Garden City

Garden City

The outbreak of the First World War created a huge demand for labour in the Royal Woolwich Arsenal. One of the great achievements in South East London was that a Garden City, for the new workforce, was built within ten months. Work started on 8th February and was completed in December 1915. Amazing, 1298 homes were built in this short period and there were two strikes to contend with as well. In May two thousand labourers downed tools demanding parity with scaffolders who were paid half penny more per hour. In August three thousand men went on strike because of an unpopular manager. Today, it’s difficult to comprehend such large workforces.

The estate was built on either side of Woolwich Lane which was latter re-named Well Hall Road. Even when the country was facing unprecedented adversity care was given into the design and build of the homes. The “garden city” design meant that open spaces were incorporated into the design and trees retained. Houses and flats were designed in terraces of four or six with gardens; no two houses were designed to be the same.

Communal Village Green

Communal Village Green

On 24th March 1916 Queen Mary visited the Garden City. Her first call was to Mrs Mabb in Broughton Road (re-named Rochester Way) and she told the Queen that she was very happy with her new home but would be much happier when the war was over. The Queen also visited Mr and Mrs Faulkner who lived in Well Hall Road. It was reported in the local newspaper, at the time, that the Queen had “nothing but praise for what she saw” and commented upon the “lovely gardens”. In the afternoon the Queen went on to inspect the canteen at the Royal Arsenal.

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The Great War may have been destructive but one of its local legacies was a well designed and built estate for local workers. It was re-named The Progress Estate in 1925 when the Government sold it to the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society. It is now a conservation area with the integrity of the original design maintained. The names of the roads are intesesting as some have names linked to munitions production such as Congreve and Shrapnel. Others named after managers at the Royal Arsenal; Moira, Ross and Downman. Work in munitons was hard graft with very long hours. I’m not sure what the workers thought about the continual reminder of both their work and overseers. The “village greens” are more lyrical named after the painter Paul Sandby who was drawing master at the Royal Academy and C17th poet Richard Lovelace who was born in Woolwich.

Cottage style house on the Progress Estate

Today Cottage style house on the Progress Estate

Last year one of the estate’s historic road signs went missing causing concern with local residents. It was returned a couple of days later in a much improved condition. A resident thought it needed restoring so just got on with the job. Good to know that the design still promotes pride in the environment and a sense of community.

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