I’m very pleased to feature the second post from Peter Claxton on Cottingham. Peter rekindled his love of history at university following his retirement having spent 40 years working in IT. 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. He is currently researching the contentious relationship between private interests and public improvements with regards to health and housing in Kingston upon Hull between 1854 and 1914.
In my previous blog I reviewed the first ‘tentative steps’ made by the Cottingham Urban District Council (UDC) regarding the provision of council housing between 1921 and 1930. In this follow-up blog, I pick up the story in the early 1930s and examine the efforts of the local authority through to the 1960s. It was a time, when for a brief period, provision was undertaken by someone with a national reputation, the village witnesses the creation of the ubiquitous council estate and the local authority ‘strayed away’ from the standard tendering process.
In 1932 with land remaining on the Southwood Estate, for some unexplained reason – possibly hoping to sell yet again at a favourable price – the council purchased land on the north side of the village to erect a further 18 houses. At 1/7d per square yard, it was in fact double the price paid in 1919. Superficial areas were now reduced to 760 and 630 feet super for the three- and two-bedroomed houses. Building again under the 1924 Act, with guidance from TC Slack, Surveyor to the Council, the Park Lane contract was awarded to Robert Greenwood Tarran who at the time was planning his own and subsequently ill-fated garden suburb just to the east of Cottingham.
Tarran enjoyed considerable success during the 1930s and 40s, and was known to adopt, when necessary, a somewhat cavalier approach to both business and civic duties. He later became the city’s Sheriff, welcoming the King and Queen to Hull in August 1941 following the heavy bombing raids in May. As Chief Air-Raid Warden, he instigated a personal crusade assisting many of the citizens to ‘trek’ out of Hull each evening to escape the ever-present threat of air-raids. Press exposure and concerns over morale ensured that the early evening movement of citizens out to the countryside, was eventually, placed on a more formal footing.
Tarran frequently attracted both criticism and publicity in the press. None more so than his company’s involvement as a contractor for the Leeds City Council on the futuristic Quarry Hill flats. Suffice to say that the acrimonious relationships between the parties involved with the build – relating primarily to the pre-fabrication of the blocks with which to cloak the building’s steelwork – extended the project considerably.
Yet for Tarran overcoming the on-site casting difficulties proved to be of immense value during the post-war push for prefabricated housing. Under the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1944, Tarran Industries manufactured in excess of 19,000 homes. After exhibiting a pre-fabricated house at the Tate in London, he erected, under the public’s gaze, his ‘Experimental House’ close to his works in Hull. The four-day process attracted more than 6000 visitors; a tactic he had previously employed in the city during the 1930s when his company built a pair of wooden ‘Cedar Houses’. A benefit of such a house, according to one of the first residents, was that you could ‘hang a picture without swearing.’ When it came to large-scale speedy production, to some, Tarran was the ‘Henry Ford’ of housing! (1)
By the middle of the 1930s the council completed the Southwood Estate building 20 dwellings a mix of two and three-bedroomed non-parlour houses under the 1933 Housing Act. It was however a swan-song for the Cottingham UDC, as a reorganisation of local authority areas in March 1935 – the second in seven years – resulted in its demise. The same fate befell the adjacent Hessle UDC, with the provision of housing becoming the responsibility of the newly formed and much larger Haltemprice UDC. In Cottingham between 1918 and 1939, seven percent (86) of the houses had been by local authority provision.
The post-war push for housing was manifest in the immediacy of the actions taken by the Haltemprice UDC. A swift yet temporary measure was the requisitioning of numerous large houses, becoming ‘makeshift’ accommodation for multiple occupancy. On a similar tack, former Ministry of Defence Nissen and Maycrete huts in the district were acquired and converted into temporary housing. One such site close to Cottingham had previously served as a National Services Hostel housing refugees from the Netherlands.
The shortage of accommodation was further tempered by the allocation of 30 AW Hawksley prefabricated aluminium bungalows, the first one completed was opened by Mr Thomas Williams, Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. in 1949. It is interesting to note that with a unit price of approximately £1450, taking a £600 subsidy plus Exchequer grant into account, at just over £2 per foot super, the temporary aluminium bungalows were close to twice the target build price of conventional permanent housing.
The provision of permanent local authority housing from 1946 onwards was achieved in a number of ways, represented today in the form of the Bacon Garth Estate plus a number of smaller ad hoc developments around the village. The post-war estate is now the usual mix of privately owned properties purchased under the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, and those that remain within the remit of the East Riding of Yorkshire County Council. Irrespective of the modifications made to many of those properties now privately owned, the estate continues to confirm central government’s post-war intentions of equitable housing for the masses.
