Childhood memories of Basildon New Town in the 1950s & 1960s
Tomorrow afternoon Tuesday 6th November I will be interviewed about my Basildon New Town memoirs as described in my latest book on the Rob Jelly show on BBC Radio Essex at 3pm.
The book is illustrated with numerous black and white photographs from Victorian times up to the present day and there are also a number of poems pertinent to the Plotlands and the way things were in the Basildon of my childhood, youth and early adulthood some sixty years ago.
Copies of the book are available post free at £12.99 per copy from my website littoralpressuk.jimdofree.com - the Essex Hundred Publications website and at the Basildon Heritage Society's office in the Green Centre at the Wat Tyler Country Park in Pitsea.
Here is an extract from the book followed by one of the poems:
Further towards the west along the alley and bordering the new houses in the Greensteads and Dencourt Crescent a few of the older properties still remained beside the Southend to Fenchurch Street railway line. These were larger and more substantial than the normal plotland dwellings and the one I particularly remember had a wonderful mature orchard. Orchards were one of the inestimable joys of plotland existence and I have personally tasted more than my share of their forbidden fruit: Victoria plums, greengages and apples and pears with long-forgotten names such as James Grieves and Williams. One section of the bridle path ran from the newly built garages off Dencourt Crescent to the bridge crossing the railway next to the junction of Timberlog Lane and Bull Road. There were a couple of older houses between the path and Beech Road but my major interest was the railway line itself.
Along with my friends I regularly trespassed on railway property. Placing pennies of the track was a favourite hobby along with standing on the bridge and aiming things down the steam trains’ chimneys. The smell of soot and tar is still evocative, nostalgic and heart-poundingly adventurous as far as I’m concerned. Apart from that steam trains had their own romance for us children. They seemed alive, not like diesel or electric trains which are just machines. Steam trains were like animals. They hissed and puffed and whistled as steam and fire erupted from their dragonish funnels and fireboxes. In the summer the embankments were emblazoned with wild flowers and butterflies flickering and flaring like hot ash and burning embers. The oxeye daisies were probably the most prolific on the south facing embankment and vetches in every shade of yellow and blue and purple were also there in abundance. Half way down Sandon Road there was a playing field alongside the railway line. All that separated us children from danger was a six feet high wire mesh fence. In no time at all somebody had created a large hole in the mesh close to one of the concrete posts supporting the fence. It was like a hole in a wainscot for us irrepressible little rodents. This was my quick route to Vange library: under the fence, over the railway line, across a field, through a hedge and along an unmade road to the edifice of learning in question. My excuse for trespassing on railway property was that of educational necessity. Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking it - or is it sticking to me? If I hadn’t have taken this short cut to learning I would have had to go to the bottom of Sandon Road, turn right onto the A13, struggle on for another 100 yards of so and then turn right again into what I think was called Woodfield Road. Obviously, my education would have suffered due to such unnecessary exertion.
How we loved that embankment -
To clamber through the hot, oppressive air,
Logging the numbers of the selfsame engines.
To lie contented in the grass -
Those bread and sugar hours,
With the great moon daisies
Nodding above us with an eye for insects.
There we would place our pennies on the track -
Heady with mischief
And the whiff of danger.
The smell of coal and tar -
Thick and pervasive in a glaze of light.
The whir of wires through rings and pulleys,
As the shifting signals
Clattered their message on the tilt of iron.
So far away, those ant-infested slopes -
Lizards and slowworms
Evasive with the loss of tails;
The passengers with time enough to wave
And the steam’s dank texture,
Cool and condensing, like the bloom on damsons.