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London Property Spotlight: The St Helier Estate Morden

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Published: 10/09/2016   Last Updated: 15/09/2016  
Author: Sean Purtill    Tags:

Residents of South-West London will undoubtedly have heard of The St Helier Estate. In its time it has been pioneering and, more recently, increasingly desirable. But what is the story behind one of interwar Britain’s most iconic housing developments?

World War 1 and the Garden City Movement

In the wake of World War 1, conflict-damaged London was in dire need of a housing solution. Londoners began to reject the dingy, dirty and often dangerous living conditions offered by the Victorian and Georgian housing in London’s core, and the housing authorities came to accept that they were no longer fit for purpose, and that a new solution was required.

The decision was made to begin building large ‘garden’ and ‘cottage’ estates as ‘urban overspill’ around the capital’s periphery. Based on the ideas of Ebeneezer Howard, London’s Garden Estates looked to retain the arable and rural essence of the land upon which they were built and improve the lives (physically, mentally and recreationally) of their new residents.

The St Helier Estate - a community for the future

Built between 1928 and 1936, St Helier became the London County Council’s developments (after the Becontree-Dagenham estate) and among the largest housing projects in Europe - with 9,000 houses and flats and over 40,000 residents. The estate was named after Lady St Helier, an Alderman of the LCC since 1910, in recognition of her lifetime contribution to assisting the poor.

St Helier attempted to improve the day-to-day life of its residents, and the LCC intended it to function effectively as a self-contained community. To this end, they provided all the amenities a modern 1930’s family would demand - including 18 schools, the 2,000-seater Gaumont cinema, seven churches, a number of pubs and the iconic St Helier hospital (where Prime Minister John Major was born).

St Helier as a cottage estate

St Helier was one such estate modelled on Howard’s experimental ‘garden cities’ at Welwyn and Letchworth. Split between Merton and Sutton, landscape architect Edward Prentice Mawson took further inspiration from John Innes’ work at nearby Merton Park, and focused on retaining the natural elements of the arable land upon which the estate was built. Roads were named after rural monastic locations in England and Wales, as the land had historically been in the ownership of the Abbey of Westminster.

Extraordinarily for an estate of its time, and in stark contrast to the deteriorating inner-city dwellings the residents were leaving, recreational parks, sports grounds and open space made up 130 of the estate’s 825 acres. Grass verges were placed along leafy cul-de-sacs, while houses were constructed with different materials and in various styles to add variety and authenticity to the development.

As the oldest independent Estate and Lettings Agent in Merton, at Ellisons we’re incredibly interested in the area’s architectural history, and in how the recent past shaped the area we live in today. This knowledge allows us to achieve the best results for those buying, letting, selling or renting in Merton Park and South West London.

To find our more about property in your area of South West London, or to hear more about Ellisons sales and lettings service, contact one of our team today.