The 19th century Industrial Revolution resulted in a rapid growth of towns and cities, leading to overcrowded urban areas consisting of mass produced identical terraces of identical houses. The architects of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who embraced the Garden City concept, pointed the way to alternative solutions that emphasised relationships between plot size, width of frontage, road layout and a rational basis for lower density housing and a revival of vernacular architecture. For the Victorians there was no shortage of demand for housing but those in need had no capital.
Herbert Raphael identified a potential group of renters in the emerging middle-management class who were in secure employment and could afford to rent residences costing £350 – £500 to build. His vision for Gidea Park, in addition to outstanding design, was to demonstrate a solution to the capital conundrum that predated the expansion of building societies.
Using the 1911 Exhibition, he persuaded more than 100 leading architects of the Arts and Crafts movement to design and, in association with their chosen builders, to finance the construction of 159 houses and cottages between 1910 and 1911. The entrants to the Exhibition were encouraged to take note of of emerging improvements in interior design, construction and labour-saving innovations. Romford Garden Suburb is a benchmark in the social history of suburban housing for the salaried middle class emerging from Victorian affluence.
The Birth & Life of the Society
The Society was formed on the 26th. August 1968 at a meeting held at the Friends Meeting House, 7 Balgores Crescent attended by about 120 people.
The meeting had been convened by a circulated notice to local residents. The opening paragraph of the notice stated “Recent events around us emphasise the desirability of having a Society enabled to make necessary representations to the Authorities concerned on behalf of the community.” The minutes of the first meeting also refer to “the many pressures which had led to the realising of the need to form the Society.”
The draft minutes list some of the concerns as proposed developments, obstructions to footpaths, proposals for modifications to road intersections that would move the hazard to other places and the protection of trees.
The first meeting was chaired by Colonel R. A. Chell DSO., MC., OBE, TD. and was addressed by Mr. B.T. Dodge, Secretary of the Chelmsford Civic Society. The business conducted included the appointment of the first committee which held its first meeting on 18th. September 1968, at which individual committee members were appointed to the offices of Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer respectively. At a subsequent meeting of the committee one of its members (Mr. Pat Curtin) was appointed to act as Public Relations Officer. This particular office no longer exists within the Society.
The notice convening the first meeting of the Society stated that
“The objects of the Society shall be to promote and encourage the following objects by charitable means but not otherwise:
(1) To encourage high standards of architecture and town planning in Gidea Park and its surroundings.
(2) To stimulate public interest, and care for the beauty, history and character of the area and its surroundings.
(3) To encourage the preservation, development and improvement of features of general public amenity or historic interest.
(4) To pursue these ends by means of meetings, exhibitions, lectures and promotion of schemes of a charitable nature.”
In principle, the aims of the Society have remained broadly the same up to the present day.
The minutes of the Society’s first Annual General Meeting held on 29th. November 1968 record that at that time the Society had 104 members. This compares with a current membership in the region of 500.
Very shortly after the formation of the Society it became a registered member of the Civic Trust which was subsequently replaced by Civic Voice. The Society has also for some years past been a member of the London Forum, the umbrella organisation for civic and amenity groups in the London area.
Since its formation the Society’s achievements have included :
i. Initiating and contributing significantly to the process which led to the designation in 1970 by Havering Council of the areas covered by the 1911 Romford Garden Suburb Exhibition and the 1934 Modern Homes Exhibition respectively as a Conservation Area pursuant to the Civic Amenities Act 1967.
ii. Successfully campaigning against the development of Reed Pond Walk copse and the centre of Balgores Square. The centre of Reed Pond Walk was covered by a covenant dated 1912, but to secure it forever, the Society successfully lobbied for it to be legally designated an Open Space/Town Green and this was registered with the Greater London Council (Commons Registration and Land Charges Section) on 1st August 1972.
iii. Carrying out the detailed background research into the houses in the Conservation Area which enabled the Council to adopt Article 4 Directions providing special protection from usually minor but nevertheless inappropriate alterations which would detract from the character and appearance of the Conservation Area; liaising subsequently on a number of occasions with the Council for the purpose of assisting in the updating and enlargement of the scope of the Directions.
