Controversy over plans for new homes in Grays (in 1918)

An article from the Grays and Tilbury Gazette dated 17th August 1918.

OVER the last four years, we have been taking a dip into the pages of the Grays and Tilbury Gazette from 1914 to 1918. We wanted to see what life at hone was like whilst war raged overseas.

This months news chimes with much of the news in 2018. In 2018, there is the controversy over plans to build up to 32,000 homes in the borough. In 1918, there are similar plans in the Grays area.

Thank you to Mr Peter Perrin for his research and Thurrock Library staff for their assistance.

COUNCIL AND THE TOWN’S DEVELOPMENT. – GRAYS HOUSING SCHEME.

THE EFFECT OF AMALGAMATION – AN INTERVIEW WITH Mr. G.T. SHIELD J.P.

THE proposal of the Grays Urban District Council to purchase 47 acres of the Grays Hall Estate for building purposes has aroused considerable interest and there have been naturally various speculations as to how the Council’s Housing Committee propose to proceed with the work.

The development of the town and the whole district generally after the war promises to be a project of great magnitude, and at a time when both Construction and Re-construction are problems looming larger and larger over the horizon, the following interview with Mr. G.T. Shield J.P., the Chairman of the Grays Council, will provide food for thought not only as regards the Council’s own latest enterprise, but also with reference to private building proposals.

His views on the amalgamation scheme will be valuable to the whole of the areas affected, and with the go-ahead policy outlined, Grays should take its place in the great movement for the development and the consolidation of the riverside district

Our representative enquired:-

“Has the Housing Committee any scheme prepared for dealing with the land which the Couuncil has agreed to purchase?”

“The Committee have not yet agreed upon any set scheme, and it has not been thought wise to discuss details whilst negotiations for the purchase of the land were in progress. I shall not, however, be disclosing any secret when I say that there will not be more than 12 houses erected per acre, and that will mean an allotment of nearly 10 rods per house.”

“What is the particular portion of the Grays Hall Estate it is proposed to purchase?”

“The site, roughly, can be said to be the land at the end of Cromwell Road; the pit being its western boundary, Lodge Lane its northern, and a line drawn from Milton Road its eastern boundary; the southern being that portion of the town already built upon. It should be remembered that this site was chosen by the Government Inspector as the most suitable in the town and, therefore, it is clear that all the future development of the town should take place north of Orsett Road; for that reason I regret the Council has not yet been allowed to include the whole of Grays Hall Estate in its housing scheme.”

“How many houses will be included in this municipal estate?”

“The acreage is between 65 and 67, and there will be some 500 to 600 houses erected. Of course, it is not intended to build on all the land at once, but application has been made for materials so that 200 houses may be erected within two years after the war. The accommodation provided and the size of the houses will vary to meet the requirements of the various types of tenants. I trust we have seen the last of the terrace house – all of the same external appearance that is so characteristic of the average street, and that the advice of the medical profession will be taken and only semi-detached houses erected. Of course, there is an advantage from a cost point in erecting a row of houses all alike, but surely that is outweighed from every other point of view. The authorities are all agreed that houses will have to be designed so that they are more commodious and certainly more convenient and arranged with a view of the comfort of those who now spend most part of their lives in making their habitations bear some resemblance to a home.

“You think then, that the women should have some say in the matter of design and arrangement?”

“Certainly! Why we have never had women architects passes my comprehension. I hope before the scheme goes much further we shall convene a meeting of the women of the town to discuss the whole situation. There are such questions as cupboard accommodation, and others too numerous to mention, on which the opinions of the women should have some weight. They could also tell us whether it is practical to have a properly equipped washhouse constructed for a group of houses or whether they prefer the present plan. The question of the cost and utility of a hot water system for all the houses is another matter which should be thoroughly thrashed out. At any rate everything that is possible to make the house more habitable than the present ones and anything that would lessen the work and drudgery of woman’s daily toil should be introduced.”

“Is it proposed to have another park north of Orsett Road?”

“I have not heard of any such proposal, but no housing scheme should omit to set apart some area as a playing field. At present in Grays there is not a single spot where the schoolboys can play a game of cricket, or the girls engage in any sort of sport. Our park is an asset from the public health point of view, but it cannot be said to supply the want of a playing field. The Recreation Ground is a lung for the houses in its immediate vicinity, and it would be a great pity if it ever came to be “improved” by a speculating builder, it supplies another and quite distinct public want.”

“The new estate should, therefore, be an additional attraction to the town?”

“I believe so, and I do not see any difficulty in letting the houses as quickly as they are ready for occupation, but care must be taken so as to assure the present Grays residents a first call on their own estate. It might be a good plan if the Council opened at once a register at their offices on which applications could be filed. This would give the Housing Committee some idea as to which type of house was most required. Of course, if amalgamation takes place before the houses are erected the residents of the enlarged area would have an equal claim on them, because, I assume that the various schemes of Little Thurrock, West Thurrock and Grays would be merged together as regards loan and other charges.”

