microgeographies of Cropper Street/Osborne Street, Collyhurst (2)

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Osborne Street, Miles Platting (Cropper Street)

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Osborne Street, Miles Platting (Cropper Street) 53.491735, -2.222736 Osborne Street, Miles Platting, formerly Cropper StreetBlog posts: Cropper Street, Manchester (1)[caption id=\"attachment_85\" align=\"alignnone\" width=\"300\"] Osborne Street, Manchester, April 2017[/caption][caption id=\"attachment_86\" align=\"alignnone\" width=\"300\"] Osborne Street Manchester, April 2017[/caption]Osborne Street England, Vereinigtes Königreich (Directions)


Last week I met the lovely organisers of the Once Upon a Time history group at the Manchester Communication Academy, Collyhurst.

Talking to them about my quest to find more about the residents and spaces of Cropper Street/Osborne Street, they reminded me of the importance of micro-geographies: the social and sectarian boundaries that are invisible from all maps and most written records of places. So as historians and historical geographers, we need to drill down to the micro: the difference between one street and the next, the persistence of ‘parish xenophobia’ as Keith Snell perhaps somewhat pejoratively put it, the subtle gradations in social class that only residents recognised and acted upon.

Here are the front covers of a couple of their magazines. They talked vividly about the significance of that red rug on the bannisters of the ground floor flat. I won’t share the personal story here, but it reminds us again to be acutely aware of such signs, and listen to the people who remember what they mean.

once upon a time mag


once upon a time mag

If you have memories to share about Osborne Street, Collyhurst, do get in touch with me – k.navickas@herts.ac.uk, or through the Once Upon a Time Group: https://www.communitymca.co.uk/becomingamember

Manchester committee to promote innocent recreation

philips park

My tweet while researching in Manchester Archives got more likes than I expected:

tweet manchester committee


I’ve been looking through the Parks and Cemeteries committee minutes from council records in various parts of England from the start of the parks movement in the 1840s to the present day, and they are bringing up all sorts of oddities like this.

This Manchester committee had a strict definition of what was ‘appropriate’ music: Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, ‘national anthems’ (presumably God Save the Queen and Rule Britannia), and specifically ‘avoiding all “dancing” music’.

I need to do more research on who actually formed the committee (I have noted R Adeane Barlow as the Hon Sec), but it’s from 1856, the second volume of Manchester parks committee, created after the formation of the first public parks in 1846-7: Queen’s Park, Philips Park, and Peel Park (transferred over to Salford corporation). Societies and associations made requests to the council for permission to use the parks for meetings and events. For some groups the councils issued licences and took a cut of their profits, while for others like charities, they issued one-off permissions.

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Queen's Park Manchester

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Queen\'s Park Manchester 53.504230, -2.219667 Queen\'s Park, ManchesterBlog post: http://historyofpublicspace.uk/2018/10/05/manchester-committee-to-promote-innocent-recreation/https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001523 Rochdale Road England, United Kingdom (Directions)

This request from the committee of promoting music was typical of the wider ‘rational recreation’ promoted in the mid 19th century by anxious middle classes and paternalist gentry, worried about the vices of gambling and drinking and blood sports engaged in by the urban poor. Highly regulated parks were also seen as one solution to problems of the poor hygeine and lack of exercise and fresh air experienced in the slums. There’s a long historical debate about the extent to which the middle classes attempted to ‘civilise’ the working classes from the 18th century onwards by a clamp down on popular recreation, and to what extent it succeeded (Storch, Cunningham).

philips park


This concern not to be providing “dancing” music demonstrates the interesting conflict with the cultural and religious norms of the time  – there was still a strong Sabbatarian tradition, particularly in Manchester, that meant that much leisure activity and entertainment was prohibited on Sundays. So the parks committee minutes also have several motions debated for and against allowing bands to play and sports and games matches to be held, even informally, on Sundays. The next entry in the minutes is a deputation from the Sunday School Teachers of Manchester, stating their objections to the ‘introduction of bands of music into the public parks of this city on Sundays’. This led to debate in the parks committee, who after several motions and amendments, decided not to allow the bands on Sundays.

