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From Rising Grove to Rowenhall - Growing up in and around Laindon - 1966-1982 - Part 4
by Julie Cox (née Kicks)


     Time moved on and for the second time we were forced to move as there was major work being done to the whole estate, which in places like The Lynge resembled a 'ghost town' with empty properties all around. Some of my schoolfriends like Donna F., and Karen S., who both lived on the estate, had already been moved to houses on the then recently completed Laindon 8 estate off Durham Road. Our landlord, Basildon Development Corporation, gave us a choice of either moving to the new houses just completed at Noak Bridge or one of their other new homes off Durham Road, not that far from the caravan site at Dunton on what was called the Laindon 9 estate. This was actually just an extension of Laindon 8 as the properties were all built in the same style. My parents accepted the latter and we moved on Saturday 17th January, 1981 to a four bedroomed semi-detached house at 91 Rowenhall, and I had a bedroom to myself for the first time. For the last night in the house, me, my sister, brother and mum all slept on mattresses on the floor in my brothers bedroom as we had packed boxes everywhere in preparation for the next days move. My dad and my boyfriend, who was there to help out, both slept in the front room of Rowenhall on camp beds so they were there when the removal van arrived around midday.

     This house was the biggest we had lived in and the garden was comparable with all the others. I was given the smaller of the two front bedrooms where I could arrange the furniture and other things how I liked, which by then included my own record player and speakers. We had the same Rediffusion television arrangement here as we'd had at all three of our previous houses. The house did have one quirk though. We were told that there had been some kind of mix up during its construction and the upstairs bathroom ended up between the larger rear bedroom and the main front bedroom instead of having an outside wall for light and ventilation. To compensate for this a skylight to the roof had been fitted. Apparently the house had been built the wrong way round and it was alledged to be the only house on the whole estate built with this arrangement.

     There was a strange coincidence though regarding the new house. When I told my boyfriend where we were moving he said he knew the area so I took him to where the house was on the weekend before the actual move. Well, when we got there he straight away recognised the house and said he had already been inside! I said how can that be and he said he worked in the same square as a labourer with his brother for another man laying down the concrete floors in the corner flats near our house. The house was being used by the workers as a temporary place where they could eat and use the water supply.

     When we first moved in I sometimes used the bus to go to and from school. To get there was now a long journey but despite this there was never any question of changing schools as Laindon was just as far, and besides, I only had another 15 months or so until I could leave anyway. At least the bus stop was very conveniently placed at the start of Rowenhall as it was a turnaround at the end of Eastern National's 501 route; that is until the estate was further developed when it was resited further along Durham Road opposite Blackmores. Mum also used to give us lifts in the car or I would walk with my sister.

     This part of the estate was still very much under construction with portable work cabins and sheds spread along Durham Road either side of the second bridge that took you over the railway. I remember there was a night watchman patrolling those houses and flats not yet completed that became the rest of Rowenhall and Paxfords. Many of the families living nearby I also recognised as having come from the Siporex estate.

     It didn't take us long to settle in and make the place feel homely and my mum soon had the garden decorated with flowers and conifer trees. We also had a section of wall taken out and had a garden gate put in to the parking area along our garden wall.

     At Rowenhall I got myself an early morning paper round to earn a bit of extra money. I started on Wednesday 22nd July, 1981 and would collect the newspapers from Keith's newsagents, which was now called Martin's, and make my way to the Pound Lane estate. It was a very big round and fortunately my brother, who also had a paper round, did a swap with me soon after and I then delivered to the Somerset Road area etc.

     One other notable event happened around that time. This was the royal wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. Rowenhall got to hold its own street party to mark the event. This was held on Saturday 25th July, 1981 and the street was duly decorated with bunting and a few gazebo's. Tables and chairs were provided for the afternoon buffet. Someone had hired a disco and there were lots of fun games included in the days activities. I took part in a three-legged race with my sister. I can't remember if we won or lost, it was just good fun participating.

