THE 1930s - Wythenshawe Begins Anew
In 1931, after two bills in Parliament, ten years of struggle and some hard cash, Wythenshawe, including Northenden, was taken from Cheshire and placed in Lancashire. Manchester's 142 houses in Northenden would pay their rates as well as their rent to the city from 1 April. The Cheshire landowners could now resume their landowning and Manchester the preparation of its garden city.
New difficulties loomed ahead, however. A change of Whitehall policy crippled the initial building programme, but the city, veteran of battles with the Tattons in 1926 and with Cheshire in 1931, altered its tactics. In the next eight years a massive building operation went ahead.
With the fields, Manchester inherited a number of historically interesting buildings and sites. Wythenshawe Hall and Park were now owned and used by common citizens. Baguley Hall was owned by the City of Manchester but used by Direct Works as a depot and was in a sorry state. Sharston Hall, the mansion of David Quircano Henriques, would soon be let out as flats. Sharston Mount was let by Manchester to the Southern family, tenants for over seventy years. Interesting farm buildings listed by the Civic Advisory Committee in 1932 included Knob Hall, Newall Green, Moss Nook ('refused admission . . . little of value'), Chamber Hall and Peel Hall ('sound, fine stone bridge'). Sharston Hall Farm had losses in the Irish Republican Army fires of 1932.
The largest and most historically interesting prize inherited by Manchester was Northenden itself. A cluster of complementary gems rather than one sparkling jewel, the village was not a fossil but a community keen to preserve its past and yet serve the present. The older village centre, near the church, was now partnered by the area near, the Church-Rooms at the top of Kenworthy Lane, with its 142 new houses.
Northenden was now important as the middle-level shopping centre for Wythenshawe. There were 97 shops, three dentists, a lawyer, an estate agent, two music teachers, an optician, two doctors and two undertakers. 'Northenden was like Dodge City with traders nailing up the gaudiest signs to catch the passing traffic.'
The building of the Forum Cinema in 1934 consummated Northenden's role as the temporary heart of Wythenshawe. The first lessee was E. M. Burns of Cheadle, but the A.B.C. chain bought the lease in 1936. Thus Northenden had the only two cinemas in Wythenshawe, the Coronation and the Forum.
Most of the private development of houses in the 1930s, almost all with the city as ground landlord, took place in Northenden and Northen Etchells. Most private house building in Northenden was on the Roundwood Estate, the vacant space between the Parkway and the village. By 1934 a half-dozen larger houses had appeared in Gibwood Road near the Parkway, and about a hundred semi-detached houses had ventured down Corda Avenue, Roundwood, Norleigh and Penarth Roads. Soon Dronfield, Kenmore and Shawdene Roads would be added. These houses (some let at first by the corporation at £1 a week) were created from a few basic patterns. Few had garages and many corners were cut, quite literally, but the estate was noted for the beauty of its cherry-blossom lined roads.
South of Northenden, Wythenshawe Garden City began to grow at last. Manchester now controlled Wythenshawe and owned most of it, but new problems appeared. One difficulty centred on the land Manchester controlled but did not own. Local landowners, market gardeners and small farmers continued to resent the invaders, and at a public meeting in January 1931 they expressed their concerted will to resist more purchases of land — except at the right price. The 'right price' rose to over £80 per acre as Manchester attempted to buy by compulsory purchase the 1,307 acres, valued by some at £250,384.
To borrow the necessary money 'The City of Manchester Purchase of Land at Wythenshawe Scheme 1931' had been submitted to the Minister of Health, who in 1926 had actually encouraged Manchester to buy more land. By 1931, however, a financial crisis had hit the country and in August a National Government was formed. The aim now was to concentrate on building 'houses within the means of the poorer members of the working classes' — poorer-quality council homes. A report in November 1932 urged that the normal provision of working-class houses should be by private enterprise.
The city decided to buy some 129 acres for immediate use. But, linked with a demand for compulsory pasteurisation of the city's milk, it met combined opposition in December 1932. Councillor Harold White, at Crumpsall Constitutional club, described Wythenshawe as a white elephant and the bill for compulsory purchase as a 'Russian method of business without Russian honesty'.
