Un­earthing the gar­den sub­urb’s past

Bed­ford Park has launched an ini­tia­tive to re­dis­cover the his­tory of its homes. Eleanor Doughty vis­its the west Lon­don en­clave

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Architectu­re - bpra-web.org.uk

‘We are giv­ing back the his­tory to the peo­ple who live here’

Just north of Chiswick High Road, a short walk from Turn­ham Green tube sta­tion, is a qui­etly rev­o­lu­tion­ary neigh­bour­hood. Built in 1875, Bed­ford Park was the world’s first gar­den sub­urb, invit­ing the more fa­mous Hamp­stead, Wel­wyn and Letch­worth to fol­low its lead. It seems un­likely that this unas­sum­ing cor­ner of west Lon­don, with its tree-lined streets and wide av­enues, could have spawned such a pro­gres­sive ur­ban move­ment, and yet fam­i­lies are queu­ing around the block to live in a piece of its his­tory.

Now, Bed­ford Park is set to be the first dig­i­tal sub­urb, too. A new project, the Bed­ford Park House His­tory Ini­tia­tive, aims to democra­tise the his­tory of the area, col­lat­ing in­di­vid­ual house records across the 356 prop­er­ties in the Bed­ford Park con­ser­va­tion area, and open­ing them to the wider com­mu­nity.

“We are try­ing to give back the his­tory to the peo­ple who live here,” ex­plains Nigel Wal­ley, a lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur at the cen­tre of the project. “In the same way that Bed­ford Park was the first mod­ern gar­den sub­urb, we want to make it the first dig­i­tal sub­urb, so Bed­ford Park once again leads the way.”

Wal­ley has teamed up with so­cial his­to­rian Me­lanie Backe-Hansen, a spe­cial­ist of houses and streets, who is hard at work as­sem­bling the in­di­vid­ual his­to­ries of each prop­erty.

The aim is to cre­ate a log for each house in the area, so it can grow over time, like a car log­book that comes with the ve­hi­cle when it is sold.

“Ev­ery­thing around us is digi­tised, and we’re keen on peo­ple hav­ing that in­for­ma­tion avail­able about their home,” Wal­ley says. It isn’t just about the ar­chi­tec­tural nu­ance, he says, but also the so­cial his­tory that is im­por­tant. As an owner, “you are part of the his­tory of that house, and it should be yours to own and present”.

Bed­ford Park be­gan life in 1875, when cloth mer­chant turned prop­erty de­vel­oper Jonathan Carr pur­chased 24 acres of land in Chiswick, in­spired by the ar­rival of the Metropoli­tan Rail­way at Turn­ham Green.

His idea was to pro­vide an es­tate of around 500 homes for the mid­dle classes, with roads spread­ing out like roots from the sta­tion, al­low­ing res­i­dents to ac­cess the city within 30 min­utes. It seemed a sim­ple enough idea in smoggy, crowded, in­dus­trial Lon­don.

Un­like the tra­di­tional landed es­tates of Lon­don, owned by the Grosvenor and Cado­gan fam­i­lies, Carr sold his prop­er­ties and re­leased the free­hold.

“It was, in ef­fect, the Carr es­tate,” Backe-Hansen says. “He brought in the ar­chi­tects and bought their de­signs out­right. It was all up to him.”

To bring his vi­sion to life, Carr em­ployed ar­chi­tect Richard Nor­man Shaw, who de­signed sev­eral prop­er­ties in the pic­turesque Queen Anne re­vival style, with dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics. These Flem­ish-in­flu­enced build­ings with rough­cast tim­ber gables, white picket fenc­ing and large sash win­dows were then re­peated in a pat­tern and or­gan­ised around the neigh­bour­hood, each one ap­pear­ing to be unique.

Carr’s vi­sion also in­cor­po­rated lo­cal stores, a ten­nis court and club­house, plus a church – St Michael and All An­gels, a red-brick Nor­man Shawde­signed build­ing with white join­ery, a mon­grel mix of Gothic and Queen Anne. The club be­came the cen­tre of the com­mu­nity, open­ing in 1881, when it was con­stantly re­volv­ing with plays, par­ties and con­certs.

The artis­tic com­mu­nity, for whom Bed­ford Park was built, was in ev­i­dence early on. The poet WB Yeats moved to 8 Wood­stock Road in 1879, when the area would have likely re­sem­bled a build­ing site – far from the smart ca­chet it comes with to­day. TM Rooke, a pupil of the PreRaphael­ite artist Ed­ward Burne-Jones, and a friend of John Ruskin’s, lived at 7 Queen Anne’s Gar­dens be­tween 1879 and 1942. But the poet John Bet­je­man is prob­a­bly Bed­ford Park’s most fa­mous res­i­dent, de­scrib­ing it as “the most sig­nif­i­cant sub­urb built in the last cen­tury, prob­a­bly in the West­ern world”.

