In the early 1970s Basildon New Town (officially Basildon but as it was just over 20 years old people still added the New Town tag) control was in the hands of two organisations – Basildon Development Corporation and Basildon Urban District Council.
By the time I arrived in 1972 the council was the civil administrator of the district but at the same time the Development Corporation, which had been formed to create the town, was still involved in buying land, building houses and handling the industrial area where new factories were going up as the government gave favourable grants to businesses to move to the newly developed area.
Among the big names opening factories in the first two decades were Marconi, Ford Motor Company, Carreras Tobacco Company and Yardley of London.
The Corporation had begun development at the very end of the 1940s and the first residents moved in to their new corporation homes in 1951 from the less salubrious premises. These people were known as the first generation and when I arrived in the very early 70s their children had grown up and were considered the second generation who had a choice between being corporation tenants or council tenants.
They might have been first generation in the sense of the new town but when it came to Basildon they were very much newcomers as the first generation of old Basildon had been “weekending” there sine the late 19th century and early 20th.
The area was built on London clay which meant it was really not suitable for farming and when the railways opened up the route from London to Southend people started buying plots of land to build weekend chalets along the way, mainly near the stations of Laindon and Pitsea.
After the First World War, however, the land developers starting selling off very small plots of land, big enough for a three-room building and a small garden. These were still meant to be weekend sites but in the 1920s more and more people were finding the need to live there all year round even though there were no made-up roads and no sanitation.
After the Second War plans were put in hand to provide new housing and workplaces for the families bombed out of London.
To obtain land for building houses and industry the Corporation was given the right to enforce Compulsory Purchase Orders if the current owners were unwilling to sell. This meant in the early days owners of these varying-sized temporary dwellings would bargain with the Corporation to get the best price they could, not always what the land was worth, and only if they failed to agree a price would the CPO be brought to bear.
Part of the price might include a flat or house with rent paid to the corporation.
Even by the 1970s there were still pockets of land where the owners had held out against any sale of their land because they wanted to stay. This meant we had regular stories about the “little man” standing firm against “big business” and, as nearly always happens, the big boys tended to win in the end.
In the early days the only properties for rent were those built by the Corporation. As Basildon grew, however, the Billericay Council which included the New Town in its area, gained permission to change its name to Basildon Urban District Council and as well as handling the civil administration for the area the council also started building houses for rent.
By 1972 the council and corporation both had their housing lists as the young residents grew up, married and needed to move out of their parents’ homes and set up homes for themselves.
Despite two housing lists there were still complaints from those who felt others were leapfrogging others.
One row that broke out was when a second-generation group protested that couples on the corporation housing list were jumping ahead of others when the wife got pregnant.
The normal way onto a housing list was when young couples got married and they moved up the list as houses were allocated and new ones built. The second generation group said young couples should not jump the queue because of pregnancy and should be more prudent especially as there were numerous family planning clinics in the area.
Although it would still be a good few years before Maggie Thatcher brought in her right to buy for council house tenants the corporation had started selling off its housing stock to its sitting tenants.
The prices were set quite reasonably and there was a discount of 20 per cent to 33 per cent which would need to be repaid if the property was sold within five years.
As these sales started it was soon clear that owners wanted to make their homes look different to those of tenants. With this in mind they began to make small changes: building a porch; having a proper fence around their front garden whereas before the boundaries had been defined by step-over wooden boundaries; there were fancy wooden doors; and even the simplest of house names differentiated them from those of their neighbours.
Of course this set my editor off on one of his feature ideas and I was sent to drive around the districts looking for places that had been upgraded in one way or another. If the owners were happy to talk about the changes I would then arrange for the photographer to go round later for a picture.
I felt at times that Tony Blandford leaned towards standing up for the “little man” and homeowners did not come into this category which is why a bit of ribbing was allowed.
Although they were busy selling off houses at cut-price the corporation was also continuing its development plans and continued until almost the end of the 1980s when it was wound up and the housing stock was mostly transferred to the Basildon Council.
Nowadays people no longer call Basildon a new town – it is, after all, 70 years old now and from what I have been told it is as far from the booming new town full of old London families and their children that I moved to in 1972 as that was from the shanty town of the 1920s and 1930s.
Despite the tone of some of the features Tony got me to write, as his resident Welshman in exile, I quite liked the place and the people.