Before Boythorpe was built

At the beginning of the 19th Century local industries included the manufacture of hosiery and lace (net); also flax dressing, tanning and malting. Iron foundries, coal mines and potteries lay outside the boundaries of the borough. The Chesterfield Canal, opened in 1777, provided an outlet for lead from the west of Chesterfield and products from the newly emerging iron foundries and coal mines.

With advances in technology, deeper mine shafts were possible and new mines were opened. The arrival of the railway in 1840 opened up new markets for the coal in other parts of the country. Increased employment opportunities brought an influx of labourers and miners to live in the town although they were employed outside the borough. The population, which was 6,211 in 1841 increased to 11,915 in 1871. Between 1851 and 1861 the population of Chesterfield rose by a staggering 39%. The majority of the immigrants came from outside the local area and many of them went to live in the overcrowded conditions of the yards where few new houses were built; rather, existing outbuildings were converted to living accommodation and most households took in lodgers, including whole families. These overcrowded conditions were insanitary and epidemics spread rapidly.

 

Outside the borough some industrialists and colliery owners built housing for their workers – rows of back to back houses, with the minimum of facilities, some of which had already degenerated into slums by the end of the 19th century. Workers lived in overcrowded conditions; sanitation and water supplies were inadequate; often the area suffered pollution from factory chimneys. However some industrialists recognised that, if the workers were in decent conditions, they were healthier and ultimately productivity increased. An early example was Barrow Hill laid out by Richard Barrow in 1852-5 for his workers at Staveley Iron Works.

 

Elsewhere the garden city movement was founded by Ebenezer Howard who was concerned at the unregulated urban sprawl which resulted in poor housing conditions. He envisaged garden cities; planned developments with a central civic core and green space surrounded by village communities. These villages were to be laid out with houses, designed to improved standards, at a density of no more than 12 per acre, and with plenty of open spaces. An industrial area would provide employment for the community. He envisaged that these garden cities would be established by commercial companies. Letchworth Garden City (1903) was the first to be built followed by Welwyn Garden City.

 

The same ideas and standards were being employed by enlightened industrialists most notably the Cadbury family at Bournville but also on a smaller scale at the model villages at New Bolsover (1888) and Cresswell (1896) built by the Bolsover and Cresswell Colliery Company.

 

Heavily involved in the garden city movement were Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin, who designed Letchworth Garden City. Locally they designed S Andrew’s church at Barrow Hill. Barry Parker was born in Newbold. His father became the manager of the Sheffield Banking Company in New Square and the family lived almost directly opposite the entrance to the notorious Froggatt’s Yard so he would be well aware of the dreadful housing conditions there. Raymond Unwin was born near Rotherham and later obtained an apprenticeship at Staveley before moving to Manchester and then returning to Staveley. Following the move of Parker snr. to Buxton, Parker and Unwin formed a partnership there. As time passed, Unwin became more concerned with municipal housing standards and the layout of schemes whereas Parker was more concerned with the architecture and the partnership was dissolved.

 

Nationally the Houses of Working Class Act 1890 allowed councils to borrow money in order to build housing for the working classes, but finance for the housing would have to come from loans, which would be serviced by a charge on the rents. For most councils this was not a practical proposition. An additional problem was that, at that time, the Borough of Chesterfield occupied just half a square mile and the income from the rates and the market was inadequate for the council to undertake all the improvement work which was necessary.

In 1892 an application was made to extend the boundaries of the Borough: an earlier application had been unsuccessful. This time the application was successful and as a result Chesterfield expanded from 322 acres to 1,219 acres by taking in parts of Brampton, Walton, Hasland and Newbold. The expansion of the borough resulted in an increased revenue from the rates, which in turn made it easier to obtain loans in order to carry out improvements. The first capital project was the extension of the sewerage system through the borough – a major task as the area absorbed from Brampton alone was greater than the size of the original borough.

The report of the Medical Officer of Health for 1896 summed up the housing situation.

