I’m pleased to feature the second part of this fine guest post by Jane Kilsby – a wonderful record of the struggle to build decent working-class housing in the early years of the last century and a proper tribute to a man who dedicated his life to the cause.
Banbury was one of the very few shire towns to build council housing before the First World War. That it did so, as last week’s post made clear, owed much to the energy and idealism of Councillor Herbert Payne, the ‘Cow Fair Roarer’. This week’s post takes the story forward: Banbury built some of the finest early council housing in the country but for Payne himself life took a far more sombre turn.
To secure high-quality design, the Council announced an architectural competition in December 1911. The Council wanted 40 houses – 20 at no more than £175 each and 20 at no more than £135 each – but they also wanted entrants to avoid monotony and make best use of the land. A local exhibition on the scheme was so popular that its opening hours were extended.
Early twentieth century municipal housing schemes provided new opportunities and challenges for architects. Some 63 architects from across the country participated in the Banbury competition, attacking (in the words of the Banbury Guardian) ‘the problem of designing a cheap form of dwelling so as to give a maximum accommodation and amenity with a good deal of spirit’. Unfortunately, none of these plans appear to survive. Mr J Fisher of Wellingborough, the architect appointed to design the new school in Grimsbury, was selected as adjudicator. The winning design was by Messrs Geoffry Lucas and Lodge of Bloomsbury Square.
Thomas Geoffry Lucas (1872-1947) is best remembered now for his work with the garden city movement, notably in Letchworth where he designed a group of cottages in Paddock Close. Lucas said of this ‘£150 House’ that ‘although simple, an effort has been made to obtain dignity, and an architectural treatment, without extravagance’. He also designed for Hampstead Garden Suburb and his house at 54 Parkway won first prize in a competition at Gidea Park. Together with Thomas Arthur Lodge (1888-1967), articled to Lucas and later his partner, he designed the art deco Parkinson Building for the University of Leeds and Hackney Town Hall.
Lucas and Lodge were paid a premium of £20 for their winning design. Their plans for King’s Road are missing – they are not held by the current Town Council or by Sanctuary Housing Association, the current freeholders and managers – but the Banbury Advertiser of 7 March 1912 provides us with a detailed description:
Messrs Lucas and Lodge’s plans for the £175 houses show two-floor structures with gabled fronts at intervals, the bedrooms of the remainder of the houses having dormer windows rising from the eaves. On the ground floor is the porch and lobby, the front living room measuring 13ft 7in by 12ft 1½ inches. At the back is a scullery, about 7ft 6 in by 10ft, with larder, copper, coal-house, table-top bath and gas stove, with yard and w.c. at the rear. On the first floor are three bedrooms, the dimensions of the front room being 15ft 3in by 10ft 3in, those of the two back rooms being 10ft 10in by 7ft 8in and 7ft 6in by 7ft 3in respectively.
The £135 houses were smaller but otherwise of similar design. The cottages as a whole were constructed as reversed pairs in four groups of ten, each with its own garden. It was ‘proposed that trees be planted along the road, with grass in the front gardens, and a bed of flowers and creepers against the cottages’.
The Council set out its budget and applied to the Local Government Board to borrow £7685. An Inquiry into the Banbury Housing Scheme was held on 2 August 1912. The Mayor, councillors, the Medical Officer, Gilletts’ representatives and others were all on message and the loan was confirmed two months later. Messrs Bosworth and Lowe of Nottingham were appointed as contractors.
Councillors followed the progress of the scheme closely and in October 1913, when the houses were almost complete, the decision on the name was made: the Cow Fair crowd’s choice: King’s Road. The houses were let at 5s 3d for the three bedroom houses and 4s 3d for the two bedroom houses.
The First World War changed the national politics of housing radically. From this point, Banbury’s housing policy was no different from numerous other towns: good housing was needed and quickly, and the council made use of national government’s substantial help and finance.
A total of 770 council houses were built between 1919 and 1940; 361 of these were in Easington, due west of the town centre, where the Council carried out extensive slum clearance. The fields northwest of King’s Road, the streets now known as Hilton Road, Park Road, Boxhedge Road West and Townsend were also a high priority for new building.
By July 1926, a commentator in the Banbury Advertiser was able to say:
whatever Banbury lacks, it does not appear that the former shortage of housing accommodation can be levelled as a reproach against the town now. The council of recent years has taken the bit between its teeth – a ‘bit’ that despite one of our Aldermen’s fears I believe is one that Banbury can chew – and houses are springing up in our midst like brick-built mushrooms.
King’s Road, the council’s model street, was now fully developed. For six years the forty Lucas and Lodge houses had stood in pretty isolation in their semi-rural setting. In 1914 the Council had, wisely, and at Payne’s instigation, negotiated with Gillett on an extension of the option period to buy the remainder of the land in King’s Road. The pre-war experience was invaluable and the Council’s post-war plans began in King’s Road.
