Situated between Town Square and East Walk South Gunnels was originally created as a
paved precinct linking Town Square with South Walk through a short covered exit.
4 permanent shop units were constructed as part of Block I, a large block known as Waterloo House. These
were given numbers 1, 3, 5 and 7. A single unit to the rear of Waterloo House was named No. 9 and
in use, possibly until the 1990s, by Timpson as a footwear repair shop.
In April 1969 Rentaplay Ltd. - playground
equipment manufacturers - based in Bentalls opened a Day Nursery for around 100 children incorporating an
adventure centre. A demountable style building was later constructed and in use as a temporary
rent office for corporation tenants until Church Walk House was opened in 1977. This was subsequently
used by Radio Basildon as an office and public address. A small childs
playground was also created which survived to the late 1970s or early 1980s when phase II of Eastgate
was built over the undeveloped portion of South Gunnels.
In 1960 a 206 space public car park
(designated car park 6 and accessed via Market Pavement) and service road were completed; part of
which ran alongside the western line of the pathway. That part of the service road along with the
car park were also built over during phase II of Eastgate, becoming Allders (now Debenhams) department
store when the project completed in 1985. An entrance/exit to Eastgate from South Gunnels was another
feature of the phase II Eastgate development.
The first development in North Gunnels was the towns' tower block Brooke House, completed
in 1962. Further development did not commence again until 1969 and involved the construction of a
cinema, public house, Great Oaks House, a large supermarket and various other buildings. These
were officially known as Blocks P and Q.
The first building completed was the cinema, which opened as an ABC in September 1971. A large
single unit built directly below the cinema then opened as a Tesco supermarket in November 1971
though this was given a Great Oaks address as was Great Oaks House following its completion
Due to the amenities being built above ground level, and to make the area more
accessible, when the newly completed multistorey car park in Great Oaks opened in 1972 a direct
link was provided via two pedestrian bridges on level 6.
Linking Great Oaks House with the cinema are two single
storey buildings. One saw use as an unemployment benefit office until the
mid 1980s when a temporary office opened on a vacant plot at the western end of Great Oaks
adjacent to the Broadmayne pedestrian subway. The other became a Jobcentre. Both services
were later moved to Regent House, The Gore.
The public house first opened as
The Painted Wagon later becomming the Jolly Wagonner before a final name change to The Oasis
which it closed as around 2000 and has remained empty until 2016 when it became a diner.
In 1999 the cinema, by then part of the Robin's chain,
closed, seemingly for good. Later plans to develop the empty building into a 125 bed hotel failed
to materialise and in 2011 British Heart Foundation opened a charity furniture and electrical
store where the former third cinema and cafe used to be. Another part of the building was converted
into six flats and given the address Robins House.
The name Gunnel does have ties to the
area having been used in part as a local field name though whether its town centre use is derived
from this is unknown.
Text researched and written by William Cox, 2012.
Copyright © 2012, B. Cox - Basildon History Online. All rights reserved.