The Society is the owner, since 1985, of the listed historic pillars and gate (dating from 1740) to the former Gidea Hall in Heath Drive as a result of the generous gift of the then owner of 37 Heath Drive. The Society arranged for the restoration and re-building of these structures after they had been damaged by a car in March 1985.
The Society helped the Council to restore the parapet over the Fish Pond in Heath Drive with advice and by contributing one half of the cost of the necessary works to ensure they were in keeping with the original.
Joyce Leicester with then Council Leader Arthur Latham viewing the restored parapet
The Society continues to advise its members (and residents generally if asked to do so) on all relevant planning issues which affect the character and appearance of the area including the protection of trees and greenery. The Society seeks to ensure that it is notified by the Council of all relevant planning applications and makes representations to the Council and, where appropriate, to the Planning Appeals Inspectorate in respect of such applications.
The Society believes that it has an important and ongoing role to play in conserving and, wherever possible, enhancing the attractive environment of the Gidea Park area.
The Key People
Pat Curtin A.R.I.B.A. (d. 2003) was a local architect and a member of the first committee in 1968. He lived in Meadway and became instrumental in convincing Havering Council to designate the 1911 and 1934 Exhibition areas as a conservation area.
He argued that the important Arts and Crafts features of the various houses, including roof slopes, windows, brickwork and rendering of walls (designed by architects involved in Hampstead Garden Suburb and Letchworth) were worthy of conservation.
In due course, the Council agreed, subject to Pat providing the necessary detailed information. The Council went further and reinstated traditional street lamps throughout much of the Conservation Area. However, it wasn’t until 1985, following much pressure from the Society and residents, that the Council agreed to protect the 1911 and 1934 Exhibition dwellings from architecturally inappropriate alteration.
During the 1970s, Pat also obtained Grade II listings for a number of 1911 Exhibition houses.
In 1980 the centre of Balgores Square was under threat of a two storey development and, with the support from surrounding residents, he and Eric Wade, persuaded Havering Council to refuse permission. They then gave evidence at the Appeal, where it was again refused.
The introduction of Article 4 directions followed.
Eric Wade, a Reed Pond Walk resident from 1967, became Chairman in 1972 and served until he moved in 2000. He sought additional protection for the centre of Reed Pond Walk by pursuing the possibility of it obtaining Town Green status. A former member of Gidea Park Estates claimed ownership and was keen to develop it for housing. Eric was successful in his endeavours and the centre of Reed Pond Walk was registered as a Village Green (VG74) on 1st August 1972.
The Society acts as a steward in respect of the perimeter of the Copse in organising any necessary tree work funded by generous donations from the surrounding neighbours.
Joyce and Larry Leicester
Larry (d. 2003) and Joyce moved into Meadway in 1975. Joyce joined the Committee in 1978 and became Secretary in 1982. Larry joined the Committee in 1984. Their joint contribution to the Society over the following 20 years was of immense significance in maintaining the relevance of the Society to the Conservation Area.
Larry conducted an enormous amount of research to write the history of the area and much of this appears in the website history sections.
In the 1990s they spent a lot of time researching further houses (not in the original competitions) for inclusion in the Article 4 protection, many of which were designed by the same architects and other architects of merit.
In 1995, at the request of the London Open House Day organisation, they escorted groups of visitors, from elsewhere in London and beyond, around the Conservation Area and continued this over many years.
Joyce Leicester’s detailed knowledge of the Conservation Area and planning matters has made an enormous contribution to the Society’s ability to advise and consult both residents and Council in relation to planning applications and policy over many decades.
Joyce (in her fourth decade as Secretary) still spends many hours a week reviewing planning applications, together with other members of the committee, and communicating with Havering Planning Department to resolve planning issues that may be harmful to the Conservation Area.
The Society’s committee, July 2000, outside 17 Meadway. From L to R -Leslie Newey. Roy Burt (JL’s brother), Pat Curtin, Don Wilson, Joyce Leicester, Michael Dwane, Larry Leicester, Dave Howie, Eric Wade (Chairman)
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Since its inception many people have given, and are still giving, years of valuable service to the Committee and the Society’s gratitude goes to all of them.