There was much clerical pressure on local authorities to ensure that there would be no alternative distractions that would lure people away from divine service at church. So even the argument that rational recreation would keep people out of the pubs was not enough for many parks bye-laws, particularly in Manchester, from prohibiting music and games on Sundays.

It was a political issue. Here’s a couple of tweets from Dr Kathryn Rix of the History of Parliament:



rix tweet


Hazel Conway has written extensively about the history of the Victorian parks movement, so I won’t repeat all she’s done. But she points out how early Manchester was in forming public parks, largely on the initiatives of paternalist city fathers like Mark Philips, MP, who had presented evidence to the select committee into public walks in 1833 and then promoted the formation of parks from 1844. He pointed to continental examples such as Dresden, where the population ‘enjoy themselves rationally’ and the promenades of Rouen, the ‘Manchester of France’. Typically therefore, one of the first parks was named Philips Park to the east of the city centre.

Unlike in other towns and cities, however, the three Manchester and Salford parks were promoted and funded by private subscription and charitable endeavour rather than direct council involvement in the acquisition of the land; it was only after their formal opening that the corporation took over their control and maintenance.

philips park
Ben Brierley statue, Queen’s Park, 2018

I’ll be looking more at which councils allowed political meetings in their parks; having surveyed the volumes for the WWII period, Manchester seems very open to allowing left wing groups to hold meetings, in complete contrast to Croydon, who refused permission for them all, and this contrast is something I need to go into much more detail relating to the politics of local government.

Further reading:

visit round the Golden Lane estate, City of London

golden lane estate
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Golden Lane estate, City of London

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Golden Lane estate, City of London 51.522396, -0.095787 Golden Lane estate, from 1952, Camberlin Powell and Bon, City of Londonblog post: http://historyofpublicspace.uk/2018/09/23/visit-round-the-golden-lane-estate-city-of-london/Fann Street England, United Kingdom (Directions)

I do like doing Open House London. It marks the start of autumn, the start of a new academic year, a chance to talk to architects, residents, nose round places.

There is a tension, however, when you go on a tour of post-war social housing. The guide today around the Golden Lane estate in the City of London, the ‘older sister’ estate to the Barbican, surely must have shared an unease I’ve felt.

Open House London, especially in the inner boroughs, is essentially middle-class/bourgeois people and art school students touring cool architecture appreciating its aesthetics, facilities and design, but never really interacting with the working-class residents who live there. Maybe local residents do rush round London with their Open House brochure, ticking off the art deco 1930s or postwar brutalist sites, but I’ve never really sensed they were there in any of the tours I’ve been on.

golden lane estate golden lane estate

An exception perhaps was Cressingham Gardens. A couple of years ago I went on a resident-led tour when the Save Cressingham campaign had only just got going, and there was certainly a clearer and bolder political purpose to the Open House day there than simply ‘let’s look at the interesting architecture’.

Back to today’s tour of Golden Lane estate. It’s grade II* listed as a whole, built from 1952 by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon.

Details here: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1021941 and  Guide for Residents  (PDF) (I’m not going to do a post to the level of research that Municipal Dreams does, for reasons of time and that this isn’t one of my case studies). Listing is unusual for council estates, contrasting with the other estates that have been in the news over the past couple of years because of their demolition or proposed demolition, including Cressingham and Elephant and Castle.

It’s recently been (controversially) renovated, with a revamped community centre (where the architects of the renovation held talks and there was a small archive) and the first stage of big renovation, the main thing I was looking out in particular for the types of open space in the estate.

archive golden lane estate
archive material on display in the community centre


The guide said that the original plans allocated 66% for open space. As the estate was built on top of the ruins of blitzed houses, there was a lot of uneven ground and rubble, so the estate is stepped and on different levels. There are some attractive communal gardens with some water features, but the first stage of the buildings do not have much outdoor space for the residents other than small balconies.

