The Model Dwellings of Wellington Avenue

by Frank Sharman

At the end of the 19th century, when Wolverhampton council started to take an interest in the housing of the lower orders, they, like most local authorities, proved better at knocking down slums than they were at building anywhere for the workers to live.  That tended to be left to private enterprise and the result was the small terrace housing of places like Whitmore Reans and Penn Fields.  In the early 1900s this sort of private provision continued, but it was joined by the garden city movement as well as by council excursions into council housing.  In Wolverhampton the garden city movement was well represented by the Fallings Park Garden Suburb; and the borough council built some houses on what was then Green Lane, which later became the first stretch of the Birmingham New Road.

Wellington Avenue, from Church Road, in 1906.

In 1906, in the Wolverhampton Journal, Wellington Road in Bradmore was put forward, by the editor, as an example of provision for the working classes which was far better than the council had managed and which had at least some of the merits of the garden suburb.  

The editor, though not named in the Journal, was almost certainly J. P. Jones, an energetic local historian and firm opponent of almost any local authority expenditure.  

In the article in the Journal he attributes the high rents which the working classes have to pay to the high local authority rates.

This makes it "well-nigh impossible for a working man to rear a family in a respectable manner and at the same time 'pay his way'".  "Working men require well-built houses with good sanitation and small gardens, at a low rent".

But what had, up to then, been provided, did not suit Jones at all. Private enterprise had provided "mere hovels - jerry built, insanitary, tightly crammed rows of houses".  

The same view today.  

Each pair of semis is different from its neighbours, but exactly the same as those opposite.
The council's efforts were as bad.  He abuses the houses in Green Lane for having no front garden, for being "square, solid, sombre looking buildings, without a vestige of artistic taste" and says that they "altogether fail to attract the working men of the town".  

He does, however, approve of the garden suburb approach - which had not quite reached Wolverhampton at that time - and he praises both Bournville and Letchworth for providing decent homes, at low rents, in natural surroundings.  

It was in that context that, "whilst ambling through Bradmore", he came across Wellington Avenue which was "at once both pleasing and interesting because in this avenue were erected some small semi-detached cottages, each pair being of a distinct character to the other".  He does not say who the builders of this development were but mentions that they were well known in the locality and that they "had ideas of their own as regards working men's dwellings".  Here Jones seems to be saying that this estate had been developed as a deliberate reaction to the rows of terraces and that the builder was trying to produce a better article in the garden suburb spirit.  

More pairs of semis with matching opposites. An arrangement which is probably unique in the City.

The first pair going up the Avenue. The side extension seems to be original. Jones waxes lyrical:  "The clean well-made road, lined on each side with trees, the bright harmonising colours with which the wooden railings, window-frames and doors were painted, the quaint shapes of the houses, the well-cultivated gardens, all combined to produce a charming scene".  

And the houses had front and back gardens.  What is more, Jones was "more astonished than ever at the small rent asked for all these advantages".

What this rent was, Jones does not say.  From the look of the houses to-day one would certainly say that they were a great improvement on the terraces - they were bigger and had front gardens, wider roads, trees in the streets, and even small stained glass windows in some of the doorways. 

 One suspects that the working classes who lived here were at the top end of the working class pay range and would never have lived in the smaller terrace houses anyway.  

The Avenue (which is a cul de sac) seen from the top.

The other photo from the 1906 Journal.

One also wonders if not only was land cheaper in Bradmore than it would have been in, say, Penn Fields or Whitmore Reans, and whether the developer was accepting less of a return on his investment than he might have got - providing a hidden subsidy.  

However that may be the avenue and its houses are still there today, most of them not greatly altered, and all looking to have survived well.  It would be nice to have the trees back in the street to make it even more of a garden suburb.

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