|Brentham Garden Suburb||Ealing|
Brentham Garden Suburb was built from 1901-1915, a pioneering Arts and Crafts-inspired housing estate built on open country, formerly part of Pitshanger Farm estate. It was developed by Ealing Tenants Ltd, founded in 1901 as the first co-operative tenants society to provide improved housing for working people. The first chairman was Henry Vivian MP, whose co-operative building firm, General Builders Ltd. undertook much of the work. The first phase was completed by 1905, the earliest houses named after Vivian. In 1907 a further 30 acres had been purchased and the Ealing Tenants engaged Ray Unwin and Barry Parker, who were responsible for schemes including Hampstead Garden Suburb. The estate's garden aspect was created through low hedges and trees as well as playing fields and recreation grounds, particularly north of the Institute. A major feature was the provision of allotment gardens behind some of the larger groups of houses.
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Brentham Garden Suburb was built on open country that was formerly part of Pitshanger Farm estate (q.v. Walpole Park) and is regarded as the pioneer co-partnership suburb. It was developed by Ealing Tenants Ltd, which was founded 1901 as the first co-operative tenants society with the aim being to provide improved housing for working people. The philosophy of collective ownership and co-partnership housing had been developed by Ebenezer Howard as part of his concept of the Garden City, but its precursors are found in the model communities set up by philanthropists such as Robert Owen's New Lanark Mills near Glasgow and later George Cadbury's model village at Bourneville.
One of the founders and first chairman of Ealing Tenants was Henry Vivian, Liberal MP, carpenter and trade unionist, whose co-operative building firm, General Builders Ltd. undertook much of the construction work. In February 1901 Vivian was invited by a group of men in Ealing to meet and advise them on establishing a co-partnership housing scheme. Later referred to as the ‘pioneers’, many of them were in building trades and working for General Builders. Three months later Ealing Tenants Ltd was set up with Vivian as Chair and had purchased building plots on Lower Wood Field and an adjacent field in the north of the borough owned by the Mallard family of Pitzhanger Farm estate. The Mallards had already begun to lay out Woodfield Road, Avenue and Crescent here and two houses had been built by 1900, surrounded by farmland. Ealing Tenants’ first nine houses, built for themselves, were named Vivian Terrace after Henry Vivian, later becoming Nos. 71-87 Woodfield Road. Most other roads on the completed garden suburb were named after pioneers of co-partnership and other like-minded thinkers and social reformers. By 1905 50 houses had been completed but in a relatively piecemeal fashion; in the early years the Tenants experienced financial and other problems but by 1903 were on a more secure footing.
It was the next phase of building from 1906/7 that determined the place of Brentham as a garden suburb of considerable note. The decision had been taken to expand the estate, and to promote it as a model co-partnership housing scheme, particularly aimed to attract skilled artisans like themselves. In 1906 and 1907 a further 31 acres of land were purchased freehold, thus giving the Tenants control over its layout, and they engaged Ray Unwin and Barry Parker to plan the overall layout of the enlarged estate. The name ‘Brentham’ first appeared in minutes of January 1907, and by 1910 ‘Brentham Garden Suburb’ was commonly used. Particularly under the guidance of Vivian, the Tenants were keen to adopt the ‘garden city’ principles that were quickly gaining currency among progressive town planners. Unwin and Parker’s clear vision was already recognised, which they had put into practice at New Earswick near York, Letchworth Garden City and Hampstead Garden Suburb (q.v.). Their design ethos sought to provide variety in street and roof lines, long and short vistas, hedge-lined streets, treatment of corners that avoided bland end-of-terrace walls, retention of trees and respect for existing landscape features, provision of open spaces for recreation, and large gardens, achieved through limiting the number of houses per acre. Henry Vivian’s writing frequently echoed these principles: ‘Gardens are regarded as essential to the happy life of the Co-partnership tenants’. This was achieved at Brentham through use of low hedges and street trees as well as the provision of playing fields and recreation grounds, particularly north of the Brentham Institute, intended for the enjoyment of the tenants. A major feature was the provision of allotment gardens behind some of the larger groups of houses, connected to the street by a network of footpaths lined by hawthorn hedges.
Unwin and Parker’s first plan for Brentham Garden Suburb demonstrated these principles and from that time the importance of Ealing Tenants Ltd and its new co-partnership housing scheme were being recognised. Vivian was already involved in Hampstead Garden Suburb and links between Brentham and Hampstead were soon established. Among the streets laid out between 1907-11 were Winscombe Crescent, with Unwin and Parker themselves designing Nos. 1-7 as well as Widecombe in Brentham Way. The remainder were largely designed by Frederic Cavendish Pearson (1882-1963) who was appointed estate architect by the Tenants in 1907. His houses are characterised by their profusion of Arts and Crafts detailing.
