Wedmore Estate, Islington

An Example of Municipal Housing in Islington from 1904

Part 2

Wedmore Estate in the 1930s

Slum Clearance

Arcticle on "The Slum Clearance Movement in the Nineteen Thirties".

The Council had been clearing slums from the turn of the century, but the problem was still acute. On 23 July 1929 the London County Council approved in principle a further programme of Slum Clearance and the immediate problem was to acquire building sites. Shortly before the summer holidays a number of sites in Hackney, Hampstead and Islington had been brought to the notice of the Council. These sites were mainly occupied by houses with large gardens, in districts of good residential character. Somewhat similar sites had been developed by the Council under the 1925 Act. However the council would have been unlikely to approve the use for rehousing purposes of any of these sites except for one small site in Wedmore St, Islington. Suitable sites were easier to find in South London, but they were so rare in North London that the only solution appeared to be to provide rehousing on the outskirts of London, as near as possible to the L.C.C. boundary. Small sites in good positions near transport facilities, would be suitable. Both the erection of estates on inner London sites with large gardens and building outside the London boundary, were later carried out but do not concern us here. We are concerned with Wedmore Street.

On 1st August,1930, the Valuer was instructed to report on a three-quarter acre site next door to the earlier estate, for rehousing purposes. The work was urgent, so to save time, architect and valuer were thrown into the fray together. The Architect was to prepare and submit preliminary drawings of new dwellings to be built on the site and the Valuer was to report on the estimated financial results.

The Wedmore Street site immediately adjoined Wessex Buildings, which had been erected in 1904. The three-quarter acre site comprised 16 old houses and a small factory. The estimated cost of the site was £10.000 which, in the circumstances, was reasonable.

The site would provide about 130 rooms in a five‑storey buildings of the 'normal type', which at, this time meant brick built, with pitched roof and a drying area in the roof space. The five storey height, was dictated by the heating system.

The buildings had individual coal fires, but there were no lift, so every sack of coal. had to be carried up. Besides this the chimneys took up a lot of room. The top flats had to make space for all the chimneys of the flats below. If the building had become too tall, the top flats would have been too small to live in. Five floors was a compromise which made economic sense and this had been the standard for years.

Estimates of development cost were not available in August but, since the matter was urgent and the Council was in recess, the Deputy Chairman, with the,agreement of the Chairman of the Finance Department, decided that the site should be purchased. This was done under Part III of the Housing Act, 1925. The Committee endorsed this action at its meeting in October and further Instructed the Housing Committee to inquire and report on sites in Hackney, Hampstead and Islington without delay.

The ‘Housing Unhealthy Areas and Re‑Housing Sub‑Committee', which dealt with slum clearnce, received the preliminary drawings at the end of October 1930. They showed two parallel five storey buildings which used the whole available site, but it was not all developed at once, The Valuer pointed out that, while the eight houses and shops at the rear of the site were in very poor condition and were ripe for demolition, the eight on the front. were in a much better state. He suggested that, since housing was so scarce, the rear of the site should be developed first and the ones at the front retained for some time, for rehousing purposes.

The proposed accommodation was as follows:-

Block No 1

6 two-room dwellings
18 three-room "
1 four-room "
2 five-room "
Total 27 dwellings containing 80 rooms.

Block No 2 (on the front of the site)

2 two-room dwellings
11 three-room "
1 four-room "
3 five-room "
Total 17 dwellings containing 56 rooms.

The two blocks would contain 44 dwellings with 136 rooms. The rooms of Block 1 would look out an a small garden between the blocks. A small workshop, costing approximately £420, would be provided to serve the old and the new parts of the estate.

The site, including half the adjoining road, measured 0. 81 acres. anti the density of development would be approximately 56.6 dwellings to the acre. The preliminary estimate of Block 1 was £17, 630 and for Block 2 £10,700. Both estimates included £500 for their share of the new estate workshop.

The Architect recommended that, in view of the urgency of the provision of rehousing accommodation, he should be authorised to proceed with the preparation of working drawings for Block 1 without delay.

The Housing Committee received the Architect's report in October 1930 but, since it involved the expenditure of more than £5000, the question was postponed,

By November than Architect had submitted his preliminary scheme for the two blocks and the Valuer had worked out the financial results.

The five‑storey buildings comprised:‑ 5 two‑room, 18 two‑room, 2 four‑room and 2 five‑room tenements, a total of 28 lettings in 34 rooms. There were two clothes drying rooms in the roof.

This site was the first to be built. by the L.C.C. under the new 1930 Act and the financiaal calculations were based on this Act. The capital charges and the Architect's estimated costs of £17,630 were reckoned at 4% over 60 years and the interest taken at 5%. These amounted to £955 (or approx­imately £6. 16 shillings per person per‑ annum on the basis of 1.66 persons per room. In addition to this the cost. of acquisition and clearance of the insanitary sites worked out at about. £2, 7shillings and sixpence per‑ person per annum, for 60 years. This sum added to £6, 16s. 6d, gave £9, 4 shillings, 0 pence per person.