Although it had been suggested that all substandard property should be demolished. ‘Such a course would entail condemnation of a large part of the old Borough. Insufficient new houses are being built to accommodate the tenants who would be displaced also many of the evicted tenants would be unable to afford the rents demanded for the newer houses’.

A systematic inspection of housing in the area was begun, not just into the sanitary condition of the property, but also into overcrowding. Pressure was put upon landlords to put property into a state of repair, which resulted in an improvement in living conditions for some. Some of the most dilapidated property was demolished. In 1900 the report of the Medical Officer of Health proposed providing houses for the poor who were displaced by the closing of the worst classes of houses.

They are a class of people for whom no builder cares to cater and no private owner is in a position to build the special class of property required and to enforce cleanliness and order as is a municipal body. It may or may not be possible to make such an enterprise a financially paying one but it would certainly prove remunerative so far as public health is concerned.

However at last there was a prospect of the Council being able to build much needed houses. The 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act placed a statutory obligation on local authorities of over 20,000 population to provide working-class housing. Building schemes had to follow the recommendations laid out in the manual produced by the Tudor Walters Committee in 1918, the chief author of which was Raymond Unwin. About the same time Percy Houfton, who designed Cresswell model village and, had worked with Parker became architectural consultant to Chesterfield Borough Council. In autumn 1917 Councillor William Rhodes was appointed to the National Housing and Town Planning Council.

 

The manual said that estates were to incorporate a mix of house types with no more than twelve an acre. They were to be built in a simple cottage style with gabled, red tiled roofs, brick walls combined with white render or pebble dash. Houses were built in pairs or in short terraces runs of up to about five houses. Gardens, front and back, were usually of generous dimensions.

Following the 1919 Act it was announced that a subsidy would be provided by the Treasury for municipal loss beyond a penny rate. The Act was passed on February 6th: by the end of the month plans had been submitted for approval for 26 houses to be built on St Augustines Road and by the end of the year plans were submitted for the first 120 houses on the Boythorpe estate.

Once houses were occupied then money from rents could be invested in more housing. Construction continued on estates at St Augustines, Springfield, Racecourse, Barker Lane and Highfield Halls estate and by 1939 2,600 houses had been built.

Not everyone wanted to move into the new council property. According to the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1919.

It will be seen that practically 70% of the miners occupy houses of a rental of 6s or under per week. It is therefore evident that a good proportion of the working class who are high wage earners are occupying some of the cheapest houses in the town – in many cases slum dwellings unfit for habitation (30% of the wage earners of Low Pavement area are miners) so that many householders who will be displaced by the demolition of insanitary property are in a position to pay a much higher rent than they do at present.

 

In one six-roomed house, with a rent of 6s per week, in the Low Pavement area, there were eight wage earners possibly earning amongst them as much as £1500 per annum.

A minority of families found it difficult to settle in their new homes and the problems were exacerbated by a prolonged coal strike in 1926 which led to an increase in rent arrears. A woman Property Manager and an assistant were appointed. As well as collecting rents they were responsible for fostering community interest among the residents and improving amenities. They were in fact social workers trained on the lines laid out by Octavia Hill and Alderman William Rhodes had witnessed them in action in London.

Immediately after the war Chesterfield initially erected a number of system built homes such as prefabs, UNITY and REEMA homes, including those at Whitecotes. However the large estates built at Newbold, Loundsley Green and Grangewood were mostly traditionally constructed houses, flats and bungalows. Between 1945 and 1980 11,222 homes were provided including the estate at Inkersall, Staveley and Brimington having become part of the new Borough of Chesterfield in 1974. [1]

The Town Clerk who oversaw the first extension of the borough and the initial surveys into housing conditions in the borough was John Middleton who died suddenly in 1915. He was succeeded by James Rothwell who oversaw the beginning of the programme of council house provision. Having prepared the ultimately successful application to extend the borough to include Whittington in 1923, Rothwell moved on to be replaced by George Parker Morris. In 1928 he took up the prestigious post of Town Clerk of Westminster.

[1] Information from Chesterfield Borough Council Community Housing Department. 70 years of Council Housing 1920-1990