by Nick Pratt, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 13 (2004)
This article explains how the Clayponds housing estate in Brentford was built as a result of the post First World War housing crisis, and how the estate layout and the house designs reflected the ideas of housing reformers that homes for the working class should be built to high standards.
Local authority housing had been theoretically possible since the Housing Act of 1890, but very few councils had used their powers to build houses. However, World War I aggravated an acute housing shortage and led to the State taking on the responsibility for housing the working classes. In 1917 the Cabinet announced that it would provide substantial assistance for housing after the war, and a committee was set up, chaired by Sir John Tudor Walters, to consider ‘questions of building construction’. The committee reported in 1918 and interpreted its brief widely covering four main areas. First, it put forward a number of general recommendations as to housing policy and administration, and as to the type and class to be built. Second, it discussed the layout of housing schemes and recommended certain procedures for site planning and development. Third, it dealt with the house itself: with the standard of accommodation to be provided, with methods of arranging the internal planning of the house, and with principles of design. Finally, the report reviewed the investigations of various building materials, and the possibilities for saving presented by standardisation and the use of new materials.
The report was strongly influenced by one of its members, Raymond Unwin, an architect who was a pioneer of the garden city movement at Letchworth and Hampstead Garden Suburb. Housing reformers like Unwin were opposed to the design of the speculative ‘by-law houses’ – the terraced houses being built all over London and other cities during the late Victorian and early Edwardian period. These houses were built with narrow frontages of 15ft to 18ft, which allowed a density of 40 to 30 houses per acre, were three rooms deep and generally had small gardens. The housing reformers disliked this design because it led to a lack of light and air to the living room and kitchen, and semi-basements were damp, dark and airless. In addition the front room or parlour was often wasted space, only being used for special occasions, and the gardens were too small to grow food.
The Tudor Walters Report adopted many of the garden city design ideas which were in stark contrast to the by-law house designs. It recommended a maximum density of 12 houses to the acre, arranged in cul-de-sacs and around open spaces, avoiding the by-law monotony. Wider cottage frontages with no ‘tunnel back’ rear projections ensured that sunlight shone directly into as many rooms as possible. Three bedrooms and two living rooms were regarded as the minimum, all with stated minimum sizes. Fixed baths were essential, although they were often placed beneath a ‘work top lid’ in the scullery. Rear access to gardens of good size and adequate privacy, with no shared facilities, were to be the new norms. For aesthetic reasons the semi-detached form was rejected in favour of terraces of four to six houses, with tunnels to provide access to the rear, even though semis would be cheaper to build.
The Tudor Walters Report was adopted as government policy almost immediately and, for the first time, it was accepted that economy in the building of houses could be achieved by careful design rather than by the lowering of standards. The 1919 ‘Addison’ Housing Act was designed to fulfil the pledge of the Lloyd George coalition government to build 500,000 ‘homes fit for heroes’ and it made local authorities major suppliers of housing. The Housing and Town Planning Act required local authorities to survey the needs of their areas for houses within three months, and then make and carry out plans for the provision of the houses needed. The housing designs of the Tudor Walters Report were translated into reality through the Local Government Board, which in 1919 issued a Housing Manual containing advice and instructions to local authorities as to the terms on which government grants would be available.The manual contained five house plan types and was even more generous in its space recommendations than the Tudor Walters Report, for example, 900 sq ft for three-bedroomed, non-parlour houses.
The Clayponds estate
The ‘Clayponds’ estate (the writer has coined this name to cover the four housing estates built by Brentford UDC) is located on the northern edge of the London Borough of Hounslow, bounded to the south by the Great West Road (now over- shadowed by the elevated section of the M4), and to the east by Lionel Road & Gunnersbury Park. In its 51 acres are 653 dwellings, an average density of 12.8 dwellings per acre.
Phases one and two
The first phase was Whitestile/Ealing Road, built between 1920 and 1923, which indicates that the Brentford Council was very quick to take advantage of its new housing powers. The site was available at a relatively cheap price for a number of reasons: this part of Brentford was previously orchards and market gardens supplying London with fresh produce, which before the First World War had been delivered mainly by horse and cart; the increasing use of motor vans meant that produce could be delivered to London from all over the Home Counties, so market gardens close to London were no longer necessary. In addition the building of the Great West Road between 1920 and 1925 cut through, and isolated, parcels of land which had previously been cultivated. The building of the Great West Road enabled the council to offset 40% of the land cost of £6,500 by selling back 100 feet of frontage on to the Great West Road for commercial development as shops. The building cost of the 146 houses was £142,259, an average of £974 per house, the land cost was £27 per house.
