1974) Eastbourne, Sussex.
Chairman of Basildon Development Corporation (03/02/1949 - 02/03/1954).

Davies, Anthony Butler RIBA (elected 1949), A.A. Dipl., A.R.I.B.A., (b.1921 - d.2006), Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Chief Architech and Planner to Basildon Development Corporation (1958-1964), succeeded Noel Tweeddell (1949-1958), and followed by Douglas Galloway (1964-1979).

Text researched and written by William Cox, 2005 with revisions 2005-2008,2017.
Copyright © 2005-2008,2017, B. Cox - Basildon History Online. All rights reserved.
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