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Great Western Railway employee housing schemes in London

David G Thomas


During the First World War (191418) some Great Western Railway (GWR) employees unsuccessfully asked for rentable housing to be built for them. In London (using the current boundary) there was no Company housing estate similar to those erected by the Midland Railway at Cricklewood1 and by the LNWR around Willesden Junction.2 This article describes what the Company did to help provide employees with houses, mostly rented, in the London area.3

The GWR and employee housing in 1921

In 1913 the GWR owned 3,233 houses which it rented to employees across its network.4 These included some 300 it had indirectly financed at Swindon; inherited smaller estates, for example, Newton Abbot; and clusters it had built in a few remote places, for example, Neyland.5 But generally the Company only provided residential accommodation for its employees in rural locations, at level crossings, stations and signal boxes. From maps, it appears that during the 19th century the GWR had not provided such accommodation for its employees anywhere in the London area.

When the new line from Old Oak Common (OOC) through Greenford to High Wycombe, in part built and run jointly with the Great Central Railway, was planned, stations along the line were in locations still rural. GWR-designed employee houses were planned for London area stations at Twyford Abbey (1903), Greenford (1904), and Ruislip (1906). The latter two had a station master's house and six cottages, all now demolished. Further out, similar houses survive near Denham station.6 Twyford Abbey, soon renamed Park Royal, was rushed to be ready for the first Royal Agricultural Show in June 1903.7 Two existing cottages would be used, with the remaining provision to be new build.8 In 1908 Northolt Junction, later South Ruislip, station was opened to cater for (and entice residents to) new housing development. No employee housing was provided there until, in 1920, the GW & GC Joint Committee agreed to buy a nearby bungalow for the station master from the Ministry of Munitions Disposal Board.9 Finally, the GWR inherited two items of housing. One was a substantial station master's house at Colnbrook, right on the London border, when it acquired the Staines & West Drayton Railway, and the second was three on-site flats at Mint Stables, 13 South Wharf Road, Paddington.10 Even if this summary has missed a few, it is fair to say that as of 1921 the GWR's provision of housing for its employees in London was negligible.

The GWR in London up to 1921 and requests for housing

In 1905-6 the GWR's main London engine shed was relocated from Westbourne Park to a spacious site at OOC, near its existing carriage sheds, gas works and wagon works.11 Further carriage sidings were soon added. This was part of a grand scheme that included widening the rail approach to Paddington and required demolition, from 1907 onwards, of a swathe of the sort of 'Labouring Class' dwellings that provided rented accommodation for the GWR's workers. The Company was obliged to arrange provision of an equivalent amount of new dwellings. In 1903, when the scheme was being planned, Mr Inglis, GWR Chief Engineer, soon General Manager (GM), spotted an opportunity, without understanding the obligations. He suggested that the replacement dwellings 'should be suitable for occupation by the Company's servants, a large number of whom will be employed in the new works at OOC when completed.'12 But of course there was no way of ensuring that the men among the 850 people to be rehoused would be Company employees. Local negotiations obtained a substantial reduction in the number of dwellings built, in exchange for providing a 'public open space'.13 Did the GWR realise the effect on housing opportunities for its own increasing workforce?

The number of locomotives based at OOC shed grew from 163 in 1910 to 193 in 1950, as did demand for men with the skills to operate and maintain them. At Southall shed the allocation rose from 34 in 1910 to 71 in 1950 plus, from the 1930's, a handful of GWR diesel railcars.14 Over those years, locomotive developments meant ability to handle the increases in both passenger and freight traffic. The railway was busy. For example, in 1913 the GM gained approval for additional goods depot staff, 5 at Hayes and 14 at Southall, to cope with the 'very large increase of traffic due to the development of the District (as) a number of additional factories have been built in the neighbourhood.'15 The factory workers increased the demand for housing. Two months later, the GM said that, to relieve Acton Yard, freight trains were diverted to Park Royal depot, where extra staff would be employed and that relevant signal boxes would open continuously.16

In the lead up to, and after the outbreak of, war in 1914, the nation's resources, including those for house building, were diverted to the war effort. Over 10% of the GWR (almost all male) workforce enlisted immediately and by 1918 it was 25,479 men (32.5%), even though many railway jobs were 'reserved'.17 Almost 3,000 never returned to the UK. To fill the gaps the Company employed women, redeployed some from non-essential services, such as restaurant cars, and moved men to London, but without providing accommodation, for it had none.18

Running a 24/7 railway meant drivers, firemen and guards had by rotation to work shifts starting and finishing at odd hours. They needed to be able to walk to work and to live 'within call', that is, on the rounds of the (junior) staff employed to call or 'knock up' in days before cheap alarm clocks. Other wages grade staff at stations, signal boxes, goods yards, on the permanent way and so on, generally had a regular shift pattern, and it was easier still for the majority of office workers, for whom commuting was possible.

