The Richmond Experiment

Above, viewed from North Sheen Station: (Municipal Dreams): “The allotments near to Manor Grove, on land purchased from the Crown in the 1890s, were another means of improving working people’s quality of life.

John Boughton writes on his Municipal Dreams blog:

“…The Manor Grove scheme – the ‘Richmond Experiment’ as it was known – took place on six acres of land adjacent to the London and South West Railway and close to the gasworks: a rapidly developing area of working-class housing in the borough. Sixty-two dwellings, completed in 1895, were provided – 22 six-roomed cottages, 28 four-roomed cottages, and six double tenements or cottage flats of two- and three-rooms respectively.

Each dwelling had additionally a scullery and:

separate front and back garden; paved yard, with chopping block; coal store, larder, and WC; a cooking stove in the kitchen; a 75 gallon galvanised iron cistern; a nine-gallon copper in the scullery; a separate supply of water; and gas, where required, on the ‘penny in the slot’ system.

All were fitted with:

window blind rollers; hat and coat rail; wardrobe hooks; cupboards and picture hooks in sitting rooms and bedrooms; dressers, fitted with hooks, in kitchens; towel roller and shelving in scullery; meat hooks in larders; and circular galvanised iron dustbins in yards.

Demand for the new homes exceeded supply and a ballot was held – confined to those either living or working in Richmond (who could afford the rent) – to allocate places. The tenants were stated to be ‘delighted with their houses’.

Such was the scheme’s success that in 1896 the Council agreed to develop the remaining portion of the Manor Grove land. Seventy more houses were built, completed by 1900. In all, 132 homes were provided at a total cost of £37,812.

The residents, meanwhile, paid rents of between 5s 6d (27.5p) for the smallest homes to 7s 9d (39p) for the largest. A Fabian Tract claimed that new six-room cottages built privately in an adjacent development were being let at between 12s 3d and 14s (61-70p) a week. The average wages of Manor Grove’s tenants were around 25s (£1 25p).

(William) Thompson conscientiously provides a list of their occupations. The largest number (28) were general labourers but the next largest category – at 12 – were police officers. Then came ‘carmen and drivers’, railwaymen and gas workers. There were also at least five female heads of household – three described as charwomen and two as widows.

The number of police officers seems disproportionate – and Thompson is at pains to emphasise their prominence reflects only numbers applying through the ballot – but they may be taken as representatives of the ‘respectable’ working class for whom this early municipal housing was intended.

In fact, as required by the Section 63 of the 1890 Act and as featured in the tenancy agreement, anyone receiving ‘any relief under the Acts relating to the relief of the Poor, other than relief granted on account only of accident or temporary illnesses’ was disqualified from tenancy – a very different view of the role of council housing to that of the present.

This was, then, unashamedly artisanal housing though Thompson believed it would benefit the poorest – by freeing up accommodation to which they might move and by providing a standard of decent housing that the private sector might emulate…”

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