I’m very pleased to host a new post by Chas Townley. He has written previously on the pre-First World War council housing of Dursley in Gloucestershire. Chas is a Labour District Councillor on Stroud District Council, a ‘no overall control’ authority in the county. He was chair of the Housing Committee. Chas has formerly worked in housing for both councils and housing associations and previously managed the Supporting People Programme in a unitary council. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Housing. He is a local historian and genealogist and has written on a variety of subjects including Chartism, Cooperatives, land clubs and building societies, and the Poor Law and pre-NHS health provision. Chas has recently started a PHD at the University of Bristol exploring the provision of working-class housing before the Great War.
Four houses at Mickleton are the sum total of Campden Rural District Council’s provision of houses before the Great War but they were the first council housing built in Gloucestershire under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts.
Campden was a rural district created in 1894 for administrative convenience from the Gloucestershire parishes within the Shipston-on-Stour Poor Law Union. As the Poor Law Union also had parishes in Worcestershire and Warwickshire, Shipston-on-Stour and Brailes Rural Districts were also created. The offices of the three districts plus the Poor Law Union were at the workhouse in Shipston with the same officers serving the four bodies. Members served a dual mandate as both Rural District Councillor and Poor Law Guardian.
The Mickleton Parish Council was exploring ways of providing houses and August 1910 discussed information from the Local Government Board on the terms loans for housing schemes could be provided to District Councils – 3 ½% over 80 years for land and 60 for buildings. The report extensively reports Charles Coldicott, who served as both Chairman of the Parish Council and the District Councillor for the Parish. Another quoted was Mr Dixon, a barrister and later a Justice of the Peace for both Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. (1)
The newspaper report noted that ‘A lengthy discussion took place with regard to the probable cost of erecting four houses and the amount of rent to be charged’. But one parishioner, Mr J Taylor, offered to give £600 towards the cost of the scheme providing that the rest of the cost could be raised and that houses became the property of the Parish Council – this wasn’t legally possible. Part of Taylor’s argument is enlightened self-interest:
They [the landowners and ratepayers] could not do without the working-man. He should not be in the position he was today if it was not for the men. It was their business and duty as Christians to see that the working-man was better housed.
The outcome of the meeting was that Dixon and Taylor were deputed to consult the ratepayers to see if they would assent to a voluntary rate for the houses.
At this point the Housing and Town Planning Act 1909 was in its infancy and the potential for the Act to deliver the improvement of homes in disrepair and the construction of new housing was largely untried in rural areas – even in four exceptional rural areas which had struggled through the barriers of earlier legislation to provide housing in their local areas.
Mickleton was undeterred and the Parish Council meeting in September made application to the Campden Rural District Council to ‘respectfully put into operation the Housing and Town Planning Act’. The Cheltenham Chronicle account suggests this was due to both a housing shortage as well as the poor condition of existing housing. This led to a wider debate at the District Council about the work needed to put into force the systematic inspection of existing homes under the Act. As to the question of the new housing they set up a joint committee with the Parish Council to look at the provision of new housing in Mickleton. (2)
The Chronicle carried a short article later in the year giving an account of progress noting:
The promoters of the scheme have met with considerable difficulty one way or another, and some members of the Council have seemed reluctant to work under an Act which they know little or nothing about, as was shown by the discussion which took place at the meetings.