Even before the war, in the summer of 1914, a delegation from the Acton branch of the NUR (so not including the more elite and better paid ASLEF) approached Acton Council to ask it to help by building housing for them to rent. The Clerk interviewed Mr Dunster, the GWR's London Divisional Superintendent, whose response is clear: 'As to the Company erecting dwellings for their workforce, in some country districts the Company has had to build houses for their employees, but they did not adopt this course generally; the financial results would not justify them.' He said accommodation was available at lower rent a short journey away, including Hanwell and Southall. The Council then decided not to help the NUR.19

A year later, in 1915, Southall railwaymen petitioned directly to the GWR for help in having somewhere to live, though no help came. Hardly surprising, as on 6th December 1918 the GM, in response to 'applications from staff at several places for houses', submitted a report to the Board reiterating the cost and ending 'that, as a general principle, therefore, the provision of houses by the Company had been discouraged' and remained a 'commercial improbability', although leaving the possibility of a further report 'as occasion may require'.20 Nevertheless, some contingency planning occurred as the April 1920 issue of the GWR magazine, stated that the Surveyor's staff were ready to take on work 'if housing schemes for the staff are to be introduced'.

Loans to employees

Southall's housing situation remained unresolved, the mood of the men probably not helped by the Company's purchase in 1920 of a house there for the station master to rent.21 The GWR's Chief Officers Conference in February 1922 included the idea that 'in view of the strong representations which have been received from the staff at Southall', it should be a test case for action.22 On 6 April 1922 the GM said the Company should introduce an employee house purchase scheme, and 'an endeavour should be made to arrange a scheme at Southall, where the conditions are very unsatisfactory.' He suggested that a local building society might be found to provide advantageous loan terms. Otherwise, the Company could itself make loans.23 No building society solution was found, so the GWR introduced its own pilot scheme, soon widened to cover the whole London area. Loans of up to 90% of a house purchase price were available for up to 20 years.

Worried that the granting of housing loans might be outside its statutory powers, the GWR included enabling clauses in its GWR (Additional Powers) Act, 1923. Incidentally, both the LMS and LNER obtained similar powers in the same year.24 Once the legal position was clarified, the GWR made the loan scheme available to all employees system-wide, publicised it in the GWR Magazine early in 1923. By April 1924 376,113 had been loaned to 1,007 applicants.25 At the end of the GWR, in December 1947, over 1.4m had been loaned and 1.2m already repaid.

Under the scheme a purchaser had to contribute 10% of the purchase cost, which was often beyond the reach of 'wages grade' employees living in urban rented accommodation. Predictably, there was a good take-up in lower management grades, but less so for others, for whom a different approach was needed. In contrast, the LNER loan scheme, initially linked to new estates at Gosforth and then Faverdale Wagon Works, Darlington (400 houses), focused on such employees.26

Public Utility Societies

In the years up to WW1 the concept of 'garden villages' (and towns/cities) gathered impetus, through both local authority and company housing estates provided for rent. An organisation particularly adept at pushing the idea of garden villages, by both setting up such organisations and by providing architectural and planning services, was the Welsh Town-Planning Housing Trust Ltd (WTPHT). By 1914 it was associated with estates at Rhiwbina (Cardiff) and Wrexham, plus smaller schemes elsewhere in Wales, whilst having a London presence and contacts. Although speedily rejected when it approached the GWR in 1915 to suggest involvement in a garden village at Llantrisant (Pontyclun), this organisation became deeply involved with the Company less than a decade later.27

At Board level, there had been a complete change of view on providing rented houses for wages grade employees, reflecting an urgency instilled by the Government's wish to see more housing built. Long-term grants and rate aid were offered, both direct and via local councils. Eligibility for such aid was widened to include Public Utility Societies (PUS) providing housing on a cooperative, not for profit, basis. The GM submitted a memo for approval at a Board meeting on 7 July 1922, minutes recording 'it is proposed to endeavour to induce the staff to form PUS's'.28 But what he envisaged at that time was without any GWR financial involvement.

The same month the GWR Surveyor, F W Showers, and three delegates from Southall visited the WTPHT PUS estates at Barry Garden Suburb and Rhiwbina, following this with inspection of potential sites for an envisaged Southall PUS.29 More formally, on 12 October Showers put the London problem into perspective at a Law & Parliamentary Committee meeting, saying that 'to meet the pressing needs of the staff in this area at least 1,200 houses are, it is estimated, needed.' He suggested a PUS with positive GWR involvement.30 It was, perhaps, no coincidence that 1,200 houses would nicely fit onto two pieces of land he had identified as potential sites near both Southall and Acton.


