In these days of international travel, far-flung holidays and fast living, it seems strange to think that back in the thirties and forties, a small plot of land just about 20 miles east of the city of London would have been considered a holiday destination - but that is just what the Plotlands in Dunton Hills were to some lucky Londoners with a little spare cash to invest.
Nestled in the middle of the Langdon Hills Nature Reserve (maintained by the Essex Wildlife Trust land) is a little time capsule which proves that once upon a time, you didn't need to travel too far out of London to escape the pace of the capital.
Back in 1924, the former farm land of Lower Dunton Hall was divided into 183 plots, sold at auction for around u00a36 each, with many plots being bought by East End families relishing the prospect of a countryside escape. The plot owners built their own holiday homes, all unique and each with their own character.
Fast forward to 2012 and just one Plotlands bungalow remains, kept as a monument to the fascinating past of this long gone community. It is known now as the Haven Plotlands Museum, and although the original owner's family actually lived here until the 1980s, on finally leaving their home they gave advice on the restoration of the bungalow to its early 1940s heyday.
Built by the Mills family between 1932 and 1936, The Haven is a now fascinating time capsule, thoughtfully decorated and furnished in the styles of the era - cupboards brim with old grocery products (some of these brands are still on the shelves of the supermarket today!), pots and pans sit on the old stove, a copy of Womans Weekly rests on the bedside cabinet with a pair of reading glasses, and a pot of tea awaits in the cosy lounge.
Stepping out into the garden and the gentle buzz of nature, you can imagine what an oasis this must have been for city folk used to the smoke and dirt of London. An allotment provided fruit and vegetables, and a small stable at the end of the plot once housed the Mills family's pony.
Many Plotlanders came to live here permanently during the war, and the Haven still has its original Anderson bomb shelter in the garden too, which you can peep into and imagine the cold damp hours spent passing the time with games and songs.
The Plotlands did not have electricity or central heating, so the bungalows were bitterly cold in the winter with ice forming inside the windows on particularly harsh nights. Sewers were never installed on the estate, so The Haven's toilet is an earth closet (with torn up sheets of newspaper instead of toilet roll!). Bathing would have been in a tin bath in front of the fire, and the bathwater would have been shared with the rest of the family, usually in age order - not very nice for the last child in the line!
The Museums' attention to detail is wonderful, and the volunteer staff who showed me around were clearly in love with the place, which is understandable. It is quite unique and certainly a well kept secret - having lived in Essex all my life, this was my first visit.
A stroll around the rest of the nature reserve and the Plotlands Trail reveals half-hidden remnants of other bungalows - a path leading to a clearing where a little house once stood, foundations and sections of brickwork in the tangled undergrowth, and wild flowers which were once part of a cottage garden.
Fans of wartime nostalgia and keen c20th historians will adore this well-kept little example of 1940s life.
You can find more details on the Haven Plotlands Museum here:
The Langdon Visitor Centre and Haven Museum are at Lower Dunton Road, Basildon, Essex SS16 6EB. Check visitor times before you make your journey though, as the museum is manned by volunteers so is only open on certain dates.
Left: A photo of Mrs Mills in the garden of The Haven with the family dog.