A recent acquisition of high-quality copies of some early photographs of Bedford Park has revealed that they capture the area at a critical time. The first tentative development, with dark paintwork and low close-boarded fences, was giving way under the influence of Norman Shaw to new designs, mainly with an abundance of white-painted woodwork and often with the palisade fences now regarded as characteristic of the area.
On 10 May 1878 Bedford Lemere and Co, established about a decade earlier as architectural photographers, took at least seven photographs of the infant Bedford Park for its promoter, Jonathan Thomas Carr. Copies of five of the photographs were acquired by the American architect H H Richardson (1838-1886) as part of a collection of around 3,500 images assembled in the period 1870-1885 as reference material for his practice.
The collection was given to Harvard University in 1936, but it was not until 1985 that the British architectural historian Andrew Saint, who had acquired a fairly low-quality microfilm of the whole collection, discovered the Bedford Park images. He passed very low-quality photocopies – the best that could be made at the time – to the Bedford Park architectural historian T A Greeves, who made use of two of them in connection with a planning appeal relating to a proposed development of the garden of one of the houses shown. Although copies of these two pictures were in the relevant file in the Greeves archive, the only evidence of their provenance was the statement that they had at one time been collected by H H Richardson.
In May 2009, when browsing through the Greeves archive, I found the original cover letter from Andrew Saint to T A Greeves, dated 15 July 1985, which identified the source as a collection at Harvard, although the date and photographer of the Bedford Park views were unknown. With considerable assistance from Andrew Saint, Mary Daniels of the School of Design at Harvard, and Ian Leith of the National Monuments Record, the commissioner, photographer, and date of the pictures have been identified, as described above; it has also been ascertained that there are no more Bedford Park pictures in the H H Richardson collection, and advantage has been taken of the advances in technology in the past 25 years to obtain high-quality digital scans of the five photographs. Of these, only two were identified in the H H Richardson collection as being of Bedford Park, one other was misidentified, and the other two were not identified at all.
Bedford Park in May 1878
Jonathan T Carr purchased his first 24 acres – Bedford House and its estate – on 14 September 1875. At around the same time, he bought designs from the architect E W Godwin for a detached house, specifically designated for use on corner sites, and for a pair of semi-detached houses; and a design for a pair of semi-detached houses from the firm of Coe and Robinson. There is also evidence of unused designs acquired from Godwin, and from an architect called Gwyther. Work must also have started at around the same time on laying out the estate. The identity of the author of the layout has never been established and, although various suggestions have been made, one obvious candidate has been overlooked. This candidate is Jonathan Carr’s father-in-law Hamilton Henry Fulton. Fulton’s part in the development of Bedford Park is not well documented, but it was he who had in 1872 enlarged the grounds of Bedford House from 12 to 24 acres, and who certainly played some part in their development. He was clearly available and, as a distinguished and experienced civil engineer, laying out the estate would have been a straightforward task with which, if necessary, he could find assistance from within his office. His possible role may have been neglected because architectural historians have assumed that the layout would have been the work of an architect.
On the land he initially had available, Jonathan Carr could set out The Avenue (originally called for a short time The Avenue Road), Marlborough Crescent (originally Marlborough Crescent and Marlborough Road), Bedford Road, and the west part of Blenheim Road, with Queen Anne’s Gardens. (See map.) Building began on The Avenue, with the first 18 houses complete enough to be leased in May and August 1876. These comprised two detached corner houses to the Godwin design, and four pairs each of the Godwin and Coe and Robinson designs, which were built with two pairs of one design opposite two pairs of the other. Building then came to something of a halt, as these 18 houses were all that had been built when the Architectural Association visited Bedford Park on 3 March 1877, although it was planned to build another 32 houses in 1877.