The Board's meeting next day noted what Showers had said and decided to give serious financial commitment to the sort of scheme that the WTPHT was advocating and had introduced elsewhere.31 This was to facilitate setting up a local cooperative PUS that would be 'run by the men' through a locally elected Management Committee of railway employees, plus Company nominees, receiving on-going support from the WTPHT for an annual fee. The GWR would buy land and pay for roads and sewers, the cost being a 50 year loan to the PUS. The WTPHT Architect, T Alwyn Lloyd, whose CV included assisting work at Hampstead Garden Suburb, would deal with the estate (garden village) layout, house design and oversee quality of building work. The Committee would invite tenders for the houses and choose (with the WTPHT assisting) which to recommend to the GWR Board. The WTPHT would sort legalities, planning permission, grant applications and the like. The GWR would pay 90% of the cost of building the housing, again as a long term loan. The local PUS would have to find the remaining 10%, raising the capital by obtaining short term loans and selling shares, mostly to intending tenants. Intending tenants had to own at least one 1 share before being eligible to apply for a tenancy, and commit to building up to holding 25 (a figure later increased), with a maximum of 200. The GWR loan rate was to be 4%. Tenants' rents would cover running costs and loan repayments.

The Great Western (London) Garden Village Society Ltd

With this template in place, the GWR included clauses in its GWR (Additional Powers) Act, 1923, enabling it to provide finance for such schemes. Even before the Act was passed, the WTPHT Secretary, E Hall Williams, met groups of London railwaymen to explain what was involved. From the positive response he was able to kick-start a Provisional Management Committee, which first met on 17 November 1922.32 Steps were taken to register as a PUS, named the GW (London) Garden Village Society Ltd.

Mr Showers, on behalf of the GWR, negotiated purchase of 45 acres of land at Acton from Colonel Wood for 18,000.33 He also bid for 74 acres at Harlington,34 but that fell through and an alternative 61 acre site in Hayes was purchased from the Minet Estate for 11,352, although without space for the 700+ houses envisaged at Harlington.35

Both the WTPHT Architect and Secretary continued to attend and advise the PUS Management Committee meetings. This was part of a formal Agreement for Services dated 30th November 1923, which included the on-going administration fees. The GWR suggested the Committee include Mr Showers, who was responsible for land purchases. In turn, the Management Committee appointed him Chairman and the WTPHT appointed him as a Director.


The Acton and Hayes sites were to have less than 12 houses per acre, of several designs, as would befit a Garden Village (Figure 1). At their second meeting (5/2/1923) the Provisional Management Committee 'discussed the probable demand that would arise for flats and it was agreed that this matter would be considered in due course.'36 It was, occasionally, but only three bedroom houses were built. The GWR initially allowed just 50 houses on each site to 'test the water'. The first at Acton were along an extension of Noel Road and at Hayes along Minet Drive. The Committee expressed a 'strong desire' for electric lighting and satisfactory negotiations with METESCO meant Acton's houses and streets were lit electrically.37 In anticipation, Hayes houses had wiring built in ready for connection, but lengthy negotiations with the Uxbridge Electric Co failed. Gas house and street lighting was installed. The Committee specified gas lighting in several subsequent contracts for houses at Hayes.38 It took until 1934, and the contract for the eighth Hayes section, before electric wiring was again included in new build. It was subsequently retro-fitted in existing houses, taking advantage of grants under a Government 'Assisted Wiring Scheme', using 'the Marconite wiring system consisting of insulated rubber sheathed cable concealed by wood surface channelling' for lighting only.39 The Society had to justify raising (controlled) rents by an extra 3d per week to cover the cost. Some tenants refused wiring, their houses remaining gas lit until a tenancy change. Others paid extra for power points.

Building was split roughly 40:60 between houses with or without a parlour, the latter being cheaper to rent. Over time, the ratio became 25:75, reflecting demand. They were mostly semi-detached, with some blocks of 4. The Architect included a variety of exterior design features and mixed use of either brick or 'roughcast' - akin to pebbledash, finish. Curved roads, cul-de-sacs and planted trees and beds of flowers and shrubbery added to the garden village ambience as the estates expanded (Figure 2). Even so, they were not that different from many contemporary Council estates.

Grant aid or rate subsidy

The Government allowed local authorities to grant 'rate aid' on some housing categories. In 1923 this was widened to those built by a PUS, at a maximum of 6 per house p.a., or a one-off lump sum, subsequently reimbursed by the Government. A year later, more generous (and complex) terms were introduced, with potential for granting up to 11-10-0d for 40 years. The Society collected both rent and rates, this aid always being taken from the 'rent' element. It was potentially worth over 4/- a week at a time when the Society aimed to set weekly rents at between 10/- and 14/- . Aid was only granted after inspection of completed houses and approval of the proposed rent, thereafter controlled. The Society found a way of spreading the effect of aid received to the equivalent of 50 years, so that its cessation would coincide with the end of repayments of the GWR loan element.

At Hayes the first 50 houses were built and aid applied for. Hayes Urban District Council (UDC) was as keen as any to encourage housing to meet needs of the area's inhabitants and to allow a rates subsidy (aid) to a PUS erecting housing for them. But it perceived that most prospective tenants for the estate were relatively or completely new to Hayes and would work elsewhere. The UDC said it was inequitable to be 'subsidising the housing of men employed within the County of London.'40 The subsidy was discretionary. Tensions ensued. The LCC was called in but had no clout as Hayes was outside its area, even though the LCC itself could build estates outside that area. Later, in cases of impasse, subsidies could be obtained direct from the Ministry of Housing. Hayes eventually offered a 100 lump sum per house, which was accepted. In turn the Council had to borrow money until reimbursed by the Government.

