|Harold Hill Estate||Havering|
Harold Hill Estate is a large LCC housing estate built from 1947 on, laid out within the Green Belt as an exception to serve the urgent post-war housing needs, and houses some 25,000 people. Its layout was characterised by areas of green space, provision of amenity open space and retention of woodland and existing trees. Once part of the extensive Forest of Waltham, by the end of the C16th 3 sub-manors covered the area: Cockerells, Gooshays and Dagenhams and much of the land was farmed. By the 1770s Dagnams was owned by Richard Neave, whose family continued to acquire land and by 1829 owned all the land on which the Harold Hill Estate now stands. The estate began to be broken up in 1919; by 1947 the land held by Sir Arundell Neave amounted to 558 acres, which he agreed to sell to the LCC for the proposed housing estate.
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Harold Hill Estate is a large LCC estate built in the late 1940s that consists of 7361 houses for some 25,000 people; its layout is characterised by the areas of green space throughout, provision of amenity open space and retention of woodland and existing trees. It was designated as a result of Professor Patrick Abercrombie's 'Greater London Plan' of 1944 and built within the Green Belt as an exception to serve the urgent post-war housing needs but this was later 'profoundly regretted' by Abercrombie. Abercrombie may have selected Dagnam Park as the site for the new estate because of its well-defined boundaries, Noak Hill Road in the north, Brentwood Road in the south, Straight Road in the west and Payne's Brook in the east, giving the estate a distinct identity. Prior to this the land in this area was farmland, woodland and parkland of the medieval Manor of Dagnams; remains of the estate lands survive as Dagnams Park (q.v.) although the majority of the estate had been sold off in 1919. It is possible that here was the site of a Roman town, Durolitum, although it is more commonly located at Gidea Park. At the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086 it was part of the Royal Manor of Havering held by Earl, later King, Harold in the time of King Edward; it was later inherited for the king's use by William the Conqueror. By the end of the C16th 3 sub-manors covered the area later built over for Harold Hill Estate: Cockerells, Gooshays and Dagenhams. By the early 1770s Dagnams had been bought by Richard Neave, whose family held the estate until the C20th, and he instigated a policy of land acquisition that was continued by his descendents; when Gooshays Manor was purchased in 1829, the Neaves owned all the land on which the Harold Hill Estate now stands.
In 1919, after WWI, Sir Thomas Neave, 5th Baronet, sold by auction a large portion of the family estates in Essex, including 1506 acres of Dagenham Park Estate, leaving only Dagnams, its park and Dagnams Park Farm. The farms sold included Maylands, Gooshays, New Hall, Harold Wood, Hilldene (previously called Brick Kiln Farm), Spice Pitts and Hill Farm. When Sir Thomas died in 1940 the house and grounds were billeted; the house was bombed towards the end of the war, fell into disrepair and later demolished. By 1947 the land held by Sir Thomas's heir, Sir Arundell Neave, amounted 558 acres, and he agreed to sell it to the LCC for the proposed housing estate, at which time the title of Lord of the Manor of Dagnams lapsed.
The new estate had been announced in the 'Romford Times' on 19 September 1945 to the consternation of the local people, particularly residents of Noak Hill and surrounding farms, as a far greater influx, some 40,000, perhaps even 50,000 people, was predicted. Following this public announcement the LCC agreed to proceed with the plans and on 9 October got approval for Compulsory Purchase Orders for acquiring 550 acres of the land at Dagnams Park, which included most of the farms sold in 1919: Brick Kiln or Hilldene, Harold Hill, Gooshays, New Hall Farms. Harold Wood Farm, which Romford Borough Council had bought in 1938 and was playing fields, was also purchased by the LCC in 1947. The LCC's final plans were passed in May 1947 following a public enquiry, and the name Harold Hill for the new estate was approved by Romford Council the same year. The first temporary, pre-fabricated dwellings were provided from 1947 and on 25 November 1948, no. 44 Gooshays Drive was the first permanent home to be handed over to LCC tenants Mr and Mrs Rutherford who had moved here from the LCC's Becontree Estate (q.v.).
