In order to attract the interest of architects, builders, housing authorities and the public a competition and exhibition of completed houses were organised for 1911. The objects of the exhibition were stated in the following grandiloquent words:
To demonstrate to Housing Town Planning Authorities, to Builders and the Public Generally, the improvement in modern housing and building due to the advance of Scientific Knowledge, the Revival of Arts and Crafts, and the Progress of the Garden Suburb movement, and by so doing to assist in raising the standard of housing, not only in the Outer Metropolis, but throughout Great Britain.
Prizes were offered to architects for designs in the following categories: Class I: a detached house to cost £500, First Prize – Gold Medal and £250, Second Prize – £100; Class II, a detached cottage, to cost £375, First Prize – Gold Medal and £200. Second Prize – £100. (The cost of houses and cottages did not include the cost of the land). Other monetary prizes were offered to architects for the best internally fitted house in Classes I and II, for a town plan of the future suburb, for a garden design and for a design and for a perspective drawing of a house or cottage entered for the competition. Prizes were also offered to builders for excellence of workmanship and to unspecified persons for wholly or partly furnished houses, improvements in materials used in house building and in house fittings. Altogether £1,000 was offered in prize money.
On 28th July 1910 a public ceremony was held to mark the laying of the foundation stone of the Romford Garden Suburb by the Rt. Hon. John Burns M.P., President of the Local Government Board in the then Liberal Government. The stone is in the front elevation of the house at No. 16 Heath Drive but is only visible from inside the garage which has been constructed at the front of the house. In his speech Burns said, among other things,
This is one of the most beautiful sites I have ever been associated with in twenty-five years’ connection with Housing and Town Planning – surroundings formerly enjoyed in splendid isolation by the few… When this estate is completed you will have one of the lowest death rates in England and Wales. You will be the envy of Bournemouth… The object is to bring the Town into the Country and the Garden into the Town, to secure something more beautiful and more human than the majority of houses and streets erected in and around London during the past hundred years.
Meanwhile, in October 1910 it was decided to dissolve the Gidea Hall Development Co and to form a new company, Gidea Park Ltd (not to be confused with the present day estate agents, Gidea Park Estates), with Raphael as chairman and Tudor Walters and McCurdy as directors. The new company was to purchase some 441 acres of the Gidea Hall estate from Raphael for £130,590, to be paid for partly in cash but mostly in debentures and shares in the new company. To ensure that the approach from the new railway station was included in the Garden Suburb the directors bought 60 acres of additional land, known as the Balgores Estate between Hare Street (Main Road) and the station. Between December 1910 and June 1911 Gidea Park Ltd made arrangements to borrow up to £85,000 from insurance companies on the security of the land.
The company began to offer plots of land for upwards of £100 for house building with a £5 preliminary payment and monthly instalments of £1 2s 8d. paid over 7 years, dearer plots being pro rata. The plots were for immediate possession and could be used as a garden or planted with trees until the buyer was ready to build. The company also offered loans to build houses repayable by instalments over a period of 10, 15 and 20 years. It was also ready to provide without charge designs of houses of the client’s choice. By this means it hoped to control the design of the houses to be built in the Suburb, although unlike the Hampstead development the plots were offered freehold as well as on lease and were therefore not always subject to the restrictions of a ground lease. There were, however, covenants controlling certain changes which might subsequently be made to the houses and their gardens.
Between July 1910 and June 1911 one hundred and twenty one architects (as distinct from the number of partnerships) designed the 159 houses and cottages which were erected for the exhibition. In some cases they were also furnished, either by the architect or by furnishing companies. The exhibition extended through the Gidea Hall and Balgores estates from the railway station in the south to Risebridge Road in the north. Many architects, well-known in the garden city movement and for their work at Hampstead Garden Suburb, took part. They included men such as C.R. Ashbee, Baillie Scott, Bunney and Makins, C. M. Crickmer, Curtis Green, Reginald Longden, Geoffry Lucas, Parker and Unwin, Herbert Welch and Clough Williams-Ellis; their work can be seen in the present-day suburb.
132 houses and cottages were entered for the competition; the remaining 27 were probably too expensive or their architects such as Bunney and Makins were too closely connected with the organisers. 73 were £500 houses in Class I, 51 of these being in Parkway and Reed Pond Walk. 59 were £375 cottages in Class II, 53 of these being in Risebridge Road and Meadway. There are 9 exhibitions houses in Balgores Lane, 12 in Squirrels Heath Avenue and one in Balgores Crescent. Later, shops with flats over were built in Hare Hall Lane and Balgores Square. The promoters of the exhibition claimed that, allowing only 10 minutes to inspect each house, 4 days would not be sufficient to walk through them. Balgores House near the corner of Balgores Lane and Main Road (now Gidea Park College) was used as a restaurant and tea room for the exhibition.
