locales: the Webb Estate, Surrey

The Webb Estate near Purley, Surrey, is an odd place, a exclusive-feeling village of ‘desirable’ houses, but with indications of something else behind the gates.

 

The official website of the company that run the estate: http://www.webbestate.co.uk/history-1

OS map 1906
Woodcote, Surrey, 2nd ed OS map, 1:2500, 1909-39
gif of maps
OS maps 1853, 1906 and 1951

Here are some pictures of a wander around I went on in July 2017:

webb estate gate
exit from the Webb estate
promenade de verdun
Promenade De Verdun

The monument to French soldiers who fell during the Great War is bizarre to modern eyes because of its location, hidden away at the end of the long Promenade de Verdun. It almost feels as if it’s a family monument, and a visit there if you’re not a resident is slightly unnerving, as if you’re trespassing.

verdun memorial
memorial to French POWs, Promenade de Verdun

The useful local history sign erected by the village green explains the history of this garden village.

“William Webb (1862-1930) a visionary local estate agent spent his lifetime developing his Garden Estate idea. he purchased land in 1888 and began to develop it in line with his own principles of housing development. The land was cleared of fences and fifty plots were laid out divided by privet hedges. When building began in 1898, houses were set on predefined plots separated by mature boundary hedges and established planting. Webb expressed these design principles in his book, Garden First in Land Development.

The Webb Estate covers about 260 acres and was designed with the character of country lanes and English garden villages. …”

woodcote green
Woodcote Green sign
webb estate sign
the other half of the sign

“In 1903 a model village, Upper Woodcote Village was laid out in the south-western corner of the Webb Estate. The cottages surrounding the green were originally intended to be occupied by the men working on the Estate but proved too expensive and so were leased to private individuals.

…In 1921 William Webb transferred the land of the Green in perpetuity to Coulsdon and Purley Urban District Council. He stipulated that it was to be used as a Village Green or Rural park for the enjoyment of the inhabitants of Purley and neighbourhood and as a memorial to those that had falled in the Great War. Webb also arranged for the provision of the Cornish Granite War Memorial that stands outside the Lord Roberts.”

The Garden Village was such a pervasive idea in the first couple of decades of the 20th century. The history of Ebeneezer Howard and the garden cities has been well told, (see also this Historic England booklet (PDF)), but these types of smaller developments are different even though their creators were inspired by similar principles. Whereas Howard saw cities holistically, and sought to embed the garden principle in whole town design,  to create “a new hope, a new life, a new civilisation”, this type of garden village ended up being more of idyllic residential escape from London life for the upper middle classes.

Webb noted in 1916:

A few City men live at the West End but by far the greater number seek to spend their leisure time and bring up their families at the nearest spot to their work where they can find a comparatively country home.

The emphasis of the settlement, as enforced in restrictive covenants mainly to do with keeping the gardens well kept and from new buildings being erected, made this estate exclusive. In Garden First in Land Development, Webb expressed his intention that:

the occupiers of houses (should) not only have the enjoyment of their own premises in desirable seclusion, but that, both from their own upper windows and when passing along the roads, it may appear as though they are one large garden of which their own holding is a part.

Whereas Howard’s garden cities were designed to be inclusive (and also self-sufficient for facilities and light industry), this was purely a private estate, with the large iron gates across the roads in and out (still there) to enforce that feeling of privacy and exclusiveness.

weekly telegraph 29 May 1920
Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, 29 May 1920, on Rose Walk, Webb Estate

 

Webb lived at Upper Woodcote House, completed in 1903, and the whole estate was completed by 1925. He was renowned for his philanthropy, and also held the summer show of the local horticultural society in the grounds of the house.

Source: Webb Estate and Upper Woodcote Village Conservation Areas Appraisal and Management Plan (Croydon Council)

Census


Transcribing the 1911 census, I get a different feeling than when I transcribe the working-class districts that are my other locales. This was solidly stockbroker commuterville, pleasant escape from the commute to the City. Most of these large houses were occupied by one nuclear family – a head of household and his wife, mostly from London or another part of Surrey, either retired early and with no children, or in their 30s with small children. Most of the houses have servants – a housekeeper, cook, governness for the small children – who usually have migrated from other parts of the UK.

