Building the Becontree Estate

If you have read the introductory article to our Building Becontree project, you will know we have been using architectural and building plans to look at the layout of the estate and the type of housing built. Here is a look at how the estate came to be.

As mentioned previously, the 1919 Addison Act allowed for 3000 cottages to be built at Becontree. This was cut back in 1921 by the incoming government, however the Ministry of Health allowed the London County Council to build a further 1000 houses. The first tenants moved in on Chittys Lane towards the end of 1921, as soon as their houses were ready. The 1923 Act gave provisions for 2000 more houses, followed by the 1924 Housing (Financial Provisions) Act. This was an important act. A subsidy of £9 per house per year was to be provided for 40 years (as well as local government contributions), with assurance that certain provisions were met. This included ensuring each house were to have a fixed bath, and that the density should not exceed 12 to the acre. This was to allow an appropriate amount of daylight into each living space. The Becontree Estate was officially completed in 1935, but a further 800 houses were built in 1937. The LCC built a further 600 houses after 1945 (the Heath Park extension), and later Dagenham Borough Council built 4000 houses, mostly for the children of London County Council estate tenants. There were also 4000 private houses projected to be built for the middle classes.

The Becontree Estate was designed by the Department of the London County Council Chief Architect, George Topham Forest. The idea was to create a township complete in itself, with schools, transport, shops and parks. It was to consist of cottage estates designed for the factory working man, whose family could experience the fresh air under semi-rural conditions while the husband worked, even including a garden to occupy their time outside. This was reflective of the Garden City movement – an attempt to improve the quality of urban life.

The estate was designed to incorporate existing country lanes, relying on wide roads running throughout. However, the estate was also designed to have many cul-de-sacs, often referred to as ‘banjos’, and curved or circular roads. This was to create some variety, whilst also allowing for traffic to slow once off the main roads. This design is obvious if you were to look at an aerial view of the Becontree Estate. The cul-de-sacs were also to create for a more intimate, closer community, in comparison to the busy main roads and traffic flow separating houses on opposite sides. Those living on the estate were aware of this difference, often speaking positively of this shared space.

A London County Council plan of the Barking No. 14 Section showing fences, footpaths & pavings etc. Plan includes Goresbrook Road, Stamford Road, Langley Crescent, Arden Crescent, Woodward Road, and Sheppey Road. Also includes reference for fencing, reference for types, and reference for pavings.opens IMAGE file
A London County Council plan of the Barking No. 14 Section showing fences, footpaths & pavings, 1931.

As mentioned, there were 91 different house types on the Becontree Estate. It was mostly minor variations between the houses, which would often go unnoticed by the ordinary eye. The most common house type was S3 – 3 upstairs bedrooms, a living room, kitchenette, bathroom, larder and coal store. Having a separate bathroom and kitchen was standard in all the houses on the estate, however more expensive plans were offered for those wanting greater separation of functions, such as a front parlour. Most houses were 2 storied, with a few 3 storied. There was a minimum of 70ft between opposing houses to promote sunlight penetration, beneficial for good health. Around a quarter of the houses were also built with a shared porch, acting as a shelter to the two adjacent front doors, with a shared step. This often-forced neighbours into a closer relationship, much more so than the use of banjos. If the neighbours got on well then this would lead to even greater friendship, however there was also the risk of conflict over issues such as cleaning if not!

 