It also commented ‘but Mickleton people were persistent in their demand and their representative on the Rural Council (Mr Coldicott) threatened to appeal to the Local Government Board, if the Council refused to do that which was asked of them’. (3) Given that the legislation was a Liberal initiative and Charles Coldicott’s persistence to encourage the use of the new Act, it is easy to assume he was a Liberal but he was the leading Conservative in the village. (4)
The procedure of the Act provided that four residents of a parish or the Parish Council itself could lay a complaint before the Local Government Board enabling them to intervene and order the District Council to provide housing in a parish. Before intervening the board had to consider the ‘necessity for further accommodation’ as well as ‘the probability that the required accommodation will not be otherwise provided‘ as well whether it is prudent to do so ‘having regard to the liability which will be incurred by the rates’. The Act also provided default powers for the County Council to act instead of the rural district. Compulsion by way of writ of mandamus could result in a range of sanctions including imprisonment for continued default. (5)
If there was a will to avoid building there was a way, as a defect in the legislation left the Local Government Board powerless to intervene beyond persuasion and coaxing unless there was a formal complaint. By the end of the 1912-1913 financial year, only 37 Rural Districts out of 661 had applied for a loan to build housing. Consequently, by the eve of the Great War frustrations by the Liberal Government with rural districts were leading to an emerging policy of the state taking over the building of housing rather than leaving it to private enterprise and councils. (6)
The belligerence against rural districts also extended to smaller urban districts and during 1917 and 1918 Addison’s Ministry of Reconstruction advocated for another option of transferring of housing powers to the counties, leading to Lord Salisbury to comment in reaction to Local Government Board proposals, ‘For reasons which we have stated over and over again we believe that the County Council is a far sounder authority’. (7)
By the spring of 1911 Campden were ready to apply to the Government for a £600 loan to build the four cottages, having agreed to lease a site for a period of 99 years from Mr SG Hamilton. (8) The inquiry was held by Major CE Norton, a Local Government Board Inspector. It was left to Charles Coldicott to present the case to the inspector, suggesting this was still very much a local Mickelton scheme rather than one owned by the District Council as a whole. In part this was a consequence of the funding mechanism as any deficit on the scheme was to be met from Mickleton’s ratepayers rather than the District rate.
Coldicott’s evidence recounted a Parish Meeting held the previous year which had resulted in a 40 to 2 vote in favour of the project. He claimed that many cottages had been demolished in recent years and none built. The main industry of the parish was agriculture and market gardening and some of the farm labourers were having to live a considerable distance out of the parish. The suggested rent for the cottages was 3s 6d (17.5p).
Dr Finlay, the Medical Officer of Health, gave evidence that there were no empty cottages in the village and only a day or two ago a family had to go out of the village because the cottage had been bought. He also knew of men who worked in Mickleton who lived in Quinton, three miles away across the border in Warwickshire.
It was left to Charles Gander, the Council’s surveyor and sanitary inspector, to go over the plans which showed ‘a good back living room, scullery, joint washhouse for each pair of cottages, three bedrooms (two large and one small) and separate coal houses and domestic offices’. The selected site was small and Gander justified the lack of garden ground on the basis that ‘all the cottagers rented allotments in the parish’. (9)
Three opponents, supported by a petition signed by 28 ratepayers, spoke on the grounds that whilst there was an urgent need for housing in the village they thought the site selected was unsuitable. One of them suggested an alternative site which they considered more suitable owned by a Mr Box. The Inspector concluded the hearing by remarking that some alterations would need to be made to the plans before the Local Government Board would give its sanction to the scheme which would defer the matter for some time. Whilst it is not clear from the reports, the construction was probably solid brick rather than a cavity wall and this construction is assumed by the modern energy performance certificates for the properties – although cavity wall construction started in late Victorian times.
Walter Runciman, then President of the Board of Agriculture and actively interested in small holdings and rural housing, visited Mickleton in December 1911, accompanied by Sir Ashton Lister, then Chairman of the County Small Holdings Committee and subsequently ‘Coupon’ Liberal MP for Stroud. A description of the visit provides an account of the challenge for the County Council to provide affordable smallholders cottages alongside the newly developed council smallholdings: (10)
At Mickleton we came face to face with the rural housing problem in its most acute form. The soil is remarkably fruitful, and lets readily for market-garden cultivation at £4 an acre without buildings. Land which was down at grass a few years ago has been let by the County Council to men who are probably obtaining as much as £4 for every £1 raised from the soil hitherto, or, to use a classic phrase, making four blades of grass grow where only one grew before. Yet there are not enough houses for the people to live in. A two roomed cottage nearly a mile from the occupier’s small holding fetches, it is true, only £4 per year, but in this very cheapness lies the root of the difficulty. ‘The County Council’, Mr Runciman explained, ‘couldn’t put up cottages with three bedrooms which is the standard size, for less than £400 the pair. They couldn’t let them at less than £10 a year each. If such a cottage were on your holding, would you be willing to take it?’. ‘Well’, was the reply ‘that needs a deal o’ thinking on. Ten pound is a lot o’ money’. Plainly if the Cottage Bureau should lead to the discovery of that dream of many a reformer, the satisfactory hundred-pound cottage, it will be the salvation of such villages as Mickleton.