     For the first year or so there were no local shops and just a small park in the wooded area nearer to Helmores. Shops did open later on the nearby Presidents estate as well as a community centre and the park was resited almost behind our back garden. With all the new residents it didn't take long before the ice cream van's started coming round. These were owned by Martin's who had their depot not that far from us on the corner of Durham and Denbigh Road. Their vans were stocked with everything from sweets and chocolate to soft drinks. The mobile fish 'n' chip shop, known as the 'Nippy Chippy', was another visitor, generally in the early weekday evenings and weekends. The van would pull up along Durham Road near Helmores and possibly other stops around the estate. The van and business was owned by an old friend of my boyfriends brother.

     I still had my bike and me and my boyfriend would go on long bike rides during the summer months. A few of these rides would take us along Lower Dunton Road to the old abandoned army camp in Old Church Hill, Langdon Hills. Here we would explore whatever was still left and ride around on the large strip of concrete we presumed was the parading ground. We would then push our bikes up the rest of the hill, and if there was a game on, stay and watch the cricket on the meadow opposite the Crown public house.

     Another memory I have is of the first snow fall at Rowenhall. This was in December 1981 during a very cold winter. It started on the 11th and the whole school was off and lasted all over Christmas and into the first few weeks of the new year. It didn't snow continually during that time but where it was so cold the ground was frozen which made the long walk to school, or any walk for that matter, a really difficult experience.

     My boyfriend played the guitar and briefly tried to teach me a chord or two. He had a small group with some friends. I went along to watch them play on 14th May, 1982 at the Irish Club in Basildon Road, Laindon. One of his band mates, Dan Tanner, organised it as he was a member of a C.B. Radio club who met at the building every Friday evening. I really enjoyed it and couldn't wait to watch the group play again.

The last years of 'Plotlands'

     Where we had moved to was not in an area of Laindon that I had ever been to before. At the time I didn't realise just how big Laindon was as Rowenhall seemed a long way from the High Road. Like the Siporex estate, Laindon 9 had been cleared of all previous properties regardless of their condition and prior to the new Corporation estate it was not somewhere you could get to easily in a vehicle as Durham Road at that time ended at the first railway bridge crossing. To go further would have meant a journey on foot or a bike so there was never any reason for any of our family to visit this part of Laindon.

     Although things would soon change, at first there was a lot of countryside to be explored literally just a few minutes away from our front door. For instance the Southfields industrial estate where Toomey's would later move to was still a few years off and some of the old cinder roads like Merrylands Chase could still be walked around although the pre-new town houses were no longer there.

     The situation on the other side of what I came to know as the second railway bridge though was different. Here in 1981 amongst the empty dilapidated 'ruins' there were still some 'plotland' properties being lived in along with others that appeared tended to by the owners when not occupied. Sometimes I would go to Dunton Caravan Park's shop and on the way hear the sound of a generator coming from a house clearly visible on the other side of the line. An old map of the area I looked at placed the property in Bridge Avenue, a road that now no longer exists being lost to Mandeville Way.

     Had we not moved here I would never have known that such an area and way of life even existed, yet was located so close to my idea of civilisation, i.e. roads lined with standard type houses with hot and cold running water, central heating and a bathroom. Back in the 1930s these 'plotlanders'; most of whom originated from East London, had bought cheap plots of former agricultural land on which some kind of structure, be it a wooden house, hut or shack, was constructed for use initially as a weekend or holiday retreat, but over time in the case of some of the properties, becoming a permanent home. There were no services as such with many relying on the rain from the guttering stored in a tank as their water supply. Toilet facilities were primitive; making do with a bucket and a shovel in which to dig a hole to dispose of the contents, and there was no electricity or gas for cooking or boiling a kettle. The local council presumably were under no obligation to provide any of these services and similarily the county council to construct roads, pathways or street lights, so that's the way it was. Their way of life was comparitively short though as Basildon Development Corporation was soon to serve notice of its intention to build upon most of this 'little piece of England'.