One of the probable reasons for the building pause was that, following severe criticism of the early designs, particularly those by Godwin, Carr had appointed Richard Norman Shaw as the estate architect and acquired designs for detached and semi-detached houses from him. He had also been busy in extending the estate, and in August 1877 had negotiated a Building Agreement with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for two strips of land, one immediately to the east of the Bedford House estate on the far side of a boundary ditch and footpath to East Acton, enabling Woodstock Road to be laid out with the old footpath as its western footpath, and one along the north side of an east-west road which became Bath Road. Following the acquisition of new designs and this extension, building resumed, with one of the constraints being that the Building Agreement stipulated that at least four houses should be built on the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ land by Christmas 1877.
By the Spring of 1878 two pairs of semi-detached houses to Norman Shaw’s design had been added in The Avenue, two modified versions of the Godwin comer house design had been built in Woodstock Road, two detached houses had been built to Shaw’s design in Queen Anne’s Gardens, and another two in Woodstock Road, and at least half a dozen pairs of semi-detached houses to a second Shaw design in Woodstock Road. There were also around half-a-dozen houses in Blenheim Road. Thus, as planned, there were about 50 houses in Bedford Park, built over a period of about two and a half years, when the Bedford Lemere photographs were taken. Expansion thereafter was considerably more rapid, and by January 1880, less than two years later, there were 220 houses on the estate.
The photographs which have survived show the following:
Number 1 The Avenue (Godwin comer house, west side) with side wall of Number 3.
Number 2 The Avenue (Godwin comer house, east side), with Numbers 4 and 6 (Coe and Robinson pair), and the east part of Bedford Road, with backs of houses in Woodstock Road seen across Queen Anne’s Gardens.
Numbers 21-11 The Avenue, with Numbers 19 and 21 (Shaw semi-detached) prominent.
Numbers 16-10 The Avenue (16-12 Godwin semi-detached).
Number 1 Woodstock Road (modified Godwin corner house, west side) with Numbers 3 and 5, and 7 and 9 (Shaw second semi-detached design) in the background.
Assuming that the object of commissioning the photographs was to produce publicity material for the Bedford Park Estate at the point when it was about to expand rapidly after a slow start, the missing two photographs may have shown houses to the Shaw detached design in Queen Anne’s Gardens or Woodstock Road, and some of the houses in Blenheim Road, some of which are by W Wilson, who was agent to the Estate at about this time.
Bedford Lemere and Co (which has no known connection with Bedford Park other than as occasional photographer) used a large-format (10 in x 12 in) plate camera (possibly still using wet plates in 1878) with a wide-angle lens, well stopped-down to produce depth of field and sharp focus, but with consequently comparatively long exposures. The resulting photographs are thus of very high definition and general quality, but with blur¬ring on leaves and any other minor feature which was not absolutely fixed.
Three of the photographs are shown here.
21-11 The Avenue
This view is from the north. Numbers 19 and 21, which occupy the bulk of the photograph are, together with a similar pair (Numbers 20 and 22) on the opposite side of the road, the only houses built to Shaw’s first design for semi-detached houses, which is characterised by a relatively small bay window on the ground floor, a small window between the bay and the front door, and a terra-cotta plaque of a sunflower. There is also a door hood supported by decorated brackets. These houses were under construction by November 1877. Further down the road are two pairs of houses to the Coe and Robinson design, and a glimpse of a house to the Godwin design for semi¬detached pairs.
All the houses are in yellow brick, with some decorative red-brick bands, window-surrounds and other details. The woodwork of the Shaw houses is painted white – now universal in Bedford Park – but that of the Coe and Robinson houses is in dark colours. The garden fences are low and close-boarded, with gate posts and piers topped with tall pyramidal caps.
Saplings can be seen along the edge of the foot¬way, but the road surface appears to be very rough, which would have suited horses better than a smooth surface.
It is clear that Number 23 has yet to be built, although initial preparations seem to be under way. This house was leased in September 1878, which would have been a useful dating aid for the photograph had not the original records survived.