The Great Arthur House, now newly restored, had a roof garden with a water feature that was supposed to be reflected off the concrete at the top, but it had been closed for over a generation. The later buildings however anticipated the Barbican that the architects would go on to design, with shared walkways looking out over open courtyards.

golden lane estate
Great Arthur House, Golden Lane estate, City of London


golden lane estate
The Bastion. Built on rubble mounds. It was locked and overgrown.


golden lane estate
Golden Lane estate swimming pool


The piece de resistance of the estate were the sports facilities, notably the beautiful indoor swimming pool. I did notice that there was evidence of some debate about whether the pool should be restored or not on a poster on display. Two major changes to the original design of open space were firstly the replacement of the bowling green with tennis courts, and more significantly, allowing car parking on the main square, which has diminished its use as a potential communal gathering space.

The estate was designed to be inward looking, in order to foster a sense of community and also to provide an escape from the grim blitzed rubble of bomb sites around it.

tennis courts golden lane
tennis courts


golden lane estate


I’m also interested in the byelaws and rules around residents’ use of the communal spaces. And whether they count as public space, as this is technically a private estate run by the City of London corporation and having its own rules.

golden lane estate


Here are the rules governing the Barbican. They include maintaining safety along the balustrades, keeping dogs on leads, no playing of music outside, riding or bringing animals in, climbing trees.

barbican rules
Barbican rules

barbican rules







The two modern contrasts nearby were the ‘developmental aesthetics’ on the hoardings around the private estate being built directly opposite, and the awful sterility of the privately-owned public space of the shopping development next to Liverpool Street station:

Fann Street
Taylor-Wimpey hordings opposite Golden Lane estate


liverpool st
new development next to Liverpool Street station




The debate is still ongoing about plans for the estate: ‘no green space’

golden lane estate

bye laws and public space

croydon bye law

I’m currently working my way through the council bye laws of my case study towns, especially those produced in c.1890-1920 in relation to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882, section 23, ‘power of councils to make bye-laws’.


Much of the literature on public parks comments on rules and regulations as evidence of the intent of municipal authorities to control the activities and recreation of the lower classes, enforced through park wardens and the middle classes. Urban historians have similarly commented on bye-laws regulating street behaviour in a similar way. Patrick Joyce argued that park regulations and similar rules enacted a mode of ‘liberal governmentality’ on Victorian society, applying a Foucauldian model of ‘surveillance and punish’ and power to the Victorian urban streetscape. He also suggested that such spaces were heterotopic, or in simple terms, people could misbehave and not follow the rules set by the elite in those spaces.

  • Patrick Joyce, The Rule of Freedom: Liberalism and the Modern City (Verso, 2003)
  • David A Reeder, ‘The social construction of green space in London prior to the Second World War’, in Peter Clark et al, eds, European City and Green Space, pp. 48-9.


Here are some of the more amusing bye-laws I’ve quickly surveyed:

(TNA, HO 45/10915/B8975 – Croydon byelaws, 1920):

croydon bye law


No person shall in any street or public place throw or leave any orange peel, banana skin, or other dangerous substance on any footway.

Here is the debate about which part of the street this rule should apply to:

croydon bye law



…In the case of an ordinary carriageway, there is by no means the same danger to pedestrians of the throwing down of orange peel etc as in the case of a foot pavement, and to prohibit the placing of orange peel etc anywhere eg in the gutter, would be too stringent.

croydon bye law



No person shall place or suspend any flag containing any advertisement relating to any trade or business, in, over, or across any street to the annoyance of residents or passengers or to the alarm of horses.

Most of the byelaws are in the vein of social control of the lower orders, but laws like the above ‘suspension of flags across streets’ is both a continuation of the older 18th century improvement act regulations against shopkeepers putting adverts for their businesses out in the street, and a prelude to the aesthetic critique of street ‘clutter’ (advertisements, telegraph poles, aerials) that came to dominate the preservationists’ campaigns against ‘subtopia’ or the encroachment of the town on the country.