In the words of the Chair of the LCC (see 'A Survey of Post-War Housing, Work of the London County Council 1945-49'), the estate was planned 'according to the latest town planning ideals and incorporating new methods of development' to cater for 'a mixed social community'. 'The greatest possible use of the physical conditions of the site has been made in planning the estate. It has been possible to preserve a large number of good trees and as many as practicable have been incorporated into the road pattern. The development generally has been related satisfactorily to existing woods and spinneys. The land bordering Payne's Brook, which runs from north to south, has been reserved as an open space and will form a natural parkway through the estate. The existing tree lined avenue leading to Gooshays Farm has been retained as a feature approach to the estate centre.'
The estate was planned as 2 neighbourhood units, each for c.10,000 people with shopping centres, welfare buildings and other social amenities, including eleven schools. The main town centre was in the centre of the urban neighbourhood and the north eastern area was a mixed development with larger houses 'in the vicinity of the green belt zone'. The report goes on to say 'The scheme for open spaces on the estate includes playspaces for small children, so arranged as to avoid the necessity of crossing any major road. Extensive provision has further been made of public park lands connected by the Brookside Reservation mentioned above. In addition to these there are the existing woodlands and the recreation grounds adjoining green belt and the major open space, then the Green Belt itself as laid down in the Greater London Plan and lastly the minor strays and cul-de-sac greens'. The builders who won the tender in 1947 were W & C French of Buckhurst Hill Essex; work on roads and 40 miles of sewers began in August 1947; erection of houses beginning in April 1948 and finally completed by 1958 at an overall costs of c.£14m, excluding the services, schools, parks, playgrounds etc which were provided by Essex County Council. The pre-fabs remained in place for double their life span, not all coming down until 1969, after which LCC built Briar Road Estate on the site. However not all the early ambitions for the estate were fulfilled; amenities including shops were slow in being provided; the tube was not extended to Gallows Corner as hoped; the population estimate was over-ambitious and eventually 28,000-30,000 people were living here. The first permanent parade of shops opened in 1950, Hilldene in 1955; 7 pubs eventually opened, the first in 1955; Harold Hill Library opened in 1959 although 2 libraries had been planned. The 80-acre site allocated for Harold Hill Industrial Estate, which was to provide local employment, took until the end of the 1950s to be established by which time there were 25 factories, including Eastern Electricity Board. Even so it is a good example of a well planned post-war housing estate.
In terms of green space, all around the estate are green frontages even in the most urban areas; the original plans allowed for over 500 acres of Green Belt, Woodland, Recreation Grounds, Public Parks, the Brookside Reservation and allotments. The first play spaces were built in 1960 in Ashbourne Road; St Neot's Adventure Playground was built in 1959 and opened in 1960; its inspirational Playgroup Leader Amy Crockford worked for over 20 years and was rewarded with an MBE. When St Neot's Playground was built over in 1990, despite a campaign to prevent this, a replacement playground was built on an adjacent site and named Amy's Playsite. Central Park (q.v.) was laid out as part of the estate and was very popular. Woodland trees survive from the medieval Forest of Waltham that was largely cleared by the C16th for farming. Areas of remnant woodland in the wider area include Hatters Wood, contiguous with Dagnams Park, which represents the largest area of ancient woodland remaining in the borough; Long Wood and Sage Wood that abut and overlook Central Park; and Duck Wood (q.v.) where coppicing has been re-introduced. In 1967 the first council house on Harold Hill estate was sold to the tenant by the GLC and by 1994 LB Havering Housing Department owned only 50% of the housing on the estate.
Information from Harold Hill 50th Anniversary exhibition, Harold Hill Library, 1998 (research by Simon Donaghue and Don Tait); Brian Lingham 'The History of Harold Hill and Noak Hill', 1969; 'A Survey of Post-War Housing, Work of the London County Council 1945-49' Staples Press, London, 1949