Bright, Breezy, Bracing Bridlington: Part 1

Tags

, , ,

I’m very pleased to feature the first of two new guest posts from Peter Claxton recounting Bridlington Borough Council’s significant council housing programme and its vigorous efforts to promote the town as a seaside resort. (Peter has contributed earlier posts on the history of council housing in Cottingham.) He now focuses most of his research time on Kingston upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century with particular emphasis on public health and housing.

Bridlington in winter is a silent place, where cats and landladies’ husbands walk gently down the middle of the street.

T. E. Shaw – Lawrence of Arabia – in his observations on 1930s ‘out of season’ Bridlington, highlighted a problem that beset – and still does to this day – many of our seaside resorts, the lack of year-round employment. (1) Twenty years earlier when the borough council first contemplated the provision of housing, the Medical Officer of Health laid bare the problem to be faced: (2)

The Corporation will have to be very careful in tackling this question in the future. As Bridlington is a seaside resort the majority of the working classes do not desire workmen’s houses but larger ones, so that their income may be largely increased by taking in visitors.

The task was further complicated by the fact that Bridlington was a town divided, as the old Local Board had noted: (3)

The Old Town is mostly residential and takes the bulk of the labouring classes, whilst The Quay is chiefly occupied by lodging houses and private residences.

Bridlington 1849-50, National Library of Scotland, reproduced under a Creative Commons licence

The arrival of the railway in 1846 came to represent more than just a delineation on a map, it influenced the fortunes of each part of the town. Bridlington Quay was no longer a ‘harbour of refuge’ for the coastal trade or the port through which much of the East Riding’s agricultural produce – predominantly malt – was shipped. And as a result, the Old Town to the north-west slipped into an interminable decline. Within a decade of the railway’s arrival the 600-year-old market was in a state of atrophy. The residences and offices of solicitors, bankers and merchants, intrinsic elements of a former vibrant agrarian economy, were by the end of the nineteenth century, but marcescent reminders of its former standing as a market town. Attestation to the area’s demise was further evidenced by a plethora of insanitary working-class dwellings.

Conversely , as a late nineteenth-century trade directory noted: (4)

Bridlington Quay a mean and insignificant village at the commencement of the present century, [is] now a small but handsome town and seaside resort, with all the comforts and conveniences which [a] luxurious age demands …

The Alexandra Hotel (built 1866), North Bay, 1928 (EPW023341) ©Britain from Above

The Quay, to the south-east of the railway, was the new face of Bridlington, offering entertainment for those that came ‘for the day’ or ‘stayed a week.’ It was, ‘the seaside resort nearest to most of the great centres of population of the West Riding.’ (5) It also attracted the commuter and by 1921, more than 2,800 Bridlington residents worked in Hull or the West Riding, with many residing in villa style houses that populated the new roads close to the seafront. (6)

Cardigan Road

As such, the work of the district council – declared a borough in 1899 – differed at each side of the railway, and by the outbreak of war in 1914, it had erected new housing in the Old Town, and at The Quay, entered the world of entertainment and leisure.

Poster c1913, © Science Museum made available under a Creative Commons licence

Following a visit to Joseph Rowntree’s model village of New Earswick in 1913, it was suggested at a council meeting that: (7)

Rowntree’s cottages in York, they were no doubt excellent in many ways but they could not be erected by the council at anything like the price … Garden Cities – they were not always suitable or satisfactory or cheap.

Words that clearly identified the problems to be faced by the borough council. There was no local benefactor ready to fund provision; agricultural wages were depressed, and other forms of employment predominantly seasonal. These issues would be reflected in the design and size of properties erected. Maximum weekly rents were to be in the region of five shillings (25p) per week, in fact the council hoped that smaller properties might be let at less than four shillings (20p).

Also, there were members on the council associated with the building trade, evidently nervous of the possibility of stepping away from traditional methods of construction. Letchworth was cited as an example, where as well as standard brick construction, alternative build techniques had been introduced. It was noted that ‘many were becoming cracked and [were] generally too-well ventilated.’ (8)

By 1914, the council had built 35 terraced houses – with ten allocated to employees working at the town’s power station – and twelve bungalows. Yet it suffered criticism regarding rents and in particular, the bijou nature of the bungalows for ‘old couples and widows.’ At 300 foot super the three-roomed dwellings were exceedingly small. As a councillor insensitively questioned, ‘How on earth was a fat woman to turn in a scullery such as was proposed …’ (9)

With the town’s sleeping population often quadrupling during the summer months, the sub-letting of rooms became an imperative for many families. (10) The council signalled acceptance of the practice confirming: (11)

[It] had no objection to the taking in of visitors. If they could make a little money that way it would help to pay their rents.

This was a perennial problem for both council and tenants. The council saw the wisdom in building smaller houses, thereby reducing the risk of unpaid rents during the winter months. Tenants were keen on larger properties to augment their income during the summer.

Watson’s Balk (Avenue)
Marton Road
Bridlington, 1926. National Library of Scotland, reproduced under a Creative Commons licence
Bridlington, 1926. National Library of Scotland, reproduced under a Creative Commons licence
Ashville Street – council employee housing
Portland Place – council employee housing
Bridlington, 1926. National Library of Scotland, reproduced under a Creative Commons licence

Indeed, there were opportunities galore for those with spare room to let. The privately built New Spa south of the harbour attracted 80,000 visitors within a month of opening in 1896. (12)

© East Riding Archives – made available under a Creative Commons licence

The council responded to the lack of amenities on the North Shore in 1904, erecting a glass and iron Floral Pavilion adjacent to the bandstand on the Royal Princes Parade.

The Floral Pavilion and Bandstand – Bridlington Local Studies Library

Two years later it built the Grand Pavilion at the north end of the Royal Princes Parade. With a seating capacity for 2000, it was in the popular ‘oriental end of pier’ style favoured at many seaside resorts.

The Grand Pavilion – Bridlington Local Studies Library

Everything of course changed in August 1914. A provincial weekly publication summed up the town’s plight perfectly: (13)

But the place had a strangely deserted appearance, where it was usual to see thousands, there were only hundreds. You may write to half-a-dozen boarding houses, and find that any one of them can spare you a room or rooms…  

The town’s Medical Officer of Health’s comments were far more revealing: (14)

Owing to the outbreak of war in August the season proved a failure, … there is no doubt that many spinsters and widows, who rely upon their income and livelihood to come from visitors, are on the verge of starvation.

In 1919, the council’s intentions were made clear when it purchased the 1907 Spa Theatre and Opera House, as well as the original 1896 Spa. The future of the town and its residents, rested with the development and promotion of the resort.

Spa Theatre and Opera House

North-west of the railway, municipal attention turned once more to the town’s permanent residents. But the vagaries of employment in both agriculture and leisure remained. The local Master Builders’ Association continued its crusade for larger properties: (15)

What is needed in a seaside resort is a house of a rather larger type, with sufficient accommodation to enable tenants to augment their income by taking visitors during the season.  

The council’s vision of the way forward, was however, diametrically opposed to that of local builders. There were to be no lavish plans for an inordinate number of large council houses each with spare rooms to rent out. A perceptible change in the ‘holidaying habits’ of those that came to stay for a week  had been noted. Visitors were starting to choose, ‘… camp sites for cheaper holidays free from the irksome rules of boarding houses.’ (16) The age of the tent, converted railway carriages or buses, ex-army huts or wooden bungalows had arrived. (17).

A photograph taken by R. Hartley in the 1930s

In tandem with private provision, house building gradually brought the two parts of the town together. Following a modest build of twelve houses in 1921 on the aptly named Borough Road, construction of the Postill estate began two years later. By the middle of the decade the council had erected approximately 200 properties.

Bridlington, 1926. National Library of Scotland, reproduced under a Creative Commons licence
Borough Road
Postill Estate
Postill Estate

Sadly, an attempt to promote home ownership during the 1920s failed to gain traction. A proposed ‘purchase out of rent’ scheme attracted a mere six inquiries and was swiftly shelved by the council. (18) At the same time, a briefing document regarding the regeneration of the seafront reiterated: (19)

Apart from the fishing industry there are no established industries in the Borough which is purely a health and pleasure resort for the large industrial populations …

The document informed that visitor numbers arriving by train ‘during the season’ had risen from 216,000 in 1922, to 320,000 by 1925, (20) and the town had to move with the times. Visitors were now seeking, ‘… music and entertainments as evidenced by the popular craze for dancing.’ (21) It would take a substantial amount of money, approximately £100,000, and the council was convinced that this was the way forward.

Disappointingly, no matter how busy the seafront was during the summer, it could never sustain the whole town through the winter months. But, as we shall see in a follow-up blog, efforts to increase year-round employment proved contentious. And when ambitious plans for the regeneration of the seafront failed to come to fruition, a subsequent appointment by the council proved fortuitous.

References

(1) R. Knowles and P. Clabburn, Cats and Landladies’ Husbands: T.E. Lawrence in Bridlington (The Fleece Press, 1995)

(2) Borough of Bridlington Medical Officer of Health Report, 1911, wellcomecollection.org

(3) District of Bridlington Local Board & Urban Sanitary Authority Report for 1893, wellcomecollection.org

(4) T. Bulmer & Cos., Directory of East Yorkshire, 1892

(5) D. Neave, Port, Resort and Market Town: A History of Bridlington (Hull Academic Press, 2000)

(6) D. and S. Neave, Bridlington: An Introduction to its History and Buildings (Smith Settle Ltd., 2000)

(7) ‘The Housing Problem’, Bridlington Free Press, 31 January 1913

(8) ibid

(9) ‘12 Cottages to be built’, BFP, 20 March 1913

(10) Neave, Port Resort

(11) ’Visitors and Workmen’s Houses’, BFP, 26 September 1913

(12) D. and S. Neave, Bridlington: An introduction

(13) ibid

(14) Borough of Bridlington Medical Officer of Health Report, 1914

(15) ‘Boarding-Houses Preferred’, BFP, 1 March 1920

(16) D. and S. Neave, Bridlington: An Introduction

(17) ibid

(18) ‘Purchase out of rent scheme’, Hull Daily Mail, 28 April 1927

19. Seafront regeneration briefing document, East Riding Archives, BOBR/2/15/4/518

(20) ibid

(21) ibid

Workers’ Democracy in Building Greenwich Borough’s Homes Fit for Heroes, 1920–23

Tags

,

I’m very pleased to feature this new guest post by Michael Passmore. Michael is a historian specialising in housing and town planning after a career in estate management. In 2015, King’s College London awarded Michael a PhD for a thesis on the politics of council housing between 1971 and 1983. Since 2015 Michael has been affiliated to University of Greenwich, first as a visiting lecturer and currently as a visiting fellow. He engaged in organising with Professor Mark Swenarton and others the successful 2019 Homes Fit for Heroes Centenary Conference at the Institute of Historical Research, London University.

Charlton in South–East London is known for its fine Jacobean mansion, Charlton House, and for The Valley football ground where Charlton Athletic first played in 1919. A less well-known part of the district’s heritage is the Guild Estate, part of Greenwich Council’s contribution to the Lloyd George government’s Homes Fit for Heroes campaign. It forms a section of Charlton Estate comprising some 440 cottage-style semi-detached and terraced houses.

An observant visitor to Charlton might notice a pointer to the significance of this 1920s estate from an ornate plaque (or tablet) on the front wall of a pair of semis at the eastern end of The Village. It records the names of some dignitaries of Greenwich Metropolitan Borough and others involved in developing the first phase of the estate during 1919–21.

The name of the construction company inscribed is ‘Guild of Builders (London) Limited.’ This was one of several building guilds, set up as part of a short-lived movement following the First World War. My research reveals that the homes in Charlton are the only ones that a guild erected in the former County of London, although the London Guild also built Higham Hill Estatefor Walthamstow Urban District Council just over the county border.

Initially, the proponents of the guilds had lofty expectations. During 1920, G.D.H. Cole, the Oxford academic and leading theorist of the guild socialist movement, saw the London branch in action and welcomed the contribution its members were making. He had hopes that “The guild system would develop into as great a movement as the co–operative movement.”

Guild of Builders 

The guilds were created at a time of unrest among working people that had been fomenting since the First World War especially over poor working conditions and squalid housing. There were dreams of replacing private enterprise with a new form of business organisation through workers’ control. In April 1920, Richard Coppock, a young trade union official in Manchester, set up a national building guild with Samuel (S.G.) Hobson, a political idealist, who was one of the people involved in founding Letchworth Garden City. (Coppock later became Chairman of London County Council.) The guild was an alliance of several independent unions representing building workers and known as the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives (NFBTO). Hobson became General Secretary of the national guild.

The guild aimed to make decisions democratically, to improve the status of building workers and to achieve high standards by reviving artisanship in the industry. Echoing ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris, the guild aspired to do work worthy of the Middle Ages. Workers formed self-governing branches including the one in the London area, although most were in the north of England. Unlike the prevailing  practice on building sites, the guilds aimed to continue paying worker–members when bad weather prevented activity as well as during holidays and sickness. Many labourers and skilled workers responded enthusiastically to an opportunity to participate in the new venture.