Acton had its own frustrations. One condition for receiving aid was a maximum floor area of 950 sq feet. To introduce variety, the Architect included some pairs of houses of 947 and 949 sq. ft. Completed houses were measured to confirm compliance before eligibility for aid was confirmed. One pair, 113 & 115 Noel Rd, was found to be just over the limit, losing the expected grant aid, 8 per annum, or 160 per house over 20 years. The builder was asked to return to 'rectify' the mistake just about impossible. He prevaricated, tenants moved in and eventually a deal was done with him paying 200 of the 320.41 The rent controls were effective. Any proposed increase potentially resulted in a reduction in aid if still being paid, and approval had to be obtained. The WTPHT appears to have earned its 'administration fee' in the volume of correspondence produced and number of meetings attended on this subject.


The demand led quickly to contracts for second sections of 50 houses at each site, with further ones following. As the two estates grew, so did the task of managing them. Workshops were set up and a total of around 20 gardening and maintenance staff employed (some seasonal). The only purpose-built flats on the estates, 2a and 2b Saxon Drive (1935) were erected for letting to two of these employees.42

The GWR continued to release to the Society only the amount of land needed for each section of development of about 50 houses at a time ultimately 10 sections on each site. The rest was idle or let for allotments and sports/recreation grounds. There was no plan for the estates to have their own shops or schools. As for halls or club houses, it was for the residents to set up local Tenants Associations and arrange such facilities. Which they did.

Sub-Committees were established to screen prospective tenants and to ensure existing ones followed the rules. No unauthorised garden sheds and instructions to remove offending items were not negotiable. One tenant was 'requested to dismantle within 14 days the unsightly shed erected'.43 Other rules covered leaving gardens uncultivated, failing to trim hedges, noise (bearing in mind shift workers) and restricting bonfires to Thursdays only - a practice that continued until the 1980s.44 And as for trellises and screens, none escaped a formal inspection visit.


Before long, questions were asked about provision of garages for cars. Building one as part of, or alongside, a house would count towards the 950 sq ft, affecting eligibility for grants. (At some time this rule ceased to apply). Open-air parking was not usual and on-street parking was potentially a highway obstruction. At Acton some bits of spare land were allocated.45 Motor cycle combinations were borderline should tenants be allowed to squeeze them into acceptable garden sheds?

Rents were paid weekly in cash at the estate office and occasionally tenants in arrears were expelled. The collector walked with the money to the bank, accompanied by two others. Concerned about security, the Acton Committee obtained licences for all three to carry firearms to protect the cash in transit, and, just to be sure, purchased a concealed chain to attach the cash case to the bearer's person to thwart any attempted snatch!46

Allocation of tenancies was restricted to married men, and in practice applicants were almost entirely 'blue collar' workers. Substantial waiting lists soon grew. By the end of 1923 there had been 300 tenancy applications, of which 177 were accepted before a first house was completed.47 Waiting lists always remained, peaking at around 600 in 1954.48 Acton (Figure 3) was soon restricted to OOC drivers, firemen and guards needing to live 'within call', although occasionally, when its waiting list got down to about 20 names, this was relaxed. Thus in 1931, for a limited period, applications could be submitted from signalmen, fitters, police constables, linemen and foremen - all relatively small groups.49

Other rules were devised by the Society's Management Committee to restrict eligibility. No new tenancies were allowed to men over 55, even if on the waiting list for several years before reaching that age. Rulings had to be given for those working at 'joint' locations such as at Addison Road station, as they were only half-GWR! A points system was introduced (extra points for sons of tenants) and decisions were made on 'need' compared to where applicants were already living. For example, applications were refused from men already living nearby in comparable council housing, albeit at higher rents. At Acton the status of 'passed engine cleaner' applicants, some the sons of tenants, was a dilemma. They could be asked as needed to step up to fireman duties, thus needing to be 'within call', but their regular job was a day shift, early, middle or late, without that need. Eventually Senior Cleaners were allowed, but not others.50 There was also debate about childless couples taking lodgers. 'One household per house' barred newly-wed children of tenants from living with one of the couple's parents. One Noel Road tenant was to be 'informed that if his son in law and daughter do not leave within 28 days, steps will be taken to terminate his tenancy'.51 However, there was one relaxation a man planning to marry could go on, and thus work his way up, the waiting list, but remained unable to get a tenancy until wed. Perhaps railwaymen, used to strict rule book adherence at work, accepted such 'conditions'.