Sir Ashton Lister later noted at a Council meeting that one of the disadvantages for the Council was the fifty-year maximum loan period available for small holding buildings. (11) This compared to a sixty-year period allowed for the construction of dwellings under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts. It clearly mattered not how the house was used but under what legislation it was provided.
In another article was a more detailed explanation of the Cottage Bureau proposal that Runciman was developing, which was to ‘gather from all sources – whether English, American, or Continental – plans and specifications of modern-built country cottages, together with the details of the actual cost’. Very soon after in February 1912 Runciman appointed a Departmental Committee on the Equipment of Small Holdings which, when it reported a year later, included details of cottages suitable for rural labourers to be built as council housing. Whilst these developments did not directly benefit Mickleton they did ensure that model plans were available for other councils working to provide council housing in rural areas before the Great War. (12)
Returning to the development of four houses in Mickelton, by July 1911 work to resolve the perceived problems with the scheme had taken place and a new site owned by Mr Dixon was under consideration with a sixty-year lease on ‘nominal terms’ with a continuing lease for 999 years. The Local Government Board were willing to sanction the new site subject to the approval of revised plans. A sticking point appeared to be the design of the outbuildings which were considered to darken the scullery if placed too near the houses. (13)
Whilst we cannot be certain, it appears as if the original scheme was tendered before an application for a loan was originally made as in September the District Council had received an amended tender from the proposed contractor George Adams which was higher than the original taking account of the additional work required to assess the changes. Adams was part of a long-standing building firm based in Shipston-on-Stour and had undertaken other work for the Guardians in the past. (14)
Charles Coldicott was deputed to find out the views of the proposed tenants on a ‘small increase’ in the rent for the properties. This suggests that the properties had also been pre-let when the original plans were developed. At the October District Council meeting the revised tender of £674 was approved as a ‘fair charge’ for the work and formal application for a loan sanction of £700 was submitted to the Local Government Board.
Mr Gander, the surveyor, reported to the April 1912 meeting of the Council that the difficulty of draining the newly erected cottages had been overcome by connecting with the drains of the cottages opposite by agreement with the Sladden and Collier brewery of Evesham (eventually becoming part of the Whitbread brewing combine) who ran the Butchers Arms in the village. The Surveyor had also taken water samples from the well supplying the cottages. There is a later report stating that the well was ‘quite unfit ‘ – but this could be a misprint as the cottages were occupied by the May meeting, suggesting that any problems were quickly resolved with the Chairman saying they should be celebrated in a proper manner as the first council housing in the area. (15)
Mickleton like many rural villages in Gloucestershire acquired mains water and sewerage late in the day. A water supply project was completed in 1927 and, in 1933 when the Granbrook Lane council houses were developed, the council resorted to installing a septic tank. There was still no public sewerage system when planning took place for post-Second World War reconstruction. (16)
Who were the first tenants?
That’s a very difficult question to answer as the records for that period are scant. We know for certain who was resident at the time of the 1939 National Registration giving four families with three of the four having close links to agriculture. One couple, George and Elizabeth Norton, at the time of the 1911 census, were agricultural carriers and had been resident in a cottage close to Charles Coldicott’s farm.