     I'm guessing that the railway formed the boundary here between Laindon and Langdon Hills. My boyfriend said his parents and grandparents had once jointly owned a 'plotland' shack years earlier on the other side of the line so we quite often would cross the bridge and walk around what had once been a well populated plotland community.

     After crossing the bridge a short way off on the left side of the track was a small modern looking building with fencing round it. At the time I didn't know what it was for but I've since discovered it's a sewage pumping station belonging to Anglian Water. Beyond that on the same side was a very large sloping field. Every weekend and quite often during the week you would hear the sound of motorbikes riden by youths using the field as a scrambling course. We used to refer to them as the "bike boys" and sometimes stand and watch them performing their daredevil feats. Opposite the field on the right side of the track were a couple of turnings leading into the 'plotlands'. Without a map there was know way of knowing what any of these grass tracks were called as there wasn't any signage. The turnings were actually off Berry Lane (now Hawthorn Path), which at the time resembled a dirt track. The first of them was Bridge Avenue, which I mentioned earlier, and the second was Berry Drive.

     We would make our way along Berry Drive or Bridge Avenue, which had a 'cut through' to Berry Drive, to the end where the track turned left into Western Avenue to where my boyfriend's parents/grandparents property once stood. It was called 'Kenrose' and had stood on the left side of Western Avenue on what I later learnt was the Highbank estate. Although it was long gone the outline of the large overgrown garden could still be made out. The property next door had been called 'Sunnydene' and although no longer habitable was at least still standing though visibly open to the elements. His parents, who at the time lived in Plaistow, East London, had been friends with the original owners who often let them stay there after 'Kenrose' was sold to Basildon Development Corporation, who claimed the land would eventually return to agricultural use. Although 'Sunnydene' was later torn down the Corporation's claim turned out to be false and that area has returned to nature, untouched by modern development being roughly behind where the new Tesco supermarket was built. Sunnydene, or at least its garden, does have a very special place in my heart though, as you'll find out shortly.

     On one such ramble I remember we stopped to talk to an old lady who was filling up a water container from one of the concrete water tap boxes with a small door on it. She said she didn't know how much longer she had to live there as the area was earmarked for future development. We would also see an old man crossing the bridge with shopping. We discovered he lived in First Avenue on the Dunton Hills estate in the last surviving plot called Thorngrove on the left as you went down the steep hill in the direction of Lower Dunton Road.

     There were still quite a lot of properties, some obviously abandoned or vandalised, and lots of evidence of where properties had once stood. A few lone telegraph poles could still be seen. I think they were for a telephone service as none of the old shacks we explored had an electricity supply. Just off Hillcrest Avenue at the start of Denehurst Gardens was another water supply box quite near 'Everest' which was still there at the top of First Avenue on the Glenwood Gardens side. After the last occupants had moved out 'Everest' was later badly damaged following a fire, probably started by vandals. There were a few other plots in that area, mainly on the north side and spaced out nearly to the far end of Hillcrest Avenue. One of these, 'Hawthorn', was later occupied by the Dunton Hills nature trail warden and his wife, who my sister was friends with. Other properties we saw included a shack called 'Colin' and an occupied house with extension called 'Grangewood' in Beech Hall Gardens, which my boyfriend said was the home of Mrs. Hayball, one of his junior school teachers when he had attended Langdon Hills Primary. There was also a fairly large newt pond behind a wooded area off Denehurst Gardens. This is still there today though now surrounded by new housing.

     The 'roads' that made up this area like Glenwood Gardens where 'Glencrest' and 'Chook A Berry', a property that resembled a converted caravan, stood were really nothing more than grass tracks, rutted in places where the odd vehicle or two had struggled to get through in the winter months. Some like Beech Hall Gardens and Forest Glade, that led to the Berry Park estate which was now mainly scrubland, had long sections of concrete path, no doubt laid by the early plotlanders. As we walked around it was sad to witness the end of an era knowing that much of it was all going to be built over with the exception of the 'avenue's', which the Corporation had spared from development.