The layout of the Whitestile/Ealing Road plot clearly reflects the Tudor Walters Report, garden suburb ideas and the Housing Manual. The density is low at 12.2 dwellings per acre, although approval had to be gained from the Ministry of Housing to exceed 12 houses per acre. The central crescent, named Clayton Crescent after a member of the Housing Committee, avoids the monotony of the parallel roads of by-law houses to the north of Whitestile Road, and a cul-de-sac, Clements Place, saves on the costs of road building.
The houses are built of yellow brick with slate roofs (the other three phases are built of red brick) and cottage-style casement windows. They have wide frontages and large front and rear gardens. The majority are semi-detached, although there are short terraces of three or four houses with tunnel access to the rear, also some maisonettes. Houses are carefully orientated to ensure that sunlight reaches as many rooms as possible, with front doors and staircases moved to the side where necessary. The writer’s house in Whitestile Road has a typical floor plan. It is at one end of a three-house terrace, with three bedrooms and no parlour, the main living room being 17ft long. The rear of the house faces south-east and therefore the living room, kitchen and two bedrooms all have a sunny outlook.
The small terrace has three-bedroom houses at each end, sandwiching a two-bedroom house which has tunnel access to its rear garden. The roof is asymmetric, being about a foot lower at the front which faces north. Front doors are protected by cantilevered pre-cast concrete porticos, and the front elevation is very plain although there are dormer windows for the smallest bedroom of the houses at each end of the terrace. The house therefore closely reflects the ‘B’ style non-parlour house of the Tudor Walters Report and the A2 design of the Housing Manual.
The Housing Committee minutes state their priorities for letting the new houses as follows:
1 displaced tenants from Ealing Road;
2 Brentford men who had served in the armed forces;
3 widows of ex-servicemen, and
4 Brentford families who required housing or larger accommodation.
The second phase to be built is at the far east of the estate on Lionel Road. Lionel Road was named after Lionel de Rothschild and runs along the edge of Gunnersbury Park which was sold to the local council by the Rothschild family in 1925. A long thin strip of farmland of 8.3 acres was bought from the Rothschild estate for £7,260 and 118 houses were built between 1926 and 1928 at a cost of £82,765, an average of £701 per house – significantly cheaper than the Whitestile/Ealing Road houses. The density of 14.3 dwellings per acre, is higher than the 12 per acre norms of the earlier part of the decade, but lower than the original plans which were 15.7 houses per acre. The layout of the estate consists of short terraces of three and four houses set around four semi-circular greens and three cul-de-sacs. The intention of the design layout seems to be to create a rural village feeling around the greens, with large front gardens and small private rear gardens.
The last two phases
The third phase to be built was Clayponds East which was completed between 1930 and 1933. This was the largest of the four phases and consists of 263 dwellings on a twenty-acre site, with a density of 13.2 dwellings per acre. The layout again follows the Tudor Walters Report ideas with a roughly square site divided up by two interlocking crescents, and with roads which have gentle curves. There are 167 houses and 96 flats made up of a mixture of semi-detached houses, short terraces of three and four houses, maisonettes and a number of small blocks of four flats. The original proposals included four-storey blocks of flats but these were never built, instead there are a number of blocks of four flats with a common front entrance, but only on two storeys.
The final phase to be built was Clayponds West, which was completed between 1933 and 1935, a development of 126 dwellings on a 10.8 acre site, at a density of 11.7 dwellings per acre, the lowest density of any of the four phases. The roughly rectangular site is bisected by a road between the two existing north/south roads but the garden city idea is achieved through making the road gently curve and through two cul-de-sacs and a small crescent. The site is the only one to have ‘setbacks’ at the four right angle corners. Again there is a mixture of housing types: semi-detached houses, terraces of four houses, a number of maisonettes, but no flats. Uniquely for the entire development there are 10 bungalows set around a shared garden in the centre of a crescent called Plum Garth. These appear to have been designed for older residents.
The Clayponds estate reflects the ideas of the housing reformers who believed that working people should be housed to a far higher standard than previously, and should live in houses designed to maximise sunlight, ventilation, and with private gardens.
Helena Barnett & John Philips, Suburban Style – The British home 1840-1960, Little, Brown & Co, 1993.
John Burnett, A Social History of Housing 1815 – 1970, David & Charles, 1978.
James Marshall, The History of the Great West Road, Heritage Publications, 1995.
Laurence F Orbach, Homes for Heroes, Seeley, Service, 1977.
Mark Swenarton, Homes fit for Heroes, Heineman Educational Books, 1981.
Brentford Urban District Council, Minutes of the Housing Committee – 1919/1927, Hounslow Local History Reference Library.
Brentford and Chiswick Urban District Council, Minutes of the Housing Committee – 1927/1935, Hounslow Local History Reference Library.
Nick Pratt has lived in Whitestile Road on the Clayponds estate for 11 years. The research for this article was carried out as part of the Foundation in History of Architecture course, run by the Faculty of Continuing Education at Birkbeck College, University of London.