Manor Grove, North Sheen

(Coming Home blog)”…(clustered doors). The four doorways are given equal and distinct identity. This device is often seen in Holland but is rare in Britain…there were four gates with individual paths leading to each door. This has now been condensed into paired paths leading to a pair of doors…the garden elevation has a set of paired set of stairs leading to the upper units.”

John Boughton writes on his Municipal Dreams blog:

“…look again – at a street of modest Victorian terraced housing: Manor Grove in North Sheen. This was the first council housing in London. It was built through the efforts of Richmond’s very own ‘People’s Champion’, William Thompson.

…back then Richmond was in Surrey…

to Royal Mail, it still is:

…and it had been created a municipal borough only in 1890. That, it turned out, was an auspicious year: a young Liberal schoolmaster, William Thompson, was elected to the local council and, nationally, the Housing of the Working Classes Act was passed which allowed local councils not only to clear areas of slum housing but to build new, municipal, housing where necessary.

Then, as now, Richmond was a relatively affluent area but it too had areas of poverty and slum housing. Existing housing supply was, in Thompson’s words, ‘insufficient in quantity and inferior in quality’ – the former led to the latter and resulted in ‘exorbitant rents…overcrowding…and the occupation of dirty hovels and unhealthy slums’.

There were early attempts to tackle the problem of the slums through the improvement and closure orders allowed under the 1890 Act. But these, at best, might lead to increased rents for paltry repairs and, at worst, to the displacement – without adequate alternative accommodation – of existing tenants. Such enforcement was often resisted by working-class tenants as a result.

It was resisted, more powerfully, by landlords – often represented on local councils. Thirteen members of Richmond Borough Council received notices of one sort or another relating to property they owned. One councillor, objecting to the reappointment of a particularly conscientious Inspector of Nuisances, complained that he was ‘lamentably wanting in tact and discretion’.

Such conservative interests – joined by close social and business ties – dominated in Richmond in the 1890s and it was against them that Thompson brought his radical Liberal agenda in the 1890s…

Thompson’s local following among working people secured his election against the vested interests.

That Thompson succeeded in getting Council approval in 1892 for a significant scheme of municipal housing is huge testimony to his campaigning and expertise. It reflects too the pragmatic case he was careful to build – ‘that the carrying out of the scheme will not cost the ratepayer a single penny…that there is an estimated clear margin of profit of from £13 to £25 for every year’. And it reminds us also that the better-off had an interest in a more contented workforce – though that seems to have been forgotten more recently…”

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