Today, the houses have changed little since 1878. None of the original saplings has survived, but the fences remain low and close-boarded, although clearly not the originals. New trees have grown to roof height and cars obstruct the view of the lower parts of the buildings.
16, 14, 12 and 10 The Avenue
This view is also from the north. (A very similar view from the south, of Numbers 5,7 and 9, and 11 The Avenue, exists, but the direction of sunlight and differences in the brickwork establish the identity of these houses beyond doubt.) The houses are built to the Godwin design for semi-detached pairs, again in yellow brick with red-brick detailing. Again, the paintwork is dark, the garden fences are low and close-boarded, with the tall pyramidal caps to the piers and gateposts, and again saplings can be seen. The brief glimpse of Number 10, a Coe and Robinson design, shows it to be built of red brick. The rough road is also in evidence.
What appears to be a single chimney between Numbers 16 and 18 (not itself visible) on the extreme left of the picture is actually an end view of a stack of no fewer than 12 individual pots, as can be seen from the tops of the similar set which can just be seen above the roof ridge of Number 14.
Just below the roof of Number 16 there is a brief glimpse of the gable end and chimneys of Number 3 Queen Anne’s Gardens.
Today, again, the houses have changed little since 1878. The original saplings have not survived, but the current view is somewhat impeded by two large evergreens which have grown up in front gardens. One original pair of gateposts survives at No. 14.
1 Woodstock Road, with Numbers 3 and 5, 7 and 9
This view is from the south. Number 1 Woodstock Road (originally and until fairly recently The Yews, named on a gatepost) is one of the first to be built to the Godwin corner house design as modified by Wilson. The external modifications concerned the service quarters, which cannot be seen in this view. The pairs of semi-detached houses behind Number 1 are built to Shaw’s second design for such pairs, characterised by a large bay on the ground floor with a balcony above, the consequent elimination of the small window between it and the front door, and the omission of the terra-cotta plaque. The roofs of these pairs are also hipped rather than gabled, although the design was built elsewhere with gabled roofs. The woodwork of the houses is all painted white.
Possibly the most notable feature is the appearance for the first time, even on a modified Godwin house, of the Bedford Park palisade fence, due to Shaw, although the ball finials on the gateposts which formed part of the original design and which did appear elsewhere are not in evidence here.
Other features in this photograph include a rather handsome gas lamp, and a large tree blocking much of the view up Woodstock Road. This tree was one of a number which lined the original ditch and footpath to East Acton which were also a parish boundary.
Today, the view extends further up Woodstock Road, as the old tree at the road corner has disappeared. Ironically, given the current popularity of palisade fences, Number 1 now has a close-boarded fence, but modem replica palisade fences exist further up the road.
Acknowledgements and sources
The starting point for the discovery of the 1878 photographs was the Greeves Archive, arranged by Eleanor Greeves and held at Chiswick Library on indefinite loan under the watchful eye of Carolyn Hammond, to all of whom thanks are due. Andrew Saint has been most helpful in lending his slides made from the microfilm of the H H Richardson Collection, and providing contacts both at Harvard and the National Monuments Record, where Ian Leith, the resident expert on Bedford Lemere and Co, has been most generous in answering a number of queries and, critically, in identifying the origin of the photographs. The curator of the H H Richardson Collection, Mary Daniels, has displayed endless patience and formidable determination in order to ensure that all the relevant photographs were identified and scanned. Finally, my thanks go to my neighbours Peter and Barbara Antram, who very kindly agreed to give up part of a holiday in Boston, Massachusetts to visit the H H Richardson Collection at Harvard in order to search for any further items of interest, and who miraculously returned with an unfolded set of A3 photocopies.
Dates of completion of the houses are derived from records in the Middlesex Deeds Registry, preserved at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), and from accounts in The Building News. The files of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, some at the LMA and some at the Church of England Record Office, have also provided useful information.
David W Budworth is a retired scientist who satisfies his desire to do research by working on the history of Bedford Park, where he has lived for nearly 40 years.