Meanwhile, the GWR, seeing the London scheme's immediate success, set up a Committee to consider other locations. This only met twice, being quickly overtaken by groundswell enthusiasm as railwaymen in many centres requested meetings to find out more, interest being fuelled by reports and photographs of the London houses in the GWR Magazine. By the end of July 1924 enquiries had been received from 40 locations52 although, in the event, most potential schemes came to nought. They included Uxbridge, where Mr Showers met railwaymen at the end of 1925 and suggested their proposed (small) development become part of the London Society; nothing more was heard of it.53 Only six other Societies built houses before WW2, with two more in 19479. There were also arrangements at Barry and Exeter for allocation of others organisations' houses for railwaymen.54

Easiform houses

The First World War, and post-war government schemes and initiatives, had left the building trade with a backlog of demand and a shortage of skilled workers, pushing up costs, in spite of wage controls. Local authorities were urged to commission 'experimental' houses, including ones with wood or steel frames and/or with concrete walls. The Moir Committee (19245) was set up to recommend the best. One method seen, but considered not enough advanced to form any conclusion, was that of London & Eastern Prefacto Ltd, Crayford, using pressed part-hollow concrete blocks.55

In bidding their tender for the third section at Hayes, 60 houses, John Laing & Son, the contractor for the first two sections of (brick) houses there, offered to erect, for 900, a 'demonstration' pair of houses using their Easiform system, as exhibited at Wembley in 19245. The offer was accepted.56 The main selling point of Easiform was that its cavity wall construction was of concrete poured on site between steel shuttering. Laing boasted that no skilled labour was needed, and it certainly obviated need for bricklayers and plasterers. Ceilings were 'of asbestos sheet fixed to the joists with wooden strips' (presumably nailed).57 The two concrete houses seemed fine and the tender was cheaper than others for brick houses, so Laing got the contract. But it was not plain sailing. The steel shuttering had to be bespoke, although the Architect helped by having only two designs. Wooden window and door frames, to which were added two steel bands above and below (one in each skin), needed to be on site first so the concrete could be poured round them and their supply was delayed. The GWR Society at Plymouth was also caught out by delays in their contract for 86 Easiform houses.58 Laing got no further building work, in brick or otherwise, from any of the GWR Societies. Subsequent houses for all the Societies were brick, apart from 36 in Truro where local convention was to use 'concrete bricks', cheaper because of a shortage of both bricks and stone.59

It is only fair to say that a surveyor who had visited one has said that eventually a total of about 11,000 Easiform houses were erected nationwide with construction continuing until the 1960s, including 'a fairly sizeable estate' in Eltham and 'others in Croydon and Kent.'

Options for more land

Both estates had many relatively young families with children and the GWR conceded selling a 5 acre part of the Acton land for a school in 1930.60 At the same time, a plea for a small plot for a church was rejected (as was a request in 1926).61 Shops, with maisonettes above, were built next to West Acton station, as a separate GWR commercial development.

At Hayes, over 6 acres south of the estate's Hunters Grove, was sold to a private developer in 1931.62 As always intended, a strip of just over an acre alongside a main road, Coldharbour Lane, was sold on for shops to be built.63

By the end of 1935 the Acton land was fully used (488 houses), apart from the recreation ground, which the tenants decided should not be built on. A short distance to the west, south of Queens Drive, was 13 acres of 'spare' land, which had included Hanger Hill Farm buildings. This appears to have been acquired by the GWR when purchasing land for its Ealing & Shepherds Bush Railway.64 It was rented to Mill Hill Park Cricket Club in 1928.65 In 1935 the GWR Surveyor indicated it could be made available to the Society for housing, but 'possession could not be obtained for some considerable time'. This did not stop the Architect getting on with layout plans for over 100 houses, in two phases.66 Eventually, in June 1946, the GWR said the land was now available.67 But politics seem to have been at play, for Ealing Council deferred a decision on various plans submitted by the WTPHT Architect, with doubts over adequate sewage disposal, road widths and possible designation for other uses. There was much to-ing and fro-ing, not helped by the Railway Executive in 1951 openly seeking to dispose of land not needed for operational purposes.68 Eventually, in 1954, the Society withdrew its interest, having baulked at the likely cost of development and the complete refusal of Ealing Council to consider any rate subsidy.69 Ealing then acquired the site for another school. The GWR also owned and leased a playing field adjacent to Acton freight yard, east of the Estate's own recreation ground, but the Society's enquiry about this being made available got nowhere; it remains grass to this day.

Not far away, in 1897 the GWR purchased land for its line from West Ealing to Greenford. This included more than the strip needed for the actual line.70 17 acres were given in 1900 to the GW Athletics Club; its successor is still there.71 An adjacent horse hospital took another 6 acres. Between 1930 and 1946 three pieces of this land, which could have become a third PSU estate, were leased or sold without the London Society recording an interest maybe the Surveyor did not tell them!72 And in 1933 the GWR sold 24 acres, just part of its land at Park Royal, for housing development.73

As mentioned earlier, the possibility of housing on a site at Uxbridge fizzled out without land being purchased.