quick update on the Cutteslowe Wall

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Cuttleslowe Wall

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Cuttleslowe Wall 51.785200, -1.266760 Cutteslowe Wall, Oxford, 1934-59http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/16692392.cutteslowe-walls-how-two-estates-were-divided-by-class/https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-45437843https://www.oxforduniversityimages.com/results.asp?searchtxtkeys=Cutteslowe%20wall[caption id=\"attachment_491\" align=\"alignleft\" width=\"200\"] Cutteslowe Wall plaque[/caption]  Wentworth Road England, United Kingdom (Directions)


This article exposing how the resurfacing of the road at Cutteslowe, Oxford, stopping where it reaches the old boundary of the wall that separated private from social housing – shows the materialities and economics of the long legacy of that division:

Council accused of reigniting “class war” on once segregated street


the greening of London – some reflections

abercrombie greater london plan 1944

There are two excellent books that chart the planning processes that shaped open green space in London in the 19th and 20th centuries:

  • Matti O Hannikainen, The Greening of London, 1920-2000 (Routledge, Abingdon, 2016)
  • Peter Clark, Jean-Luc Pinol and Richard Rodgers, eds, The European City and Green Space: London, Stockholm, Helsinki and St Petersburg, 1850-2000 (Routledge, Abingdon, 2006)

greening of london book




Another related and useful book is by Hazel Conway, People’s Parks: the design and development of Victorian Parks in Britain (Cambridge University Press, 1991)

Most of the current literature on the history of ‘greening’ policies is London-centric, Conway’s book an earlier exception. Apart from James Greenhalgh’s work on Manchester, there is otherwise very little on municipal bodies’ policies to open space in urban areas and, especially, residents’ use of such spaces. This project will seek to fill in some of these gaps.

What was distinctive about London?

London was particularly unusual because it had so many different layers of jurisdiction – overlapping and mutable administrative geographies. So the borough councils were overlapped by the regional authorities – the LCC and then the GLC. In amongst these authorities were the City of London, and also, important with respect to parks and open space, the Crown Estate and Royal Parks. The Green Belt was a dominant theme in shaping the relations between inner and outer London authorities and the regional authorities, but as Hannikainen and Clark show in their books, the political changes and motivations that the borough and regional councils brought to decision making in response to bigger political changes in government and policy shaped all aspects of green space within the city as well as on its outskirts.

POST WAR PLANNING AND RECONSTRUCTION IN BRITAIN: PROFESSOR ABERCROMBIE'S GREATER LONDON PLAN 1944Greater London Plan, 1944, Imperial War Museum, Non-commercial licence, © IWM ((MOW) T 6228, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205132878

The dominance of Abercrombie and Forshaw’s County of London Plan (1943) and Greater London Plan (1944) in accounts of 20th century planning also underline the uniqueness if not the exceptionalism of the metropolis. Historians of planning and modernism tend to get somewhat caught up in the utopianism of the wartime reconstruction plans, envisaging a world that could have been had it not been for those pesky municipal authorities prioritising cost and efficiency in the provision of housing and new roads over the more idealistic elements of the plans. Notably, the aim of providing 4 acres of open green space per every 1000 inhabitants, though remaining an aspiration, was hampered by factors not fully considered in Abercrombie’s plans, notably land values, and national and local governments’ reluctance to radically interfere in existing forms of land use and ownership by private owners and developers. (Hannikainen, p. 97; Garside, ‘The failure of regionalism’, p. 106).

Kennington Common, 22 Feb 2018
Kennington Park

Hannikainen points out the exceptionalism of London compared with other cities in creating over 800 acres of public green space, which he attributes to the fact that the authorities were ‘vested with new legal powers and following a coherent town plan’ (p. 94).

Although Abercrombie also created earlier plans for Hull and Sheffield amongst other towns, it was often local planners and officials who created the plans for other towns. And also crucial was that the postwar financial, political and social demands of retrenchment and rehousing tempered and reduced the importance of providing extensive open space in these plans.

I need to compare this complex mix of administrative geographies and policies with the municipal governments of other areas in England. Was London the exception or to what extent did the story of policies on open space in English towns follow the patterns found by Hannikainen and Clark?