As a historian, I shouldn’t say this, but I feel it hard to find an immediate connection with the residents – do I care about Horace Whitaker, aged 32, ‘of private means’, living with his wife, three children and 2 servants, in ‘Waveney’ on Rose Walk? Or William Jones O’Hara, a 43-year old stockbroker born in Ontario, Canada, living with his wife, 2 children and 3 servants, in ‘Keewaydin’ [sp?] a few doors down? I must confess I’m more interested in the servants – was this their first employment? Did they miss home? Did they tease each other for having different regional accents and dialect? Did they ever meet the other servants in the other houses? One suspects not, as the estate is designed around privacy: the hedges and long boulevards create the desired privacy, but mean that it would be much harder, for the servants at least, to meet their neighbours unlike in the hustle and bustle of, say, a row of London townhouses.

1911 census, servants
1911 census, Waveney, Rose Walk, Surrey: housemaid Edith from Bermondsey; cook Alice from Eastbourne, and nurse Mary from Devon.

I don’t know enough about domestic service in the early 20thC, but here are the first places to start:

Lucy Delap, Knowing Their Place (OUP)

Lucy Lethbridge, Servants (Bloomsbury)

The other aspect that I’m going to develop is trespass and vagrancy.

This newspaper article from 1939 about a man charged with trespass and vagrancy (and indeed the column adjoining about Caterham footpaths and parks) reflect much on the sense of privacy in these estates, and the suspicion of strangers and vagrants:

Croydon Advertiser, 4 August 1939
Croydon Advertiser, 4 August 1939

Upper Woodcote Village

Finally, the issue of village greens and private space divided by class is another line of enquiry. The workers’ houses that were too expensive for workers to live in are also a historical parallel for many issues today.

Woodcote Green
Woodcote Green, with ‘workers’ houses
temperance inn
former temperance inn
blue plaque
blue plaque on the former Temperance Inn

The Lord Roberts was a former temperance inn. Here is the 1911 census entry of its occupants:

1911 census
1911 census entry, Lord Roberts, run by Edwin Castleman and his family
lampost
‘heritage’ lamppost

locales: Cropper Street, Manchester (1)

view of manchester
Osborne Street Manchester
Osborne Street Manchester, April 2017
view of manchester
view of Manchester from Back Osborne Street, St George’s Fields

 

 

This is the most radical street in Manchester history, in my opinion.

In April 2017, I took a field trip around Ancoats and Miles Platting, north Manchester, to investigate some of the sites of protest and popular politics that I researched for my previous book, Protest & the Politics of Space and Place, 1789-1848.

My final destination was Osborne Street, formerly known as Cropper Street, a place that I wrote about as a ‘locale’ in my book, and which I’m still obsessed with.

 

 

This blog post is a quick recap of what I’ve already found out. I’ll update with new posts soon with new research.

The site

Situated off Oldham Road on the boundary with Miles Platting, Cropper Street was one of a couple of strings of terraces erected on a building ground (from the maps sometime around 1812) still surrounded by fields and a coal pit, and thus somewhat isolated from the centre.

The streets feel isolated because they’re still set apart from the other terraces in the rest of north Manchester and Miles Platting, and they border the scrubby St George’s Fields, which look out onto St Patrick’s RC church and views of the ever-increasing towers of central Manchester.

st george's fields
panorama of St George’s Fields, Manchester

From an ad in the paper selling two houses in 1843, it looks like the leases began in January 1817, and were described as ‘very substantially built, have large house place and kitchen, two large bedrooms and are let at three shillings a week each’.[2]

[2] Manchester Courier, 4 Feb 1843.
Manchester Courier, 4 Feb 1843
Manchester Courier, 4 Feb 1843
1824 map
extract from Swire’s 1824 directory map
This 1824 map shows some sort of landscaped park off Back Cropper Street, though I’m not sure what this was yet or who owned it. It’s gone by 1836.
cropper st 1836 map
extract of Pigot’s directory, 1836
As part of an Improvement Act of 1845, the improvement committee changed the name from Cropper Street to Osborne Street, which it remains today.[3]

< [3]Manchester Courier, 9 August 1845.

Then followed also a court case between the Corporation and the main landowner, Edmund Buckley, ‘a gentleman of considerable property’, who refused to pave and sweep the street, arguing that it was the Corporation’s job. Manchester Times 21 August 1846.

From the 1838 land tax records (see below), he owned at least 10 properties on the street (though this may have increased by 1846 – I need to check).