Copy of a photograph of Valence Avenue, Dagenham at the junction with Green Lane, showing Becontree Estate Railway line down the centre and level crossing gates, c.1920-1929opens IMAGE file
Valence Avenue, at the junction with Green Lane, showing the railway line and level crossing gates, c.1920-1929.
Photographic negative showing Cherry Gardens, viewed from south-east corner of cul-de-sac, 1955.opens IMAGE file
Cherry Gardens, viewed from south-east corner of cul-de-sac, showing the shared porches, 1955.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The London County Council experimented with various material types, including brick, concrete, and timber, purely due to the fear that the supply of bricks may run out! In 1925, Colonel Levita (chairman of the Housing Committee), Mr Humphries (chief engineer), and Mr Topham Forest (chief architect) visited Norway and Sweden to investigate timber houses built there. A year later, more than 20 timber houses were imported and built on the Becontree Estate, arousing interest within the architectural and building quarters. Now, harking back to a major event in 1666, you might be thinking timber houses may not have been the wisest of choices. For this reason, the London County Council took many precautions dictated by insurance considerations. These precautions included building timber houses in pairs, with brick or concrete houses surrounding them either side, as well as fitting all houses with a fire hose long enough to reach each room. The hose was even kept in a sealed glass fronted cupboard in the kitchen, in which one would need to break the glass to remove it – a measure to ensure it was not used for everyday unauthorised purposes such as watering the gardens. The insurance policy ended up costing over double the insurance for brick houses, making one wonder whether using timber was worth the additional precautionary costs. However, there was some praise in its use – the ability to provide a bright and colourful appearance, thought to be a welcome relief to the thousands of similar brick houses already being erected. Similarly, Portland Cement was also proposed as it could be obtained in various shades or brown, buff, red, and white, again providing a difference to purely using red brick.

 

Photographic negative of timber housing in Wood Lane, Dagenham, showing 251 Wood Lane, looking north along green, 1977opens IMAGE file
Timber housing in Wood Lane, looking along north green, 1977.
A London County Council Detail House Drainage plan in the Barking No. 14 Section showing Rothwell Road and Rothwell Gardens, including house types.opens IMAGE file
An LCC Detail House Drainage plan in the Barking No. 14 Section showing Rothwell Road and Rothwell Gardens, including house types S1, S3, S4, S14.

What are your thoughts on the Becontree Housing Estate? Have you experienced a sense of community, living either in the cul-de-sacs or on a main road? Have you spotted any difference between house types, or those built with different materials?

4 thoughts on “Building the Becontree Estate

  1. Very interesting. I have lived in Dagenham all my life so I am always pleased to read these articles.

  2. I have many memories of Dagenham. I was born in valence circus in 1931, and we moved to Meadow Road to bigger house that had a wonderful long garden at about 1934.
    Many of the houses in Meadow road and Meadow walk at that time were unoccupied and my father had a pick which one wanted. Sheep grazed on Parsloes Park, and my mother often took me for walks over the park to see them.
    Parts of Dagenham were still under developed especially in the areas of The Fiddlers , Heathpark hadn’t yet been built, nor had the developments east and south of old Dagenham church. Us kids loved to go fishing in the waste ground a bit further along Manor Road. Manor Road was still very much underdeveloped. Dagenham had sameness about it that no mater what street or road you were in, you felt comfortable and at home.
    In the centre of Parsloes Park, stood a group of Elm trees, another group were lined along Meadow Walk, also another group were lined along the path leading to the wonderful swing park. Alas all of these Elm trees fell to Dutch Elm disease.
    1939 and England and Dagenham found itself at war and our playground of Parsloes park were needed to grow potatoes and corn, and my memories of those halcyon days, gave way to danger and evacuation.

  3. This is fascinating. My Dad’s family moved to one of the timber houses in Rockwell Road in 1929, I had no idea about the fire hoses in the kitchens. My Mum’s family lived in a banjo in Robinson Road, where we lived later, and both the houses I grew up in had the double porches. In Oxlow Lane we had double doors that opened up between the living room and front room to make it one big through room when needed. Would love to know more about the different types of houses.

  4. I moved to Porters Ave in 1974 from Manor Park ….i still live in Dagenham ….i loved growing up here playing in Parsloes Park over on the advenure playground and paddling in the little pool and Mayesbrook Park which had a sunken garden and a big lilly pad pond …..I even remember going to woolworths in Greenlanes and buying my 1st record (which i still have today) ….i also remember the front gardens of the house’s were all well maintaind and also the greens were keeped nice by the council … its just a shame that the place i grew up in has now gone downhill ….but it will always be home to me no matter what

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