In 1909 the final piece of land for the suburb was purchased to the west, again from the Mallards, and here Holyoake Walk, Denison Road and North View were later built to Pearson’s layout. He was succeeded in 1910 by George Lister Sutcliffe (1864-1915) who, like Pearson, followed Unwin’s plan in principle. Sutcliffe’s houses for Brentham are those of 1911-15, more restrained in style than Pearson’s. He designed the social centre, Brentham Institute, which was built in Meadvale Road in 1910-11 and represented an important development in Brentham’s social, educational and recreational provision. He also designed Holyoake House, 24 flats for single and elderly people, set around a communal garden. Although Unwin and Parker had included amenities such as shops in their plan for Brentham, these were not realised; in any event there was already a branch of Ealing Co-operative Stores on Pitshanger Lane by 1902. A church was provided to serve the suburb when St Barnabas Church was consecrated in 1916, replacing a temporary church. There were some additions to the suburb after Sutcliffe’s death in 1915 although there was a lull in building as a result of World War I until 1923/4 and later phases of building post 1915 up to World War II were more modern.
The first three allotments had been provided in early 1909 as temporary sites, later built over by 2-12 Winscombe Crescent, but by the end of 1909 nine more were provided between Ludlow and Neville Roads, and in 1910 there were a further 20 between Ludlow and Denison Roads, and Brunner Road and Brentham Way. Ludlow Denison Green had actually been designated as open space on Unwin and Parker’s plan and now, after providing allotments for many years, has been returned to open space for the shared use of houses that back onto it. It contains a large oak that was an old field tree once reputedly the focus of Druidic ceremonies. Within the estate are other trees that predated the garden suburb, including a line of trees in the back gardens of Woodfield Avenue that once divided the two original fields leased for building to the Tenants. As early as 1902 trees had been supplied for front gardens, with trees for back gardens also provided in 1903, probably fruit trees such as apples, some of which survive today. Garden competitions among the tenants were held from 1903 and a Horticultural Society was set up in 1904. There was later a Brentham School of Gardening and Brentham’s roses and its Rose Shows became famous locally.
Sporting activities were an early feature of life in the suburb; by 1904 cricket and tennis clubs were established and there were tennis courts and a bowling green. Land for the recreation ground adjacent to the River Brent was identified in 1907, and it was laid out and opened in 1908, and later expanded in 1909 when more land was purchased. From 1908 it was used for a variety of social and sporting activities. By 1913 there were 12 tennis courts, flourishing tennis and cricket clubs, a popular bowling green, golf and croquet. Among those enjoying the facilities were people who went on to greater fame, notably tennis champion Fred Perry (1909-95) whose family lived at Brentham and who played here as a boy. The strong communal spirit among the residents of Brentham was established very early on, with well-organised social and educational events. Plans for a permanent institute date from 1905 and initially No. 33 Woodfield Crescent was built with this in mind. Numerous classes were organised from 1909 and events included lectures, debates and concerts. Brentham Institute was opened in May 1911 by the Duke of Connaught and his wife and was from the first designed to provide educational as well as social activities, something of great importance among proponents of co-partnership.
Brentham’s May Day celebrations, one of only two in London of such long standing, have taken place almost without a break since 1919, although dancing around the maypole took place in June 1906 to celebrate the suburb’s 5th anniversary, and on other occasions such as 1908 and 1911 when the recreation ground and Brentham Institute, respectively, were opened.
By the time Henry Vivian died in 1930, the co-partnership housing movement was declining as other schemes gained ground, including profit-sharing and municipal housing schemes. At Brentham the co-partnership ideal had been superseded by the new strategy of Ealing Tenants Ltd, now part of Co-Partnership Tenants, to construct houses for sale to private purchasers, often larger and more expensive properties such as those on Brentham Way. Another departure was that resident tenants were now able to buy their houses. In 1936 Brentham Garden Suburb was sold to Liverpool Trust Ltd and the remaining tenanted houses were purchased in 1940 by Bradford Property Trust. In 1947 Brentham Club and Institute was purchased by its members.
Despite the departure from its co-partnership origins, Brentham Garden Suburb today presents a coherent identity and the suburb maintains its garden aspect. The houses are largely hedge-fronted, the network of snickets lead to tucked-away allotments and green spaces, and the streets remain lined with trees - although nearly 70 were lost in the gales of October 1987 they were replanted through sponsorship by the residents themselves. After it gained Conservation Area status, residents formed the Brentham Society in 1970 to promote and preserve it, with Brentham Heritage Society, its charitable offshoot, established in 1999; the two are now merged. On 22 September 2001, Brentham Green was renamed Vivian Green and Henry’s daughter Barbara Norrice unveiled a plaque inscribed with the words: "Not 'this house is mine' but 'this estate is ours'".
Meg Game, John Archer, Mathew Frith, 'Nature Conservation in Ealing', Ecology Handbook 16 (London Ecology Unit), 1991, p7; Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 3: North West' (Penguin, 1999 ed), p178; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Margaret Tims, 'Ealing Tenants Ltd. Pioneers of Co-partnership', Ealing Local History Society, 1966; LB Ealing Conservation Area Appraisal (April 1999); Sally Williams, ''Some Appendages to the City': A look at three of London's less well known Garden Suburbs', The London Gardener, vol.14, 2008-09.