The housing campaign associated with Health Minister Christopher Addison’s Act of 1919 generated plenty of building work and so presented an opportunity for newly formed building guilds to participate where local councils were prepared to engage them. Addison initially encouraged their involvement because private contractors showed little interest in building council housing.

The London Guild of Builders was set up on the lines of a model constitution recommended by the National Guild with Malcolm Sparkes as secretary. He was a Quaker who at one time ran his own building firm.

London Metropolitan Boroughs

Political control changes in Greenwich Town Hall

Before municipal elections took place in November 1919, the Conservatives, who operated in London local government as the Municipal Reform Party, had controlled Greenwich Council for two decades. As in several London boroughs and to the surprise of many, the Labour Party became the majority party on Greenwich Council in 1919. If it had not done so, the inexperienced London Guild might not have succeeded in building the council’s first housing project. A close relationship quickly developed between the new council and the guild when it came onto the scene. Nevertheless, councillors across the political divide adopted a bipartisan approach over participating in the government’s Homes Fit for Heroes campaign.

The newly elected council decided to retain the experienced mayor, solicitor Sir Charles Stone, not least because there was no financial allowance at a time when most Labour councillors were in full-time employment. By the following year, when a stipend was available for the office of mayor, the council appointed a leading Labour member – Benjamin Lemmon, a marine engineer and energetic trades unionist.

Work starts on the scheme

By the time that the Labour leadership took on its responsibilities, the council had identified forty acres of greenfield land of irregular shape. Only a small part was in its ownership and most of the site was being acquired from Sir Spencer Maryon-Wilson whose family had owned Charlton House and much of the area for centuries. The development land skirted three sides of a 30-acre wood that Maryon-Wilson was in the process of donating to London County Council for use as a public park. This helped make the housing site attractive because Christopher Addison advised local authorities to build estates near open space so that tenants would have easy access for recreation.

Glimpses of Maryon Wilson Park

In 1925, Greenwich Council was to acquire Charlton House from Maryon-Wilson with its 40-acre park opposite the new estate, thus adding to the local amenities.

During its first six months, the new council made substantial progress with the housing scheme. Having obtained Whitehall’s approval to the site, the council appointed a Greenwich-based architect, Alfred Roberts, to draw up an estate layout (with the borough engineer) and design the houses. Roberts and the council settled on four building types ranging between two and four bedrooms and all were to have bathrooms.

Planned estate layout (left) and final street plan

On 10th July 1920, a customary ‘cutting the first sod’ ceremony took place to mark the start of construction works. Alderman Lemmon, who chaired the event, explained to the gathering that the Housing Ministry had approved plans for the scheme and that the necessary funds were available. He blamed the nation’s housing problem for much of the prevailing industrial unrest. Lemmon was delighted that the woodland next to the new homes was to become available for public use.

Meanwhile, a firm of private contractors began work on an initial phase of eighteen houses on a strip of land detached from the main site and fronting onto Kinveachy Gardens, an established residential road. The recently formed London Guild lobbied the council for the job but missed the date for submitting a tender price. They made sure that they met the conditions for the main contract.

As the London Guild submitted the lowest tender for building 164 houses on the main site, the council quickly settled the contract details with them. Most of the new homes were to have three bedrooms.

Types of houses

Included in the contract were another 26 homes on a strip of land to the west of Charlton Village that was to become Mascalls Road. The council agreed to pay for the work in stages as building progressed. This enabled the guild to raise the working capital needed for its operation from the Co-operative Bank that served trade unions. As Whitehall officials were slow in approving the terms of the contract, it was not until late 1920 that they gave Greenwich the go-ahead to start work. By this time there was a waiting list of workers wanting to join the guild and within a few months, a local newspaper reported that there were 300 on site.

Design of the homes

The authors of the South London volume of the popular Pevsner Architectural Guides recommend their readers to look at the estate to see what they describe as the ‘straightforward pantiled and roughcast cottage housing.’ This entry captures the more attractive features of the homes although in recent years alterations to many of the exteriors are out of character with the original designs.

When preparing the drawings for the new Greenwich homes, Alfred Roberts followed the official housing design manual issued to local authorities. This publication was in line with the report Sir Raymond Unwin edited on the Tudor Walters Committee, which the government set up in 1916 to improve the standard of working-class housing. The manual included plans of several types of model home but allowed for variations to suit local conditions.

Roberts would have been aware of the picturesque estate at nearby Well Hall, Eltham, designed during the war by Sir Frank Baines of H.M. Office of Works. However, the manual made it clear that designers should avoid the expense of unnecessary ornamentation, although the Health Ministry did not object to Roberts including the Arts and Crafts motif of a rising sun in brickwork on some semis. Again, to reduce costs, Unwin urged councils to use standardised building components where possible, so Roberts specified precast door hoods and steel casement windows. The council wanted the latter to be in wood, but the ministry ruled out this traditional material as it was slightly more expensive. There was variation in the roof coverings as the architect substituted slates when tiles were unavailable.

Some design features

Grand opening

The event to celebrate completion of the first homes took place on Saturday 2nd July 1921. In readiness for the occasion, two departmental stores – the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society and Cuffs of Woolwich – each furnished a new home to show what tenants could buy. These show houses remained open to the public for several days as there was keen interest from local people.

Newspaper advert

At the crowded ceremony, the  previous mayor Sir Charles Stone and others praised the high quality of the building work. Mayor Lemmon declared that he identified with others living in squalid conditions by revealing that he and his wife, belonged to the great mass of people who were cooped up in small rooms in bad surroundings’. He referred to a government announcement that they were halting the house-building programme when he criticised them for not doing enough to support the council in tackling the housing shortage.

Secretary of the London Guild, Malcolm Sparkes, proclaimed that the guilds were a new industrial system whose growth had only reached the stage of a year-old infant. Unfortunately, at the time of the formal opening, the national economic climate was deteriorating.

Events turn against the guilds

Alfred Mond, who replaced the progressive Addison as Health Minister, had earlier favoured the guilds, but now changed the way housing schemes were financed to the detriment of the guilds. Private contractors were putting  pressure on the government by complaining that it favoured guilds unfairly.

In Greenwich, the London Guild put in a tender to build the next phase of the estate known as the Pound Park section, but private contractors undercut the pricing. The housing committee still preferred the guild because of its proven reliability, but ministry officials persuaded them to accept the tender from a Birmingham firm.

For a while, the National Guild and local branches merged, but by the end of 1922 the movement was failing financially. The Cooperative Bank was not prepared to make further loans without collateral that was beyond the organisation’s capacity. It signalled the end of the experiment and, sadly, the winding up of Guild of Builders (London) Ltd. took place in 1924. So, the growth of the industrial system that Malcolm Sparkes envisioned never reached maturity. Nevertheless, the London Guild completed its section of the Charlton Estate satisfactorily, leaving a legacy of well-built homes for future generations.

The origin in the name

Suggested Reading

Geoffrey Ostergaard (ed. Brian Bamford), The Tradition of Workers’ Control (London: 1997)

Alison Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture: The History of a Social Experiment (London: 2001)

Mark Swenarton, Homes Fit for Heroes (London: 1981/2018)

Council Housing in Devon in the 1920s: a Local History Project

Tags

My apologies again for lack of recent posts – I’m writing a book – but normal service will be resumed when possible. In the meantime, I’m very grateful to guest contributors and others working in the field on whom much of my work depends. Today’s post has been written by Julia Neville who is the (volunteer) project manager for a local history research collaboration on Devon in the 1920s.

Our project covers a wide range of different histories – from the Legacy of the First World War to Growing Up in the 1920s and on to Progress and Technology. And of course you can’t study 1920s local history seriously without coming across the problems of housing: the overall housing shortage and the inadequacy of the housing in which many people had to live. We need to take a close look at how agencies in the 1920s attempted to solve these almost intractable problems. As the Municipal Dreams blog makes clear, local authorities, urban and rural, were key players in this. Our research group was therefore delighted when John Boughton agreed earlier this month to come and launch our review of housing needs and development in Devon and set the scene for us of national initiatives (and backtracking) and how local authorities responded.

As readers may imagine, recreating what happened across the county of Devon is a challenge. Local authorities with housing interests comprised two county boroughs (Exeter and Plymouth); ten municipal boroughs; twenty-two urban districts; eighteen rural districts ranging in size from the giant St Thomas (26,500 population) to the tiny Culmstock (3200 population) which proudly related in 1931 that ‘’The council has taken up housing and 40 houses have been erected’. (1)  There was also Devon County Council itself, whose interest in housing, especially the reconditioning of tumbledown housing. was shown in its response to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act 1926. (2)  The county considered itself a driving force for rural housing improvement, as the pictures below illustrate. We hope to be able to update readers on our progress over the next year or so.

An image taken from The Jubilee of County Councils, 1889-1939 (1939)

Amongst our group of volunteers, I am probably the lucky one, because my home patch is Exeter, and a post on this blog gives an overview of Exeter City Council’s forays into municipal housing during the interwar years, so some of the spade work on the 1920s has already been done for me. I hope to add value to it over the next year or so by investigating more closely the actors involved – both the ‘doers’ and the ‘done to’s’.

Exeter City Council in the 1920s was a complex mix of traditionalists and modernisers. The mayoralty was held alternately by a businessman (and it was always a man) and then a professional man and most councillors came from one or other of those backgrounds. Many councillors strenuously denied party politics had any influence, but this was a polite fiction as it was normally quite clear at national elections who was supporting which party. The arrival of first the Labour Party (the first councillor ‘crossed the floor’ to represent Labour rather than the Liberals in 1918) and then the Ratepayers’ Association (very active between 1924 and 1925) also disturbed this polite fiction as those groups did arrange to cast their votes as a bloc. I hope to find out more about the dynamics of getting things done and who the procrastinators were. As part of that process I intend to consider the contributions of some of the forgotten councillors such as Edith Splatt, Exeter’s first woman councillor, who was elected on a Ratepayers’ Association ticket but who was all her life a campaigner for better housing.

A blue plaque for Edith Splatt © Julia Neville

Secondly, I hope to find out more about the families who moved to the new estates. Initially these were working families with a reasonable level of wages, and thus able to pay the rents required, but as legislation changed more families came from poor housing areas such as the slums of the West Quarter. A wide range of oral histories were collected in Exeter thirty or forty years ago which give us some clues to what the residents thought about their ‘old’ and their ‘new’ houses in the interwar years. Lil Shapcott, for example, remembers how when she was a child in Preston Street ‘you had to go to the toilet out in the yard, and there were rats … Once my sister said “Stay indoors and I’ll go out.” She had a pair of my brother’s hob-nailed boots … she kicked this rat and kicked it until it went away or died or something.’ Lil’s father, a fish hawker, always said of the new estates: ‘You won’t get me out there so long as I live’. And in fact he did die before they had to move, but her mother and the children moved out, and her mother relished the garden that came with the new house on the Burnthouse Lane estate. ‘She had four squares with big rocks around, and she had all these flowers, and once a year the Council men used to come round and judge the gardens, and my mother had First Prize …’ (3)

An early photograph of Widgery Road on the Polsloe Estate

Recently in a compilation called Childhood in Exeter in the 1920s, I came across an account by Charles Tucker, who was born in 1920 into a single room tenement in a tumbledown house. He reflected on the gradual move of his friends during the 1920s and 1930s out to the different Exeter estates: ‘The Council decided on slum clearance, and sent them to all parts of the city. To Buddle Lane, which was nicknamed ‘Shanghai’, why I don’t know. To Whipton [the Polsloe Estate] which was known as ‘Chinatown’, I still don’t know why, and to Burnthouse Lane. I don’t know why they didn’t give that a name.’ (4) Eventually ‘they’ did: it was known as ‘Siberia’.

On the map above, courtesy Google Earth, I have marked the locations of the estates and also of the High Street which for many had originally been little more than a three or four minute walk away from home, and was now thirty or forty minutes. I imagine, and it’s the common assumption, that the estates got those nicknames because of their distance from the High Street and the markets. But I’d be really interested to find out whether other readers of this blog are aware of nicknames attached to the interwar council estates in their area and what those nicknames represented. If you have any examples to share, please send them to me, Julia Neville, via the Devon History Society website, Contact – Devon History Society

Please contact Julia directly (or leave a comment as appropriate) but I’ll also be very pleased to hear of, and happy to feature on the blog, other local research into the history of council housing.