POST WAR PLANNING AND RECONSTRUCTION IN BRITAIN: ELEPHANT AND CASTLE, SOUTH-EAST LONDON Elephant and Castle proposed reconstruction, 1944, Ministry of Works, Imperial War Museum, Non-commercial licence, © IWM ((MOW) T 6758)


This is the general chronology of policy changes they chart:

  • 18th century

As part of the ‘urban renaissance’ (as charted by Peter Borsay), squares and promenades were developed in improvement of town centres and private estates. Most of these squares were for residents only.

  • mid 19th century

gradual opening of royal parks to the public, though still highly regulated. Kew Gardens and the botanical and zoo gardens in Regent’s Park were opened to the public in the 1830s and the park itself, a project of the Crown Estate commissioners and intended as a private estate park, was fully opened in the 1840s. (Reader, in Clark et al, p. 31).

The cholera outbreaks of the 1830s and 1840s led to growing concern about industrial and smoke pollution, and the slums – Victorian sanitary movement characterised open spaces as ‘breathing spaces’ or ‘lungs’.

1833 Select Committee on Public Walks revealed the lack of access that working class people had to the countryside. Local elite concern for the potential for social disorder in overcrowded slums also fuelled the rise of the public parks movement.

St James’s park opened in the 1840s; Victoria Park 1845, and Battersea Park in 1860.

The emergence of the commons preservation movement from the 1860s onwards drew attention to the enclosure of commons and forests on London’s periphery.


  • 1920s – 30s

Secularisation had an impact on people’s leisure time, and pressure was put on councils to allow organised games in their parks on Sundays. The trend towards more organised and commercialised outdoor entertainment also put pressure on the borough councils to provide shows in their parks, enabled by the LCC (General Powers) act of 1935. Hannikainnen argues that the introduction of electric lighting and amplifiers into park entertainments (notably in an attempt to lure people away from sitting in cinemas) ‘marked a break with the natural order of park life that was based on the amount of daylight, and outdoor entertainment began to encroach on areas traditionally limited to outdoor spaces’ (p.76). Arguably the upper and middle-class pleasure grounds of the 18th and early 19thC century had provided this with their evening shows lit by candlelight and gas, but the change in this respect concerned open public parks and the lower classes.

  • WWII and post-war reconstruction

Huge areas of green space were requisitioned by councils and the military during World War II. Some types of space were closed off – i.e. for military purposes – while others were effectively opened out through conversion to allotments.

The 1950s and early 1960s ‘marked the most intensive period in the provision of new public green space in London during the 20th century’ (Hannikainen, p. 113).  A major force was the decision by the LCC and borough councils to privilege public interest over private property ‘as a national policy in town planning and in the actual reconstruction of London’ (Hannikainen, p. 108). Compulsory purchase orders of war damaged sites were an important part of the development of new open spaces.

  • 1960s-1980s

Increased wealth and leisure time of the working classes drew them indoors again, while the subsequent economic decline left parks underfunded and therefore a cycle of under-maintenance and becoming no-go areas because of crime developed.

By the mid 1960s, the planners’ view of the Green Belt was less about giving Londoners open space for leisure and health and more about curtailing London’s growth (Reader in Clark, p. 39)

A major change that developed gradually from the 1960s onwards was a growing interest in the preservation of nature. Arguably this began formally with the creation of National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest from 1949, but the idea that nature should be conservation for environmental reasons rather than solely for human enjoyment only really had an impact on the preservation of open green space from the 1970s.

The economic crisis of the 1970s and the new political priorities of the Conservative government in the 1980s, together with the re-organisation of London councils in 1963-5,  saw the provision of new green space become dependent on external and private funding.

