PUBLISHED: 14:36 13 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:35 20 February 2013
Gidea Park was born as a garden suburb in the early 20th century and has provided a pleasant home for many people since, as Nicky Adams explains
IT'S something of a shame that these days we don't see a station called Squirrels Heath on the map of the railway line out of London from Liverpool Street into Essex.
But, if the planners of the county's new garden suburb had allowed it to keep its original name in 1910, perhaps that's how we would be referring to the station and settlement of Gidea Park even now.
For, in contrast to many Essex towns that have grown up slowly over the centuries, Gidea Park was the invention of a company called Gidea Park Ltd, whose main movers and shakers were also behind the successful creation of London's leafy Hampstead Garden Suburb. Sir Herbert Raphael, a prospective Liberal MP for Romford and the owner of the 480-acre Gidea Hall estate, teamed up with two actual Liberal MPs - Charles McCurdy and Sir Tudor Walters - to build a new residential town along similar lines to Hampstead on the Gidea Hall estate just one mile northeast of the thriving town of Romford. Their aim was to meet the need for more homes to the east of the capital for the burgeoning number of City commuters who were making use of the railway.
A square mile of land was set aside for the ambitious development, from Gallows Corner to Rise Park, and the shareholders' goal was for Gidea Park to be a thoroughly modern place to live. This entailed the very latest in house designs and, to encourage some creative thinking among the architects of the day, they launched a competition to design the first homes. There were some strict guidelines though. Only 'small houses' with four bedrooms, costing £500, and three-bedroom 'cottages', costing £375, could be submitted and the homes should be packed with as many modern conveniences and labour-saving ideas as possible.
More than 100 architects responded, and many of their designs were taken up, with the result that Gidea Park became a showcase for the best in early 19th century house design. Construction work was carried out extremely quickly, and just a year after Gidea Park's foundation stone was laid in 1910, 140 houses had been completed.
Gidea Park Ltd's shareholders were nothing if not entrepreneurial and, to attract buyers, they also offered to build homes to their customers' specification. Tudor styles proved to be the most popular, and this resulted in tree-lined streets of detached homes, surrounded by generous gardens in thoughtfully landscaped neighbourhoods. To encourage buyers even more, the company took the unusual step of offering 100% mortgages.
It was no surprise that the development of Gidea Park carried on apace into the 1920s.
The first section of the suburb to be completed was the area around Gidea Hall, between Raphael Park and Heath Drive. So popular were the new homes that several were even built south of Main Road, on Balgores Lane and nearby streets, although this area was not officially part of the suburb.
Development hit a snag though with the unveiling of the route of the new Eastern Avenue, which cut a swathe through the suburb's planned northern section. Gidea Park's progress needed a rethink and this duly happened, when in 1934 Gidea Hall was demolished to create space for another neighbourhood.
Buoyed by the success of the first architects' competition, Gidea Park Ltd launched another, in a push to sell building plots beside the Eastern Avenue. Nearly 500 designs were entered for the competition, which was divided into five classes of home, with house prices ranging from £650 to £1,475. The company stuck to its remit to encourage modern innovation and even went so far as to sacrifice a few of its garden suburb principles, with the result that the new style of Gidea Park homes were built in a very contemporary style, many of concrete and most with flat roofs.
On the face of it, Gidea Park has not changed a great deal since. In a reference to the early days of Gidea Park, one of the local wards of Havering council is still called Squirrels Heath (the other being Pettits), and the town is still a comfortable resting place for commuters as well as locals. The many Tudor-style houses are home to the current generation of Gidea Park residents, who make use of the friendly shops and, of course, the railway station that whisks many to the capital and work each day.
Gidea Park's foundation as a genteel garden suburb for Romford has not been forgotten. Six of the original 1910 exhibition houses are Grade II-listed buildings and Gidea Park remains a testament to the pioneering spirit of its creators as a pleasant, convenient place to live.
CHAIR of Havering Council's Gidea Park committee for the past year and a long-time local resident, Councillor Lynden Thorpe, admits that she and her neighbours work hard to preserve their local heritage. 'I have a bunch of very articulate constituents who don't hesitate to let me know if they are worried that something will have a detrimental effect on our area,' she says. 'People really do care here, and that makes a difference.'
Thanks to their efforts, not a great deal has changed in Gidea Park since its inception nearly 100 years ago. 'Of course, there are more cars and some of our local shops have gone, but apart from that, the place has remained relatively unspoilt,' she says. 'With the help of the local Civic Society, which is soon to celebrate its centenary, we manage to keep a lid on new development. Most of Gidea Park is a Conservation Area, so it is not difficult to make sure that the garden estate remains a jewel in the crown of the borough.'
Although a large proportion of residents have lived in the suburb for many years, Cllr Thorpe is pleased to welcome new families to Gidea Park and highly recommends it as a place to live. 'The commuting is still excellent and there are now lots of restaurants,' she says. 'But, above all, there is a real sense of community here. We have our own local police station and the officers are known by their first names. People do know each other here and they appreciate their surroundings. We're all very proud of Gidea Park.'