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A Modern History of Brookmans Park

by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 4
Developer's Delight 1923-1939

This chapter on the history of Brookmans is one of the greatest change. A complete transformation took place. No one who left Brookmans Park in 1918 would have recognised it on his return twenty years later. A few old landmarks had remained, Moffats and Moffats farmhouse, Folly Arch, some dwellings in Bell Bar, the lodges at the junction of the Drive and the Great North Road and at the entrance to Gobions. But nearly all the rest, parkland, meadows and fields had been submerged in a tide of bricks and mortar. How did this come about? What exactly happened and where and when, who was involved and, most difficult of all to answer, why was there this entire and comparatively rapid change?

Land, capital and labour had to be available for development and construction. There had to be a market for houses and buyers ready to part with their money and take up mortgages. Legislation, or the lack of it, influenced the situation. Overriding all these was the climate of the British economy in general and of the building industry in particular.

The national scene was an encouraging one for the enterprise. The immediate post war boom and slump were over. Rates of interest were still high but wages had fallen. When the Conservatives had won the general election of 1922 a new principle of housing policy was introduced by the Chamberlain Housing Act of 1923. Under this Act a fixed subsidy for each house was payable to private builders as well as to local authorities. The subsidy was too low to permit rents which working class families could afford and in the event private builders used the Act for houses for the middle class.

The 1920s

The company’s first scheme, which might have benefitted from the Housing Act, followed the current fashion for garden cities. Letchworth had already grown to some ten thousand residents, Ebenezer Howard had recently formed the New Towns Group, and Welwyn Garden City had begun to show promise. The plan for Brookmans Park as a garden city shows a dense network of streets, with public buildings and town square, a plan for a wholly urban community.

The company soon abandoned this scheme which seems to have been too ambitious. By 1924 its declared intention was to build 2,500 houses. It realised that as well as "residential type houses", other houses for workmen to serve them would also be required, at least a hundred it thought. These, however, would have to be placed where they would not affect the company’s property. Sixty would be at Little Heath and forty north east of the estate near Welham Green. This created a problem. The company, therefore, proposed a deal to take advantage of the Housing Act. It would provide the workmen’s cottages if there were a ninety per cent loan from the district council. The council responded that it would convey the land and arrange a fixed subsidy but it would require immediate erection of thirty two cottages (there was a waiting list of thirty in the parish) to let at rents of ten shillings and others to follow at fifteen shillings per week. However, neither the subsidy nor the loan available were enough for the company and the deal fell through. Another attempt was made two years later but by that time the council had built its own houses at Little Heath.

Another tiresome matter at the beginning was the farming operation which the company took over with Home Farm. It paid £494 for 250 sheep, brought from Perth at a cost of £62.11.3d, £5 for a sheep dog and £68.14.2d for a shepherd’s wages in 1924. The hay was still harvested and sold as in the days of R. W. Gaussen. Next year the company sold the sheep for £625 and disposed of this business.

The first real step towards the business of building was taken late in 1924 when the company stated it was about to build "a new road near the station site" of about eighty houses, allowing seven per acre. It therefore enquired from the district council about the construction of a sewer via a piece of James Crawford’s land and railway territory. The council’s response was that it would lay a sewer and enlarge the Welham sewage works only if there was no cost to the rates. After the company entered into a bond for the required amount, the piece of land had been bought for £100 and the railway company’s agreement had been secured, in 1926 the council issued a loan of £6,350 for thirty years to be borrowed on the special expenses of North Mymms parish and accepted a tender for the work in November that year.

Brookmans Park Railway Station

By this time there was a railway station. From the beginning the company must have understood that if there was to be a market for its houses there would have to be convenient railway travel to the City. It had the example before it of Little Heath where, in the rapid development at the turn of the century, commuters could use Potters Bar station. By 1924 the company informed the district council that it had "arranged for a railway station". At that time the newly amalgamated railway companies were not flourishing and the London & North Eastern Railway was the least profitable of all. It therefore required some inducement, beyond the promise of new commuter traffic, to build a new station. The result was that an agreement of May 1925 provided for the company to pay the railway £500 per annum until five hundred houses were built. That, however, was a long way ahead. In due course the station was opened for traffic on 19 July, 1926.

