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
In November of the same year, Stevenage in Hertfordshire became the first
of eight designated 'new towns' between 1946 and 1951.
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 companies 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.
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 ideally 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
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.
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.
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.
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 architect 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
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 now over 70 years
years old and no longer referred to as being a new town.
1) Designated area 8,834
acres. (Source: Basildon Development Corporation annual report for the period ending 31/03/1951.)
2) Designated area 8,818 acres. (Source: Basildon Development Corporation revised Master Plan, published 1965.)
3) 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
4) 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) and Bracknell Development Corporation (20/10/1949 - 31/10/1959).
5) Davies, Anthony Butler RIBA (elected 1949), A.A. Dipl., A.R.I.B.A., (b.1921 - d.2006), Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Chief Architect and Planner to Basildon
Development Corporation (1958-1964), succeeded Noel Tweddell (1949-1958), and followed by Douglas Galloway (1964-1979).