De-industrialisation also impacted on what sorts of open spaces were ‘greened’, notably ‘blue space’ = the docklands, canals and rivers from the 1980s onwards.
  • 1980s-2000
The redevelop of the Docklands  promoted three new practices in planning: (Hannikainen, p. 171):
  • preference of the government for public-private partnerships instead of municipal planning.
  • town planning focused on a single project instead of a comprehensive redevelopment, reducing the powers of the municipal authorities and participation of the public in the planning process.
  • reduced role for public green spaces in the plans.
Hannikainen argues strongly that the abolition of the GLC in 1986 was a turning point, not just in marking the end of co-ordinated regional planning in London, but also confirming how private amenity and business had superseded public interest in influence in planning.
Yet out of this decline of the role of central and local governments in shaping the traditional public green spaces, new priorities and opportunities arose.
New types of green space were developed in particular because of the growing awareness of ecology and nature and desire to conserve it. Importantly, it was local borough councils and voluntary associations who pushed for this new definition, while central government lagged behind in considering the purpose of public green space to be, as traditional, about recreation and leisure in the form of organised sports.
The preservation of disused Victorian cemeteries, especially Nunhead and Highgate, marked a shift in thinking about what open green space was, and could be.
From the 1980s onwards, disused riversides, canals and railway embankments came to attention of local groups for conservation and renewal in the forms of greenways, linear parks and nature reserves. The increasing popularity of nature trails, city farms and wildlife areas marked the shift to a new appreciation of conservation and definition of open green space. Hannikainen argues that this marked ‘a profound conceptual change’ in how green spaces were viewed and maintained: (p. 191):
The provision of new green space focused neither on secured unrestricted public access nor outdoor recreation, because new ecological parks in particular were created as natural habitats for wildlife and to educate children. The role of people was reduced to the appreciation of nature.
Yet at the same time, the policy of selling off of playing fields and sports grounds for development substantially decreased the public’s access to green spaces used for sport. A somewhat viscious circle of lack of funding for public parks led to their decline, exacerbated by crime and delinquency, which increased the decline in their use. Public preference for indoor leisure also meant that open green spaces and parks were declining in use, and more traditional leisure amenities such as lidos. Sports funding went to indoor sports centres (p. 202).

POST WAR PLANNING AND RECONSTRUCTION IN BRITAIN: WEST HAM, EAST LONDONWest Ham, East London, Imperial War Museum, non-commercial licence, © IWM ((MOW) T 6265)


One aspect that comes out of their accounts is how the LCC and Crown Estate classified different types of open green space, and how much of this was based not just on size and usage types, but also location and perceptions of class.

So when the LCC was constituted in 1889, and well into the 20th century, it allocated the maintenance and funding of its green spaces according to a hierarchy of two categories of parks and open spaces, with a long list of subcategories from Parks Class I (a), Battersea Park and Victoria Park – to Open Spaces Class IV (b). The classifications were not static but nevertheless reflected status (p. 76). The distinction between Royal Parks and municipal parks and open spaces was reflected in their uses: royal parks promoted rational recreation and informal uses (i.e. walking) rather than organised sport and games (p.56).

After WWII and in the process of modifying the postwar reconstruction plans, the borough councils were critical of Abercrombie’s County of London Plan’s proposal of a standard of 4 acres of open green space per 1000 inhabitants. This hampered their main priority of providing new housing. Yet on the other hand, some councils thought of open space differently, beyond the classifications of the LCC. Hannikenen sifts through Bermondsey council minutes for example, to find that they thought that the prevailing ‘concept of open space’ presented by the LCC did not include the gardens and playgrounds attached to council housing estates. The LCC apparently refused to classify such green spaces as substitutes for ‘real’ public parks and gardens.

As James Greenhalgh’s work on grass verges and patches of lawn in postwar Manchester estates has shown, such spaces were vital for play and recreation  for working class residents.
There’s more work to be done here on ‘no ball games allowed’ on such sites (I’m sure there’s some studies in sociology and childhood studies; if you know of any relating to geography and public space, do let me know).


POST WAR PLANNING AND RECONSTRUCTION IN BRITAIN: THE MIDLANDS Black Country Open Space Deficiency, Dec. 1943, Ministry of Works, Imperial War Museum, Non-commercial licence, © IWM ((MOW) T 4235)

Regional differences that I need to follow up in more detail:

Hannikainen, drawing from work done by sport historians on working-class football, states that whereas the LCC gradually accepted the dominance of amateur games being played in parks on Sundays, other major cities including Manchester and Sheffield continued to prohibit games, ‘due to the strong opposition of the church’ (p. 59).