Manchester times, Aug 1846
Manchester Times, 21 August 1846
1848 map
extract from Slater’s 1848 directory map
The streets were bisected by two railway lines (Manchester railway, and the Liverpool and Leeds railway) in the early 1840s [4], which made the community even more cut off. The old Manchester railway line is now a weirdly chopped off section of viaduct, which stops on New Allen Street near the start of Cropper Street. This gives the area a somewhat post-industrial abandoned feel, with the arches of the viaduct serving as the usual repository of old mattresses and after-dark dealings.
[4] [note from Rob Telford: The rail lines were built between 1842 and 1844 by the Manchester and Leeds Railway when they moved their city terminus to Victoria from Oldham Rd] [link to primary source]
See also the first railway act, Geo IV 7 c.xcix, An Act for making and maintaining a Railway or Tramroad from Manchester to Oldham, with a Branch from Failsworth Pole to or near to Dry Clough in the Township of Royton, all in the County Palatine of Lancaster. [26th May 1826.]
1826 railway act
1826 Manchester to Oldham railway act
old railway viaduct New Allen Street
old railway viaduct, New Allen Street, Manchester
new allen street
cut off railway viaduct, New Allen Street, Manchester

The renowned urban historian H. J. Dyos wrote about the impact of railways on reinforcing poverty over time in Victorian London, especially in sites that were cut off by ‘tourniquets’ of lines:

The most general explanation for slum tendencies in particular places is that, without the kind of general control on the spatial development of the city that might have been given, say, by a rectilinear grid, there were bound to be innumerable dead ends and backwaters in the street plan…

A more careful reading of Booth’s maps would show how some additions to the street plan – a dock, say, or a canal, a railway line or a new street – frequently reinforced these tendencies….

They all acted like tourniquets applied too long, and below them a gangrene almost invariably set in. The actual age of houses seldom had much to do with it and it was sometimes possible to run through the complete declension from meadow to slum in a single generation, or even less.[5]

[5] Dyos, H.J., ‘The Slums of Victorian London’, Victorian Studies, XI (1967), 5-40

 

OS 1849
OS first edn (1849) map

First attempt at a 3D rendering. I will add the occupiers once I work out the street numbers properly:

3d Cropper Street
Cropper Street, 3D rendered with QGIS2threejs plugin in QGIS

 

Link to a 1915 photograph from Manchester Images Collection: http://images.manchester.gov.uk/web/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=26973&reftable=ecatalogue&refirn=59278

1911 survey map Cropper Street
The National Archives, IR 133, valuation survey map, 1911

I will add the valuation key asap (when I find it – the National Archives indexes IR 58 for IR 133 are hard to navigate!)

Occupiers

The 1818 ratebook listed 83 houses on the street, with a population of around 600.[1] There is also a Back Cropper Street. Most households had only one family, with perhaps a couple of lodgers: that is, these were not overcrowded slums quite yet.

[1] ManchesterArchives & Local Studies, M9/40/2/85, Manchester ratebook, 1818, pp. 137-9.

1816 rate book
extract from Manchester rate book, 1816

 1838 Land Tax records: Manchester Archives, M9/50/45, District 1, Oldham Road – Cropper Street and Back Cropper Street

1841 census entries, HO 107/574/8

Occupational breakdown of heads of households:

46% of the heads of households of Cropper Street, Back Cropper Street and adjoining Pump Street, were cotton weavers.  17 out of the 56 households on Cropper Street had Irish heads of household.

By the 1841 census, over-crowding, particularly of Irish, is evident.

This one house somewhere in the middle (annoyingly the 1841 census didn’t number the houses, but it was probably hard to do so with all the courts and cellars), had a 75-year old Irish cotton weaver, George Jordan, as head of household, two male relations Christopher (c.45) and Peter (c.15) (son and grandson?) and then 13 other people, including some more Jordans, and one other family, in the same house.

1841 census
HO 107/574/8, 1841 census, Cropper Street, p. 16

 

Changes

The site was presumably flattened during the post-war slum clearance programme, and these new houses built by the council. I need to find out more about this.

Osborne Street Manchester
Osborne Street, Manchester, April 2017
view of st george's fields
view of St George’s Fields from Back Osborne Street

Christ Temple International Church is now occupant of the old estate pub, the Lorimers Arms, at 101 Osborne Street

christ temple church
Christ temple church, Osborne Street, Manchester

 

Of course I found a Lucy’s electrical box on New Allen Street, my main touchstone for wherever I go.

Lucy's box, manchester
Lucy’s box, New Allen Street

I will be writing why this was the most radical street in Manchester in the next installment…