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Basildon New Town

Extract from the Technical Report of the 1951 Master Plan

Part I: Sections 1 - 8 - Historical Background (This page)

Part II - Sections 9 - 63 - The Area as it is To-Day

Part III - Sections 64 - 85 - Proposals for the creation of the New Town


     Hitherto the re-development of unhealthy areas, the relief and abatement of overcrowding and the housing of the "over-spill" of our large towns has been primarily the responsibility of each local authority concerned.

     The New Towns Act of 1946 makes possible a bold social experiment by the opportunity it affords to New Town Development Corporations of co-ordinating and extending the work which would otherwise devolve upon a number of authorities. Through its operations thousands living in grossly overcrowded conditions will benefit and many will be saved the fatigue and expense of travelling long distances to and from their places of work.

     The creation of the new town at Basildon will do more than this for, as it grows, the half-made roads will disappear, the standard of housing will be raised and the essential amenities will be brought within the reach of all.

     The task will not be an easy one, but it can and will be accomplished. Basildon covers the largest area yet designated for a new town and there are more people living in it than any other designated area. If the proposals which are now being put forward are accepted Basildon will have the largest population yet contemplated for any new town

     The many technical problems are referred to in the report. Upon the satisfactory solution of all of them the well being of the New Basildon will depend. Though these problems may raise great difficulties the Corporation is conscious of the wisdom of the decision to designate the area for a New Town and they look forward to its rapid growth in accordance with an ordered plan.

     As the Chairman of the Development Corporation and on behalf of all its members I desire to pay tribute to the excellent work which has been done by all members of the staff and to express thanks for the help given to them by the officers of the many Government Departments and to all who have rendered assistance in the preliminary work of the great undertaking.

Sir Lancelot Herman Keay, K.B.E., F.R.I.B.A.



1.     In early times "Basildon" was the centre of a large area bordering the Thames; Basildon or Barstable Hall links this name with that of the Old hundred of Barstable within which the designated area lies. More recently Fobbing has been the only good sized village in the locality. Strategically placed on high ground overlooking the marsh and at the head of a creek, it lay on better class agricultural land than that to the east, and was, at that time, considerably larger than the four small settlements of Pitsea, Nevendon, Basildon and Laindon.

2.     Until the end of the nineteenth century the whole of this part of Essex was typical farming country, populated by those who worked on the land or in ancillary trades. With the coming of the direct railway from London to Shoeburyness in 1888 there was a change. People from the East End of London began to migrate to the area. First comers were among the better off and built themselves substantial two storey brick villas, but these were not related in any way to the existing settlements.

3.     Agriculture was depressed at this time and in 1890 Viscount Down sold Pitsea Hall Farm, which had become derelict, to the Land Company. The land was divided into plots between 1901 and 1903 and "champagne sales" were held. The Company issued free rail tickets from East Ham to Pitsea and gave travellers a free lunch with champagne. Plots were sold afterwards for between £5 and £20. Many purchasers built their houses with their own hands (chiefly for weekend use), but large numbers of plots were never built upon, and are still lying waste. It is reported that some owners did not realise that they had purchased plots!

4.     By 1930 the Land Company was out of business, but by then much other land had been divided up in similar manner. Between 1921 and 1941 the population of Billericay Urban District Council nearly trebled itself, and there is no doubt that a much greater increase took place at Pitsea and at Laindon than at Billericay or Wickford. Out of a total population of 42,500 within the Urban district 25,000 people now reside within the Designated Area of the New Town.

5.     The great invasion from the East End of London took place after the 1914-1918 war. People had become unsettled; there was a housing shortage; there was a hunger for land; thousands who had no agricultural experience whatever dreamed of making a living off their own plots; returning soldiers settled on small-holdings; old people retired to the country; young people were glad to escape from the East End of London, many for weekends or in summer only, others permanently even at the price of a considerable daily journey to work. Small dwellings grew up over much of the Designated Area and beyond. The land had never been first class quality and the farmers sold up their holdings piecemeal in competition with the small estate companies by some of whom the attractions of the locality were most imaginatively described.

6.     Unfortunately none of the land speculators concerned themselves with the development resulting from their sales. Field after field was subdivided on paper into 20 foot plots on a grid road pattern. Land was cheap and most owners bought quite large frontages; but no roads or sewers were constructed. Outside each man's fence remained the heavy Essex clay churned into an impassable quagmire in winter where use as a road was attempted. Development was sporadic. Many of the plots sold for building were not built upon so that it was uneconomic to provide roads and sewers. Public utility services came very slowly. Much of the building was very poor indeed.

7.     It must be admitted that, at that time, many little dwellings were intended for occasional use only and the owners did not feel the need for paved roads or for main drainage. Unfortunately the acute housing shortage caused by the recent war has caused nearly all of these dwellings to be permanently occupied.

8.     Shopping centres have grown up at Laindon, Vange and Pitsea, together with innumerable small stores scattered throughout the area. There are a number of small halls and several flourishing clubs. The area is no longer agricultural; it has become a dormitory suburb of London with a very poor standard of physical development and little local employment.

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Page added: 25/12/2019


1) Keay, Lancelot Herman (Sir), KBE, M. Arch., F.R.I.B.A., (03/08/1883 - 02/11/1974) Eastbourne, Sussex.
First appointed Chairman of two New Towns: Basildon Development Corporation (03/02/1949 - 02/03/1954) and Bracknell Development Corporation (20/10/1949 - 31/10/1959).

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