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One Man’s Dream

Brighton resident, Peter Batten, writes about another time, another place…

My Uncle John was a man with a dream. Like the Muscovite who I met once with his own small ‘Dacha’, John dreamed of weekends in the country, where he could escape from the pressures of work and London. But John was a man who could make things happen. He brought his dream to life. Like thousands of Londoners from his generation, born in the 1890s and lucky enough to survive World War 1, he bought his own little plot in Essex, on the way to Southend. This was the 1920s; for some hard-working Londoners the future seemed bright.

How did John’s dream begin? In 1909 his father, one of the last independent farriers in South London, died. John, aged 12, was the eldest of three children from a second marriage. The family suddenly became quite poor. John was very disturbed by the loss of his father and, for a time, was out of control. His mother, thanks to some good advice, enrolled him in the newly formed Boy Scouts. This was the first of several moments of good fortune in his life. He was already a keen footballer (he would carry on playing well into his thirties) and now he could join a band. He played the bugle so well that he was asked to play the Last Post at one of many WW1 funerals and was given the engraved instrument as a memento. But, above all, he went camping! The first site he visited was at Horndon-on-the-Hill, in Essex. He was enthralled. The countryside there was relatively unspoilt and it amazed him. One important fact about his generation is often overlooked: that he was a first generation city-dweller.
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