As a result of a poll, compulsory purchase was withdrawn; building slowed to a crawl but it never stopped completely. The Housing Committee thought to erect 75 houses for sale in Wythenshawe, but the Housebuilders' Association, Mrs. Simon and Alderman Jackson combined to prevent this. Four Housing Acts in five years, beginning in 1931, contributed to stop-go working and it was not until 1936 that full steam ahead could be ordered.
By April 1932, when the committee noted that the ground rents for the first 5,000 houses would be £48 per acre, 684 houses were being erected north of Wythenshawe Park (Rackhouse) and 1,764 houses south of Altrincham Road. In Northenden the Piper Hill and Yew Tree area houses (behind Kenworthy Lane) were already completed, along with six shops of the new, now the old, parade at Moor End. Two months later the road names of Orton, Newhall, Nan Nook (subsequently changed to Lawton Moor), Lycett, Carloon, Daine, Pingot and Rackhouse were approved.
The first roads and sewers were completed for the Rackhouse and Lawton Moor, Royal Oak, Benchill and Sharston areas and the first 400 houses were finished by December 1932.The number of completed houses rose to 3,363 by 1934, when Royal Oak was almost finished as the first full estate. From a population of 5,551 in 1921, Wythenshawe now had grown to 27,847.
WYTHENSHAWE IN THE 1940s & 50s
"HOUSES, HOUSES AND YET MORE HOUSES !"
It is on record that an African bishop, touring Wythenshawe in the 1960s, exclaimed in bewilderment, 'Houses, houses, and yet more houses!' The same words had been the cry of the planners following the Second World War, but by the end of 1964 the original goal of homes for a population of 100,000 people had been reached.
South of Northenden in the new Wythenshawe many smaller cottages, farms, market gardens and smithies surrendered to the builders, especially if the price was right. Some in better condition were renovated, notably in Gatley, and a few continued as before. The farms of Baguley Hall and Floats Hall disappeared with little ceremony. Mayer's farm at Peel Hall remained for the time being and more than once did 'Peel Hall School sports have to wait till the cows agreed to leave'.
Wythenshawe's urgent need for its forty thousand people in 1939 had been civic amenities. It was urgent in 1945. Twenty years later the need was desperate. Without civic pride Wythenshawe 'could become another dreary new suburb full of impersonal estates'. Barry Parker's concepts of 1927 still held, but the Nicholas Plan of 1945 for Manchester as a whole and the 1946 Act's insistence on houses dominated. Each government boasted that it had built more houses than ever.
The Wythenshawe Committee still ruled as war ended, though in a few years it dissolved into a standing committee and finally vanished as part of the general Estates Committee. But in 1945, with the Civic Centre pushed further into the future, a few prefabs, very few bricks and fewer bricklayers, the Wythenshawe Committee resumed its building programme with zeal.
Immediate needs were satisfied by prefabricated houses, mainly at Royal Oak and in Wythenshawe Park. The agreement made with the Tattons when the land was sold, that the park should forever be retained in its original form, was broken as prefabs replaced trees in the south-west corner.
There were a number of estates to be completed in Wythenshawe but forward planning meant that the committee had immediately to set about the purchase of land for the South-Eastern Neighbourhood Units of Moss Nook and Woodhouse Park. In June 1946 the committee resolved to buy 493 acres for building as follows:
Houses - 2,968
Cottage-flats and flats - 550
Single/Aged Person and misc. – 358
Total - 3,876
The number of units to the acre would be 13, one outside Barry Parker's standard, and in July of that year, at a cost of £493,000, the layout of the two units was approved.
In 1953 a leaflet, entitled Wythenshawe, Plan and Reality, was published about the new town. After a brief history of the area it went on to explain that Wythenshawe would not be a dormitory suburb or a satellite town, but that it 'will come near to being a true New Town, many of its people being able to find employment in its three industrial areas, its shops, offices and market gardens'.
Building went ahead in Baguley Hall and in the Crossacres regions and spread south and east to embrace the areas of Woodhouse Park, Moss Nook, Northern Moor and Brooklands. In 1946 about nineteen hundred houses and flats were commenced, and over the next twenty years this rate was maintained.
Pockets of land, especially around the proposed civic centre, were left vacant, apparently because the city was unsure of how to use them. Conversely, pockets of virgin land in the Rackhouse, Sale Road, Benchill, Newall Green and Royal Oak area were filled. In 1957 the first post-war council houses to be built in Northenden appeared in the Royle Green area, which was called 'Little Hulme', although quite a few of the new families there came from Woodhouse Park after the Viscount air crash.