Currently other financial problems arose. The cost of bringing water, gas and electricity was high. Electricity had to come in via Folly Arch; water and gas by the Great North Road. There was heavy expenditure on road making in, for instance, Mymms Drive and Bradmore Way. Income, on the other hand, was still very low, small amounts like £30 for fishing rights from the Southgate Angling Club. The company, like the Gaussens before it, borrowed heavily. But in the late 1920s rates of interest were high as a result of Britain’s return to the gold standard at pre war parity, contrived by Winston Churchill, Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1925.

Building New Houses

During that decade the company succeeded in selling some plots and some houses were built. Early in 1927 a dozen new houses on the estate were occupied. In the same year the district council approved plans for thirty houses; in 1928 for twenty houses; and in 1929 for forty houses. These were in Brookmans Avenue, Moffats Lane, Mymms Drive, Bradmore Way, the Great North Road, Kentish Lane and Swanley Bar Lane, and the builders concerned were Phillips Brothers, D. C. Pearce & Sons, Brookmans Builders and others. The private status of Brookmans Avenue and Mymms Drive dates from this time when the company’s request to the district council that it should take over these roads was rejected.

The only subsidised houses on the estate appeared about 1928. The district council agreed to a proposal from the National Cottage Society for twelve houses at Swanley Bar Lane. The Society received a lump sum grant under the 1923 act towards the cost of £555 for each house. In the same year there was a suggestion of building another batch but nothing came of it. The society had succeeded where the company had failed. In 1929, however, the company successfully persuaded the district council to accept some unwanted responsibility for Bell Bar. "This village", it said, "forms no part of the Scheme". It claimed that "it had tried to provide houses for the working class but had not been able to build the cheaper type to let at rents which the cottagers could afford". The problem was five cottages, one of which was empty, which were "really slums".

Accordingly the council agreed to accept the land in question, about 1 acre, demolish the cottages and build six in pairs. There was to be nothing fancy, the cottages would have earth closets, though "of an improved type"; the cost altogether £2,048. The cottages were not in fact dealt with until the slum clearance scheme of the 1930 Housing Act.

By the end of the 1920s, therefore, the Company had made a start. The vicar counted 117 houses on the estate in 1929. He warned the readers of the parish magazine that before long Brookmans Park would need a new church, but he was able to announce that the owners of the estate had promised a site.

At the same time, while the problem of drainage had been sorted out, other problems remained notably the important one of scavenging. Who was to empty the dustbins and when? Although the parish council was opposed to the district council taking on the task for the estate, the district council did agree 10 do the job, but only when there was "further development", a reasonable proviso since then, in 1927, only twelve houses were occupied. Gobions Cottages, built by the National Cottage Society, also had to wait for it. Only when a petition signed by G. Lynch at number 5 and nine others alleged that since they had first occupied the cottages six months earlier they had had to bury all their refuse, did the council send its open cart. "Covered conveyances" were still in the future. Queenswood School, with 260 persons, was not so fortunate. Its request for regular scavenging met with "No Action".

Arrival of the BBC

Meanwhile Brookmans Park entered the national scene when the BBC came into the estate. The newly formed corporation, looking for a site for a new transmitting station, selected an area on the north east side of the Great North Road. This was the property of the estate company from whom the corporation bought 36 acres in 1928 and took an option for a further 24 acres adjoining. The company thus had a welcome addition to its coffers. There were few problems in the transaction. There were no planning restrictions but each party had certain reservations. The company was concerned at the height of the masts and the style of roofing. For its part the corporation insisted that there would be no use of electricity or industrial activity on the estate which might interfere with radio transmissions. The station was built quickly and completed in 1929. The great masts were a seven day wonder for local residents.

