Planning Milton Gardens

This small section will be of interest to older pupils and architectural students, but with help, older Primary School pupils are perfectly capable of understanding it. The problem will be to convey the immense difference between the modern housing scene and the devastation after the Second World War. The key book here is the children's novel, 'The Otterbury Incident', by C, Day Lewis. It gives the atmosphere of the times as no other adventure book does. Two gangs of children have battles on a large bombsite. Then they sign a truce and combine to defeat a real gang of 'spivs' and coiners, who are eventually defeated in the most humiliating manner. This is not Town Planning but is the atmosphere in which the planning had to be done.


Imagine the first planning meeting about redeveloping the Milton Road/Shakespeare Road site. The planners and architects must have met one day with nothing but the Bomb Damage map sheet and pads of blank paper. They may have asked some junior architect in the team to produce copies of the bombing map, with the worst damage marked in. He could not have made colour copies in those days but he might have produced dye line copies in dark blue on white, something like the one below. Almost every very building in the Poets Road area had suffered at least Blast damage (Yellow). The worst damage (Black, Purple, Dark Red) have been shaded in. The others were repairable. Whether they would be repaired or not, would depend on the overall plan for the area.

The possible Milton Gardens First Planning Document

They had to rebuild a huge area but there were some things they could not do. Let us list them.

  1. Every house that was repairable had been patched up and was full of people. Single houses had been divided into rooms and flats, sometimes compulsorily. The housing officers had powers to force people to accept strangers into their houses. None of these existing houses could be demolished until alternative accommodation was available for all the occupants.
  2. The path from Town Hall Approach to Cowper Road was an old Right of Way and could not be removed. It could be turned into a road, which would be another right of way, or left as it was. It could not be extinguished.
  3. The Bomb sites were large, but there would be no room for little houses or big gardens. Thousands of 'housing units' were required, so it had to be flats with very small or no gardens.
  4. The flats would be heated with coal. Therefore their height was limited to four or five storeys, the height to which people could be expected to carry coal.
  5. There could be a few tower blocks to be heated by gas or perhaps electricity. The number of towers would be limited at first because of the expense of installing lifts and because tower blocks are always more expensive to build per unit, compared with lower bocks.

The Decisions

  1. There was a line of heavy damage along the old Right of Way from Milton Grove to Spenser Road (Purple and Dark Red) and the houses beyond, in Spencer Road and Cowper Road, had suffered blast damage (Yellow). Someone had the brilliant idea of making the Public Right of Way into the northern border of the new estate. People would then be able to walk the whole length without intruding into the estate. Secondly, instead of rebuilding the bombed houses to the north of the path, they would be demolished and the site would become a long, linear park (Butterfield Green). This open space would be accessible to all the people in the estate and the surrounding roads, and yet be separated from the estate by the Right of Way. One can imagine the enthusiasm that would have greeted that imaginative suggestion.
  2. There were habitable houses in Milton Road north of Town Hall Approach and in Shakespeare Walk. Therefore the place to start was on the bomb sites on either side of Milton Road.
  3. It was decided to have one tower (Chaucer House) and the rest would be two to four- storey blocks of flats or houses. The detailed designs of most of these would be left to later. Today, the changes in style across the estate reveal the dates when the different blocks were built, but this is a more subtle matter. It could not have been in anyone's mind at the first planning meeting.
  4. The northern border was to be the Right of Way for pedestrians. Cut another one from Milton Grove through to Cowper Road at the southern end of the worst damage. This would allow tenants to reach their flats. It could have been a road, but it would have become a rat run for motor traffic. The planners wanted this to be cut to the minimum.
  5. There could be three rows of flats: on the east side of Milton Grove, the west side of Shakespeare Walk, and a third one on the gardens in between. Delivery vans and private cars would have to reach them, but passing traffic was to be kept out. Therefore there would be one, gated entrance in Shakespeare Walk and a second one for emergencies at the other end. It would not be possible to drive into the centre courtyard without the inconvenience first opening a gate and then you could not go anywhere.
  6. They would have planned the one Tower Block (Chaucer House) at the southern end of Shakespeare Walk and Spencer Grove. Tower Blocks were new to Britain and many architects were anxious to try their hands. There must have been a queue for that job.

The Final Block Plan of the New Estate

Having decided all that, the meeting would have been declared Closed, and everyone could get on with detailed planning. In the end this first sketch became this Milton Gardens Estate Plan.

Milton Gardens Estate Plan



And Seventy Years later

Grasmere Walk 4 will describe the building of Milton Gardens Estate in detail but, in the meantime, this is a picture of Butterfield Green, a new lung for the neighbourhood, which could so easily have become even more flats.

Part of Butterfield Green showing the eastern end of Cowper Road in 2007


Main Menu

Revised: May 29, 2010 11:39 AM