From the outset flats in Wythenshawe were kept to two or three storeys, but the walk-up areas were increasingly vandalised. By the 1960s Woodhouse Park could boast Manchester's first nine-storey flats, the Kingsgate, costing a basic £135,000. High-rise problems there would be, but for a while the sky-flats were still a novelty.
The problem of car parking caused friction until 1961, when the council at last allowed cars to be parked in gardens. The restrictions on the decoration of council houses sometimes brought gestures of defiance and retaliation.
The Brooklands estate, commenced in 1952 at Ferndown Road, was built on land given in 1926 by Ernest Simon, and housed a population of 4,800 in an area of 330 acres. An early householder, Les Sutton, recalled in 1973 that something of the rural atmosphere remained. In the Baguley stream 'fair sized specimen of catfish are said to bask there still in the truce of school hours. Along the banks there were voles and in the fields crows, gulls and even herons'.
Neighbourhood shopping parades, it had been intended, should be built to keep pace with the erection of houses. In practice the need to agree tenancies and the policy of delaying openings until all the shops in a parade were taken, brought long delays. Newly-arrived housewives often had to exist for months by journeying for bread and butter items to established parades, to Northenden or by catching the unco-ordinated visits of the vans, and fish and meat carts; 'when you heard the horn or the bell, or sometimes they just shouted, you had to drop everything and run down to queue'. Some shops were 'ramshackle wooden ones they put us off with for years'.
Parades usually consisted of a butcher, a baker, a general grocer, a greengrocer, a clothier/ haberdasher, a hardware dealer, a stationer or newsagent/post-office, a chemist and, often at the end of the row, a fish and chip shop. Added to the pre-war shops at Sale Circle and Sharston, and the prefabricated ones at Crossacres, were new parades built at Baguley Precinct, Blackcarr Road, Bowland Road, Button Lane, Cornishway, Gladesdale Road, Greenbrow'Road, Hall Lane, Haveley Circle, Lomond Road, Ministerley Parade, Newall Green, Portway and Wendover Road.
With Northenden's larger shops three dusty miles north of Woodhouse Park, there were demands for civic-centre shopping. But it was not until 1962 that building began. Woolworths, Boots, Coop, Tesco and local chain stores took leases. In spite of its austere bleak early form and the spate of plate-glass window breakages, trade flourished. But by 1964 the Wythenshawe Express asked, 'Are there too many shops in Wythenshawe?'.
At the Town Hall in Manchester, in March 1946 while a civic film of the city councillors in debate was being made, the chamber was invaded by a placard-waving deputation with a ten-thousand signature petition for better amenities for Wythenshawe. One poster read 'End Monopoly', and another respectfully asserted 'Sir, Wythenshawe Needs a Post-Office'. At the core of the invasion was the Wythenshawe Community Council (W.C.C.) and its vociferous chairman, Harry Lloyd. The W.C.C. had grown out of the Rackhouse, Royal Oak and Benchill Community Associations, which dated back to 1934. The first meeting of the W.C.C., in 1943 after national affiliation, had been addressed by Alderman W. T. Jackson, two years before his death. From time to time the W.C.C. confronted the Wythenshawe Committee, which listened politely.
Six of the Wythenshawe Committee lived in Wythenshawe, two in council houses. Elected from the Wythenshawe wards were Elizabeth Yarwood, Walter Frost and Councillor Cave. The chairman, Councillor Bentley, lived in Northenden. Petitions, deputations, protests, demands for home rule and for a Civic Centre to provide a heart for the new area punctuated their routine.
The first M.P. for Wythenshawe, for 14 years from 1950, was Eveline Hill, a Conservative. As Wythenshawe grew the Labour vote increased and in 1964 the first M.P. of the completed venture was Alf Morris, who was Minister for the Disabled until 1979.
'Autonomy for Wythenshawe' was the cry of Harry Lloyd, chairman of the Wythenshawe Federal Council from the mid-1950s. The Wythenshawe Recorder echoed his cry. It began by referring to Wythenshawe as 'Our New Town', but in time it was less confident and asked 'Only a Suburb?' Comparisons were frequently made with much smaller towns that had their own councils and often a mayor. The Civic Centre remained a mirage and the City of Manchester made it clear that an independent council was out of the question.