On 1st June 1911, shortly before the Coronation of George V, the Romford Garden Suburb Exhibition was opened to the public by the Rt. Hon. John Burns M.P., with the Earl of Warwick as Lord Lieutenant of Essex in the chair, and in the presence of a large company of persons assembled in the open air on Reed Pond Walk open space (now known as the Copse). Among those present were Sir Herbert Raphael MP, who had been made a baronet early in 1911, Tudor Walters MP and Charles McCurdy MP, the latter having been elected in 1910 as Liberal member for Northampton. The exhibition was to remain open until September 1911. Prizes were awarded for the various competitions. First prize for a town planning scheme for the Suburb was awarded to W. Garnett Gibson and Reginald Dann; second prize went to Geoffry Lucas and T.A. Lodge. A premium for a perspective drawing was shared between Oswald P. Milne and T.M. Wilson working with HA Welch. The first prize for architects for £500 house designs in Class I was won by Geoffry Lucas for the design of No. 54 Parkway, the second by Reginald Longden for either No. 31 Reed Pond Walk or No. 34 Parkway (there being now insufficient information to determine which of these two houses was chosen).
The first prize for £375 cottage designs in Class II was won by CM Crickmer for No. 36 Meadway and the second prize by Herbert Welch for No. 1 Meadway. The first prize for builders for excellence of workmanship was awarded to Falkner and Son who were responsible for No. 43 Heath Drive and No. 35 Meadway, both houses designed by Curtis Green; the second prize went to JW Jarvis for his work on two houses in Reed Pond Walk, No. 29, designed by Edwin Gunn, and No. 27, designed by Ernest G Theakston. No information has come to light about the winners of the other competitions.
In July 1910 one plot had been sold and one house of the value of £850 was in course of construction. This was almost certainly the Bunney and Makins house at No. 16 Heath Drive which contained the foundation stone but because of its cost could not be entered for the competition. At the beginning of 1911 153 plots to the value of £33,000 had been sold or let on building agreements and buildings to the value of £63,400 had been erected. The bulk of these sales or disposals of plots were to architects and builders. In addition the Company spent £20,000 in laying out the exhibition grounds and roads. In the spring of 1912 a further £30,000 of plots were offered for sale on similar terms, prices ranging from £100 in Crossways to £225 in Elm Walk.
Only two plots were available in Meadway and none in Reed Pond Walk but unfurnished detached houses and cottages were available from £500 upwards, according to size (£550 in Meadway and £600 in Reed Pond Walk). However, renting a house rather than buying one was more general at that time than now. Many people preferred to rent, so that in April 1912 the General Rate Books for Romford show that out of 32 houses privately occupied in parkway, Meadway, Heath Drive and Reed Pond Walk only 4 were owned by their occupiers, the remaining 28 belonging to Gidea Park Ltd.
Not only had fire hydrants to be installed for the Garden Suburb and its exhibition but Raphael also gave a building and land at the corner of Heath Close and Heath Drive (probably now No. 10 Heath Drive) for a new fire sub-station. The building was adapted and renovated by the local fire service with a loan of £300 from the Local Government Board. This station was still in use during the Second World War.
By January 1912 Raphael and Tudor Walters had become shareholders with McCurdy in the Garden Suburb Development Co (Hampstead ) Ltd, in which Bunney and Makins, architects and secretaries of the Romford Garden Suburb exhibition were also shareholders. This is further evidence of links between the two developments.
As part of the Romford Garden Suburb, plans were made to surround Balgores Square by arcaded shops with flats above.
Only some of these were built. They can be seen in Hare Hall Lane and the north side of Balgores Square (by C. R. Ashbee and Gripper and Stevenson), where the arcades have since been filled, and on the south western corner Square (by Fair and Myer). Shops with flats over were later built in a similar style at the corner of Balgores Lane and Main Road. In 1913 a timber-framed cottage erected at the White City as an advertisement for the Garden Suburb was re-erected at its present site at No. 75 Main Road (until now the offices of Gidea Park Estates). The centre of Balgores Square was originally intended to be used as the site of an open air market but the ancient Romford Charter prohibited other markets within a certain distance of the town. The centre of Balgores Square was then covenanted as a permanent open space.
It is clear from the town planning schemes submitted for the competition that the Suburb was intended to extend northwards beyond the present route of Eastern Avenue and eastwards beyond the Golf Course to Gallows Corner. It was also to take in the area of Tudor and Repton Avenues on the south side of Main Road.
L. J. Leicester, M.A (Cantab.)