References

(1) Municipal Year Book, 1931, Municipal Journal Ltd (1931)

(2) The work of the county council is described in R.T. Shears, Conservation of Devonshire Cottages, Bideford Gazette Printing (1968)

(3) Lil Shapcott, Memories, courtesy of Olwen Foggin

(4) Charles Tucker (Mr W), in Childhood in Exeter, 1920-1950, Exeter City Council (1987)

London Housing by Peter Moro and Partners

Tags

, ,

I’m pleased to feature today a new guest post by Dr Alistair Fair. Alistair is a Reader in Architectural History at the University of Edinburgh and a specialist in post-1919 architecture in Britain. He first discovered the work of the architectural practice Peter Moro and Partners when writing a history of British theatre architecture between the 1940s and 1980s (published in 2018 as Modern Playhouses, and recently re-issued in paperback). He has since written a book specifically about Peter Moro and Partners, which was published in September 2021. His current work includes a collaborative study of Scotland’s new towns, and an investigation of ideas of ‘community’ in twentieth-century Britain. You can follow him on Twitter @AlistairFair

Peter Moro and Partners was a small but well-regarded London-based architectural practice which was active between the 1950s and the 1980s. Its work, which was almost entirely for public-sector clients, included several notable estates in London. Their design demonstrates well the growing search, during the 1960s and 1970s, for innovative ‘high density, low rise’ estate layouts.

Peter Moro shown holding a model of Plymouth’s Theatre Royal in the late 1970s © Collection of Andrzej Blonski

Peter Moro was a German refugee who came to Britain in the mid 1930s. He initially worked with Berthold Lubetkin’s pioneering Modernist practice, Tecton, on projects including the Highpoint 2 flats in north London. A move into independent practice led to the co-design of a very well-received large house on the Sussex coast, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Then, at the end of the 1940s, Moro was head-hunted to join the design team working on the Royal Festival Hall in London; his work involved overseeing the detailed design of the interiors. Moro was thus well-placed to become a specialist in theatre design, just as Britain experienced a building boom in subsidised regional theatre-building. (1)

Thirza Street/Barnardo Gardens © Elain Harwood

Moro’s involvement in the Festival Hall did not simply establish him as a theatre specialist, however. It also led to further work for the London County Council (LCC) and the subsequent Greater London Council (GLC). These jobs included several housing estates. The largest was at Thirza Street, Shadwell, to the north of Cable Street. Now known as the Barnardo Gardens estate, it was completed between 1967 and 1972 and replaced a patchwork of housing condemned as unfit. The site was bisected by a railway line, with the architects proposing 130 flats in two U-shaped groups of buildings. Low-rise blocks were set around the perimeter, with a single fourteen-storey tower adding a vertical accent. The southern (Cable Street) frontage included a public house and clubroom as well as flats for the elderly. At the centre of the estate was a play area, set on a podium above garages and parking. The buildings were originally largely faced in red brick, though the concrete floor slabs were left on show, with the deliberate choice of an aggregate-rich concrete mix adding texture. Bridges between the low-rise buildings were also made of concrete, their large eight-sided openings adopting a shape which appeared in many designs by Moro and his colleagues from the mid-1960s onwards. The raised podium was removed early in the 2000s, while the central and southern parts of the estate have been remodelled.

In 1967, a perspective drawing of the Thirza Street development was shown at the Royal Academy, where it caught the eye of Hans Peter ‘Felix’ Trenton, architect for the newly created London Borough of Southwark. Over the course of the next fifteen years, Peter Moro and Partners designed several estates for the borough. Much of this work was overseen by Moro’s partner in practice, Michael Mellish, with important contributions from numerous other colleagues.

The London Borough of Southwark was created as part of the reorganisation of the capital’s local government in 1964, bringing together three former Metropolitan Boroughs: Bermondsey, Camberwell, and Southwark. In 1966, the new authority reported that housing conditions were such that 2000 new homes were needed in the borough each year until 1981. When it came to the design of these homes, the former borough of Camberwell had already rejected the typical 1950s inner London strategy of housing design, namely picturesque ‘mixed developments’ of towers, maisonettes, and houses. Instead, the Aylesbury estate (1963-67) was more uniformly medium-rise, and this approach was rolled out across Southwark in the late 1960s.

This move reflects a contemporary shift away from high-rise housing. It partly was the result of increasing unease with ‘mixed development’; also important was growing criticism of isolated tall blocks. These debates led during the late 1950s and 1960s to a number of key projects elsewhere, such as Lillington Gardens in Pimlico (Darbourne and Darke, 1961-71), and the Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury (Patrick Hodgkinson from a scheme with Leslie Martin, 1961-72). In addition, the subsidy regime introduced by the 1956 Housing Act, which had favoured tall buildings, was abandoned at the end of the 1960s in favour of new cost ‘yardsticks’, and this, too, prompted particular interest in so-called ‘high density, low rise’ layouts. The examples designed by Neave Brown and colleagues for the London Borough of Camden are particularly well known, not least thanks to the research of the historian Mark Swenarton, but there are notable examples elsewhere in London – particularly in Lewisham and Southwark.

An early example in Southwark was Neylan and Ungless’ Limes Walk development in Peckham (1964-66), with two long terraces facing a pedestrian walkway. Reflecting growing interest in ‘vernacular’ detailing, Southwark’s developments increasingly featured brick elevations and tiled roofs, among them the Setchell Road development by Neylan and Ungless (1971-78), where a dense mixture of flats and houses is arranged around courtyards and pathways. Within this context, the estates designed by Peter Moro and Partners tended in terms of their design towards the rational rather than the picturesque or neo-historical. The need for high densities with a wide dwelling mix – from small flats to family dwellings – led to intricate, innovative and well-considered cross-sections. A key aim was the maximum possible amount of private open space, in the form of gardens or terraces.

An early scheme was at 76-78 Montpelier Road, Peckham (1969-74), a small brick-clad block sympathetic to the scale of the adjacent terraces. A 1976 guide to recent London buildings by Charles McKean and Tom Jestico thought it contextual without being imitative, ‘skilfully designed and well built’, noting how ‘well-chosen materials’ plus careful detailing had made ‘a very small stairway into a pleasant space’. (2)

Hamilton Square section, drawn by Nick Mols

It was followed by two larger estates. At Coxson Place, Bermondsey (1969-75), flats and maisonettes were built alongside new premises for the Downside Settlement (a boys’ club). The housing was arranged in two parallel blocks, separated by walkways on two levels, with a complex mixture of house types melded together into a building of deceptively simple appearance. A similar arrangement was used at Hamilton Square, close to Guy’s Hospital (1969-73). Flats and maisonettes are arranged in two bands of buildings, between which is a landscaped podium above garages and parking. The impression externally is of a cascade of brick-faced terraces and balconies, stepping up through the site. As at Coxson Place, the arrangement of the dwellings is complex, and the product of much thought. The larger flats and maisonettes have several levels and half-levels, with some stepping across the open walkways to reach their own terraces. The Architects’ Journal praised the design: ‘the architects have performed a small miracle in achieving an exceptionally high density within a maximum four storeys, each dwelling planned to Parker Morris standards and each with the bonus of a respectable private outside space. (3)

Pomeroy Street © Elain Harwood

Less complex in layout but demonstrating many of the same ideas is a development at Pomeroy Street, Peckham (1974-78), which combined a linear block of flats and maisonettes on the street-facing front with terraced housing in the gardens to the rear. The design was contextual in its brick, and its scale, with the length of the block intended ‘to re-establish the linear form of Pomeroy Street’ whilst being broken up by gables and balconies intended to identify each dwelling and to ‘give a variety of views […] which conventional terrace housing often lacks’. (4) Writing in Building Design, John McKean praised the scheme’s combination of humane atmosphere and urban scale.

Rowcross Street © Alistair Fair

There were other projects in the borough. Earl Road/Rowcross Street (Wessex House, 1971-74) echoes James Stirling’s 1960s designs in its bright red brickwork and angled geometries. Brimmington Central (Blanch Close), meanwhile, was completed in 1981, with flats and houses plus a small parade of shops which Moro’s team developed from Southwark’s own in-house designs. A final larger development, the Pasley Estate, Kennington, was begun in 1975 and completed in 1982. Deliberately picturesque, its brick-clad, low-rise blocks of housing snake around and through the site, being crowned with pitched roofs.

Pasley Estate © Elain Harwood

Things seemed to be on a roll, but, by the late 1970s, inflation and recession were challenging the economic (and political) assumptions of the previous thirty years. The introduction of the nationwide ‘Right to Buy’ policy in 1980 further affected the landscape of council housing. The result was a sudden reduction in the numbers of new council houses being constructed. That year, the Illustrated London News commented that it was ‘sad and strange that, having taken two decades to discover the kind of municipal housing its citizens like and want, Southwark now finds itself without the cash to build them’. (5)

Within this body of work, the contribution of Peter Moro and Partners is notable. The Buildings of England volume for south London not only highlights the quality of Southwark’s 1970s housing in general, but the contributions of Moro’s office in particular. (6) These projects demonstrate well not only the ways in which local authorities and their designers in 1970s London sought to provide excellent new housing of often innovative form, but also the evolving nature of the ‘welfare state’ project and its architecture during a decade that is all too easily written off as a period of crisis and decline.

To buy a copy of Peter Moro and Partners for £21, use code LUP30 at the publisher’s website.

References

(1) For more on this, see e.g. Alistair Fair, Modern Playhouses: an architectural history of Britain’s new theatres (Oxford, 2018).

(2) Charles McKean and Tom Jestico, Guide to Modern Buildings in London, 1965-75 (London: RIBA, 1976), p. 58.

(3) Hamilton Square Redevelopment’, Architects’ Journal, vol. 157, no. 9 (9 May 1973), pp. 1116-17.

(4) ‘Queens Road Development’, 9 February 1979, typescript by Michael Mellish. RIBA, MoP/1.

(5) Tony Aldous, ‘New Housing Solutions in Southwark’, Illustrated London News, October 1980, p. 26.

(6) Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry, London 2: South (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 562.

Council Housing in Llandudno, Part II Post-1945

Tags

, , , ,

I’m very pleased to feature the second post by Matthew Evans which brings the story of Llandudno’s council housing up to date. Matthew, the principal author, works in communications within local government and has been assisted in research and writing by his father, Philip Evans, who has been a councillor on Aberconwy Borough and subsequently Conwy County Borough councils since 1976 and was twice Mayor of Llandudno, in 1983/4 and 2006/7. Many of the details of council minutes, personal details and recollections in this piece come from him. Most photographs (unless otherwise credited) have been kindly taken by the author’s sister, Kimberley Evans.

We left the story of Llandudno’s council housing in the last post on the eve of the Second World War, when the town had built substantial numbers of properties in several different parts of the town. But despite this activity, the pressures of the war and its aftermath would spur the building of large numbers of new houses as the town entered the post-war era.

The post-war era

The immediate years following World War Two, like elsewhere in the country, saw a housing shortage in Llandudno. Unlike many other areas this was not linked to bombing, as only a single recorded bomb fell on Llandudno during the war, on the side of one of the hills overlooking the town. But it was the safety of its location on the west coast of Britain that caused the town to become overcrowded. Unlike many similar seaside resorts on the south coast, whose populations declined to escape the bombing, numbers of people living in Llandudno increased significantly.

The town was chosen as the site of the Coast Artillery School, which was evacuated from Shoeburyness to Llandudno during the war. It was also the home of the Inland Revenue throughout the war (Colwyn Bay next door was home to the Ministry of Food), which meant an influx of 4000 civil servants into the town, alongside refugees from the war in Europe. James Callaghan, future prime minister, was the entertainments officer for this new contingent.

A Home Guard parade in Llandudno. The officer giving the salute is Captain Frank Billham who worked in the Inland Revenue at the Imperial Hotel. Image used with the kind permission of the Home Front Museum, Llandudno.

The diversity of people working or finding refuge in Llandudno is shown by the fact that Jewish services at the synagogue in the town attracted, on occasion, 400 attendees during the war. (1) At the end of the conflict, this increased population did not reduce immediately. The Inland Revenue only moved slowly back to London and a number of the demobbed soldiers had married into local families.

In today’s world, where the Government is keen to be seen to ‘level-up’ and move civil service posts out of London, such as to Treasury North in Darlington, it is interesting to consider how having well paid professional jobs remain in resort towns like Colwyn Bay and Llandudno might have helped diversify the local economies in a more sustainable way in the decades when many declined after the war. 

An example of the housing situation in the immediate post-war was related by an old friend of the family called Betty Mylett, who grew up in Llandudno and had obtained work with the Inland Revenue during the war. Her job was relocated to London after the war and she lodged for a time in Harrow, but couldn’t settle and returned home in the late 1940s. She married and she and her husband firstly lived in what had been a large private family home in Upper Craig y Don – in what is still today a very comfortable and quiet area of Llandudno. However, in an illustration of living conditions at the time, their accommodation consisted of one room in a house occupied by over 20 other adults – a situation that could be multiplied throughout the town. Furthermore, at least ten families squatted in various abandoned buildings on the western slopes of the Great Orme’s Head at the site of the Coast Artillery School, which had relocated back to Essex. A further five families occupied Nissen huts used formerly by the RAF Police on the summit of the Great Orme.

The ‘squatters’ were mainly ex-servicemen who had been unable to find accommodation for their families on returning from active duty.  Two of the men who lived at the Coast Artillery School site, George Williams and Eric Quiney, subsequently served as members of Llandudno Urban District Council (UDC) and were prominent on the Housing Committee.