The 1930s

The next decade got off to a good start with forty six house plans approved in 1930. They extended to George’s Wood Road. Progress had been made at the golf course, with expenditure of some £5,000, to attract the right sort of resident. But all this was not to last. The years of deepest depression were imminent. Building plots became more difficult to sell though considerable sums were spent on advertising. Both the company and the builders had felt that good publicity was necessary for success. Brochures, showing all the attractions, had been issued to draw customers. "How Brookmans Park is unique", "Brookmans Park, a real country home within 35 minutes of Town", one such read. And, "These photographs give some impression of the beauty and charm of Brookmans Park". These showed milking time at the Home Farm, "an old world house" recently built, the tennis courts with a lady in cardigan and cloche hat at the net, "Brookmans House (sic) which now forms five delightful residence", and a view of the lake, "which has been used for bathing and will make an ideal open air swimming pool". The description was equally seductive:

The opportunity of living in a house with all modern conveniences, on one of the great ancestral estates of England, absolutely unchanged and undisturbed in its essential character, that is what Brookmans Park offers you. The plan of the estate is absolutely to avoid crowding any portion of it with brickwork. Every house will be built well back from the roadway, giving dignity and seclusion, and leaving the original spaciousness of the avenues unspoilt. You will be able — not merely this year but always — to glance our of your windows at some of the loveliest scenery in England, at hills and valleys, rugged old trees and wide meadows. A few minutes walk will take you to one of the three delightful lakes, to Gobions wood, the Italian sunk garden with its lavender and water lilies surrounded with lawns and giant cedars, while you can draw your Grade ‘A’ milk, eggs and other supplies from the Home Farm.

The hand of the advertising agent may be detected here. Transport, it was alleged, was excellent, especially the trains during the "rush hours". ‘‘The latest Theatre Train leaves Kings Cross at 12.15 a.m.". It was also cheap; a season ticket for three months to Kings Cross cost £4 8s. And there were always the buses; "a fleet of single decker pneumatic tyred buses run through the estate". As for the houses, they were quite superior:

"There are several notable innovations in most of the houses central heating is installed in the hall and on the first floor landing, to take away any chilliness without making the house stuffy. This installation is so arranged that it can easily be extended, if desired, through to the rest of the house. The site of each house has been carefully considered in regard both to its situation and the points of the compass, so that protection from inclement weather is combined with a maximum of sunshine on a maximum of windows. The difference that this careful planning makes to the cheerfulness of a house needs to be seen to be appreciated. A Cloakroom with Lavatory Basin and WC is installed on the ground floor, in many cases Lavatory Basins with hot and cold water are fitted in the bedrooms. The domestic parts of the house are conveniently placed, and planned so as to save unnecessary labour and moving about. The bathrooms are of the most modern type, and are easily kept clean. The tiled sides of the bath for example, extend to the floor, so that there can be no accumulation of inaccessible dirt underneath All garages are sufficiently large to take a big car comfortably."

Phillips Brothers, builders of 41 Bradmore Way, issued their own brochure. Their detached house cost £1,095 with no road charges and rates of £33 per annum (9s 4d in £); the semi-detached, but highly desirable, house — £885 and rates of £29. Their description also showed the advertising hand:

"Houses erected on the Brookmans Park Estate are attractive and arresting. To the wife because their appearance is pleasing and they are planned to save as much time and trouble as possible; to the husband because the call on his pocket is so reasonable for houses of this type. Close attention is paid by Messrs. Phillips who, by the way, have both lived on the estate for the past nine years, to the seen and unseen details of each individual house. The Roof is close boarded The Walls are of Fletton bricks on a solid concrete foundation 9" x 27". The damp course is of two courses of slate bedded to breakjoint. Windows are Crittails all metal in wood surrounds with oak sills which can be cleaned from inside and have gunmetal fittings. All wood work, if stained, is of pine except the floors; oak flooring being layed in the hall. The Kitchen, a joy to the housewife, is tiled and in addition to two large modern Lloyd loom cabinet cupboards has also a large airy pantry and a store cupboard such as is seldom seen in the usual modern house. An Ideal Boiler is fitted. The Bathroom also is tiled and the fittings in both these rooms are, of course, chromium. One Bedroom has gas fire installed and there is a gas point in one other Bedroom and also the two rooms downstairs Electric power points are also installed."

