History: Building Raynes Park

Building Raynes Park: Part 3


Part 3 - Whatley Estate and Claremont Avenue

Immediately after the Armistice in November 1918 Lloyd George promised that the Government would make the country a land fit for heroes to live in. One of the most pressing problems was the shortage of houses. Building activity had been at a low ebb before 1914 and ceased almost completely in the last three years of the War. Then there was the natural surge in the number of marriages when the troops returned.

In 1919 the Government passed an Act that gave financial support to Local Authorities to build new houses. The need had been foreseen for years. The solution was not so easy. Firstly very few Authorities had ever built houses. Much brick-making was still a cottage industry carried out in the open air and too many brickmakers who were hardened to wind, rain and cold and therefore made ideal infantry were buried in Flanders and Picardy. England is the one country in Europe that is not self-sufficient in timber and what timber there was had been used in the trenches while imports were seriously reduced because of the Civil War that affected Russia Finland and the Baltic States and the loss of shipping.

In 1917 each Local Authority was asked to supply details of the number of houses needed in its area. In October of that year Merton and Morden said that much land was available. At that time only about one-ninth of the district had been developed. Most of the population was concentrated in Merton and Morden, which had only been added to the District in 1911, had barely more than one thousand inhabitants. The Council said that the better sites nearer transport facilities could be procured if a scheme for surface drainage were approved at the same time as houses.

In January 1919 the Clerk and the Surveyor saw what sites were available. By July the Council was concentrating on the Whatley Estate. The National Archives have not preserved the Ministry of Health files for the Merton and Morden scheme. The only file for that period is about drainage problems at the problems with the Whatley Estate. The high water table in the District has been a perennial problem. It led to expensive remedial work to the trench shelters in the early part of the Second World War. Wimbledon considered a joint scheme for the Whatley Estate but in October 1919 Merton and Morden said that would not be possible until drainage work was done. There were other problems with the Whatley Estate. The precise route of the Wimbledon-Sutton line had not been settled and the Council had plans for the area besides housing.

In December Wimbledon Council bought the site of Thompson's Nursery off Lower Downs Road (the landing site, incidentally, of the sixth Martian missile in The War of the Worlds). Merton and Morden estimated over 700 houses were needed in the District and had already asked the Government for permission to build 60 (later 62) houses on Claremont Avenue as it would be impossible lo build the required number in a reasonable time on the Whatley site. The advantage of Claremont Avenue was that it had been laid out before the War and although by 1919 the house numbers only reached 27a and 44, the road was partly made up and a sewer installed along its whole length.

Two separate firms of architects were responsible for design and supervision. Messrs Brocklesby and Marchant were the architects for one half of the Whatley Estate and the houses in Claremont Avenue. John Sidney Brocklesby had designed many houses in Merton Park before 1914 and after Merton and Morden's scheme designed churches in the Midlands. At the beginning of the 1920s there was very little private house building in Merton and Morden. A few houses were built in Mostyn Road and Dorset Road in Merton Park and on existing roads in Motspur Park such as Seaforth Avenue. Most of the new private houses were built in the north-east corner of Morden in Wandle Road, Sedclon  Road and The Drive but even there development could only be described as intermit tent.

Two contractors were chosen for the building work: Walter Lawrence for one part of the Whatley Estate and J.W. Ellingham for the other part and the houses in Claremont Avenue. Ellingham was a Dartford builder who had been established before 1914 and built a fair amount around Bexleyheath and Barnehurst before and after the war. He tendered for a number of medium sized contracts around London and as far as Dover in 1919-1922. He did not tender for the big contracts for the LCC nor for flats. Merton and Morden's scheme was probably his biggest undertaking for a local authority,

In April 1920 the Clerk to the Council described borrowing £40,000 for the housing schemes  as the most important work the Council had ever done.

In November 1919 the Council had decided that bathrooms would be provided , and that all the rooms on the ground floor should be on one level. The reference to bathrooms is to a separate space for a bath. The alternative was to provide washing facilities as an adjunct to the kitchen which would reduce plumbing costs. The expense of the housing schemes was becoming a national concern and was ultimately one of the factors that drove Lloyd George from office. The level of the ground floor rooms refers to one of the obvious differences between houses built before 1914 and those built after 1918. Atypical house in Tooting built in 1910 would be about fifteen feet wide and three rooms deep with a two storey rear addition that contained a bathroom and bedroom on the first floor and a kitchen and scullery on the ground floor with one or two steps down as the rear addition ('the tunnelback') had a lower roof ridge than the main part. A typical house in Motspur Park built in 1925 would be at least twenty feet wide with all rooms under the main roof. If any one person is to be credited with that change in the design of suburban houses it should be Professor Sir Raymond Unwin who was a member of the Tudor Walters Committee on Housing that produced a Report in 1918 that set standards for housing.

If the Council had tried to provide houses to a lower standard the Government would probably have rejected the plans but by 1920 the desire to cut costs was urgent. Although we do not have the details for the Merton and Morden other authorities were being asked to make all types of small economies such as staining internal woodwork instead of painting it, omitting picture rails and providing gravel paths round houses instead of stone flags. In May 1920 the Council told the Government that its suggestions were delaying contracts. One suggestion was to provide smaller, therefore cheaper, water tanks but if the water authority had standard requirement for larger tanks that it would not waive, it could enforce it by refusing to connect the water supply. By March 1921 the first eighteen houses in Claremont Avenue were ready except for lighting and water.

The history of the housing drive after the First World War is set out in Swenarton's 'Homes fit for Heroes' and Orbach's 'Homes for Heroes' but they naturally concentrate on the Government and large authorities. The houses in Claremont Avenue are a microcosm of the situation faced by what was, then, a small Urban District Council.



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