Thus the possibility of additional PUS estates for GWR employees, suggested in the wording 'for the housing of employees of the Company at Acton, Hayes and elsewhere in the neighbourhood of London' never materialised.74

Hayes an unsuccessful final bid for further housing

The GWR had sold 6 acres of the initial Hayes purchase in 1931,75 and completion of the 10th Section in 1937 used up all remaining available land, giving an estate of 568 houses. When, in April 1939, an adjoining 11 acres of the Minet Estate became available, the GWR bought it to allow further building.76 Plans for a 'Section 11' of 84 houses were drawn up, submitted to the Council on 29 July and approval notified on 9 August.77 A contract for roads and sewers was awarded and work started a week later, on 29 August 1939.78 Too late. On 5 October 1939 'the proposal to lease the land to the Society for the erection of houses is in abeyance in consequence of the outbreak of war.'79 The contractor had to stop and was paid 7,823-10-0d for work done, mostly sewers. The Architect was awarded 10 guineas for his services.80 The site became allotments. The Architect had envisaged continuing with a final Section 12 of 56 houses, some facing a new Council 'Road 15' outside the estate boundary, roughly along the site of present-day Avondale Drive. This was put on hold.81


After the war Hayes UDC dithered on allowing development to go ahead (not helped by Middlesex County Council asking, in 1947, for the land to be held for possible educational purposes), even though it had already given permission for Section 11.82 As late as 1952 the WTPHT Architect was actively suggesting development options, at last including two-bedroom houses, low-rise flats and terraces to maximise the number of dwellings that could be accommodated in view of the long tenancy waiting lists.83 Planning permission was never granted. Eventually the Association gave up, and the British Railways Board (BRB) sold the land to LB Hillingdon. Development for council housing started in 1966. As part of the deal, about 50 tenancies were to be reserved for railwaymen nominated by the Association, though with no rent advantage and no subsequent reservation when the nominated tenant moved on. Only 35 nominations were forwarded and 22 became tenants.84 At its AGM on 27 March 1969, the Association's Chair 'expressed pleasure in the fact that Mr Glenister & Mr Wellings had been honoured by the Council in having tower blocks named after them.'85 The rectangular brick blocks, 12 floors high and with flat roofs, stand at the eastern end of Avondale Drive, overlooking where further Association semi-detached houses might have stood. One wonders what the two honoured gentlemen, both involved for many years in the Association's business, would have said.

War damage and effects

War affected both estates. Anderson shelters were erected in gardens, and used, so there were no fatalities. Acton tenants were 'up in arms' when in April 1940 the Military compulsorily billeted 'several hundred' troops with them for a few weeks pending erection of barracks.86 Many houses at Acton and Hayes sustained damage from blast and /or from falling shrapnel. Bombing destroyed, or damaged beyond repair, 18 Acton houses and the tenants' sports pavilion. Twenty-five other houses, (plus two at Hayes), although eventually repairable, were for a time uninhabitable.87 Under the circumstances, attempts to prevent tenants taking in family members and friends, and keeping poultry, were given up as a lost cause, though a firm line was drawn at other livestock!

One sad consequence of war concerned Percy Stacey of 54 Noel Road, 40 years a railwayman, who, being 27th on the list of applicants accepted for the Acton estate, had moved into that new house in 1925.88 He mistakenly drove an overnight London to Plymouth train past red signals to derailment at trap points west of Taunton station in the early hours of 4 November 1940. His fireman, W Seabridge, who left a widow and three children, and 26 passengers, were killed. The subsequent investigation report attributed his error to disturbed rest after his house was 'recently damaged by bombing'.89 He died just 16 months later. His widow lived in the house until 1970.


At the end of the war the total number of houses damaged at Acton was 272 out of 491 and at Hayes 515 out of 568.90 The Society had, like all businesses, paid a national levy towards repair and rebuilding of war damage. The 18 houses destroyed were rebuilt to their original design and appearance, but with some fitment updates. It duly claimed repayment of the rebuilding cost, to be told monies would cover a return to 'as when destroyed', and not updates. Eventually 27,710 was paid and 1,689 disallowed.91

From 1945 to dissolution of the Association in 1990

By the end of the war, rules about tenants having to be working railwaymen had broken down as they began to reach retirement and increasingly there were widows, some of whom had remarried to non-railwaymen. In 1952, 99 tenants were widows. By 1958 tenants included 151 widows and 38 widowers; most of these 189 were pensioners and there were pensioner couples as well. In 1981, the proportion of tenants age 65 and over was 45%.92 Meanwhile, the Society (Association from June 1946) waiting list of eligible applicants was so long as to be meaningless for many. It grew from 309 in 1946 (a year when only four houses became vacant for letting) to peak at over 600. This included men living away from their families in 'bachelor' hostel accommodation adjacent to the loco sheds at OOC and Southall.3

Enforcing the railwaymen-only rule through courts and sometimes just the threat of court action did remove a handful of tenants who were not working railwaymen, but it was a tedious, often acrimonious, process. Legislation protected resident next of kin (for example, single adult children) when a tenant died. There was great reluctance to seek to evict widows. In the early 1960s diesels were rapidly replacing steam engines and many railway functions were rationalised, leading to redundancies. Who was going to insist that long-term tenants, unlikely to get another job, should also lose their home?