Conditions were very spartan, with no real utilities or services and the buildings were in wind-swept locations. The families were eventually re-housed or temporarily placed in Arcon MkV pre-fabs erected at Maesdu in 1945, which lasted until around 1964. But the UDC, in much the same way as had been seen in 1919, got to work straightaway on building new housing. As a stopgap, aside from the prefabs, the authorities also adapted ex-army buildings. In 1949, there was an attempt to bring some regularity to the squatting at the Coast Artillery School site – known even today locally as The Gunsites. Four dwellings there were adapted on a temporary basis for £227.10.

In April 1949, the Welsh Board of Health were asked for approval for the UDC to adapt ‘hutments’ at Waterloo Camp, Conway Road to house families occupying hutments at the rear of the Nevill Hydro Hotel so that the hotel could be de-requisitioned from use by the Inland Revenue.

But more permanent housing was badly needed. In 1946, four houses were built on Cwm Road and in 1947 in the West Shore area of Llandudno, the UDC constructed the Dolydd and Denness Place developments. In 1949, outside the main urban area of the town, in its large rural hinterland, Cae Rhos, Llanrhos (then part of Llandudno, now part of Conwy), four agricultural workers’ dwellings were built by Peter T Griffiths, a local contractor for £6271.7.7. Also in 1949, eight houses were erected for agricultural workers in Waun Road, Glanwydden.

Rural council housing in Glanwydden
Denness Place, built 1947

These were small estates of less than 50 houses each and a larger number of families in need of new housing eventually found accommodation on the Tre Creuddyn Estate. This was the first large scale post-war housing estate, built between 1948 and 1952 – with further flats and bungalows built at Canol Creuddyn in 1955. The houses are a mix of two storey terraced family homes, with four-storey single houses and flats facing Conway Road on the main approach into the town. They were far higher density than the pre-war houses and very well situated for tenants working in the town’s main industries, being only a five minutes’ walk to the seafront, shops and railway station and areas of light industry.

Ffordd Dewi, Tre Creuddyn Estate © John Boughton
Ffordd Gwynedd, Tre Creuddyn Estate © John Boughton

The names of the roads were all in Welsh, marking a move towards recognising the local culture and national language more overtly in the area, in roads like Ffordd Las, Ffordd Gwynedd and Ffordd Dwyfor (where ‘Ffordd’ means Road). Incidentally, the use of these names and the subsequent connotation with council estates caused local controversies, and when names beginning ‘Ffordd’ were proposed for private developments nearby there were objections from purchasers and the suffix ‘Road’ was used instead. For example, it later took several months to name the nearby – and private – Powys Road, Elan Road and Harlech Road because the matter was batted around the Council and a petition was received not to use the fully Welsh form.   

The homes on the Tre Creuddyn estate were built by a number of local builders, to a common design. For example, records show one block of four houses was built by a consortium of Wm Jones & Son, Griffith Roberts, David Davies & Son, and John Owen for £5,117.3.5. The same group built one block of four flats for £3,371.12.11. Likely each builder specialised in one aspect of the building. One block of six houses was built for £7,227.8.10 by Thomas Idwal Jones of Llandudno and one further block of four flats for £3,371.12.11 by McNeill & Co of Llandudno.

Some of the builders were prominent locally – Griffith Roberts was a former chairman of UDC; David Davies was the longest serving member of the UDC; and Thomas Jones’ firm is still going and the oldest building firm in Llandudno.

The groundworks for the development – roads, pavements and sewers – were done by local builder Frank Tyldesley. The UDC itself put in street lighting and water mains. During the post-war years, because of the housing developments, the UDC employed an in-house architect – a Mr C N Bancroft ARIBA. He was born 1912 at Stockport and died in 1990 in Penmaenmawr.    

Ffordd Dwyfor on the Tre Creuddyn Estate. The house with the palm trees was my mum’s house, which they moved into in 1957.

A personal example of the impact of these new estates after the war is my own mother’s family. My mother was born in 1947 in an old miner’s cottage near the summit of the Great Orme; part of a row called Pant-y-Ffridd. The houses were extremely isolated and situated high above the town. I doubt if anyone who lived there owned a car, so all people either walked up or hitched a ride on the Great Orme Tram which still takes tourists to the top of the Orme. The provision of utilities would have been as sparse as the options for transport. My grandmother, Nanna Breeze mentioned in the previous post, had moved to Llandudno, alone, at 14 in 1928 from Horsehay, Dawley in Shropshire where her father was an Iron Founder at the Horsehay Ironworks (now part of the new town of Telford) to work as a Chambermaid.

This was taken on the occasion of eldest daughter Christina’s wedding in July 1957 and is taken outside number 26 Cwm Place where the Breeze family was living at the time. Pictured are eldest son, Eric, Christina, and father, Eric senior. My grandmother, Dorothy Sybil is standing in the doorway left, with youngest daughter Eileen poking her head round dressed as a bridesmaid.

But by the time my mother was born she was working in Llandudno General Hospital, down the mountain and on the other side of the town, as a cook. She had to make the journey to the hospital twice a day for her shifts and then back to look after the children, of whom there were five by that point (her husband was still serving in Germany after the war). The family was moved firstly down to King’s Road – the estate first developed after the First World War mentioned above – and then to Cwm Place, and then in 1957 onto the Tre Creuddyn Estate, living there in two different houses until around 1970. I know my grandmother was very grateful for a modern house, nearer work and on far more forgiving terrain. It made a huge difference to her and her family’s standard of living.      

As an aside – at the same time my mum’s family were living on the Tre Creuddyn estate, the Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall and his family were living in Cwm Place and the Liverpool and Chelsea footballer Joey Jones was growing up in Ffordd Las, just around the corner. 

1960s/1970s

As Llandudno moved into the 1960s, flats became more popular as opposed to the single-family homes that had been built up until that point. In 1964, the UDC built Ffordd yr Orsedd (named after the Gorsedd Bardic Circle of the National Eisteddfod of Wales which took place the previous year in Llandudno) and Ffordd Elisabeth – named after the Queen, but with spelling changed to conform to Welsh. This was a development of terraces of family homes and four of blocks with three radiating wings of flats on each floor.

Ffordd Elisabeth, built 1964

Much of the council’s housing activity during this time was overseen by Glyn Roberts (known locally, as is common in Wales, by his job – thus he was always known to all as ‘Glyn Sanitary’). Glyn was a long-serving council employee and a locally born man, who joined the UDC just before WW2. He trained as a Health Inspector with the UDC by day release attendance course at Warrington. He also took a keen interest in meteorology and looked after Llandudno’s weather station, reporting readings daily to the Met Office. For his endeavours, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society.

By reorganisation in 1974 he was Deputy Chief Public Health Inspector and Housing Manager. He transferred to Aberconwy Borough Council in 1974 as Principal Housing Officer, in which role he reported to the Director of Environmental Health & Housing, Idris Griffiths, who had also been his Chief at Llandudno UDC.  The author’s father remembers Glyn as a well-known local character who brought to his work a common-sense approach and practical attitude. He also recalls Glyn had an excellent working relationship with the Councillors and was highly regarded for his legendry, encyclopaedic knowledge of the Llandudno tenants, their history and family connections.  He worked as Principal Housing Officer until he was 65 in 1986 – although he could have retired at 60.  To celebrate his long service to Llandudno’s housing management, the Mayor presented him with a plaque of the town’s armorial bearings on his retirement.

In 1965/67 further building took place. Lon Cymru, Lon Gwalia, and Llys Gwylan were constructed alongside the main road into town and showed a move in architectural style influenced by the Radburn movement, with orange brick and slate-hung houses and maisonettes overlooking pathways and off-road green spaces. These homes were designed by S Powell Bowen ARIBA of Colwyn Bay, who in 1970 established the Bowen Dann Davies Partnership (BDD) with Frank Dann and Bill Davies and the practice designed many developments for local authorities across North Wales. The practice established a strong reputation for its housing work, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, and many of its developments were award winners. (2)

This is the estate I knew best as a child. In 1986, we moved from Jubilee Street, a classic street of terraced two-up-two-downs next to the railway station in Llandudno, to a larger three-bedroom house that had previously been part of a small row of police houses. These were built in 1950 in a similar style to the local council housing by the Police Authority to house police constables and their families. Many of these were being sold off countrywide at the same period in time as the Right to Buy took hold in council housing. Our new house backed directly onto one of the Lon Cymru estate playgrounds, which led in turn directly onto another green patch and then yet another, all overlooked by houses. This meant that we could play safely with all the children on the estate without crossing any roads, which exemplifies one of the original perceived benefits of the Radburn style. These attractive houses are still highly sought-after by people today, one former resident being the photographer of all images on this post – my sister, whose first house after leaving the family home was five minutes’ walk away on the estate.

Lon Cymru, built 1965-67 © John Boughton
Llys Gwylan, built 1965-67

Moving into 1970, 38 flats in five blocks were built for aged persons at St Andrew’s Avenue in the centre of the town. The architect of these was H. Vincent Morris, C.Eng, ARICS, ARIBA, MIMunE, Surveyor and Architect to Llandudno UDC. A few years later came Parc Bodnant, Llandudno’s 1970s social housing showcase. This large estate of several hundred flats and houses was designed in-house under Leslie Miller, who had joined the successor to Llandudno UDC, Aberconwy Borough Council, from Cheshire County Council at reorganisation in 1974. Parc Bodnant continued the Radburn influence of housing from the late 60s, but in a different style. The housing was brown brick with white and black render and comprised both four storey blocks and terraces facing each other on narrow paths and walkways. It was higher density than the Lon Cymru estate of a few years previously and where the earlier one was sited on mainly flat and gently sloping land, Parc Bodnant was built on a steep slope emphasising the height of the block and terracing of the houses. It was an innovative design and was initially popular with residents and experts, even winning a Welsh regional housing award.

Parc Bodnant © John Boughton

But despite having been highly regarded when first built, the Parc Bodnant estate had become unpopular by the late 1980s and 1990s, acquiring a reputation for anti-social behaviour among some residents though – as is often the case – this was only a minority of tenants. The initial residents of the estate when built were carefully selected families or mature couples, who had been living in flats and who had been on the transfer list for some years because of the slow turn-over in houses.

Over a period of about 15 years, the demographic make-up of the estate gradually changed and several of the original features, such as soft landscaping, became subject to vandalism. This, in turn, led to many of the original tenants wanting transfers out of the estate. The design and layout, with many secluded paths, much concrete surfacing and the stark black and while painted detailing, also eventually proved unpopular. This was compounded by the location of the estate, far from the town centre and on an exposed site backing onto open land leading up to Cwm Mountain. It also directly overlooked the town gasworks and gasometer, an abandoned brickworks, the site of the old town dump, and a scrapyard. The steeply sloping site meaning many residents had a clear view of all of this industry. All but the scrapyard are now completely redeveloped, with a post office sorting office, light industrial units and the town’s redeveloped secondary school now covering the other sites.   

In recent years, the estate itself has seen much investment, with soft landscaping and re-rendering and repainting giving the estate a more welcoming, positive and popular image than previously. (3)

Various housing styles in Parc Bodnant, notice the re-rendering on the flats and recent landscaping works undertaken © John Boughton

The Present Day

As with council properties across the UK, many homes in Llandudno were sold under the Right to Buy, which was eventually abolished in Wales in January 2019. The sales of large numbers of homes, especially on what had been the more popular estates, has severely depleted the stock of socially rented properties. The housing in the Tudno ward of Llandudno – the electoral division containing the bulk of the former council estates in the town south of the railway line – is now only 35 percent socially rented as opposed to 51 percent owner occupied. Until the Right to Buy and increasing private development from the early 80s, the housing in this area was overwhelmingly socially rented, bar one relatively small section. The employment base in the area has remained fundamentally the same as ever, with 21 percent working in wholesale and retail, 17 percent in health and social work, and 16 percent in accommodation and food services according to the last census. (4)

The building of social housing did not totally stop, however. North Wales Housing Association built Cwrt W M Hughes on the main approach into town in 1989, named after one time Llandudno resident William Morris Hughes, Labor Prime Minister of Australia 1916-23. In 1993, McInroy Close was built at Parc Bodnant as an infill development.

The first large scale social housing development after the 1970s was the building in 1996/7 of Lloyd George Close, Attlee Close, and Churchill Close. These were Housing Association developments built largely on the site of 1960s blocks of three-storey flats, which had declined in the intervening years and whose residents preferred to be housed in single-family houses, rather than flats.

Attlee Close, built in the late 1990s
Llwyn Rhianedd, built 2015

The current local authority, Conwy County Borough, transferred its remaining 3,800 homes to an independent not-for-profit Registered Social Landlord in 2008. This new body is called Cartrefi Conwy (Welsh for ‘Conwy Homes’) and it has plans to develop 1,000 homes in the coming years. (5)

Recent developments on brownfield sites include Llwyn Rhianedd, completed in 2015 on the Tre Cwm estate, consisting of four two-bedroom properties and five three-bedroom properties; 16 two-bed flats in the centre of the town in Gloddaeth Street completed last year; and the building of new sheltered housing for the elderly in Abbey Road and redevelopment of outdated elderly people’s flats in Trinity Avenue.

