#5 The Plotlanders with
Shaun C Badham
June 24th, 2020
In this episode artist Shaun C Badham explores the DIY community, The Plotlanders in his hometown of Basildon, Essex and what they’re story can tell us about current issues of land ownership, the self-build movement, and artist projects that re-address our relationship with land, agriculture and each other.
Image: This Plot is Not for Sale, Shaun C Badham, Digital Image and Print, 2020
The Plotlanders were a radical DIY community who acquired plots of land through auction after the agricultural depression in the late 19th century. Mainly consisting of working class people, they acquired plots of lands from £5 a plot. The Plotlanders held ‘back to the land’ ambitions and built weekend retreats and smallholdings through alternative processes and local salvaged materials. However, in 1949 Basildon was designated as a New Town, which led to the compulsory purchase and demolition of the Plotlands.
Image: Deanna Walker at the back of Halliford in 1972
In this episode, we dive into the phenomena of the Plotlanders and explore them in context with current issues of land ownership, the self-build movement, and artist projects that re-address our relationship with land, agriculture and each other. As we’re waking up to a new landscape post COVID-19, some people are beginning to reflect if they can continue to do their jobs remotely, therefore the requirement to live in or as close to a city is questioned. More seriously the pandemic has spotlighted the inequities of access to green and outdoor space in lower income neighbourhoods and its impact on the health of its communities.
To get a better idea of who the Plotlanders were we spoke with a local historian and an author who has written two books all about her family’s life as weekend plotlanders between the 1950s and early 1980s, an artist about her project Residency in a shed on her allotment in Cornwall, and an arts organisation who centre collaborative production and functional art in the Lake District. We also spoke to an architect about new types of self-building in Holland and an artist about issues around land ownership in the UK and a self-build project with the homeless charity Crisis.
Image: Residency in a shed by Georgia Gendall
Dennis Hardy and Colin Ward gave a definitive account of the Plotlands in their book, Arcadia for All, where they also made the point that increasing planning and building regulations which demand houses to be fully finished before moving in, combined with the difficulties of obtaining a mortgage, has put an end to such self-help housing in the UK. But with the lack of affordable housing and a genuine desire for self-building today, the model of the Plotlands seems increasingly relevant.
Walking around the former area of the Dunton Plotlands where Deanna’s family plot was located you can still see old foundations and boundaries of the areas where many families similar to Deanna’s would have proudly staked out their allotments and spent summers maintaining their sheds and structures.
When the Basildon Development Corporation cleared the land for building the New Town the designated area had around 30,000 ownership, which required compulsive purchasing between 1949 and the late 1980’s. Some Plotland land was built on and other areas were allocated as green belt land which poses the question if the land was never intended to be used for building, why could the Plotlanders not have co-existed with the New Town?
Image: Photograph of bricks/remnants protruding from the ground in the Dunton Hills area in Basildon
Image of Basildon residents protesting at Whitehall in London. Basildon: Behind the Headlines by Peter Lucas, published 1985, pg45
Different accounts suggest how divisive the new town was. Some plotlanders welcoming the modern amenities being offered while others resisting up to the end. It is said many did not go gently – barricading themselves inside their homes and publicly protesting. The phrase ‘Basildon was built on tears’ became a familiar observation.
The Plotlanders was not just an Essex phenomena, but rather a movement of its time. A few other UK examples are listed below:
Castell Dinas Brân, Llangollen
St Bee’s Head in Cumbria
Severn valley from Bewdley to Bridgnorth Jaywick Sands in Essex.
Calow Green and Hardwick Wood near Chesterfield
Saltdean and Peacehaven near Brighton
Contributors & Credits
Thanks so much to our incredible contributors:
Deanna Walker – www1.essex.ac.uk/news/event.aspx?e_id=6049
Georgia Grendall – www.georgiagendall.co.uk/
Adam Sutherland – www.grizedale.org/
Julia Heslop – www.juliaheslop.com/
About Shaun C. Badham
Shaun C. Badham is an artist based in Essex, UK. Often responding to the socio-political, historical and human attributes of a given site, Shaun instigates long-term collaborative projects that are realised across different mediums, from local community actions to large-scale sculptural installations. Notable projects include, I’M STAYING (2014 to present), MORNING (2014 to 2018) and PLOT (2018 to present). With a research led practice and an emphasis on process, moments of public activity tend to facilitate investigation and dialogue surrounding the project, whether that’s via an exhibition, group walk, a book or a workshop.