Monday, 17 October 2016

Progress Estate History Walks


The Progress Estate may well represent the pinnacle of Garden Suburb design.   The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, author of the 46-volume county-by-county guides The Buildings of England (1951-74) described it as the first and most spectacular of the Garden suburbs built by the government during the First World War to house munitions workers … a tour de force of picturesque design.   Production at The Royal Arsenal in Woolwich was crucial to the War effort.   Lloyd George’s great fear that the army and navy would run out of munitions coincided with there being architects in the civil service whose beliefs were embedded in a social philosophy epitomised by the Arts and Crafts movement.

The Residents Association is hosting walks at 2:30 p.m. on these two days.   They will highlight events from the Estate’s history over the last century.   Subject to weather conditions, each will last about 2 hours.

Both walks will start and finish at the Progress Hall, Admiral Seymour Road, Eltham SE9 1SL.     Whilst they are free, please book places in one of these three ways at least 24 hours beforehand; each is limited to a maximum of 20 people: 

1. By calling 07599 610262 and leaving the following information: 
your name
your phone number
the date of the walk you would like to attend
the number of places you require
1. By texting the information to the same number.

2. By sending it by email to 

All bookings will be acknowledged.

For anything else, please contact:

Keith Billinghurst
Progress Residents Association committee member
56 Arsenal Road
London  SE9 1JY
07962 877389

Saturday, 8 October 2016

A Family Tragedy

Original post:

Angela Waters had married Thomas Seal in the Maidstone area late in 1890.  She was born into a blacksmiths family in Maidstone and so both the Seal and the Waters families seem to have roots in the Kent area.  By 1911 Angela and Thomas had moved to Plumstead where they were living with four of their seven children, two sons and two daughters.  Thomas Seal was recorded at this point as a carter but he was able to get a job at the Arsenal and in 1915 was working in the Giro Department there.  As a result the family had a much sought after house on the Well Hall Estate in Brome Road.  The two girls, Ethel (12) and Gertrude (9) were registered at Deansfield School in 1915.

Jack Thomas, born on the 10th September 1900, enlisted in July 1917 joining the Royal Navy and serving at several different places.  At the moment I cannot establish whether Arthur George, his older brother, had also enlisted or whether he was working at the Arsenal.  Jack served for nearly two years his last service date given in his World War 1 Record is March 1919.  For two periods of his service he was based at HMS Pembroke* at Chatham which was the training base.  But the records also tell us that he never returned home when he left there.  On 24th March 1919 he was found dead in a train on arrival at Gillingham Station.  The result of the subsequent inquest held at the Royal Naval Hospital, Chatham is recorded in his papers as follows:

‘…the Coroner, sitting without a jury, returned a verdict of “death from haemorrhage from bullet wound in chest, self-inflicted.  There is no evidence to show the state of the deceased’s mind at the time”.’

Thomas’s next of kin is given as his mother, Angela.  He is buried in New Cemetery, Gillingham, which means perhaps that unusually, given the circumstances of his death, he has been allowed the honour of a military grave.  We will never know if this was of any consolation to his mother and father who must have been doubly shocked at his death having perhaps assumed in the first months following the Armistice that he had apparently survived the war.

*HMS Pembroke was a training ship based in RN Chatham.  It was bombed by a Gotha in 1917 Sept and 136 naval ratings were killed.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Eda’s Diary: Going Shopping

Original post:

In summer 1916 a meeting of the tenants of Well Hall and the Eltham hutments was reported in the Pioneer.  The tenants were concerned about the lack of shops for this large housing area.  The parade at Well Hall was even further away for the residents of the hutment and if shopping was to be done in Eltham or Woolwich then the cost of the tram fare made shopping more expensive, and this on top of what were felt to be high rents.  The chairman of the Well Hall Residents Association, Mr J. E. Mills, stated that the situation was ‘growing rapidly worse’.  He seemed to be claiming that the shops were taking advantage of the high demand and were increasing their prices – he referred to this as ‘bloodsucking’ – and others referred to the shops closing earlier than before the war and having fewer assistants.  Mr Mills also said that the tenants needed to do something themselves to change the situation.

The proposal from Mr J.P.Pittuck was for the formation of their own co-operative store beginning with three main departments – grocery, bakery and butchery; they wanted to fulfil something that the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society had failed to do but this would not be easy.   If the tenants were in favour then capital would need to be raised from the tenants.  Mr Pittuck went on to say that women’s help was necessary to the success of the scheme both its formation and management as they were the shoppers.