The latest social housing in Llandudno, built in Gloddaeth Street, 2020

These developments, aimed at a range of single people, families and retired persons continue a proud tradition of building quality homes for people in Llandudno that dates back more than a hundred years, to the very earliest decades of modern social housing provision in the UK. This history of progressive action demonstrates that the delivery of good standards of housing for working people was as much of a consideration in what many might consider a conservative seaside resort as it was in the larger cities, and Llandudno can be rightly proud of its record.   

You can find Matthew Evans on Twitter @MattEvans170

References

(1) Nathan Abrams, ‘Chlandidneh’: The Jewish History of the Queen of Welsh Resorts

(2) CADW listing details for 5, 7, 9, 11 & 15 Pen y Bryn Road 

(3) You can see examples of the work undertaken on the consulting engineer’s website

(4) Conwy County Borough Council’s ward profiles 2020: Tudno (pdf)

(5) For further information, see the website of Cartrefi Conwy

Council Housing in Llandudno: Part I, to 1939

Tags

, , ,

My apologies for the lack of recent posts – I’m busy writing a second book. The blog will continue to be updated and, in the meantime, I’m very grateful for (and continue to welcome) guest contributions such as this. Matthew Evans, the principal author, works in communications within local government and has been assisted in research and writing by his father, Philip Evans, who has been a councillor on Aberconwy Borough and subsequently Conwy County Borough councils since 1976 and was twice Mayor of Llandudno, in 1983/4 and 2006/7. Many of the details of council minutes, personal details and recollections in this piece come from him. Most photographs (unless otherwise credited) have been kindly taken by the author’s sister, Kimberley Evans.

The context of Llandudno

Llandudno is today a popular resort town of 20,000 or so residents, known for its unique setting between the headlands of the Great and Little Ormes and its wealth of Victorian architecture. It is situated halfway along the coast of North Wales and lies around 45 minutes from Chester and under an hour and a half from the major cities of the North West of England; cities on which its economy has largely depended for 150 years.

It was the growth spurred by the Industrial Revolution and the income that generated – enabling people to enjoy leisure time and vacations – that led to the founding of the modern town in what had up until then been a small copper mining and farming village on the lower slopes of the Great Orme. This small village overlooked marginal grazing land on the isthmus separating the mountain from the mainland and which included the legendary marsh of Morfa Rhianedd. This marsh famously features in the ancient Welsh poem, The Tale of Taliesin, as the place from where the poet prophesied that a ‘monster’ would rise and ‘bring destruction on Maelgwyn Gwynedd’, the ancient King of Gwynedd. This marsh, now drained, is where much of modern-day Llandudno – and its council housing – is located.

The land around Llandudno had been owned by the Mostyn family of Mostyn Hall in Flintshire since around 1460, when Hywel ab Ieuan Fychan had married Margaret ferch Gruffydd, the heiress of the Gloddaeth estate, which lies about a mile outside the present town. Following this, the land around Llandudno lay largely undisturbed as an obscure and remote part of the Mostyn lands for hundreds of years. Only a few writers remarked on the place, most notably the travel writer Thomas Pennant, who in his ‘Tour in Wales’ of 1778 commented on the ‘beautiful half-moon bay of Llandudno’.

The seafront, Llandudno © John Boughton

All this changed in 1848 when a Liverpool Surveyor, Owen Williams, stranded in Llandudno during a storm, saw the potential of the landscape and setting for a new resort for the newly wealthy middle classes. He shared his ideas with Lord Mostyn, who leapt at the idea, and the two set about building a planned model resort, and obtained the necessary Act of Parliament to start. Within 50 years, and greatly accelerated by the arrival of the railway in 1858, central Llandudno had become essentially the town we see today, with wide, well-planned streets incorporating all the architectural styles of the latter half of the 19th century. The original plan called for a formal grid of streets, where the height of any building was not allowed to exceed the width of the street. Perhaps mindful of the poor living conditions of the big cities, no court or basement dwellings were permitted and the plan stipulated that ‘the town that is to be shall resemble, as far as practicable, the country’.

Llandudno Town Hall, designed for the Urban District Council by Silcock & Reay and opened in 1902 © John Boughton

All of these measures created an attractive, fashionable town that had many of the grandest hotels, shops and entertainment venues that the Victorian and Edwardian holidaymaker could find anywhere in the UK. But all of these pleasures depended on having a large working population close at hand to work in the hotel and hospitality industries. It was this need, both to ensure a large pool of labour, but also to house them in a way that befitted the town – and was in accordance with the rules of development – that led the local authorities in Llandudno to create the earliest social housing in Wales. A provision of housing for local need that has endured to the present day.

The first council houses

Llandudno can lay claim to having built the first council homes anywhere in Wales. The first 19 ‘workmen’s dwellings’ were built in Council Street, Llandudno in 1897 at a cost of £210 each.

The Minutes of Llandudno Urban District Council (UDC) give the background to the development and how events progressed, and they give an idea of the process involved in building council housing at this time. At a meeting of the Council held on June 17, 1896, the Minutes notes that members ‘Resolved that Part III of the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890 be, and is hereby, adopted within the Urban District of Llandudno.’

The Local Government Board then held an enquiry in June 1896 to consider the Council’s request for approval to borrow money for the building of the homes. Construction was started in September 1896 and the Local Government Board queried why work had commenced prior to the loan sanction having been applied for. They required a fresh resolution to apply for the loan sanction.

This further resolution read: ‘That application be made to the Local Government Board for sanction to borrow £4357 for the purpose of carrying into effect Part 3 of the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1893 (sic) by the erection of 19 cottages in accordance with the plan and estimates prepared by the Surveyor and approved by the Council.’

In November 1896 the sanction was approved and the contractor was a Mr Hassell.

The scheme was not without its controversies however. The Minutes of the Workmen’s Dwelling Committee of February 22, 1897 record the Surveyor, E. Paley Stephenson, reporting on a series of accusations in the chamber from a Councillor John Owen, relating to the houses. The report states that Councillor Owen had clearly gone public on his criticisms and these comments were also printed in the Llandudno Directory and caused some outrage. The report and minutes note his concerns (all wording and punctuation as original):

They were as follows:-

  1. That the fire-places were of common bricks.
  2. That the floors were not concreted.
  3. That the beam filling in party walls and eaves was not done.
  4. That the roof is not water-tight, and that snow and rain would get through.
  5. That the doors were ‘made in Canada.’
  6. That the windows were bad and appeared as if ‘coming from the Transvaal.‘

The surveyor rejected or explained all these issues and noted there was ‘no liability on the contractor to get them [the doors] made in Llandudno, and they are good’. He seemed confused by the reference to windows from the Transvaal, observing: ‘though I do not know where they were made [they] are of fair workmanship’.

The Committee then paid a visit to see the claims for themselves and the next Committee Meeting of February 27 notes:

After a minute examination of the houses the Committee came to the conclusion they could not endorse the statements made by Mr. Councillor Owen, at the last meeting of the Council. On the contrary, they are of the opinion that the erections and workmanship contrasted very favourably with other property in Llandudno. Although inspected on a stormy day, after 12 hours almost incessant rain, the houses shewed no sign of rain having penetrated.

After this firm rejection of Councillor Owen’s criticisms, the Committee’s only other resolution that day was: ‘That the Council, as an experiment, be recommended to fit up ten of the dwellings with penny in the slot gas meters.’     

View of Council Street, now Norman Road. Though appearing modern the structures are original, but have been extensively re-rendered twice © John Boughton

These first council properties were refurbished and converted into warden-controlled flats in the late 1970s. This involved re-rendering and each dwelling was converted into two flats, one accessed from the original front door of each property and the upper flat being accessed from the back, up a stairway. At that time the street was re-named Norman Road. The former name had become unpopular as the houses had declined over time and the houses on one side of the road had never, in fact, been council properties. However, the former name lives on in the western extension of the road, which is a light industrial area called Council Street West. 

Despite the criticisms of the likes of Councillor Owen and the press reports of debates on the council, the Council Street scheme was just the start of social housing building as Llandudno looked towards the Edwardian era. On October 28, 1896, the Workmen’s Dwellings Committee dealt with negotiations to buy land for further housing from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Terms were subsequently offered by the Commission and accepted by the UDC to buy land for 69 cottages at a total cost of £13,661. This was a scheme in Alexandra Road, West Shore, but this part of the street was subsequently renamed as part of King’s Road.

 

The part of King’s Road constructed as an extension to Alexandra Road in 1897, 1900 and 1902

On January 28, 1897, the Workmen’s Dwellings Committee notes a Surveyor was authorised to arrange for a memorial stone with the following wording to be fixed in a convenient part of the building: ‘Workmen’s Dwellings erected by the Urban District Council of Llandudno 1897’

In May 1900, the Surveyor put forward a further scheme for erection of 28 houses and in April 1902 tenders were presented for a further 28 houses in Alexandra Road.

Homes Fit for Heroes

The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919, commonly known as the Addison Act after the Minister of Housing Christopher Addison, laid the foundation for the large rise in council housing the country saw after the First World War. This was part of the call for ‘Homes Fit for Heroes’ made by Prime Minister David Lloyd George towards the end of the war. Llandudno Urban District Council moved quickly into action and decided to build further houses in West Shore. Llandudno was perhaps further spurred into action by the fact that David Lloyd George was the local MP for Caernarfon Boroughs (of which Llandudno was part). The first section of King’s Road was completed in 1920, with a commemorative stone laid on 8th October 1920 by Dame Margaret Lloyd George, wife of the Prime Minister; and Mrs E. R. Woodhouse, wife of the Chairman of Llandudno UDC.

The foundation stones of the houses built in 1920 laid by Dame Margaret Lloyd George and the wife of the Chairman of the UDC

The building of new council housing continued throughout the 1920s and 30s mainly in the West Shore area, in Maesdu (where the majority of council housing would take place after the war) and up the Great Orme itself.  Rather than large estates, council developments at this time were mainly one or two roads in size, such as the adjoining Lees Road and Knowles Road. These streets were named after the Conservative politician, philanthropist and supporter of social housing and the Guinness Trust, Sir Lees Knowles, who died in 1928. In 1926 and 1934 Marian Road and Marian Place were built alongside the railway line around the same time that the UDC constructed its new bridge over the tracks linking Deganwy and Llandudno and replacing the level crossing that had hampered communications in the peak holiday season when Llandudno could see over 100 hundred trains a day passing in and out. The bridge also gave its name to the Bridge Road estate built around the same time. In 1934 Cwm Place was built, a development that would later be surrounded by the Tre Creuddyn estate, but which when built was somewhat isolated from the urban area of the town. The full list of developments at this time – always referred to as ‘workmen’s dwellings’ in the council minutes – shows the almost continuous building activity that took place:

  • 1920 King’s Road
  • 1922/23 Dyffryn Road
  • 1923 Mowbray Road
  • 1924 Knowles Road & Trinity Avenue
  • 1925 Knowles Road
  • 1925 Marian Road
  • 1926 Maesdu Road & Maesdu Place
  • 1927 Lees Road, King’s Avenue, King’s Place
  • 1929 Bridge Road
  • 1930 Ty’n y Coed
  • 1933 Llwynon Road
  • 1934 Cwm Place 33 houses and 3 flats
  • 1935 Cwm Place 16 houses and 16 flats
  • 1934 Marian Place
  • 1935 Maesdu Road

The architecture of this housing evolved over the interwar years. Given the difficult economic context of the immediate aftermath of the First World War, the housing of 1920 in King’s Road housing is plain and simple, semi-detached houses with flat fronted and pebbledash render. By the middle of the 1920s, as can be seen in the following images, the houses became larger. The author’s grandmother, known to all her 13 grandchildren by her surname as ‘Nanna Breeze’, lived in a typical 1923 house of this type in Mowbray Road, indicated in the picture, from around 1970, until her death in 2006.

Houses in Mowbray Road, built in 1923, much of the interwar housing was of this type and standard – the author’s grandmother lived in the house left centre of the picture.

This house had a bay window with a recessed entrance porch, substantial lawned gardens front and back, three bedrooms, inside toilet and separate bathroom, kitchen, large hall with a staircase with 90-degree return, and a front parlour and separate back living room. I recall, even in the late 1980s when I was a child, the front room overlooking the road was reserved for special visitors and completely out of bounds for us children, even though visitors of sufficient quality for entry were few and far between. The back room, where all family life was conducted, faced south and used to become unbearably hot during the summer when, with our parents at work, my sister and I had to go and spend most days in the school holidays with our grandmother.

This picture shows my grandmother Sybil Breeze sitting in the Chairman’s Chair in the Llandudno Council Chamber when my dad was made a Freeman of the Town of Llandudno in the early 2000s. From this seat many of the decisions to build council housing in the town would have been taken.