Their cottage was clearly overcrowded with ten living in four rooms – which would have included the living room. They had been married for 17 years and had nine children, two of whom had died before 1911 and the remaining seven were all still living at home in a four-room cottage. Also living with them was ‘paralysed’ Samson Margretts aged 58. His original head of the household entry had been deleted and relegated to ‘boarder‘, perhaps suggesting he was the tenant of the cottage. But another household – again Norton – in 1911 had been living with members of three other concealed households in addition to their own children.
There is, however, a twist in the tale as all four properties appear to have ceased to be council housing by 1972. One of the properties is in private ownership having been auctioned off in 1972 with the other three owned by a local charity named after the person who leased the land to the Council in 1912. Whilst it is disappointing to find that the first council homes built in Gloucestershire are no longer providing affordable social rented homes, three continue to provide rented housing in the village.
This one scheme at Mickleton was not the end of Campden Council’s entry into the world of housing provision before the Great War as work had begun on developing a scheme of eight homes at Moreton in the Marsh. Despite the scheme having progressed a long way with a site ready to be purchased, plans drawn and loan terms accepted from the Government, paradise was postponed, like so much else, for the duration of the War, in October 1914.
Within Mickleton a further six council homes were provided on Stratford Road under the ‘homes fit for heroes‘ housing scheme in 1921. (17) Subsequently, during the late 1920’s and 1930s the provision of more homes took place along Granbrook Lane. (18) More housing followed in the post war period in Cedar Road but the direct provision of council housing ended with the decision of Cotswold District to cease being a landlord in 1997. And the village was the beneficiary of 15 new social rent homes granted permission at Hill View Close in 2000, one of the first schemes completed by Fosseway Housing – the Cotswold District Council stock transfer association – now swallowed up into the 40,000 home Bromford Housing Group. (19)
(1) Evesham Standard, 13 August 1910, p5
(2) Cheltenham Chronicle, 8 October 1910, p8
(3) Cheltenham Chronicle, 10 December 1910
(4) Evesham Standard & West Midland Observer, 8 February 1919; Gloucestershire Echo, 4 January 1902 reports him being re-elected as Grand Master of the Mickleton Lodge.
(5) Housing and Town Planning Act 1909 Section 10
(6) The Central Land and Housing Council, The Liberal Land and Housing Policy: Rural Housing, circa 1914.
(7) National Archives Letter by Lord Salisbury Chairman Ministry of Reconstruction Housing Panel circulated to War Cabinet by Christopher Addison. CAB 24/44/76
(8) Sidney Graves Hamilton (1856-1916), born in Dublin and resident in Malvern is described as Lord of the Manor of Mickleton in the report of his will. Cheltenham Chronicle 20 January 1917. See also 1911 Census Class: RG14; Piece: 17650; Schedule Number: 13. The Lloyd George Survey also shows that he owned substantial holdings in the village and one of his farm tenants was Charles Coldicott.
(9) Cheltenham Chronicle, 25 March 1911
(10) Gloucester Journal, 23 December 1911, p9
(11) Gloucester Journal, 13 January 1912
(12) Departmental Committee on the Equipment of Small Holdings, Chaired by Christopher Turner March 1913, Cd 6708
(13) Evesham Standard, 15 July 1911
(14) There is an extensive archive of Adams Builders, Shipston-on-Stour covering the period 1796 to 1968 at Warwickshire Archives which may throw further light on this project. Ref: 03887
(15) Cheltenham Chronicle, 20 April 1912; Evesham Standard, 18 May 1912
(16) Cheltenham Chronicle, 2 July 1927; The Tewkesbury Register and Agricultural Gazette, 21 January 1933. Gordon E Payne, Gloucestershire: A Survey – A Physical, Social and Economic Survey and Plan (Gloucestershire County Council, 1945)
(17) Gloucestershire Echo, 15 October 1921, p6 – report of Campden RDC meeting
(18) The Tewkesbury Register and Agricultural Gazette, 31 January 1931. This is an advert to complete 12 partially completed properties.
(19) Cotswold District Council planning files 98.02408 Construction of 15 dwellings for affordable housing, Meon Hill Nurseries, Nursery Close, Mickleton.