Monday, 2 February 2015

Some Significant Dates in the History of The Progress Estate

Keith Billinghurst highlights some events in the Estate’s history

The Bexleyheath railway line opened on 1st May. It ran from Dartford to Blackheath where it interconnected with the North Ken to London line. Well Hall station (replaced in 1985 by the current Eltham station) was one of its six intermediate stations.

The Tram service started between Woolwich and Eltham via Well Hall Road. The fare was 1d each way.

Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August. By November, Woolwich was running out of houses due to the expansion of employment at the Royal Arsenal, the numbers of army recruits quartered in the town and the removal of families from married quarters.

The Royal Arsenal expanded its workforce to 22,631 by January. This was more than double the 10,866 it had employed in August, 1914. Woolwich Borough Council were reluctant to build additional houses themselve

s, for fear they would be bound to maintain them after the war was over when the numbers employed at The Royal Arsenal were expected to fall back to peacetime levels. They brought the problem to the attention of Will Crooks, the Town’s Member of Parliament, in December, 1914. The Housing Act, 1914, had been passed on 10th August as a wartime measure. It permitted the Local Government Board to acquire land and build homes ‘for the convenience of persons belonging to the working classes’ for so long as the war endured.  Crooks’ intervention
persuaded the Board to build the Estate (then known as the Well Hall Estate and referred to in government accounts as the Woolwich Housing Scheme). The site was chosen for three reasons:

1. The land upon which the authorities wished to build the Estate was the nearest potentially available land to The Royal Arsenal of adequate acreage. They had experience of dealing with the landowner since Well Hall Road had been widened and straightened to build the 1910 tram service.
2. The tram service itself would convey workers to and from The Royal Arsenal.
3. The existence of the railway station at Well Hall meant it was logistically possible to deliver to the site the vast quantity of building materials that would be required in a short space of time.  

On 19th January, Frank Baines, Chief Architect at HM Ministry of Works, sent plans for the Estate ‘as a matter of extreme urgency’ to the London County Council’s Superintending Architect.  Construction work began on 8th February.

On 22nd, May, Mr & Mrs Sidney Aylward, moved into 238 (now 318) Well Hall Road, thus becoming the first people to live on the Estate.  Estate bricklayer Harry Crook died on 1st July as a result of injuries sustained when he fell from scaffolding.

All homes were completed before the year–end. At 31st December, only 50 were without tenants.

On 24th March, Queen Mary arrived unannounced at 2 Broughton Road (now 496 Rochester Way) en route from Buckingham Palace to The Royal Arsenal where she was to visit the ladies working in the munitions factory.  

During the early hours of 25th August, bombs dropped from Zeppelin L321 demolished a house in Well Hall Road, killing the three residents outright.

His Majesty’s Ministry of Works sold the Estate on 8th June to the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society for £375,000 and it was re-named The Progress Estate. In December, the Society sold about 470 vacant houses for between £500 and 700 each on 99-year leases running from Christmas Day.

The redundant Royal Dockyard Chapel was moved from Woolwich to Rochester Way. It was consecrated as St Barnabus Church by the bishop of Southwark, Dr. Parsons, on 7th October.

The Progress Hall was opened by Mr J. Shepard of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society General Committee on 4th November.

The Odeon cinema (subsequently renamed the Coronet) opened on 20th April, admission price 2d.

High explosive bombs fell in Well Hall Road on 15th September, destroying tram tracks and overhead wires.

Two fatal casualties occurred in Lovelace Green during a high-explosive bomb raid on the night of 19th April.

Three people were killed when an incendiary bomb fell in Whinyates Road on 17th January.

St Barnabus Church was gutted by incendiary bombs during an airraid on 2nd March.

St Barnabus Church was rededicated on 22nd June after postwar rebuilding and repairs had been completed.

The Estate was designated a Conservation Area by Greenwich Council’s Planning and Development Committee.

The Inquiry into the Matters Arising from the Death of Stephen Lawrence was published on 19th February.  Requested by Jack Straw, Home Secretary, it made 70 recommendations.

Greenwich Council adopted the Progress Estate Conservation Area Character Appraisal. As a result, home-owners need permission before making any alteration to the external appearance of their properties or removing trees, in order to maintain the visual integrity of the Estate.

Two men were found guilty of the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence in Well Hall Road, Eltham.

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