Final thoughts

     Well my story has now reached the summer of 1982, I've left school and things are getting serious between myself and my boyfriend. He had his own flat in Laindon and we both felt we wanted to be together all the time so with my parents blessing we got married at the same church where we had first set eyes on each other. A few weeks earlier, after we'd got the go ahead, on one of our plotland nature rambles Bill surprised me by proposing in the garden of Sunnydene, which provided the backdrop to this moment in a kind of unwitting last hurrah. He even brought the engagement ring along! I naturally moved out of Rowenhall to the flat where our first born arrived, and then later to a house not too far from Laindon where we had another four children, so I am always able to keep up to date with things in and around the area I've lived in for virtually all my life.

     I'll just finish with a few of my own thoughts on the 'Siporex' years and the sad long drawn out demise of the Laindon Shopping Centre.

     My experience of living on the Siporex estate - or Bluehouse estate as some would call it - was a very good one filled with many happy memories but sadly my childhood physical memories were taken away when the estate was pulled down. The three childhood homes I lived in are no more. The area I grew up in is now the Church View housing estate put up in its place which has left me with sad feelings as there is no walking down memory lane for me. Of course I do understand there were houses there before ours, and, all around the area of Rowenhall, so those people who lived there must have felt the same way for their loss.

     I suppose it was inevitable it would have to go given how much time, work and money had been spent on maintaining that estate but to my eyes the new estate makes the area feel blocked in compared to the 'open space feel' that I remember. It seems the developers were given a free hand to use as much space as they wanted when designing the new layout which only included one small green area for the whole estate. Some of those people living there now might have no idea of what it once was and probably like their house and the area, which is great as I think the houses do look nice with most having their own driveway. Let's hope the new estate lasts much longer than the old one.

     Someone has to take the blame for the 'experimental' mistake that was the Siporex estate. The planners and architects at Basildon Development Corporation who designed and had it constructed to me are the obvious culprits. But like the estate, they are now long gone, wound up in 1986, succeeded by the Commission for the New Towns who in the 1990s transferred ownership to Basildon Community Housing Association (later Swan Housing) in order that it be rebuilt.

     The Corporation I believe, lost its way or was misguided perhaps by outside influence and instead of continuing to build the new housing estates from tried and trusted methods they looked abroad at a cheaper Swedish model involving materials that only had a short history of use and ultimately failed to stand the test of time when applied here. Looking back it's my belief the estate should have been regenerated in 1981 at the time we were moved out. The Corporation built the Laindon 8 and 9 estates and filled them full of ex Siporex tenants which provided an ideal opportunity to get rid of the Siporex houses. Instead they went ahead and wasted so much money installing gas central heating systems, double glazing throughout and an unsightly RSJ support across the living room ceiling only to have their successor arrange to knock the lot down 13 years later. And not forgetting the houses sold as a result of 'Right to Buy' that had to be bought back adding further additional cost. Interestingly the estate included four blocks of flats built from conventional methods. These are still standing today nearly sixty years later! I have since learnt that it was not only the Siporex estate affected by foreign sub-standard building methods within the town of Basildon.

     Bluehouse School is still there but has now become a primary following its renaming to The Phoenix in 2003; its new name perhaps chosen as a result of the new estate 'rising from the ashes' of the previous one. Sensibly its designers had it constructed to conventional methods and it would appear to have stood the test of time very well. There are lots of additions since I was there like the extension at the front and a new wooden building on the green in front of the main junior block, the caretakers house and an enclosed sports area on the junior field plus another classroom adjacent to the infant school playground. At least the demountables have gone! Sadly missing of course is the children's park that once existed in front of the junior school which is now surrounded by houses making the school look somewhat hemmed in. The pathway which ran alongside the junior school fence to Laindon Link has gone too; this is now back gardens.