The Estimates below have been included to show some of the
background calculations involved in building where funds are tight.

If the rents were to be similar to those already charged for Wessex Build­ings there would be a balance, after deducting maintenance and management outgoings, of £612, 1 shilling and 2 pence per annum, or £4, 7shillings and 6 pence per person for 60 years to meet all capital charges. This left a debit of £4, 1 shilling and 6 pence per person per annum for 60 years. Towards this the State would pay £3, 2 shillings and 8 pence per person (the equated sum of £3, 10s. 0d per person over 40 years). This left approximately £1, 13 shillings and l0 pence per annum per person to be borne by the local authority over 60 years.

The L.C.C. dealt with many similar properties. Some worked out more favourably and some less favourably, so it was difficult to calculate the overall result. However in this case there would be no opportunity to charge less than the standard rents. On the other hand, the rents could be­ increased by 15% without forfeiting the State allowance.

The Estimated Receipts and Outgoings of Block 1 were as follows:-

From rents  £883 per annum  
Less empties and  losses  £43    "       "  £844 per annum
Insurance and repairs  £168, 19s 0d  per annum  
Supervision and Gardens  £63,  0s 0d £232
Balance to meet capital charges £612      "       "  
The Valuer suggested rents    
for a two bedroom flat of  9 shillings, 9 pence,  
for a three bedroom flat of 11 shillings, 9 pence,  
for a four bedroom flat of 13 shillings, 9 pence,  
for a five bedroom flat of 15 shillings, 3 pence,  


Empire Preference

Twenty‑one firms tendered for building Block 1 in a very interesting way, Tenders were to be made on two alternative bases. In the first case materials could be obtained from any source.

In the second, all the following materials had to be supplied wholly from and manufactured entirely within the British Empire:‑


Portland cement, bricks, tiles, timber for carpenters' work and joinery work, steel, iron tube, and glass. Furthermore all the joinery had to be manufactured within the British Empire and the granite kerbs had to be Guernsey granite.

This was the period of the 1930 Economic Slump and one of the ways in which Britain hoped to claw its way out of it was by Empire Preference. The British Empire then covered a fifth of the World and much of its trade was protected from competitin by other countries. The Daily Express, owned by Lord Beaverbrook who was Canadian and very pro-empire, carried a red banner headline every day with a Crusader with a shield, battling for the British Empire. Australian beef rather than European; Empire fruit carried in Empire shipping (carried in British bottoms) and Empire materials wherever possible. The Northern Line Tube in London, for example, was being extended to Edgware and Barnet at this period. The carriages had panels veneered in Indian Silver Greywood, Silky Oak from Australia, and Lacewood cut from Canadian Plane trees. The carriages were only replaced at the at of the 20th Century and for years they were battling for an Empire which had by then dissolved. The contract for the new Wedmore Block was an example of a council trying to implement the same policy.of Empire Preference. 

Nineteen firms submitted their estimates, which varied from £12,600 to £16,082. Many give the same figure for both bases, Empire and non-Empire, but sometimes the Empire figure is £50 or £100 more than the other. Perhaps the firms calculated that the Council might be willing to pay more for Empire materials. Perhaps they really worked it all out but sometimes this seems doubtful. The second lowest estimate was for £112, 671 3 shillings and 1d. in both cases. To get it accurate to one penny in one columnl is suspect enough, but, to get it to the the same penny in both columns is absurd.

On 7th January 1933 the Council chose the lowest estimate and appointed C. P. Roberts & Co. Ltd. of High Holborn, as contractors using Empire materials. Their estimate was for £12, 760, only £71 3.s. 13.d below the next, one, so the estimations were tight. It would be interesting to know if the firm made a profit at this price.

For complicated financial reasons the block was to be erected under Part 11 of the Housing Act 1925, and not under Part I of the 1930 Act as previously intended.

In addition to the amount of the tender there was a sum not exceeding £591 for electric lighting of staircases etc; payment to the gas company; laying out of the garden; preparation of drawings and supervision etc., making a total of £14, 379 for the dwellings and £312 for the workshop.

On Ist March 1933 the Minister of Health (then responsible for Housing) agreed to the proposals and in December, Block 1 (tenements 22 to 2533) together with the Estate Workshop, were handed over to the Housing Department.

In January 1934 the forecourt was laid out, by direct labour with turf and seven oak seats at a cost of £180.

Small developments before World War II.

Pram Sheds

The North London Infant Welfare Centre (and School for Mothers) pointed out. to the Committee that there was no accommodation for perambulators on the ground floor of Wessex Buildings and some residents had to carry prams up several flights of stairs. The Centre asked for lock-up pram sheds. On enquiry it was found that. 40 residents needed sheds, so these were provided.

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