She was a cleaner in a seafront hotel by that point (well over 70 years of age), but the management allowed my sister and I to sit and play in the guest lounge while she completed her morning cleaning shift. In the afternoons, back at her house, she would naturally have a nap and I would then often sneak quietly into the cool, north-facing front room – unknown to her and in total contravention of the visitors-only rule – to escape the stifling heat in the back room. Sorry Nanna!

A further style of house in Mowbray Road with front door at the side

Such was the quality of this housing that my Nanna recalled having been told by several residents that the houses had been built by a private developer that had gone bankrupt and had to sell his privately built houses to the council for social housing. This was a myth, however, as the Council minutes are clear that this high-quality housing was all planned and built by the UDC itself for working people.      

Houses in Knowles Road showing the 1920s houses in the background compared to infill council housing from the 1960s in the foreground

All of this shows that by the eve of the Second World War, Llandudno had made great strides in rehousing substantial numbers of people within good quality housing, with genuine commitment and a pioneering attitude from local councillors and officers. After the Second World War, the inevitable pressures of housing need and changing styles would mean that housing was less substantial and generous in style than before the war. The continuing story will be told in next weeks post.

You can find Matthew Evans on Twitter @MattEvans170

Book Review: Tjerk Ruimschotel, ‘Architectural Guide London’

Tjerk Ruimschotel, Architectural Guide London (DOM Publishers, 2021)

Firstly, an apology: new posts have been pretty sparse recently. Firstly, for obvious reasons, it’s been hard to get out and about over the last year and libraries and archives have been closed.  Secondly, I’m writing a new book and that has to take priority in my current writing and research. I’ll try to keep things ticking over and, of course, I’ll be as grateful as ever for new guest posts on estates that you have researched and know well.

But one of the good things that has happened recently is receiving a copy of the new book by Tjerk Ruimschotel. I met Tjerk after a talk I gave a couple of years ago when he told me about his current project. I’m delighted to see it finished and to such a high standard. Tjerk is a Dutchman, a lecturer and urban designer, formerly chief urban designer for the city of Groningen. His knowledge of and familiarity with London deserve to make him an honorary citizen of the capital.   

The Brandon Estate © Tjerk Ruimschotel

The book’s subtitle is ‘Twentieth-Century Housing Projects’ and that gives you a pretty good idea of its focus. As he points out in his introduction, London ‘has always been a residential metropolis’ but by projects he means not the ordinary and ubiquitous, primarily suburban, housing that characterises the city but estates and buildings that are in some respects extraordinary in terms of their design or architectural and historical significance – in Tjerk’s words, ‘a representative cross-section of projects that not only provided a good home for their inhabitants but also made a significant contribution to the spatial quality of the surrounding environment’. Of these just over half are, broadly defined, social housing.

Central Hill © Tjerk Ruimschotel

Many of the latter will be familiar to aficionados and are rightly given due recognition here. The work of the London County Council features prominently, both in its early tenement buildings, its interwar cottage estates and its later showpiece, predominantly high-rise, schemes. Camden, of course, is featured and many more borough developments too numerous to list but including some personal favourites of mine such as Churchill Gardens and Central Hill – the latter (as he notes) tragically under threat of demolition.

The Boundary Estate © Tjerk Ruimschotel

I know a bit about council housing and I found his concise summaries accurate and informative. A strength of the book is that it extends beyond the narrowly architectural and provides some description of the social and political context of the estates both in their inception and their later evolution. I could stress that context more heavily in terms of how estates – and their communities – have evolved but he demonstrates a sympathetic awareness of the myriad factors that have shaped both the realities and, perhaps more importantly, the perceptions of social housing over time.

The Webb Estate, pages from the book.

Conversely, a real quality of the guide is its coverage of a wide array of private schemes. Some of these – such as the Isokon Building, Pullman Court and Highpoint I and II – will be well-known to architectural enthusiasts but others perhaps less so. The quality of the pre- and post-First World War Webb Estate in Croydon and the 1930s Modernism of Gidea Park stood out for me as well as the proper notice given to some of the better interwar mansion blocks such as Cholmeley Lodge in Haringey and Du Cane Court in Wandsworth. But you will have your own favourites and discover some others.

The Isokon Building © Tjerk Ruimschotel

In overall terms, the book is impressive for its balanced coverage and geographic and chronological range with seven sections reaching from Parnell House in Bloomsbury, the first of the ‘model dwellings’ built for the working class back in 1848, to Dujardin Mews in Enfield, designed by Karakusevic Carson Architects for the Borough of Enfield in 2017. An epilogue on the ‘past, present and future’ of social housing in London provides a useful overview.

Kensal House © Philipp Meuser

Tjerk’s analysis is fluent, knowledgeable and precise throughout but – and in no way detracting from that – for me the stand-out quality of the book (and what distinguishes it from potential competitors) is its high production values. It features high-quality colour photography throughout, excellent and genuinely useful mapping (even QR codes that help you navigate to the buildings discussed) as well as two indexes, one to the schemes themselves and one to their architects. The illustrations provided should give some impression of that quality. This is a good book, one to keep on your coffee table or to carry around as you explore the wonderful variety and frequent quality of London’s more recent housing.

High-Rise in Bristol, Part II from 1960

Tags

, ,

We left Bristol last week in 1958 as slum clearance was in full swing and just as the Council announced plans to demolish a further 24,500 homes by the end of the century. By this point, however, such wholesale clearances – extended to areas of less severe housing deprivation – were arousing fierce opposition and that would have unintended consequences.

As local opposition mobilised, particularly among owner occupiers, the Labour MP for Bristol South, William Wilkins, raised concerns in a 1959 House of Commons adjournment debate, focusing on the issue of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs). In Bristol, he cited 11 orders awaiting ministerial approval comprising 839 ‘pink’ properties (officially classified as unfit) and 453 ‘grey’ properties (capable of rehabilitation), of which 527 were owner-occupied. He cited local discontent and asked whether the Conservative Government felt that ‘they should abandon their slum clearance programme not only in Bristol but throughout the country’. (1) In this, Wilkins was some way ahead of of his time.

Croydon House (left) and Lansdown Court – two tower blocks that were built in Easton

In 1959, a candidate of the Easton Homes Defence Association, formed to opposed demolitions, was victorious in local elections. In 1960, the Citizen Party (the local Conservatives in all but name) – which had been fanning the flames of local protest – secured an overall majority on the City Council.

The new administration set about reversing Labour policies by promoting private development on suburban estates and withdrawing the CPOs. But they encountered unexpected opposition when they met Henry Brooke, the Conservative Minister of Housing and Local Government. Brooke emphasised that he was: (2)

extremely anxious that slum clearance should go on and go on fast. I should be anxious that large numbers of houses which are represented by the Medical Officer of Health were being turned down by the City Council. I should be beginning to wonder whether, in fact, slum clearance was going on as fast as it should be.

The political arms race at Westminster between Labour and Conservative Parties to build housing at pace and scale clearly took precedence over such local difficulties and the Bristol delegation returned home chastened. Central slum clearance proceeded and, ironically, in an attempt to make up the shortfall created by the axing of the Council’s suburban housebuilding programme, the construction of high flats in central areas was accelerated. In 1962, the proportion of high-rise approvals reached 99 percent. In the short term, the Council demolished 1300 more homes than it built between 1961-62, a fact contributing to Labour’s victory in the 1963 local elections.

Patterson House (top) and Proctor House, Redcliffe, built by Tersons in 1963

This new phase of high-rise construction saw a shift in its locally predominant form – from slab block to point block. The former were criticised for their narrow access balconies which were not at all the ‘streets in the sky’ being pioneered in some deck-access developments of the day. Bristol was also becoming more typical in its reliance on a number of major contractors; Laing, Wimpey and Tersons won the bulk of local contracts.

What Bristol escaped, though seemingly more by happenstance, was the move to system-building. Bristol had been urged down this route in 1962 by Evelyn Sharp, the powerful Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHLG), and local councillors visited Denmark and France to see such methods in operation. But the Council was unwilling to offer the size of contract that the big builders wanted and the City Architect (now Albert Clarke) proved an awkward negotiating partner so interest waned.

Moorfields House (left) and Baynton House

The 13-storey Kingsmarsh House and 11-storey Moorfields House and Baynton House in Lawrence Hill were completed in the mid-1960s. Other point blocks were built just to the north in Easton in the later 1960s, including Croydon House, Twinnell House and Lansdowne Court at 17 storeys.

Hartcliffe shopping centre and tower blocks, c1964 (Bristol Housing Report 1959-1964; Bristol Reference Library, B14100)

Into the mid-1960s, the Council also built high-rise in some of its suburban estates – three 14-storey blocks on Culverwell Road, Withywood (since demolished) and three eleven storey blocks on Hareclive Road, Hartcliffe, which remain. The usual case for suburban high-rise was mixed development – a variety of housing forms intended to serve a range of housing needs and to provide point and contrast in otherwise rather monotonous low-rise estates. In Bristol, it may also have reflected the Council’s need to build at scale when other options had closed or been closed.

Armada House, Kingsdown
Carolina House, Kingsdown

The most interesting and controversial multi-storey schemes, however, occurred in Kingsdown. The Kingsdown I (Lower Kingsdown) redevelopment was underway by 1965, comprising six six- and fourteen-storey slab blocks. Carolina House was officially opened in October 1967. This large-scale incursion into an area of previously dense and intimate housing – some would say picturesque – was contentious but criticisms ramped up when it came to the Council’s plans for the upper slopes, Kingsdown II.

Here the original proposal for three linked 17-storey blocks was fiercely opposed by an increasingly active Bristol Civic Society backed by the Royal Fine Art Commission. (The Commission was authorised to draw government attention to any development which ‘in its opinion affected amenities of a national or public character’.) The MHLG rejected the scheme and also sharply criticised the Council’s somewhat half-hearted revised scheme for four eight-storey blocks. When the Citizen Party won a majority on the Council in 1967, the scheme was scrapped and the land sold to private developers. The High Kingsdown scheme which emerged – a courtyard development designed by Anthony Mackay of Whicheloe, Macfarlane and Towning Hill – is widely praised. (3)

Northfield House

Geoffrey Palmer, the leader of the new Citizen administration, declared in December 1967 that ‘apart from a few projects in hand, Bristol will build no more multi-storey flats’. Northfield House, in Bedminster, begun in 1969 was the Council’s last major high-rise scheme and – at 18 storeys – its tallest.

Whatever the local dynamics, in this Bristol was also reflecting national trends. Patrick Dunleavy emphasises the extent to which Bristol – like other local authorities – was heavily influenced by central government pressure, notably in the drive to clear the slums and build high in the early 1960s and in the reversal of that policy in 1967.

They heyday of high-rise – notwithstanding those projects in the pipeline – was over. The collapse of the system-built Ronan Point block in Newham in May 1968 is always taken as the major cause. In fact, alarm at the disproportionate expense of high-rise construction and a growing realisation that it didn’t rehouse at density (or that high density could be achieved better) were already making rehabilitation of older properties a preferred option of central government.

Granville Street and Eccleston House, Barton Hill

By 1971, there were 66 council estates in Bristol containing some 43,000 homes which housed just under a third of its 427,000 population. Within the total, there were 55 high blocks (of ten storeys or more) in the city forming around 14 percent of its total housing stock – a proportion higher than that in Manchester and Sheffield, for example, and the highest among what Dunleavy calls the free-standing county boroughs (a status it would lose in 1974 before becoming a unitary authority again in 1996).  

This had been a frantic period of housing construction. Bristol had both followed and bucked the trends – pursuing the same path to higher-rise building as most of the larger cities but doing so in a local form, certainly in earlier years, and avoiding the pressures towards system building. Its slabs and blocks have generally survived – with the exception of some on the suburban estates – and seem to have stood the test of time better than many.

Sources

The website of the Tower Block UK Project provides detail on high-rise public housing in Bristol and nationally.  

(1) House of Commons, Adjournment Debate on Slum Clearance, 13 May 1959

(2) Quoted in Patrick Dunleavy, ‘The Politics of High-Rise Housing in Britain: Local Communities Tackle Mass Housing’, PhD thesis, University of Oxford, 1978. Dunleavey’s research provides much of the detail that follows.  

(3) A full account of the episode and description of the High Kingsdown scheme is provided by Elain Harwood in this online document.

High-Rise in Bristol, Part I to 1960

Tags

, ,

Bristol had been transformed by council housing between the wars, as discussed in this earlier post. The City Council built over 15,000 new council homes, principally on nine new suburban estates. Together, they formed around 40 percent of the city’s new housing. It would be transformed again in the post-war period – new peripheral estates appeared but, most strikingly and obviously in the central areas, there were also the high-rise blocks which will form the central focus of this post.

