9th March 1959. Never the Twain shall Meet.
The new millenium has seen many previously owner-occupied houses put up for rent, so the social marker as to who owns what has been blurred.(1)
We the British are regarded as a tolerant folk, but housing is the great social divide, and the Berlin Wall had its modest counterpart in the City of Dreaming Spires: Oxford. For it was Today in 1959 that the Cutteslowe Walls came down, having been erected in 1934.
That the wall lasted so long was owing to the Estate Housing Company, which sued the City Council for having demolished the wall one night in June 1938. What followed was an interminable and unseemly tussle to last until the 1950s.(2)
Between 1931 and 1934 two estates had been built: one council and the other private housing, and the private developer in December 1934 erected two 9 feet walls with revolving spikes.
It was a time when Oxford was booming with its car industry and many slum families had been relocated to the new council houses.
Pre-war saw many private and council projects resulting in petty snobbery between the working classes. Those moving into a ‘semi’ in the burgeoning ribbon developments, would look de haut en bas on those in the council houses, who probably didn’t want to saddle themselves with a mortgage, known as having a ‘monkey on the chimney.’
Problems seem to arise when the two types of housing were cheek by jowl, as in Oxford and also when London’s ‘overspill’ on the Downham Council Estate, was built next to the owner-occupied semis in Bromley, Kent.
It resulted in a seven foot wall, after Mr Alfred Frampton developer of the Alexander Crescent Estate applied to the Council for permission in 1926.(3) It appears the ‘oiks’ were using the private estate as a short cut to get to Bromley. The wall was demolished in 1950.
With the gradual demolition of the slums, successive Health Ministers had rehoused thousands in new council properties with the hope they would become suburbanised, and so acquiring them Middle Class mores. Net curtains were part of leases, and antimacassars became de rigueur.
The houses had gardens, fronted by the ubiquitous privet hedges, and many proudly aspired to carpet-bedding, front gardens, with hens or vegetables at the back.
Not all complied with these social ideals, but there was always the Local Council to keep the wayward up to the mark.
As the Author remembers, these estates were neat, with a social mix of tradesmen, clerks and others, and were pleasant places to live, and certainly no need for divisive walls!
The High Rise later ‘sink’ developments, which were to give social housing such a bad name, were a feature in cities, from the 1960s onwards.
(1a) Pre-WWI, 1% of housing was council owned; by 1938 it was 10%, and in 2012 the total for rent was c 30% which included c12% Social Housing as it was termed, of which about half was Local Authority.(Dept for Communities and Local Government).
(1b) In Burton-on-Trent 1971 50% of houses were owner-occupied; 30% L.A. and 20% privately rented. (History of Burton 1977, Denis Stuart p.77 P2 1914-74.)
(2) On 7.6.1938.
(3) February 16th 1926.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/politics.Brian Wheeler. 4.8.2011.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/oxford history/cotteslowewall.
Ref: Cotteslowe Walls Peter Collinson,Faber and Faber 1963.
Ref: oxfordcockaigne.co.uk.cotteslowe walls/Pic Images.
Ref: Radio 4 Wednesday, Nov 10th 2004, ‘The Cutteslowe Walls’.
Ref: Gated Communities: Class Walls, Michael Nelson, History Today Vol 61, Issue 11, 2011.