We do not know what happened about this proposal.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Well Hall Estate: The Architects

Original post:

Since this project (Greenwich Women at War - "Here Come the Girls"), is about women, where do women feature in the design of the houses of the estate?  It does seem as if there is not one women to be seen amongst the architects on the scheme!

Those who are named are all men and there were very few women in the profession at the time.

The estate was designed by architects at the Office of Works, a central government department, where Frank Baines was Principal Architect.  (One source claims that the scheme was intended to be designed by the Woolwich Arsenal Engineering and Building Staff – how different it might have been then!)  Apparently Baines was elated at the news from the Ministry of Munitions that his office was to design the scheme.  Through his training he had been influenced by the ideas of the arts and crafts and garden city movements and had doubtless gathered around him architects of a similar persuasion.  It is likely that as these architects were in their thirties their earlier training and experience had been influenced by the arts and crafts style which was very much in vogue.

One account says that after Baines had visited the site he ‘set up a competition’ between four architects on his staff – Phillips, Pitcher, Bowden and Parker – and within hours they had all produced designs.  The “winning” design was done by Edward George Phillips who had not visited the site but who studied the annotated Ordnance Survey map that Baines had used on site, carefully identifying and taking into account all the existing geographical features.

Phillips and Pitcher went on to design the housing and the layout (Pitcher was the senior architect under Baines with responsibility for new build schemes).  Frank Baines would then have approved and ’signed off’ the final design as the principal architect and it is therefore his name to which the estate is credited.  Bowden and Parker were mainly responsible for the execution of the scheme. Although the Office of Works did not normally undertake housing schemes, apparently these four architects had all had prior experience of domestic architecture.  Throughout the period of design and construction all the architects were working long hours and a seven day week responding to the demands of building at such speed and adjusting plans to the shortages in some of the building materials.

The Greenwich Heritage Centre has a number of the original large-scale plans of the estate.  They include layout plans, one for each side east and west) of the estate.  On these the roads are numbered rather than named and then there were detailed designs for many of the groups of houses including plan views, elevations and cross sections.  These are all works of art in themselves drawn with a high level of technical skill.  They are credited to the Office of Works rather than to the individual architects. However, we know that Pitcher started work on the houses facing Well Hall Road; Phillips the details of the first layout and elevations and Bowden and Parker the detailed working drawings for the first contract.  These latter were ready within ten days.

And why no women?  Women were beginning to make inroads into the architectural profession during the late nineteenth century and the first woman member of their professional organisation, the RIBA, was in 1898.  She was Ethel Charles who did have some links with the design of houses for the working class, but was not working in the public sector. The garden city movement did have an appeal to middle class women, but there are many aspects of the wider garden city movement that are missing from the Well Hall estate especially in the provision of communal facilities.

Did this lack of a woman’s perspective make a difference to the housing designs?  Did the women newly arrived on the estate complain about or take delight in the arrangement of the rooms or the style of the kitchens?  Indeed, what did they think of their new homes and their new local area?  Are there any clues out there from individuals who have family stories or other accounts?

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Eda Kathleen’s Diary: Some Neighbours

Original post:

From Eda’s diary (being researched by the Greenwich Women at War "Here Come the Girls" team), we can learn something of her immediate neighbours in Dickson Rd, Cobett Rd and Sandby Green.

Eda noted the death of a neighbour, Louisa Luff, in June 1918.  Louisa was relatively young at 53.  She and her family lived at 16 Sandby Green which is round the corner from the Biddlescombe house in Cobbett Road.  It’s not clear how they came to have a house on the estate.  Her husband had been a druggist assistant in 1911 which seems an unlikely background for Arsenal work; she has no recorded occupation and her youngest son was too young to take on the tenancy.   Louisa Luff had ten children, six of whom were still alive in 1911.  Her son Albert Edward born in 1900 enlisted in April 1918, joining a cyclist battalion in the Essex Regiment.  He survived the war and is recorded as living at the same address in the 1920s just after the death of his father, James.  Louisa Luff was buried at St John the Baptist Church, Eltham.

Another neighbour mentioned by Eda is a woman who sold her mangle to her mother.  Mrs Parry sent the mangle round by a local Carter called Paterson.  Having the mangle must have made the household chore of washing a lot easier.

On 2nd January the Biddlecombe’s neighbour, a Mr Perkins, moved leaving Eda to hope, ‘I do hope someone nice moves in.  I want a friend.’  When the neighbour moved in a week or so later Eda wrote she believed they had a girl her age for which she was glad.  However, there’s no further reference to a young neighbour.  It is interesting to note that there was some population movement here, even before the end of the war and before the need for so many employees at the Arsenal diminished.