There had been modest forays into multi-storey housing before the Second World War. Three-storey flats had been built to rehouse those displaced by a slum clearance scheme in Eugene Street in 1923 at Lawford’s Gate in Old Market and Eugene Street itself. A speech by Sir Hilton Young, Minister of Health and Housing, in Bristol in 1934 probably boosted local efforts. He urged that those displaced by slum clearance – in full swing as a result of legislative and policy changes in the decade – be rehoused centrally (near their places of work) and in flats; he counselled a somewhat sceptical audience to ‘go and look at what can be done in the way of tenement dwellings for wage-earners according to modern standards’. (1) Four-storey flats were built in Hotwell Road, Kingsland Road and Champion Square (St Pauls) in the mid- to late-1930s.

The Kingsland Road flats, St Philips, photographed in 1950 (Bristol Record Office 40307/1/35)

Around 3200 homes were destroyed in Bristol by aerial bombing during the Second World War but raised post-war expectations and a baby boom added their own urgency to renewed slum clearance and rehousing efforts after it. The first, unauthorised, response was a squatting movement which spread like wildfire across the UK; by October 1946, an estimated 1038 camps had been commandeered as emergency housing by almost 40,000 activists. In Bristol, squatters occupied a military base named White City near the Bristol City football ground. Local supporters were keen to stress their respectability: (2)

Their action was unusual, unconstitutional, but let no one think they are ruffians. They are ordinary people, they shave every day, eat at tables, go off to earn their own living.

Squatters at the White City camp. August 1946 (photo courtesy of the Bristol Radical History Group website)

The Labour-controlled Council itself was initially hostile – elsewhere some were positively helpful – but a prominent Labour member of the Housing Committee, Harry Hennessy, supported the action and urged those taking part to: ‘Sit tight. Carry on. Take no notice of rumours. The police cannot touch you’. Some of the army huts were acquired temporarily as council housing and most of the squatters had been permanently rehoused by 1950.

The temporary prefab programme, inaugurated in 1944, was an official state response and around 2700 of these temporary bungalows were erected in the city – the largest numbers (around 150) at a site in Ashton Dell and 127 in the suburb of Horfield.

Bristol Lord Mayor, Alderman Harry Crook, presents the key of the 5000th Easiform home to its new tenants (1955 Bristol Housing Report; Bristol Reference Library, B14100)

The city also went big on permanent prefabrication – the various systems that it was hoped might provide a speedy and cost-effective method of solving the post-war housing crisis. By March 1955, Bristol had built 16,704 permanent houses since war’s end; of these 10,892 were non-traditional – including 5415 Easiform homes made of in situ poured concrete and 1712 Cornish units of concrete post and panel construction. Less common systems nationally such as Unity (precast concrete and steel frame) and Woolaway (another form of concrete post and panel construction) were also built at scale. (3)

Traditional housing on Gatehouse Avenue, Hartcliffe (Bristol Housing Report 1959-1964; Bristol Reference Library, B14100)

It was these suburbs that provided the bulk of the city’s early post-war housebuilding. The Lawrence Weston, Henbury and Lockleaze Estates to the north were approved soon after the war; Withywood and Hartcliffe to the south started construction in the early 1950s.

The Council’s 1951 Development Plan reflected the thinking of the day in its emphasis on the neighbourhood units held to promote community on new council estates. But it marked also a renewed intention to redevelop central areas; it was estimated that there were 10,000 houses in Bristol unfit for human habitation and a further 25,000 that were substandard. The Plan envisaged 19,000 new homes by 1957 of which 10,000 would be flats.

It had been argued since the 1930s, as we saw, that inner-city slum clearance required multi-storey replacement – displaced residents needed to be near their place of work and flats were held to achieve a necessary higher population density. In the 1950s, the case was strengthened by what many councils perceived as a shortage of suitable land for housing (a ‘land trap’, as it was described contemporarily), created by new zoning regulations and green belts pushing peripheral suburbs inconveniently distant. Some councils were also loath to move their ratepayers and voters into neighbouring districts.

In this respect, Bristol, aided by a boundary extension into Somerset in 1951, was relatively well off but the perception of land shortage was a powerful one that influenced decision-making at the time. Patrick Dunleavy, the chief chronicler of Bristol’s multi-storey development, considers the 1956 high flats subsidy (which paid a higher amount the higher the scheme) another significant influence on Bristol councillors’ choice to build tall.

The Redcliffe Redevelopment Area (Bristol Housing Report 1959-1964; Bristol Reference Library, B14100)

Heavily-bombed Redcliffe, immediately to the east of the city centre, was one of the earliest areas selected for redevelopment when in July 1945 the City Council agreed proposals to redevelop the district as ‘a housing area for key workers’. Detailed plans for what Alderman Charles Gill, the powerful chair of the Housing Committee, called a ‘tremendous and interesting project’, were approved in December 1949. (4)  

Images of Redcliffe newbuild taken from Cleave Barr, Public Authority Housing (1958)

Although reaching only a modest six storeys, this was an early showpiece scheme for the Council, planned to accommodate some 2500 residents in a mix of 775 one- to three-bed homes. ‘An outstanding contribution [was] the bold decision to provide a central-heating and hot-water system for all dwellings’, according to AW Cleave Barr – a district heating system, located in Canynge House, which ‘influenced the form of the scheme in the direction of a few very large blocks of flats and maisonettes, as opposed to a mixed development of flats and houses’. (5) A communal laundry, nursery and doctors’ surgery were also included.

Waring House

Higher blocks, including the 13-storey Waring House, were completed in the area in 1960. A three-bed flat in the scheme could be rented for about £3.20 which included hot water, laundry and heating. (If you watched the 2020 BBC2 series A House Through Time on no. 10 Guinea Street, you will have seen the development at the end of the road.)

Barton Hill, to the east of the city centre, was another area targeted for redevelopment and controversy over the plans anticipated later difficulties. It was undeniably an area of old and inadequate housing but many of the residents – who felt themselves part of a respectable working-class community – resented the slum label and disliked the multi-storey alternative.

According to Hilda Jennings’ account of a public meeting called to discuss the plans in 1953 (Jennings was the warden of a university settlement in the district): (6)

Opposition to building in multi-storey flats was general; when one official, after expounding their convenience and the necessity for them, agreed that he himself lived, in a ‘nice little house’, the whole audience chanted ‘That’s what we want. A nice little house in a nice little garden, with a nice little fence around it’.

But, apparently, council officials were heard more sympathetically ‘when they claimed that the only alternative to building upwards was moving out to the overspill area’. In any case, the plans went ahead

Barton House

Actual clearance and reconstruction took far longer. Barton House was completed in 1958; at 15 storeys, then the tallest block outside London. Two eleven-storey blocks (Phoenix and Eccleston Houses) were completed in 1961; four more fifteen-storey blocks (Longlands, Harwood, Corbett and Beaufort Houses) the following year. (Most of the present colour schemes date to a general refurbishment programme carried out in the 1990s.)

Phoenix House, Barton Hill
Longlands House, Barton Hill

These were the balcony-access slab blocks, designed by City Architect, J Nelson Meredith, that Bristol favoured at the time. The blocks here, as elsewhere in the city, were, for all their prominence, placed individually so there were few dense concentrations of high-rise housing and no attempt to emulate the Zeilenbau schemes (arranged on a north-south axis to maximise sunlight) found elsewhere. (7)

Tyndall House
John Cozens House

Lower-rise blocks of six-storeys apiece in idiosyncratic Bristol-style – Tyndall House and John Cozens House – in the St Jude’s Redevelopment Area were begun in 1957. Two ten-storey blocks (since demolished) were built on the peripheral Lawrence Weston estate.

Winton House and Rockingham House, Lawrence Weston, photographed on a grey day in 1988 © Tower Block Project and made available through a Creative Commons licence

Overall, the share of high-rise in housing schemes approved by the City Council increased from eight percent to nearly 30 between 1954 and 1957. In 1958, the Housing Committee sanctioned a 12-year clearance programme that included plans to demolish half the houses in Easton ward and some 24,500 houses in total by 2001. (8)

These plans would prove more controversial and the political shift they helped bring about locally would have major consequences for how high-rise developed in Bristol in the 1960s. Those topics will feature in next week’s post.

Sources

The website of the Tower Block UK Project provides detail on high-rise public housing in Bristol and nationally.  

(1) ‘Minister’s Speech on Housing’, Western Daily Press, 14 July 1934

(2) This and the succeeding quotation are drawn from Howard Webber, ‘A Domestic Rebellion: The Squatters’ Movement of 1946’. You can read more of Hennessy’s support for the squatting movement in this interview with Alderman Wally Jenkins recorded by Bristol Museums.

(3) The detail is drawn from the 1955 Bristol Housing Report featured in Bristol Festival of Ideas, Mel Kelly, Bristol Housing Reports: 1955-1959. A complete breakdown of surviving non-traditional housing in Bristol is supplied in response to this Freedom of Information request made in 2016.

(4) ‘Redcliff Hill Flats Plan to House Port Key Workers Goes Forward’, Western Daily Press, 20 December 1949

(5) AW Cleave Barr, Public Authority Housing (BT Batsford, 1958)

(6) Hilda Jennings wrote an account of the episode in her 1962 book, Societies in the Making. The quotation from it is drawn from Patrick Dunleavy, ‘The Politics of High-Rise Housing in Britain: Local Communities Tackle Mass Housing’, PhD thesis, University of Oxford, 1978.

(7) Stefan Muthesius and Miles Glendinning, Towers for the Welfare State (The Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies, 2017).

(8) Dunleavy, ‘The Politics of High-Rise Housing in Britain’.

London’s Modernist Maisonettes: ‘Going Upstairs to Bed’

Tags

, ,

I’m very pleased to feature this new guest post and some fine photography by Thaddeus Zupančič. Thaddeus is a Slovenian-born writer and translator. He has lived in London since 1991. For the first 14 years he worked as a radio producer with the BBC World Service. On his Instagram account @notreallyobsessive he is now about one third through his project, London Modernism 1946-1981, which documents modernist council estates in the capital. He is also a volunteer with The Twentieth Century Society and manages its Instagram account @c20society.

On Sunday, 23 January 1955, Margaret Willis, a sociologist in the Planning Division of the Architect’s Department of the London County Council, gave a broadcast on the BBC Home Service programme Home for the Day.

Her bosses thought the broadcast, in which she ‘would informally talk about her work at County Hall’, was ‘in the interest of the Council’ and therefore recommended that ‘under Staff Regulation 112’ she should be allowed to retain the fee (‘probably 8 guineas’).  

The eight-minute talk was titled My Job. Willis explained that a sociologist is a ‘sort of liaison officer between people like you, the housewives, and the Council’s technical men and women who make the plans in the drawing office’. She was, though, mostly talking about the scarcity of land in ‘the centre of our cities’ and how planners and architects ‘realise how important gardens are to many people and they are doing their best to provide them’. One of their ideas, she explained, was to build ‘a compromise between a house and a flat, it’s a four-storey building like a house on top of a house’. The main benefit of these buildings was the attached gardens, but there was also something else: ‘People prefer this type of building to a flat because they like going upstairs to bed.’ (1)

Such ‘houses on top of houses’ – known as maisonettes because of their split-level plan – were not a complete novelty. On the Devons Estate in Bromley-by-Bow, for instance, there are four low-rises which look like terrace houses with separate flats on the top of them, basically ‘flats on the top of houses’. It is an unexciting, but useful Neo-Georgian pastiche. Pevsner is more damning: the estate, opened in 1949, is ‘entirely in the LCC’s pre-war manner, but with all the drabness of post-war austerity’. (2)

Brett Manor, Hackney, by Edward Mills for the Manor Charitable Trustees, 1947-8

The first modernist maisonette block in London was Brett Manor in Brett Road, Hackney, built in 1947-8. It was designed by Edward Mills for the Manor Charitable Trustees (Mills used the same Arup box frame as Tecton did at Spa Green Estate, which was completed in 1950).

Brett Manor was swiftly followed by Powell & Moya’s Bauhausian low-rise blocks at Churchill Gardens in Pimlico (designed from 1946, built in 1947-51), which were the first modernist maisonettes built by any London council, in this case Westminster.  

Winchfield House, Alton West, Roehampton, by the LCC Architect’s Department; designed in 1952-3, built in 1955-8

Margaret Willis’s employer was not far behind. Already in the early 1950s, as Elain Harwood points out, a group at the LCC Architect’s Department, worked on ‘an efficient maisonette plan, which they then cast into ten-storey slabs, built at Bentham Road, Hackney, at Loughborough Junction, Lambeth, and, most impressively, the Alton West Estate, Roehampton.’ (3) (The Gascoyne Estate in Hackney was built in 1952-4; the Loughborough Estate in 1956-8; and the Alton West Estate in 1955-8.)

The LCC dotted various iterations of these Corbusian slabs on stilts all around the central London metropolitan boroughs, including Southwark (Symington House in 1957, and Prospect House in 1962); Bermondsey (Chilton Grove in 1959); Lambeth (Wimborne House in 1959, Waylett House and Duffell House in 1963); Bethnal Green (Westhope House and Kinsham House in 1956, Yates House and Johnson House in 1957, Orion House in 1962); Stepney (Raynham House and Gouldman House in 1958, Withy House in 1959, Troon House in 1961 and Butler House in 1962); Poplar (Storey House in 1958 and Thornfield House in 1960); Westminster (the towers of the Maida Vale Estate in 1961 and Torridon House, albeit designed in 1959 only completed in 1969); and Islington (Muriel Street in 1964).

