Swansea's Garden Suburb

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Working Class, Garden Suburbs

One important result of the Cottage Exhibition is that it brings Unwin into the local area; who immediately emphasises the importance of layout in addition to house design. Wherever Unwin went he preached the practice of introducing closes and culs-de-sac ‘to break the thrall of dreary terracing’ (25). The street developments were essentially cancelled and the resources and interest of the Housing Committee were switched to examining this new way of building. The layout plans submitted to the Cottage Exhibition were doubtless closely examined by the Committee. Shortly after the exhibition closed, Unwin was approached to design a layout encompassing all of the corporate estate from Townhill (including land recently bought from the Duke of Beaufort). (26)

By the end of 1912 Unwin had, with the help of the Borough Surveyor, George Bell, completed a large plan using all the principles tested at Letchworth and New Earswick. (27) The creation of the Office of Borough Architect earlier in 1911 ensured that, as one writer has remarked, Swansea was in the vanguard in planning and design. (28) It was to be many years before the plan was to be fully utilised but at least Swansea had a framework of the highest pedigree within which to work. It was probably the preoccupation with designing the layout of the estate that prevented the 100 Garden City houses being built. The delay was fortuitous as it prevented the corporation making a large commitment before the advances in design and the influences of Parker and Unwin had been fully understood.

Armed with this new layout and a new philosophy on working class housing, the Housing Committee become more ambitious. In November 1912 a revised scheme for 300 houses was proposed. (29) The local architect H. G. Portsmouth, was approached and it is significant that the requirements of the LGB were to be closely adhered to (the Committee being mindful of the disappointment over the exhibition cottages). In March 1913 Portsmouth presented drawings for 3 classes of cottage. (30) The Class C cottage was abandoned after discussion. Houses with less than 3 bedrooms were not encouraged by the LGB as they were considered unsuitable for prospective tenants with families. The notion of having semi-detached houses was also abandoned after discussion, cost being the consideration. The architect suggested that blocks of 10 could be used to cut costs, however, this was considered too reminiscent of a terrace to be agreed upon (31) It is likely that blocks of 6 were chosen as a compromise between Garden City principles and economy. Within a month of deliberating over block sizes, the Committee increased the size of the scheme to 500 houses. (32)

The increase in numbers probably complicated matters somewhat as the site is rather hilly and blocks of various sizes would have been needed to fit into the local topography. The Summer of 1913 sees the first involvement of the recently appointed Borough Architect, Ernest Morgan. In October 1913, Morgan presents the Committee with a revised scheme of 500 cottages (33) ‘closely adhering to the design of Mr Unwin’. The Committee resolves to build 6 sample cottages by Direct Administration as soon as possible. The ‘Mayhill sample cottages’ still exist and are quite distinctive. They bear a significant similarity to cottages at Letchworth and the influence of Unwin is clearly discernible. These houses are unique for the many that followed were based on different design principles which will be discussed in a later chapter. The houses were completed in July 1914 and were considered a success. Within a week, the Committee applied to the LOB for a loan sanction for 101,990 to build 500 cottages. (34) However, the international events of July 1914 were to have a dramatic impact on the Housing Committee’s plans.

NOTES (List of Abbreviations, List of Sources)

25. Darley, op.cit., p.116.

26. WGAS, TC4/Housing/1, p.196, 19 December 1910.

27. WGAS, TC4/Housing/1, p.31, 13 December 1912.

28. Graham Humphrys, op.cit., p.326.

29. WGAS, TC4/Housing/2, p.29, 26 November 1912.

30.  Ibid., p.37,7 March 1913.

31. There is an obscure reference to the Falmouth Housing Scheme in TC4/Housing/3, for 9 July 1913. It is possible that some councillors had visited that scheme, which was similar to the Swansea scheme. The impact of blocks of various sizes from four to ten may have been examined at Falmouth.

32. WGAS, TC4/Housing/3, 9 July 1913.

33. Ibid., 31 October 1913.

34. Ibid., p.85, II July 1914.

35. WGAS, EA50/9, Borough Estate Agent’s Letter Book, 6 August 1909.

36.Ibid., EA5O/12, 29 June 1910.

37.Ibid., EA50/16, 17 October 1912.

38.Ibid., EA50/16, 17 October 1912

39.There is one reference to Pepler and Allen by Prys Morgan in Swansea: An Illustrated History, pp.209-10.

 

 

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