The Management Committee considered building old people's bungalows or flats on 'spare' bits of land, and did obtain planning permission for eight new-build 'bed sitting room flats' in 1962. Building costs meant relocated long-term tenants would have to pay higher rents than in existing (rent controlled) houses and it was decided not to proceed.93 Taking a different approach, as an experiment and after wading through much 'red tape' in 1965 two houses at Hayes, 48 and 50 Hunters Grove, were converted into four rather ungainly-looking flats for single occupation by pensioner widows or widowers.94 (Figure 4). Although they were successfully let, interest was limited, especially for upstairs. Acton tenants gave so little response to the idea of similar conversions that nothing was done.

Meanwhile, it was difficult to maintain the appearance of the estates. Car ownership had increased and, having already failed to manage the size and appearance of sheds, it was difficult for the Committee to control erection of garages within rear garden space (although such structures also needed planning permission). Inevitably, lack of road parking space led, in 1977, to permission for front garden hard standing and in 1980 for 'car ports'. Hedges had to be removed to allow car access. Some tenants wished to erect porches and replace windows and concessions were made, initially restricting such changes to rear and side elevations. And some older people had difficulty maintaining their gardens in good order.

In March 1953 the WTPHT, perhaps sensing that under BR (WR) no more Garden Village development would happen in London or elsewhere, gave notice that support for London and some other Societies would devolve to five staff based in the Estate Office at 154 Saxon Drive, Acton.95 (Figure 5). Seventeen years later, in 1970, it gave notice that all support would cease. Talks about this dragged on, until imminent retirement of key staff forced a deadline, 31 March 1976.96 The Management Committee chose the Family Housing Association, Acton, as its new support organisation.97

The 'new broom' soon found that, whilst the Association had always been in good financial health (and had regularly loaned its surplus cash to other GW Societies), there were capital-sapping maintenance problems. A surveyor reported: 'it appears that virtually all dwellings are in quite urgent need of full general repairs to external brickwork. The substantial deterioration of the jointing and its almost complete disappearance in many cases ...'. 152 houses needed new roofs, including replacing patched-up wartime damage on 163-169 Noel Rd. Subsidence at 38-44 Saxon Drive required attention and there was no insurance cover. Many metal windows would have to be replaced.98 This was perhaps predictable it was not until 1967 that the Committee considered the need to rewire houses, when even the most recent wiring was 30 years old, and decided to do so over 10 years at a rate of just 100 houses p.a. After advice from the Electricity Board that wiring over 20 years old was suspect! Completion was reported in 1976.99 There was also an effort made to alter the Association's constitution to improve tax liability, but the Committee, suspicious of potential outcomes of changes introduced by outsiders, encouraged a mass vote of tenants for 'no change'.100 More positively, ways of providing 'sheltered' housing on the estates were again explored, and some nominated tenants were accepted for appropriate local authority accommodation.

A few years later, perhaps prompted by the prospect of 'right to buy' in the 1980 Housing Act, there was a 'coup' and in July 1980 the Management Committee itself took over running of the estates. Within a few months (28/11/1980) it asked BRB if it would sell the freehold, ie, the remaining portion of the GWR loans.101 These had been for 50 years from their respective start dates, but end dates had been put back by a post-war suspension of payments to allow repayment money to be spent on deferred repairs. It took until 1984 to agree a sale, with 97% of tenants subsequently buying their houses freehold. BRB received over 6.2m.102 Fewer than 30 houses across both estates were not purchased. These were sold to the Acton Housing Association, with continued right of residence and existing rents for the tenants.103

Much needed settling before the Association could become free of assets and liabilities. Included was maintenance of flower beds, management of allotments, and taking over of recreation grounds and associated pavilions. The estates' maintenance staff were made redundant and yards and workshops sold off. Residents' organisations, evolved from the previous tenants' bodies, were set up. All was clear for dissolution in 1990, when a balance of over 2m was distributed to all shareholders - 2,469 a head, presumably including to those who had not purchased and remained tenants.104

Housing estates: conclusion

Between them the London PUS estates provided good quality accommodation for over 1,000 GWR railway families - but clearly did not meet demand. Cautious building in lots of around 50 houses stretched out the process for over a decade. In comparison, Hayes Council started its own scheme for 2,000 houses in 1920 and in 1929 the Allied Building Corporation was half way through erecting an estate of 1,080 houses there.105 Had the Company not sold some land acquired for the estates, but at the time yet to be used, and had the Association been successful with planning applications after the war, a further 350 or so houses would have been built. More land, already owned by the GWR, could have been made available, especially around Castle Bar and Park Royal.

Standardisation on three-bedroom family houses for married couples only, without serious thought of building maisonettes or flats, or catering for single people, lacked imagination. And there was major fault in not planning for inevitable age demographics.