The construction of the estate at the southern edge of the village, continued on an ‘as the needs dictate’ basis for more than 20 years, and now reflects the changing form of local authority provision. In 1946 the Ministry of Health requested that a minimum of four designs be adopted to avoid monotony and further insisted that a maximum build price of 22/3d per foot super be negotiated, the achievement of which regularly exacerbated the relationships between local authority, contractors and ministry. On one occasion an additional 2d per foot super was deemed unacceptable. Still with a preponderance of agricultural workers in the area – following instructions from the Ministry of Health – a number of horticulturalists were the first to be allocated permanent houses.
As an alternative to the standard practice of closed tenders – with contracts invariably awarded to the company with the cheapest quote – used during each phase of construction of the estate, to something a little less formal, the results could be markedly different. On several occasions the council used the Small Builders’ Scheme (SBS), the origins of which were based around a submission to the Ministry of Health by the building trade. Comprising of two parts, the first enabled local authorities to employ a builder to erect houses on his own plot(s) of land and purchase upon completion. The second part empowered councils to provide the land on which properties could be constructed on its behalf.
Using both options, the Haltemprice UDC acquired small clusters of properties around the village. Catering for the building of dwellings of a minimum 900 foot super, at prices that did not exceed those in tenders for comparable properties, there was also flexibility over design. Thus with options to negotiate a build price prior to construction, or purchase price post-construction, councils were well-positioned to procure limited numbers of houses that mirrored private provision. I suspect that today, there are very few, if any Cottingham residents mindful of the origins of these small assemblages.
A good example of the SBS is in evidence at the Hull-Cottingham boundary. Across three phases 52 houses were built along one of the arterial roads from Hull into Cottingham. A variety of designs successfully avoided the monotony so often the case along our main roads.
When the opportunity arose in 1947, the council purchased 20 houses close to the centre of the village on the newly built Westfield Estate. And in so doing created an enclave of local authority housing amid those offered for sale. But as the saying goes, ‘beauty is only skin deep’, and one can only hazard a guess as to whether or not the internal finish of houses purchased under the SBS always matched their external appearance.
An incident on the Westfield Estate suggests that sometimes this might not be the case. The baths in all 20 houses were found to be defective and had to be replaced by the council. On this occasion, purchasing post-construction, proved problematical. Efforts to maximise profit margins was often reflected in the internal finish of houses built for sale compared to those built for local authorities through the tendering process and subject to scrutiny during the build cycle.
However, by way of comparison, some of the early Bacon Garth Estate houses clearly lacked kerb appeal. Fortunately, they bear little resemblance to the rest of the estate. One wonders what the architect involved with these houses was thinking of when he sat at his desk and came up with the following!
However, they did benefit internally from a ‘woman’s touch’. Co-opted lady members were asked to advise on the types of fittings necessary to make the houses more homely. Sadly, the opportunity offered to the ladies was somewhat restricted as they were denied complete freedom to express their opinions regarding ‘all matters domestic’. Oddly, cooking ranges remained the remit of male committee members. A Yorkist type range – Wilsons & Mathiesons or equal not weighing less than 4.5 cwt – had to be fitted!
Unusually, when the first estate houses were built, the decision was taken not to erect fencing and gates to the front gardens. It was thought prudent to retain direct responsibility for the appearance of the house-fronts rather than rely on residents whose horticultural ambitions, based on previous experiences, appeared to fall well-short of the council’s expectations.
The provision of local authority housing in Cottingham continued well in to the 1960s. From those rather utilitarian dwellings of the interwar period, to a variety of post-1945 styles that catered for and reflected the needs of differing family sizes and age range. The village was spared any pre-cast ‘bolt and hope’ concrete tower blocks, the medieval church clock tower remaining the tallest structure. Those that fancied living in the clouds could gaze wistfully across the fields to the high-rise developments on Hull’s Orchard Park Estate. All now reduced to hardcore and probably finding a second use as foundations for garage floors.
Yes of course the provision of approximately 500 houses over four decades pales into insignificance when compared to the provision in many of our towns and cities during the twentieth century. But spare a thought for those small urban and rural district councils with limited human resources that were suddenly thrust into the roles of both builder and landlord a hundred years ago. What stories are still to be told?
(1) ‘Here’s a Real Housebuilder’, Daily Mirror, 25 January 1943