“In contrast to the interwar period, now most new green spaces created within the city were acquired through piecemeal purchases. Only a few other cities such as Birmingham constructed new public green space during these years.

In general, research concerning the provision of new public green space in the UK is far from complete, especially for other cities.’ (p. 108)


David Reeder, in his chapter in Clark’s book, points out another particular aspect of London, the reasons why the commons preservation and open spaces movements were so influential:

“what particularly characterised the London initiatives was the way that movements were orchestrated by influential networks of politicians and philanthropic social workers, many of them based in the West End and Hampstead and in contact with members of the aristo willing to act as patrons of organisations such as the MPGA and the London Playing Fields Association.” (p.55)
He also underlines the role of well connected women in these groups – the Hill sisters, Henrietta Barnett, and Dorothy Hunter.
The class and gender elements of these movements were significant and I need to find more on whether this was similar in other towns and cities.

Further reading:

  • P. Garside and M. Hebbert, eds, British Regionalism, 1900-2000 (1989)
  • James Greenhalgh, Reconstructing Modernity: Space, power and governance in mid-twentieth century British cities (Manchester University Press, 2018)
  • Hazel Conway, People’s Parks: the design and development of Victorian parks in Britain (Cambridge University Press, 1991)

new commentaries on the decline of public space

Kennington Common

There seems to be a glut of commentary on the decline or privatisation of public space at the moment.

In particular, there’s been lots of publicity around geographer Andrew Smith’s research on councils hiring out their parks for events:

I’ve been looking at Croydon council’s Parks Committee records for the early and mid 20th century, so these issues over municipal finances and control of parks is high on my research agenda at the moment. more thoughts in the next blog…

Some of the many recent articles on public space & privatisation:

also the issue of the Ministry of Defence attempting to deregister commons near their land:

This may be a key line of historical research for our @ruralmodernism network – land requisitioned by the MoD during the two world wars and then the battles of local people to claim it back.


I’m also looking forward to reading Guy Shrubsole’s new book: https://twitter.com/guyshrubsole/status/1034382231777755136

Twitter accounts:





Please let me know if you know of any good recent articles or twitter accounts.


work in progress: Wells estate, Epsom, Surrey

os map epsom

Doing some map surfing and came across the Wells estate on Epsom Common, Surrey. It’s a 1930s housing estate in the middle of the eastern edge of the common.

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Wells estate, Epsom

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Wells estate, Epsom 51.326214, -0.290279 Wells estate, c.1930s, Epsom Surreyhttp://www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/EpsomCommonShort.htmlhttp://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/descriptions/798540Epsom England, United Kingdom (Directions)

epsom common








1871 OS Map shows the farm at the centre of the circle:

1871 os map epsom


epsom estate
google street view of The Crescent

Thanks to some asking around on Twitter by Municipal Dreams, and some basic information on local history websites, the site is based around the ancient Epsom Salt well but this had long gone. There was an 18th century farm there that made the rectangular encroachment, but I’m still looking for information on the rest of it. (http://www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/EpsomCommonShort.html: states, “The obvious feature is the circular area whose origin is the “Epsom Wells”. By the time of the late 18th century and early 19th century these days were long gone and the area was a farm with farm buildings and a windmill. The rectangular area to the south was removed from the Common to enlarge the area of Wells Farm and as such was never an encroachment, more of an eventual occupation but it seems that the farm struggled to survive and by the 1850s was no longer a complete working farm and became a residence for a wealthy tenant. The 1851 Census return shows John Richard (Landed proprietor) in residence at the Old Wells. It was probably during this time that occupancy of the rectangular area took place, with many small individual plots (the 19th century version of allotments) combining and overtime, the first cottages started to appear about 1858.” But notably the website doesn’t then say anything about the 1930s estate.

Here’s a picture of the well, apparently dressed by the church, on 8 July, taken by Simon Webster:

well at epsom

I’m hoping a trip to Surrey History Centre will provide more information on the landownership and development of the estate. As always, I’m interested in how the residents conceived of public space, especially in being in such an unusual position on the common.

Any information or further reading welcome before I go and find out. Comment below.