What more could any one wish for, especially as by this time some of the basic needs could be met locally by the Moffats Farm Dairy with its "noted herd for rich cream", by the greengrocer at the Orchard in Bradmore Green, by "Irene" the permanent waving specialist at moderate charges, and by the 18 hole golf course?

Building boom

In the whole of 1931 builders submitted only eleven plans to the district council (in Brookmans Avenue, Bradmore Way and the Great North Road). This was the year of financial and political crisis, which led to the National Government of Ramsay Macdonald. The squeeze on house building came from cuts in pay all round, on one side, and the higher bank rate of 6%, high for those times, on the other. The return to financial stability after the pound was driven off gold, and at a cost of three million unemployed, resulted in a fall in the bank rate to 2%. This may have had some effect on the increase in house plans to nineteen in 1932, including now the north side of Moffats Lane. Even so, the number was so far below what it had been and the improvement so slight that it was not enough to save the financial situation on the estate.

The company went into voluntary liquidation in 1933. With the builders, it had tried to adjust to its financial condition by increasing somewhat the density of houses. The district council would not approve plans for two houses in Moffats Lane because the frontages of 35 feet conflicted with the density required in the town planning scheme which had been made under the Town Planning Act of 1932. The council required frontages of 45 feet and although these for the houses in question were agreed at 40 feet, the rest were to be 45. Pursuing the same line, the company proposed that the houses to be built "between the railway and Bradmore Way" would be a smaller type.

At this point an estimate of the number of houses on the estate is about two hundred. There were two shops at the then junction of Bluebridge Road and Brookmans Avenue; dairy produce, poultry and eggs were still available at the Home Farm. This was nowhere near the five hundred stipulated in the agreement with the L.N.E.R. and no great achievement for ten years’ effort.

In the financial reorganisation of 1933 two of the chief shareholders, John White and J. J. Calder, each formed a private company and between them divided the estate. White took the area approximately northward from Brookmans Avenue and George’s Wood Road, while Calder had the southern half. The end of the subsidy to the railway company as a result of the company liquidation must have been a bonus.

Fortunately for the new owners the climate for house building became much more favourable. The building boom of the 1930s, the main bright spot in the gloom of general depression, got under way, Moreover it was one of private building. The elements of the boom were various. On the supply side, in an era of cheap money, the bank rate remained at 2%; bricklayers’ time rates were low at first and recovered only slowly; materials fell in price; overall the cost of building also fell until the late thirties; the abolition of all subsidies for council building (except for slum clearance) by the national government drove resources into private building. On the demand side, the existing housing backlog, growth of the professional and salaried class (notably in banking and insurance), fall in mortgage rates charged by the ever expanding building societies, low income tax, all combined to favour new development on the Brookmans Park estate.

Building regulations

The effect of this situation and of the new management was slowly apparent on the estate. Builders gradually became encouraged. The number of houses and plots approved by the district council rose steadily from 24 in 1933 and 41 in 1934 to 55 in 1935, which was slightly higher than the pre-slump level. They were in Brookmans Avenue, Brookmans Cul de Sac (timbering to be in oak not less than 1 1/2 in. thick and the eaves to project at least 9 in.), Moffats Lane, the Great North Road, Bradmore Way, Mymms Drive, Peplins Way, George’s Wood Road and one in Uplands Drive. New roads had to be made — Peplins Way, and others on the land west of Bluebridge Road, and others extended — Moffats Lane. A proposed new road from Bradmore Way to Bell Bar was not approved; though approved later, in 1936, it was not made. The builders, D. C. Pearce & Sons gained approval for four shops and flats at Bradmore Green, subject to "the triangular open space in front is kept open. Others got in on the act. The Ratepayers’ Association was concerned about density, among other matters. The Association had been started in 1929 because, in the words of the then chairman:

"the need was urgent to ensure that development took place along well ordered lines and that amenities should be jealously guarded and maintained. The area would be occupied by people used to town amenities, not content with the almost feudal atmosphere which existed in the parish of North Mymms. There was a need to reconcile our outlook and aspirations with that of the rural population among whom we had come to live. There were many matters which required attention…"

It now wanted a density of eight per acre in Bradmore Way; the council agreed to ten. The Bolton’s Farm Estate submitted an ambitious development in which there were to be 817 houses on 130 acres, together with shops, school, tennis courts and open space. The Moffats Farm Estate obtained approval of its layout, which, however, stipulated reservation of a strip of land 100 feet wide "along the stream banks". The owners, Hall and Martyn had paid John White £2,000 for 1.8 acres. R. D. Storey applied for a veranda and a dance hall for the "Brookmans Park cafe". Things were looking up.

During the late 1930s the private building boom continued and the estate was developed at a better rate. Now, however, rather more regulations had to be observed under the Town Planning Act of 1932. The district plan laid down different zones of land use, particular densities of houses being specified for each. In addition there was an ineffective Ribbon Restriction Act of 1935. As well as building plots and individual houses, layouts of land and new roads had to be approved by the district council. Thus in 1936 there was approval of the layout of land between Swanley Bar Lane and George’s Wood Road which showed four roads in that area, and in 1937 the layout of Bluebridge Estate.

Road building

The latter is remarkable for what might have been; the land "between Bluebridge Road and the L.N.E.R. immediately south of Hawkshead Lane" was to have four roads, garage and petrol pump, fourteen shops and "a site for public assembly or open air sports", while a strip along the stream was a private open space. After some delay all this was approved with the garage on Bluebridge Road near to Station Road. New roads appeared: The Grove, and another "from George’s Wood Road to The Drive, parallel with the Great North Road", presumably the future Pine Grove."

Builders, such as Phillips and Hicks became increasingly active. The council approved plans for about 55 houses in 1936 and about 60 in 1937. Business was improving. John White, one of the developers, sold a record amount of land in those three years, 5.32 acres for £19,014. This included three quarters of an acre to Hadley Brewery for the future Brookmans Park Hotel. As well as in the previously mentioned roads, there were to be new houses in Uplands Drive, The Grove (12 there), Kentish Lane and Westland Drive. Construction continued apace also in Brookmans Avenue, Bradmore Way, George’s Wood Road and in Moffats Lane where the lodge was given a water closet at the rear.

In George’s Wood Road a dispute arose. The value of property was at stake. The owners of the eight properties already there in 1936, valued at about £1,075 each, expressed their alarm at the prospect of bungalows. The council therefore deferred its approval for consideration of the likely effects and only later sanctioned two bungalows and four semi-bungalows, provided that the larger ones were built opposite existing houses. It continued to be concerned about the "better class of bungalow" and rejected one bungalow on the south side near the Great North Road as being unsuitable. A new word — Bungalette — appeared for an even lower class of dwelling. Bungalows were, however, all right for Westland Drive where thirteen were approved in 1937.

Building materials also came under the council’s eye. In Brookmans Avenue, the Great North Road and elsewhere it insisted that "all half timbering is to be constructed and not just planted on the face of the brickwork". It was not only a matter of keeping up appearances. A complaint from the Ratepayers’ Association that there was not the proper space between houses in Brookmans Avenue was duly taken up, only to reveal that one space was seven inches short. The builder was admonished and property values were safe on that score.

