Building The New Town Of Basildon

A Memory of Basildon

Basildon has an interesting history, for it was ‘reinvented’ not once, but twice. At the start of the 19th century Basildon was a small rural parish, bounded on the west by Laindon, Dunton, Langdon Hills and Lee Chapel, and on the south and east by Vange, Pitsea and Nevendon. They were quiet, agricultural places – but an agricultural depression in the 1870s caused landowners to look for new uses for their land. Land-agents began to acquire land in the area, carving it into small plots, roughly 18ft wide, and offering them for sale as cheap building plots. Thousands of people eventually bought plots, and bizarre townships of shacks and bungalows sprouted up, particularly during the 1920s and 30s, as many people welcomed the chance to build their own home at a low cost. The estates lacked many basic amenities though: mains water was out of the question for most plotland dwellings, and many roads were just grass tracks, almost impassable in winter. By 1940 the population of Laindon-Pitsea was 25,000. The local authority, Billericay Urban District Council, was concerned about the lack of facilities in the area, but could not afford to give this huge sprawling settlement the makeover it needed. However, when the New Towns Act was passed in 1946 and the search began for locations to re-house thousands of Londoners who had lost their homes during the Second World War, Billericay UDC grasped the opportunity to re-plan and rebuild the settlement on a major scale, and was unique in actually asking to be considered as the site for a New Town. The scheme was given official approval in 1948. Although some residents of the plotlands welcomed the New Town with open arms, delighted at the prospect of new homes with electric lighting, brick walls and flushing toilets, many others were not happy; for years, they had poured all their hopes, resources and time into what was now being described as a ‘shanty town’. Some plotlanders barricaded themselves inside their homes, or even clambered onto their roofs with shotguns to resist the loss of their homes. ‘Basildon was built on tears’ became a familiar observation.

The Development Corporation at Basildon spent the next 37 years building homes for up to 50,000 people in the ‘New Town’, in 15 self-contained ‘neighbourhoods’. An area between Laindon and Pitsea, not far from the old village of Basildon, had been selected as the centre of the New Town and the state-of-the-art market place opened in 1958, designed in the stark angularity favoured by architects of the period, intent on constructing a ‘brave new world’.

A memory shared by Julia Skinner , on Dec 17th, 2012.

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