Friday, 28 June 2013

Living in a piece of history, the Estate in the spring of 1964

by Andrew Simpson

The Progress Estate in Well Hall was almost fifty years old when we moved there in the March of 1964 and it has remained one of the places I have the fondest memories for.
Lovelace Green, Today

It was built in 1915 by the Government as homes for the workers at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich and was originally called the Well Hall Estate before changing its name after it had been bought by the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society. 

And the history of its development and construction is pretty impressive. In little over five months from the decision to build 1,200 houses “to the highest town planning standards” the first 400 were ready and by the December the remaining 600 were completed.

Well Hall Road circa 1915, © Greenwich Heritage Centre
The London County Council had had arranged temporary classrooms for 680 children from the new estate which were in place before the December date. 

In all 5,000 men had worked on the site and at one point completions were at the rate of one house every two hours.*

Inside the houses were provided with “a big range for cooking with a mantelpiece and a closed or open fire with a boiler behind. A kettle was boiled for washing up and there was a black copper in the corner for washday.”**

Fifty years on our house on Well Hall Road had lost all of those features but something of what it had once been was clear from the layout.

Ross Way, circa 1950s
On the ground floor were three rooms. The front room gave off onto a small kitchen while on the other side of the stairs was a larger room which ran from the small hall back to the garden. 

Upstairs there were three bedrooms and a small bathroom.

Now Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England described the estate as “the first and most spectacular of the Garden suburbs built by the government to house munitions workers” ...” a tour de force of picturesque design.”

Ross Way, today
Nor is this claim an exaggeration.  It compares very well with our own Chorltonville built just five years earlier and is on a much grander scale. 

True it lacked the facilities of the ville and the houses were much smaller but then the Progress was built during the war and in a great hurry. 

I also suspect that it represented a real step up the housing ladder for many of its inhabitants.

And in its way that is exactly how I felt about 294 Well Hall Road.

It was smaller than the tall terraced house we had lived in on Lausanne Road in Peckham and lacked both the period features and long garden of our old home.

But the compensations far outweighed these drawbacks.  Here was a place which was open light and full of green.  Behind Well Hall Road the estate wandered off in different directions throwing up differently designed properties and dominating the sky line were the woods with Woolwich and the river beyond.

And there was always the counter attraction of the Pleasuance with its Tudor Barn, moat and ancient walls along with the High Street and the Palace.
Well Hall Road circa 1915, © Greenwich Heritage Centre

Never underestimate the many attractions that our new home offered and if for the next two years after we moved I still had to attend the old school in New Cross, the contrast of areas only made Well Hall and Eltham all that better.

All of which is bordering on romantic nostalgia and so instead I shall reflect on the place the estate has in history. 

It was part of that Garden city movement which aimed to plan urban areas as self-contained communities surrounded by "greenbelts", and containing proportionate areas of residences, industry and agriculture.

Franklin Passage, today
Purists will no doubt point out that it fell short of Ebenezer Howard’s plan in a number of ways but it did have the green belt and in time came to have all the facilities and is still pretty much a very pleasant place to live.

Pictures; of Well Hall Road circa 1915  courtesy of Greenwich Heritage Centre, and the estate today from Progress Estate Conservation Area, Character Appraisal Greenwich Council, 

*Progress Estate Conservation Area, Character Appraisal Greenwich Council,

** John Kennet,

Andrew has recently published a book about Chorlton Cum Hardy (his hometown) - details available here

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