Local amenities

Amenities for the good life appeared. The rebuilding of Titmuss’s coffee stall on the Great North Road at Bell Bar and the extension of Storey’s cafe were probably for the cyclists and hikers of the 1930s but the coming of two public houses no doubt appealed to some residents. Plans for the Cock of the North gained approval in 1936 and the Hadley Brewery’s licensed premises at Bradmore Green in the following year. Shops, however, meant civilisation for everyone. In 1936 the shopping area was increased by "land close to the railway siding" and the council agreed to eight shops and flats in Bradmore Way. Estate offices were naturally busy. Taylor & Meluish opened one on the Great North Road and John White moved his from Bluebridge to Bradmore Green.

In the last two years of the decade, 1938 and 1939, development came to a peak. A record number of 106 houses received planning permission in 1938 and fifty two in the first half of 1939. The counterpart to this activity was John White’s sales of land: in 1938 2.4 acres for £2,230; in 1939 3 acres for £3,091, plus £6,776 for 18 acres sold to the BBC, giving him a comfortable total of £12,097 in two years. The greater part of the new plans were in Westland Drive, the home of the bungalow. Although there were projects elsewhere, particularly in Bluebridge Road and George’s Wood Road where bungalows and bungalettes, of the right kind, were now more acceptable, in Westland Drive no less than thirty five plans for bungalows received approval.

The doubtful status of the bungalow was, however, again an issue elsewhere. This time it was the people of Uplands Drive who were up in arms. Seven residents protested against a plan for nine bungalows, not in their own road, but in Pine Grove, "as it would seriously depreciate the value of their properties". The Ratepayers’ Association, now in 1939 well represented on the district council, took the pragmatic view that if there had to be bungalows they should be an appropriate type. In the event property was protected if one may judge from the number of bungalows there now. In George’s Wood Road, too, the number of small bungalows was strictly rationed.

Pine Grove was also the scene of another problem, a conflict between public planning and private profit, in the days when planning was still in its infancy. John White, the Birmingham contractor, wanted to continue the road north to the main road but the county council would not agree to Pine Grove having direct access to the Great North Road. Other projected roads had a mixed reception by the council. J. J. Calder, the Burton on Trent brewer received permission for a new road off Mymms Drive and promptly named it after himself. A golf club service road was disapproved of because it was too narrow.

As war drew closer people could look forward to more amenities. In July 1938 C. F. Day put forward a project for sixteen more shops and flats on Bradmore Green; these were to be "facing Brookmans Avenue and Bradmore Way". The children who went to be privately educated at Moffats School could use a gymnasium there. Nuisance was held at bay; permission to have kennels at Bell Bar and at Swanley Bar Farm was refused.

Other schemes for improvement were also much in the air. The London County Council came onto the scene with a proposal to buy 106 acres bounded by Bradmore Lane, Wise’s Lane and Station Road, to be used probably as playing fields, which was eventually accepted. Thus the fields of the former Bradmore farm of which Arthur Young, the agricultural expert, complained so bitterly in the 18th century, were to be transformed, but nothing came of it. The district council, for its part, was urgently considering open space, for which it had been pressured by the Ratepayers’ Association. There were two possible areas. One was Gobions, for which the owner was prepared to negotiate. The other was at Folly Arch. There were discussions as to whether the avenue of trees from the Arch was to be included or not. Eventually, however, the council did resolve to buy eleven acres of meadow and twenty two acres of woodland, together with the Folly and the lodge for £1,830, and to apply to the Ministry of Health for a loan of £2,215. War in September put an end to such ideas for the time being. In October the Ministry refused to sanction the loan and the council told the estate’s agents that the deal was off.

Peter Kingsford - 1983

Chapter 5 - People's War and People's Peace 1939-1950
Index - A Modern History of Brookmans Park
Historical Notes - to help understand these chapters
Photographs - from the book

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