It re­mains a tightknit com­mu­nity, and the an­nual Bed­ford Park Fes­ti­val is an em­blem of its sur­vival. In 1966 – when Vic­to­rian build­ings were go­ing out of fash­ion and some of the largest houses in the area were be­ing de­mol­ished to make way for flats – the res­i­dents launched a fes­ti­val to raise aware­ness of the area’s im­por­tance, re­viv­ing a com­mu­nity event that had last been held in the 1890s. Within a month, 356 of the houses in Bed­ford Park had re­ceived a pro­vi­sional list­ing from the lo­cal coun­cil as pro­tec­tion from de­vel­op­ers, and a dozen roads were de­clared con­ser­va­tion ar­eas.

This de­fence comes at a price in mod­ern-day Lon­don. Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal es­tate agent An­drew Nunn, there is a pre­mium of ap­prox­i­mately 20 per cent on Bed­ford Park houses. Val­ues are roughly £1,200 per sq ft on listed prop­er­ties within the con­ser­va­tion area, and £1,000 per sq ft for those out­side it.

“Peo­ple buy into the so­cial his­tory,” Nunn says. “There’s a lot of in­ter­est in the his­tory of the gar­den sub­urb. As Bed­ford Park was the first, that car­ries a lit­tle bit of ex­tra weight.”

While some parts of Lon­don have faced a change in clien­tele as house prices have rushed up, Bed­ford Park has re­tained its au­di­ence. There are fewer cor­po­rate types in the area than one might imag­ine, Nunn says. “More in­de­pen­dent peo­ple [are buy­ing in Bed­ford Park], those run­ning their own busi­nesses.” There’s also a

‘Bed­ford Park re­mains a tight-knit com­mu­nity’

con­sis­tently healthy num­ber of artis­tic peo­ple in the area – those work­ing in mu­sic, film and tele­vi­sion.

The ar­chi­tec­ture it­self is a draw for res­i­dents. “Buy­ers are more likely to be those who are har­mo­nious with the ro­man­tic side of it – the ar­chi­tec­ture, the his­tory, what it’s about. By def­i­ni­tion, they’re prob­a­bly more cre­ative than hard-nosed com­mer­cial bankers.”

Nunn re­lates part of this de­mo­graphic to the dif­fi­culty that comes with ex­tend­ing and ex­ploit­ing the space in listed prop­er­ties. Base­ments are for­bid­den in Bed­ford Park. “Eight or 10 houses did it, and the coun­cils had a say and placed an em­bargo,” Nunn ex­plains.

Of course, the com­mer­cial buyer can still have a crack at some home im­prove­ments. “You could buy an un­mod­ernised one and re­fur­bish it, but adding square footage is quite hard to do.”

In­stead, em­pha­sis is placed on pre­serv­ing fea­tures such as the white picket fenc­ing, or­na­men­tal brick­work and the stained-glass win­dows that give Bed­ford Park prop­er­ties their char­ac­ter.

Young fam­i­lies make up many of the res­i­dents, thanks to good school­ing lo­cally – both Chiswick & Bed­ford Park Prep School and Orchard House School are in the im­me­di­ate area; the fee-pay­ing sec­on­daries Latymer Up­per School and St Paul’s School are both within three miles. Chiswick High Road is awash with smart restau­rants, bou­tiques and a Soho House out­post, High Road House.

The area is also very lived-in, even if the res­i­dents are well heeled with houses else­where, Nunn says. “We are not Hol­land Park, where it’s a ghost town.” Houses rarely change hands, too – ap­prox­i­mately 10 sell per year, rather than the 15-20 of 15 years ago.

The res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tion in Bed­ford Park re­mains a cen­tral part of the com­mu­nity. Its fo­rum en­cour­ages neigh­bours to ex­change lo­cal in­for­ma­tion and ask ques­tions of one an­other, as around the green in a ru­ral vil­lage. It truly is one of Lon­don’s hid­den gems.

Grand plan: the church of St Michael & All An­gels, which was part of prop­erty de­vel­oper Jonathan Carr’s big idea for Bed­ford Park

Chiswick grandeur: Me­lanie Back­eHansen, a so­cial his­to­rian, and Nigel Wal­ley from the Bed­ford Park Res­i­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion, right; tree-lined streets and red-brick homes in Bed­ford Park, left

Sub­ur­bia: a typ­i­cal house and front gar­den in Chiswick’s Bed­ford Park

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