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Visit to Croydon: Wates’s 60s and 70s housing

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The construction company Wates was founded in 1897. It became involved in speculative house building in the twenties and returned to it after WWII. This walk looked at Wates houses in the Park Hill area of Croydon. Much of the surrounding area had been large Victorian housing which Wates started buying up as sites to develop. They used external architects for some developments, but many were designed by their in-house team.

In Selborne Road in 1960 they built Dormy houses – bungalows with bedrooms in the roof. The design was American, as Wates had been building over there when it was not possible here. They provided large living spaces, four bedrooms and two bathrooms. At the Brownbourne Estate (1962 – 64) which is built on steeply sloping land, we were able to see inside one of the houses: the accommodation is split level and the main living levels are open plan. At the very top is a roof level terrace with a view over woodland. Hill Rise (1962 – 64) is a mixture of two-storey terraces and three-storey town houses, with ample off-street parking. Chichele Gardens has three-storey town houses of a simpler design. Turnpike Lane (1965 – 68) has terraces of flat roofed, two or three-storey houses with some maisonettes and a ten-storey block of flats. The design is simple but well executed with a range of finishes. It was noticeable how well the buildings sit in the landscape – children could play on the grass and be seen from the houses.

St Bernards (1969 – 70) was an ambitious scheme on a south-facing slope, based on a Swiss development and using a Swiss architect. The houses were to have views over the houses in front of them, and underground parking was provided. They were expensive to build and did not sell well, and Wates developed the rest of the land with more conventional houses. Hunters Way, Caroline Close and Tipton Drive (1970 – 74) are flat-roofed two-storey houses around shared open space. The living room has a full-width window and door out into a small garden area. The dining area is in a full-height atrium.

When the Steeple Hill Estate (1973 – 79) was built, flat roofs had been abandoned. Again, it is the planting and layout that bring quality to the development. Houses in Rushmead Close (1974 – 75) have very large gables, four bedrooms, a large reception room, a big kitchen-dining area and a garage set back from the road. The entrance to the house is under a porch next to the garage.

All the developments have large rooms and good communal landscaping, but on the down side they were probably difficult to heat. All the estates are in good condition, and appreciated by the residents. Thanks to Ian McInnes, who helped us to appreciate and understand the history of Wates’s late C20 building activity in Croydon.

John Goodier

C20 members visited Croydon in August 2016

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