By October 1919 land clearing operations had begun at the western end of the road. The land was cleared and plans were made and a set of 19 ‘non-parlour type’ workmen’s dwellings were built at a cost of £18,050. These houses were built in the late 1920s. These houses are of brick and have three bedrooms, a bathroom and large gardens. Making use of Addison’s 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act, the council sold Local Housing Bonds of £5 upwards at 6 per cent interest.
A set of twelve semi-detached houses were built speculatively in 1928.
Finally, six more houses were built by the Council in 1929. Councillor Monks’ remarked upon the:
extraordinary number of applications for these houses – 20 or 30 people have applied to me personally. The Borough Accountant said he had about 50 applicants for the six 2 bedroom houses. 24 of the applicants were single and wanted to get married. Only three houses could be offered, as the other three were offered to tenants in condemned properties.
The Council used ‘off the peg’-type designs available from the Ministry of Housing and the houses built in the 1920s have no remarkable architectural features. They are solid, popular and durable, however, and King’s Road today is an unassuming, pleasant street with mature lime trees at its western end. A residential street of less than 100 houses, it represents Banbury’s early municipal housing policy in microcosm and, you could say, a lasting memorial to our hero, Herbert Payne.
Let’s return to Herbert Payne and see what happened to him. He continued to serve on the Town Council for most of the Great War. With local politics deferring to the national good, he sounds calmer and more conciliatory. He had been re-elected as an independent in 1912 and became friends with the Liberals. Housing activities were not on the agenda and, within the Council Chamber, Payne’s contributions were confined to the fine details of the Education Committee’s accounts and incremental improvements to the town’s sewerage system.
He continued with the cutlery business he had started in 1905. Trading from his premises and home in Bridge Street, a stone’s throw from the Cow Fair, his customers were caterers, hotels and boarding houses. He travelled the country extensively. His turnover for 1915 is recorded at £3,000.
He was, of course, young enough to join up. He didn’t. He was a pacifist to his core. He was granted an exemption on conscientious grounds and in August 1916, the County Tribunal (on appeals for exemptions from military service) exempted him for a further three months on business grounds, with leave to apply again.
Payne’s career was all about making a difference to people’s lives and he did not give up easily. Perhaps he thought he could change things, even in the War. He took it upon himself to challenge the way the Oxfordshire County Tribunals were set up. He lobbied hard for the County Tribunal to include employee representatives. He went as far as organising and speaking at a public meeting – held in the Town Hall in full view of the military – to prepare a resolution for two representative trade unionists to be nominated for the Tribunal. The handbills declared ‘ Attested Recruits, whether accepted or rejected, specially invited. Ladies invited.’ In the Council meeting that followed, Payne presented the resolution that it was ‘imperative that [the County Tribunal] should have the confidence especially of the class from which the recruits are most likely to be drawn’.
By the time of the next appeal, casualty figures were catastrophic. These were very dangerous times and, perhaps with some naivety, Payne told the County Military Tribunal that he refused to do non-combatant service but would be willing to do certain types of work of national importance. The Tribunal ordered him to work on a farm. He didn’t.
Details of the local appeals are set out in forensic detail in the Banbury newspapers, often on the same page as the lists of those who had fallen. It’s impossible to know what his fellow councillors thought about Payne by then. Some Town Council meetings start with expressions of sorrow for a councillor who had lost a son killed in action. In any event, the knives were out for Payne.
His last Council meeting was on 2 April 1917. True to himself, he spoke at length in congratulating the Medical Officer on a reduction in the infant mortality rate and badgered his fellow councillors on what further steps were being taken by the Water Company to improve the condition of the water supply.
A month later, he was arrested in Derby. Handed over to a military escort, it is understood that he was sent to Winchester Prison. Leading pacifist and conscientious objector, Fenner Brockway, remembered talking to Payne at the Martyrs Memorial in Oxford and that the next time they saw each other was in prison. (2) He came home to Banbury in 1919. There was no return to the Cow Fair crowds; he spent much of his time with the Congregationalists. JR Hodgkins says that ‘he was a broken man and that the War had broken his heart’. He died three years later, at 40.
Hodgkins pays tribute to Payne as a vigorous and successful pioneer of housing reform. He ends his chapter on Payne with the hope: (2)
that one day Banbury can find the time and spare the energy to mark his memory. Since his death, things have been going ‘Payne’s way’ all over the country.
They have indeed.
(1) Contemporary quotations from the press, unless otherwise credited, are taken from the Banbury Advertiser between 1905 and 1930 held by the British Newspaper Archive
(2) JR Hodgkins, Over the Hills to Glory: Radicalism in Banburyshire 1832-1945 (1978)
My thanks to the Oxfordshire History Centre of Oxfordshire County Council for their generosity in allowing the use of the credited images.