Mrs Bright a neighbour from next door at number 4 gave Mary a lot of books and toys and later on Eda’s mother gave Bertha Bright some of their vegetables from their relatives in Devon.  Arthur James and Bertha Bright had five children during their twelve years of marriage They were then living in Enfield where James was a worker at the Government’s small arms factory in 1911.  By 1918 her youngest child was seven and so the items passed to the Biddlecombe’s must have been just right for Eda’s young sister.

Another resident is Mrs Delaney who Eda believes had been ‘turned out’, though by whom and for what reason is not clear but she left someone behind called Jack who might have been a friend of Eda’s brother, Tom.

New neighbours opposite included a man who Eda thought was ‘not very strong in his mind for he was building a rare house at the back today. Ah. I think he is one of our brave soldiers who have been ruined for life all through the ghastly Hans.’  I have not yet been able to work out where this family lived or who the poor soldier was.

Eda certainly showed a keen interest in those around her as well as the events of the war.

Friday, 30 September 2016

A Husband Killed in Action: Walter Edwin Hunt

Original post:

In September 1917 Private Walter Edwin Hunt was killed in action in Belgium a day after his second wedding anniversary.  On his casualty form his wife, Mary Ellen, is recorded as living at 64, Prince Rupert Road.

Walter’s address on attestation in May 1915 was in Balham where he was a butcher living with his father.  He married Mary in Clapham on 1st September that year when he was living in Barracks in Kent.  The address on his casualty form in September 1917 was the Prince Rupert Rd one. So with a husband who was a soldier, she was perhaps a lodger on the estate.  Mary Ellen was thirty-two years old when she married, the daughter of a chemical worker but I haven’t been able to establish conclusively where she was born or whether she and Walter had a child.

In 1924 his widow received a letter from the London Infantry Record Officer:

‘I have to inform you that the Plaque and Scroll in respect of your late gallant husband, No 701285 Pte. Walter Edwin Hunt, 23rd London regiment, are held pending verification of       address’

She was by that time living at 106A Granby Road.

Walter’s name is listed the Menin Gate memorial – he was killed in action on 2nd September and buried at Ypres.  What a terrible tragedy for the young wife.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Progress Estate: The Rents

Original post:

It was clear at the outset that the Council was concerned about the provision of housing for the working classes suggesting that housing let at quarterly rents of £30 per annum (just under £2 10s – £2 50p – per month) was unsuitable for working class occupation.  It seems odd then that the final rents on the estate were in the range 7/- to over 15/- (over £78 per annum at the most expensive):

Class 1 – 14/6 – 16/6 (77p – 82p)
Class 2 – 12/-  – 13/6 (60p – 67p)
Class 3 – 10/-  – 11/6 (50p – 57p)
Class 4 – 7/-  – 7/6 (35p – 37p)

It was estimated that each house would cost £450 to build but once the work went out to tender it was clear that the costs might be at least double this.  Since there was pressure to complete the work quickly it was not possible to make savings and this situation continued throughout the building with the necessity for overtime working, Sunday and night work.  The architects were criticised for their extravagant designs and there was pressure to adapt the scheme which was resisted by them at least partly on the grounds that modifications would add to costs through ‘disorganisation and delay’.  The architects themselves were working long hours  – seven days a week and 12 to 14 hours a day.  One estimate of the final cost per house was £622 but others put it even higher.

In late May 1915 a letter to the Treasury indicated that the houses were ‘a better class’ than those found elsewhere in London and they should therefore have a higher rent.  This would attract a better class of tenant from the Woolwich area leaving provision for others currently unable to find accommodation in Woolwich.  (In fact many of the residents of the new estate did not seem to come 
from Woolwich).

In contrast, in September a member of the Army Council, Mr B.B. Cubbitt wrote to the War Office indicating that he felt the rents were too high and asking to see less highly paid workmen able to rent the properties.  This cut no ice with the War Office who were able to report, based on figures from the London County Council (L.C.C.) who were by then collecting the rent, that there was a high demand for the housing and in fact those with the highest rent were letting most readily.

We do know that at least some of the tenants of the Well Hall Estate classed themselves as labourers. It also seems as if there was some sub-letting, with or without the required permission from the L.C.C. What is still unresolved is whether many of the women on the estate had to work in order to balance the household finances and if so whether many of them were also working at the Arsenal.