“Will not the houses cost a considerable sum if they are built under abnormal conditions?”

“That is so, but the Government has seen from the reports presented to it by the Local Government Board and the Ministry of Re-construction, that there is a very large shortage of houses all over the country, and it is prepared to recognise that fact and assist financially in meeting the abnormal conditions. It is also collecting information as to the quantity of various materials required, and will no doubt allocate these materials so as to meet the requirements of municipal undertakings. We in Grays have put forward the requirements for our housing scheme. It is not at all likely those business concerns now controlled will revert back to the ordinary commercial lines directly the war is over, the Government is likely to retain control for some time, and the same will be the case, I should say, as regards demobilisation. The Labour Advisory Committees in the various areas will, I should think, be asked to advise the Government departments as to the kind and quantity of labour required to meet the demands firstl of all of the State secondly of the municipal governing bodies, and lastly of the ordinary channels of commerce. In this way the flooding of the labour market will be prevented and the evils of unemployment and attempts at explloiting the worker in receipt of his well earned pension may be overcome as far as possible.”

“You favour municipal housing as against private enterprise?”

“Yes, in the first place, private enterprise has not, as far as Grays is concerned, kept pace with the demand. For some time prior to the war it was evident to anyone seeking decent accommodation that there was a dearth of houses. Very few houses in Grays have a bath-room, and certainly no house can be considered up-to-date without such accommodation. All the houses on the new estate will have baths. In the next place one of the main factors for a working man buying his house is that he is not liable to be turned out in consequence of the house being sold over his head to a buyer who desired it for occupation. Therefore, many a man bought his house and when a job came along with better prospects in another town, he often had to sell at a sacrifice in order to get rid of the house quickly. A working man does not often get more than a week’s notice of a change of this sort. Undoubtedly the purchase of the house in which a man lived has been the means of many a man saving money which he otherwise might have spent, but there is the other side of the question to be considered. On a municipal estate a tenant has fixity of tenure provided he pays his rent and conforms to the ordinary rules of decent behaviour.”

“Can you say anything about the progress of the amalgamation scheme?”

“Personally I am optimistic as to the result I believe there is a radical change in public opinion; at any rate, I have found no strenuous opposition and I believe the more the subject is discussed the more unanimous will be the opinion that the riverside parishes which have so much in common would be better governed by one Urban District Council than is the case at present.

I believe the main objection to amalgamation before centred round the question of the cost of the main sewer. This is now settled, and the Joint Sewerage Board for the whole area has been set up without any great upheaval. Expenditure on all the essentials to good local government must be pooled, and the whole area treated alike. I do not see many items on which dissensions need arise.

It is a matter of common knowledge that nearly all of the land by the riverside from Purfleet to Grays has been secured for factories and wharves and that at the eastern end of Grays there is a strong possibility of other factories springing up. Surely it is only reasonable to expect the local authorities to be alive to this situation. In my opinion there is a great need, in view of these facts, for a comprehensive scheme of town planning to be launched for the whole area, which would preclude the low-lying land being used for residential purposes.

Much of it will be absorbed by the factories and wharves, and the rest could be used for allotments and playing fields. I know that such a proposal will meet with strenuous opposition, but it will come mainly from those who always take a conservative view in aproaching radical changes. Grays is no worse in this reespect than other ares, but such opposition , if it succeeds, will seriously militate against the growth of the district. The area proposed to be amalgamated will be of sufficient importance to justify many changes.”

“You mean other than municipal?”

“Yes. Why should not the State set about acquiring a site on which could be erected a suitable building in which could be housed all the various governmental activities now in the town? Why should it be necessary to go to one building to buy a stamp, to another street to enquire about employment and to another to see about Income Tax and another to enquire about a vote, and yet others to fulfil the many obligations which the State places upon a citizen? This may be Utopian, but it would surely save money and time. Of course amalgamation would mean a building in which all the municipal work could be undertaken. One thing is quite certain, unless  amalgamation goes through pretty soon the district will lose an opportunity that it may regret. As to whether Tilbury comes in now or in a few years time I do not think matters. Tilbury actually forms part of the whole scheme and must sooner or later be merged into the larger area, but perhaps Tilbury would like to do the merging itself. This is immaterial to my mind, I do not care whether I live in a Ward of Grays, in the Urban District of Tilbury, or whether Tilbury is a Ward of Grays. After all, Tilbury can claim that it is known all over the world, and I cannot forget the discharge paper I saw, of a Grays soldier, in which he was stated to be a resident of the parish of Grays near the town of Tilbury.”

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