     Nicholas School, which I attended for all five years of my secondary education, is now the James Hornsby School. In September 1998 due to a fall in pupil numbers Nicholas merged with the Laindon School on their site under the James Hornsby High School name. That lasted for two years while the old Nicholas School underwent a major refurbishment and the school then transferred back to Leinster Road from September 2000 and the Laindon site was sold and later became a housing estate. My eldest son, who had just completed year nine at Nicholas, was part of the move! Much of the school is still as I remember it with a few additions such as a purpose built sports hall and a large outdoor astro pitch over some of the sports field. Chowdhary Primary School has gone and its land was taken over by James Hornsby in exchange for a portion of their land as a later extension of the Church View housing estate. It's sad that the school had to be renamed but at least it kept its ties with the area as James Hornsby had been the last Schoolmaster at Puckle's Charity School, based in the little priest's house annexe on the west end of St. Nicholas Church, where he lived and taught for 48 years in the 19th century.

     The Laindon Shopping Centre, which wasn't even built when we first moved in and which played a large part in my life growing up, has now gone as well. That turned out to be another disaster! The Development Corporation absolutely decimated the High Road from Laindon Station almost to the Fortune of War in its creation. I've seen old photographs of the High Road and with the single exception at Durham Road its completely unrecognisable following the Corporation's actions from around the early 1960s onwards. So many businesses and livelihoods affected by their decisions and now it would seem it was all for nothing. It's been said that when the Corporation destroyed the High Road they "ripped the heart out of Laindon".

     At its height there were probably around 40 shops where you could buy most things without the need to travel further afield. At one time there were five banks if you count the Abbey National, three supermarkets, two newsagents, two chemists, two butchers, a fruit and veg shop, hairdressers, toy shop, d.i.y shop, electrical, hi-fi/video and kitchen appliances shop, furniture shop, pet shop, post office, fish and chip shop, opticians, off licence, restaurant, clothes shop, betting shop and many more businesses plus of course the Joker public house, public library and rent office that formed part of a business related office block.

     Something seemed to change in the 1990s around the time the National Westminster Bank decided to pull out followed by the Abbey National, and this was a few years before people started banking on the internet in any significant numbers. Shop units would remain empty for years on end. Some like the greengrocers and that of the Nat West Bank were never re-let for the rest of the life of the centre. There just didn't seem to be any effort by the various owners to tidy the place up and attract new businesses and it seemed to me that there was a deliberate behind the scenes plan to run the centre down and have it replaced with housing along with a few shops thrown in for good measure. Certainly with the demolition of the library and Clock House in 2008 the writing was on the wall and by 2019 it was all gone.


     The replacement, it was announced via large hoardings erected along High Road, would be called 'Laindon Place' with a mixture of apartments, houses and a limited amount of shops. Work began at the former Clock House end while some of the shops were still trading. Where Basildon Development Corporation in its original plans had at least allowed for a generous green area alongside High Road the new plans will maximise the development potential of the area by going right up to the road!

     As I write work has now been at a standstill for two years for various reasons not least the site owners Swan Housing experiencing financial issues that have only recently been resolved when they became a subsidiary of one of the UK's leading housing providers Sanctuary Housing. After so many failed previous attempts by former owners to regenerate the centre this latest break in proceedings is not good news. Sanctuary have announced their intention to consult with local residents to see how the project will eventually pan out which means the original regeneration plans may alter from that agreed in the planning applications. Well I shouldn't complain as the centre had got so purposely run down I'll take the view that anything done is better than nothing done!

Source material

     Some of the dates relating to various events I was able to recollect, but for others, particularly those occurring at Nicholas School, I was able to go back through my own diaries, which thankfully I have kept all these years. The Basildon History website was also very useful in this respect as were local newspaper reports from the Basildon Standard Recorder.

Title: From Rising Grove to Rowenhall - Growing up in and around Laindon 1966-1982 by Julie Cox (née Kicks)

Copyright: © Julie Cox, May 2023.

Comments: This account was supplied by Julie Cox for use on the Basildon History website.

Page added: 02/05/2023 with revisions 09/09/2023
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