As the centenary year of the Addison Act comes to a close this post briefly looks at some of the events to mark and celebrate the occasion. We’ve already looked at the wonderfully creative work at Bristol, but other events have included conferences and guided visits to some Addison inspired estates.
The tour of the Becontree estate was part of the Homes Fit for Heroes Centenary Conference: Learning from 1919 (July, Institute of Historical Research). I presented on the work of Sanitary Inspectors, who perhaps knew more than most about what living in poor privately rented housing really meant for health. As a doctor, the link to health would have been attractive to Addison, who had acknowledged the Sanitary Officer’s work and commitment to better housing for all. I am currently working on collating more of the Sanitary Inspector interventions and would appreciate it if anyone has any sources available.
But back to Becontree, and on an extremely wet day, we visited this massive cottage style estate built by the then London County Council (LCC) outside of its area originally for some 24,000 households. The tour was led by Mark Swenarton, author of a homes for heroes book on the politics and architecture of state housing. The scale of Becontree is a vast achievement – including construction of a railway to bring in construction materials – and the ‘can do’ attitude of building quality council housing. The first houses in Chittys Lane are shown in the photos.
Taking the train to Becontree does feel like a long way from central London and reminds us that housing is also about community and a sense of belonging as well access to wider parts of people’s lives, including work, amenities and services. Iris Jones Simantel’s autobiography tells us more about how it felt to live there in the early phases. She later moved to South Oxhey – another LCC estate but post second world war.
The Becontree estate was brave; a statement of what we can achieve when we choose to. The museum holds a fascinating archive of plans, literature and photographs of the development and residents of the estate, including ongoing events such as gardening competitions, with some beautiful shows.
Welwyn Hatfield Council and the Chartered Institute of Housing celebrated 100 years of council house building and the Addison Act at their October event. The first Addison Act houses were completed at Applecroft Road in 1922. This time of course coincided with planning ideals pioneered by Ebenezer Howard to create places combining the benefits of town and country alongside concern with the lived environment, social and cultural facilities and an ethos of public ownership.
The celebration included a walking tour of the Garden City vision of traditional Welwyn Garden City housing which included Addison housing at as the Daily Mail Model Village. As a place it has a very different feel to the more urban Becontree, its main Parkway boulevard forming the central vista with it green areas and spacious feel. Welwyn Hatfield continues to look to providing more housing.
The question remains: if they did all of this 100 years ago, why don’t we do it on this scale now, and with such care in planning and delivery that will still provide good housing and living environments in 100 years?