Westhope House, Hereford Estate, Bethnal Green, by the LCC Architect’s Department, 1956

Private practices working for the LCC were also designing maisonette slabs and blocks for them, the most impressive being the Ricardo Street Scheme at the Lansbury Estate in Poplar by Geoffrey Jellicoe (for the Festival of Britain’s Exhibition of Architecture, 1951); the Cordelia Street Scheme on the same estate by Norman & Dawbarn (1963); and the Fulbourne Estate slab and block by Stillman & Eastwick-Field (1958-9) in Whitechapel.    

Maisonettes, regardless of the type of building in which they were incorporated, were an integral part of mixed developments, ‘the dominant ideology for housing i n the 1950s’ (4).

There was, though – as it is explained in the oddly self-flagellating GLC book Home Sweet Home – a problem with maisonette slabs: their ‘mass was too dominating, and problems of overshadowing and inflexibility of orientation led to planning difficulties which limited its use in high-density areas’. (5) A far greater potential, continues the book, was offered by the point block with its ‘non-directional shape and quick-moving shadow’.

After the success of Draper House on the Draper Estate in Elephant and Castle (completed 1962), the ‘tall blocks of maisonettes’ (6) became almost as ubiquitous as the slabs, most successfully in the case of the six 21-storey blocks on the Warwick Estate in Westminster (completed in 1966), though the medium-rise maisonettes on this estate are just as compelling.

Argosy House and, at back, Aragon Tower and Daubeney Tower, Pepys Estate, by the LCC Architect’s Department and, after 1965, GLC Department of Architecture and Civic Design; designed from 1963, opened in 1966, completed in 1973

Even taller, at 24 storeys, were the blocks of maisonettes of the cross-over ‘scissors’ type on the Pepys Estate (designed from 1963, completed in 1973) in Deptford and the 26-storey Maydew House on the Abbeyfield Estate (1965-8) in Southwark. The ‘scissors’ type was first tested for the LCC’s Lincoln Estate blocks in Poplar (1959-62), but ‘later discontinued owing to the high cost of its complex construction’. (7) The construction was indeed complex, with central corridors placed at a half level, ‘providing entrances to flats that ran the width of the block above or below, ‘crossing’ to give each other a dual aspect’. (8) They also provided a maximum of through light and ventilation. Even better than the 24-storey blocks on the Pepys Estate are the eight-storey ‘scissors’ maisonettes, a ‘strong, unifying element of the scheme’. (9)

‘Houses, flats and maisonettes’ was a mantra not only for the LCC, but also for London’s metropolitan boroughs and the City.

Golden Lane Estate, City of London, by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon for the Corporation of London; design won in competition in 1952, built to revised designs in 1954-6

The best examples of the latter are the Golden Lane Estate by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon for the City (which consists of various blocks of flats and six blocks of maisonettes plus a community centre, swimming pool and a tennis court, 1954-6); and Denys Lasdun’s part of the Greenways Estate for Bethnal Green Borough Council (the two inventive eight-storey cluster towers with 24 maisonettes each and the three low-rise blocks with another 50 maisonettes, 1955-8) as well as his Keeling House (for the same council, completed in 1959, originally comprising 56 maisonettes and eight studio flats).

Trevelyan House, Greenways Estate, by Denys Lasdun of Fry, Drew, Drake & Lasdun for Bethnal Green Metropolitan Borough Council; designed in 1952-3, built in 1955-8

Equally busy were Skinner, Bailey & Lubetkin (the post-Tecton maisonettes on the Dorset Estate, 1951-7, and the Cranbrook Estate, 1955-65, both for Bethnal Green, and the Tabard Garden Estate Extension in Southwark, 1964-5, for the LCC); Frederic Gibberd (Kingsgate Estate, 1958-61, for Hackney); George, Trew & Dunn (Winstanley Estate, 1964-6, for Battersea); Clifford Culpin & Partners (Edgecombe Hall Estate, 1957-63, for Wandsworth); and Co-operative Planning (St John’s Estate, 1963, for Poplar).  

Jim Griffiths House, Clem Attlee Court, by J. Pritchard Lovell; Fulham’s Borough Architect and Director of Housing; 1957

So too were the borough architects of those metropolitan and municipal councils that already had them – most notably Camberwell’s F.O. Hayes (Sceaux Gardens, 1957-60; and the Astley Estate, 1957-9); Fulham’s Borough Architect and Director of Housing J. Pritchard Lovell (Clem Attlee Court, 1957); Willesden’s T.N. l’Anson (the 1963 blocks in the South Kilburn Redevelopment Area with maisonettes on the top of flats); and T.A. Wilkinson at Edmonton (Cumberland House and Graham House on Goodwin Road, 1962). Only five out of the twenty-eight metropolitan boroughs had their own borough architects (of whom four were also directors of housing). Just as busy were the borough engineers and surveyors, for instance W.J. Rankin at Poplar (the first phase of the St John’s Estate, 1956; the Alfred Estate, 1959-60; and the Aberfeldy Estate, 1962-3).

Lakanal, Sceaux Gardens, by F.O. Hayes, Borough Architect, H.C. Connell, A.W. Butler and H.P. Trenton of the Camberwell Borough Architect’s Department, 1957-60
Graham House, Goodwin Road, by the Edmonton Architect’s Department under T.A. Wilkinson, 1962-3. On the right: Walbrook House by the Enfield Borough Architect and Planning Officer’s Department under Wilkinson, 1967-8

The reorganisation of London’s local government in 1965 saw the creation of the new Greater London Council and 32 new London borough councils (plus the City) which then became responsible for a substantially larger part of housing projects and planning than before.

More importantly, the London Government Act of 1963 introduced – in s.74(1) – the statutory post of ‘an architect for the borough’ (10) in each one of them and, ‘as the case may be’, the City.

The most celebrated of them was Sydney Cook, who established Camden’s architect’s department. Cook recruited some of the best young talent – including Peter Tábori, Bill Forrest, Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth – but the ‘first and foremost among those who joined Camden from the cutting edge of London’s architectural culture was Neave Brown’. (11)

Dunboyne Road Estate, Gospel Oak, by Neave Brown of the Camden Architect’s Department under Sydney Cook; designed in 1966-7, built in 1971-7

Brown designed two of the most remarkable post-1965 council estates in London: the Dunboyne Road Estate (a mixture of three- and two-bed maisonettes and one-bed flats; designed from 1966 and built in 1971-7); and the Rowley Way part of the Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate (block B, for instance, comprises four storeys of two- and three-bed maisonettes), built in 1972-8.

Tangmere, Broadwater Farm Estate, by C.E. Jacob, Borough Architect, and Alan Weitzel, Deputy Borough Architect of the Haringey Department of Architecture; designed from 1966, built in 1967-72

Cook’s competitor for Camden’s job was the housing architect of Hampstead, C.E. Jacob. He was later appointed borough architect of Haringey and as soon as his new Department of Architecture was set up, he designed, with his deputy Alan Weitzel, the Broadwater Farm Estate (1967-72) and its centrepiece, Tangmere, a maisonette ziggurat.

Henry Wise House, Lillington Gardens Estate, by Darbourne & Darke for Westminster City Council; design won in competition in 1961, detailed and built in 1964-7

Westminster balanced work of its own new Department of Architecture and Planning under F.G. West – such as the Brunel Estate in Westbourne Park, 1970-4 – with schemes by private practices, for instance Darbourne & Darke’s epochal Lillington Gardens Estate (designed in 1961, built in 1964-72, with some of the best maisonettes in town); the scheme won numerous awards, starting with an Award for Good Design in Housing in 1969.

Spring Gardens, Highbury New Park, by the Islington Architecture Department under Alf Head, Borough Architect, 1968-70

In the period of 1968-1980, the most Awards for Good Design in Housing sponsored by the Secretary of State for the Environment in collaboration with the Royal Institute of British Architects – was received by Islington, ‘more than any other local authority in the country’. (12) Islington’s Architecture Department was run by Alf Head, who complemented its own projects – for example the Spring Gardens (1968-70) maisonettes and flats in Highbury – with commissions from private practices, very often Darbourne & Darke.

Borough architects in south London were just as active, particularly F.O. Hayes at Southwark, who continued his old Camberwell job, and Ted Hollamby at Lambeth.

Dawson Heights, Dulwich, by Kate Macintosh of the Southwark Department of Architecture & Planning under F.O. Hayes; 1966-72

Southwark’s largest projects were the stupendous Heygate Estate (now demolished) and the Aylesbury Estate (demolition underway), but the Department of Architecture and Planning designed other estates too, such as the Four Squares Estate in Bermondsey (most of its 691 homes are maisonettes). The most triumphant, though, was Kate Macintosh’s all-maisonette estate Dawson Heights (1966-72) in Dulwich. She described it as a ‘Chinese puzzle of differing types to be assembled in various combinations’ (13) and it still works perfectly well.

The building programme in the neighbouring Lambeth was very extensive too – and Hollamby was as good at recruiting talented architects as Cook given that one of his first appointments was George Finch, who already made his name at the LCC with the Chicksand Estate in Whitechapel.

Holland Rise House, Stockwell, by George Finch of the Lambeth Architect’s Department under Ted Hollamby; 1967

Finch’s eight almost identical 22-storey maisonette towers, system-built by Wates – the first completed was Holland Rise House in Stockwell in 1967 – are as intelligent as they are generous; and his stunning Lambeth Towers in Kennington Lane (designed in 1964-5, completed in 1971) are maisonettes, incorporated in a freestyle, sinuous brutalist block.

Binsey Walk, Thamesmead, by the GLC Department of Architecture and Civic Design; designed from 1966, built in 1968-9 (demolished)

The last great hurrah of mixed development was Thamesmead, ‘basically a working-class Barbican’ (14), the heroic estate by the GLC Department of Architecture and Civic Design, the successor to the LCC Architect’s Department. The two architecturally most intriguing structures – Coralline Walk and Binsey Walk, both now demolished – were linear maisonette blocks built in 1967-8; and more maisonettes were included in the later stages of the development, Parkview (1969-79) and The Moorings (1971-7).

The most seductive of all other GLC maisonette blocks remains Perronet House (1967-70) in Elephant and Castle, which won a commendation in the 1971 Awards for Good Design in Housing.

And it was not only the GLC Department of Architecture and Civic Design: pretty much all private practices commissioned by the GLC also designed maisonettes, including the Smithsons (their Robin Hood Gardens, 1968-72, mostly consisted of large maisonettes); Ernő Goldfinger (Trellick Tower, 1972, as well as Balfron Tower, 1967, Carradale House, 1967-8, and a 1972 Burcham Street block on the Brownfield Estate); Trevor Dannatt (Norwood House on the Galloway Estate, 1969); and Architects Co-Partnership (Ethelred Estate, Lambeth, 1964-75).

Benhill Grounds, Brunswick Road, Sutton, by the Sutton Architect’s Department under Peter Hirst, 1978-9

The last two estates featuring predominantly maisonettes were Benhill Grounds by the Sutton Architect’s Department under Peter Hirst (1978-9), and the GLC’s Ferry Lane Estate (1977-81) in Tottenham Hale. That these two schemes should have been the last – mostly because of the 1980 Housing Act and its consequences  – is a shame, because maisonettes are arguably the greatest housing gift that modernist architects bequeathed to London. They were – and rightfully remain – popular ‘because they gave greater privacy and the sensation of being in a house’. (15) Not to mention the fact that Londoners like going upstairs to bed …  

A version of this article was previously published in Issue 5 of Journal of Civic Architecture (2020).  

Sources

(1) Margaret Willis, ‘My Job’ transcript for a BBC broadcast, 23 January 1955; Report by the Clerk of the Council, 12 January 1955, London Metropolitan Archives

(2) Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England – London 5: East, (Yale University Press, 2005)

(3) Elain Harwood, London County Council Architects, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

(4) Elain Harwood, Obituary of George Finch, The Guardian, 27 February 2013

(5) Judith Lever, Home Sweet Home (Academy Editions/GLC, 1976)

(6) GLC Architecture 1965/70 (GLC, 1971)

(7) Lever, Home Sweet Home

(8) Elain Harwood, Space Hope and Brutalism: English Architecture 1945-1975 (Yale University Press, 2015)

(9) GLC Architecture 1965/70

(10) London Government Act 1963, Part IX

(11) Mark Swenarton, Cook’s Camden (Lund Humphries, 2017)

(12) Awards for Good Design in Housing 1980, Report from the Housing Committee, Islington London Borough Council, 4 December 1980

(13) Kate Macintosh, Utopia London, directed by Tom Cordell, 2010

(14) Owen Hatherley, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (Verso, 2010)

(15) Elain Harwood, Space Hope and Brutalism