If you have read our article about education on the Becontree Estate, you may get the idea that the London County Council was not always prepared in serving the needs of Becontree residents during the early years. A similar story could be told for transport links within the area, as well as into London, with many believing it was considered an afterthought. The London County Council were ambitious to create a ‘township complete in itself’, including integrated transport. The first residents moved onto Chitty’s Lane in 1921, yet there were actually no transport services into the estate until December 1922, when the first bus linked the northern part of the Estate with Ilford. Residents on the estate were made to live with these poor transport links until the early-mid 1930s.
Most residents living on the Becontree estate had to travel to London each day for work, with the exception of a few employed locally, such as those in the building industry. If we told you they had 4-5 different stations to travel to London, you may think that’s pretty good going. Yet the reality was quite different. During the early years of the estate, residents could travel to London via Chadwell Heath or Goodmayes – both to the north of the estate. Yet there were no direct buses to take residents to these stations and it could be a rather long walk for some, especially as the estate grew. If part of the journey did eventually include a bus too, the cost could increase by 2d to 4d per day. Residents in the southern part of the estate had the options of Dagenham or Dagenham Dock. However, residents would have to endure a muddy 20-minute walk to Dagenham Dock Station, to then be greeted by poor service and only one train per hour during rush hour. Dagenham Station was not much of an improvement – requiring a bus or train to Barking, and then a change to the District electric railway. There were eventually trains to Fenchurch Street too, but these were infrequent and badly overcrowded. Gale St Halt Station (now Becontree Station) opened in 1926 which helped somewhat, although still difficult to reach via bus. Other residents used the LMS steam lines, particularly as the population increased and private housing stretched along the LMS Barking to Dagenham and Southend lines. Once again, every train in rush hour was completely overcrowded.
Various schemes were discussed locally to improve services as complaints increased. In 1926 the London County Council offered land free to the District Railway if they agreed to extent their line to Becontree. Residents also urged the Government to intervene against the London County Council’s proposed extensions and the building of new houses before increasing and improving travel facilities. In September 1932, the extension of the district railway through the Estate opened. The night before the service started, the station offices were open for ticket purchase. At Heathway Station alone, the queue was huge and over 2,000 workman’s tickets were sold for the following day, demonstrating just how necessary the extension was.
There were also some problems regarding travel within the estate itself, with a huge lack of transport between the northern and southern areas. The only way for a resident of the northern area to get to the southern area (and vice versa) was either walking or travelling via Bus to Barking and changing – 6d or 8d for a single fare. It wasn’t until May 1927 that there was a direct connection via omnibus. The West to East route also increased considerably in 1928, enabling the resident to travel from the Chequers (extreme South East) to the Royal Oak (extreme North West) using two buses. Although the London County Council had the intention of creating a township and community for all residents of the Becontree Estate, this proved difficult when services were often being provided by the separate local authorities (Barking, Dagenham, and Ilford) and links between them were fragmented. But alas, this was not for too long. Eventually travel and communications between the different areas of the estate improved, even more so following the reorganisation of London Local Governments in 1965. These days, we have regular services around the local area and into London – much more regular, but definitely still busy!
Do you have any transport memories from the Becontree Estate? Were you ever told stories about the difficulties in travelling to work?