Hayes' East Walk, Crossway and West Walk were designated a Conservation Area in 1988, but it was demoted to an Area of Special Local Character in 1999.106 On both estates, many alterations and additions have been made to the houses. Near West Acton station, 154 Saxon Drive, the 1937 purpose-built Estate Office, still proclaims that use. Opposite, at 117, is its smaller predecessor, converted to residential use. It is a pleasant 20 minutes summer stroll to take in these, a few of the cul-de-sacs and the flower beds remaining at the junction of Noel Road and Alwyn Gardens. Along the latter road, a sign, 'Acton Garden Village Association', providing an indirect link to the past, protects entry to the recreation ground.


The author wishes to thank the many helpful and patient staff of the following organisations:

  • TNA. The National Archives, Kew (GWR papers);
  • LMA. London Metropolitan Archives. (Great Western (London) Garden Village Society (later Association) papers);
  • NLW. National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. (WTPHT company papers);
  • Uxbridge. Hillingdon Local Studies Library & Archives. (Local maps and history);
  • Ealing. Local History Centre. (Local maps, voter registers and history);
  • Wilts. Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham. (Some papers deposited from railway offices at Swindon);
  • RIBA. Royal Institute of British Architects. (The Builder).

    Notes and references

    1. About 160 houses. Designated 'Railway Terraces Cricklewood Conservation Area' by LB Barnet in 1998

    2. About 180 houses. Both sides of Old Oak Lane and, since demolished, in Harley Rd

    3. A future article will cover provision of hostel-type accommodation. Complexities of government and local authority grants, legislation and planning permission are deliberately skimmed over

    4. TNA. RAIL 258/272, papers from Surveyors & Estate Dept. About 150 more were inherited from constituent Companies at the Grouping on 1/1/1923

    5. Newton Abbot: 27 South Devon Railway houses, now demolished. Neyland: Wilts. 2515/403/1534, 1535 and 1545. Plans dated 1914, 1924 and 1937; 19 houses

    6. Greenford: TNA. RAIL 250/341, Tfc Cttee mins, 8/8/1900 (intent) and RAIL 250/343, Tfc Cttee mins, 11/11/1903, urging that buildings be erected. Ruislip: RAIL 239/1, GW & GC Joint Cttee mins, 25/10/1899

    7. TNA. RAIL 250/47, Board mins, 21/4/1904

    8. TNA. RAIL 250/341, Tfc Cttee mins, 8/8/1900. Twyford Abbey station (intent), but nothing identified on O S maps. The Show was only held here in 1903 and 1904

    9. TNA. RAIL 239/04, GW & GC Joint Cttee mins, 4/2/1920

    10. Colnbrook Station opened 1884, closed to passengers 1965. Railway operated by GWR from opening. Mint Stables: TNA RAIL 252/1632, contract for alterations, 1910, by which time the GWR owned these previously rented premises

    11. TNA. RAIL 250/272, Loco., Carriage & Stores Cttee mins, 8/11/1905 'loco depot ... nearly ready for occupation'

    12. TNA. RAIL 250/141, Chairman's Conference, 1902 to 1910, mins, 10/2/1903. In 1910 J C Inglis, then ICE President, laid that Institution's foundation stone at 1 Gt George Street

    13. TNA. RAIL 250/350, Tfc Cttee mins, 31/7/1913 and RAIL 250/51, Board mins, 31/7/1914 and 16/1/1915

    14. TNA. RAIL 252/87, Loco allocation book (1910); 1950 WR loco shed allocation website. It is not clear if the OOC 1950 number includes 10 (new) diesel shunters

    15. TNA. RAIL 250/439, GM Reports, 9/1/1913

    16. TNA. RAIL 250/439, GM Reports, 22/5/1913

    17. TNA. RAIL 250/52, Board mins, 6/12/1918, and RAIL 250/53, Board mins, 10/3/1920

    18. TNA. RAIL 250/304, Refr. Room Cttee mins, 7/12/1916. Restaurant cars, though not Tea cars, fully discontinued at the end of 1916, releasing 111 men and 68 women

    19. Ealing Local History Centre. Acton Council and Committee minutes, 1914

    20. TNA. RAIL 250/52, Board mins, 6/12/1918

    21. TNA. RAIL 250/252, Tfc Cttee mins, 13/5/1920

    22. TNA. RAIL 250/143, Chief Officers Conference, 27/2/1922 and subsequent in 1922, 1923, 1924.

    23. TNA. RAIL 250/353, Tfc Cttee mins, 6/4/1922

    24. TNA. LMS: RAIL 425/10; LNER: RAIL 390/357

    25. TNA. RAIL 250/143, Chief Officers Conference, 27/2/1922 and subsequent in 1922, 1923, 1924.

    26. Builder (RIBA) 20/7/1923

    27. TNA. RAIL 250/351, Tfc Cttee mins, 16/3/1915

    28. TNA. RAIL 2350/53, Board mins, 7/7/1922

    29. NLW. A3/2/4, WTPHT mins, 28/7/1922

    30. TNA. RAIL 258/259, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 12/10/1922

    31. TNA. RAIL 240/53, Board mins, 13/10/1922

    32. LMA. 2863/4, mins, 17/11/1922; also NLW. A3/2/4, WTPHT mins, 1/12/1922

    33. TNA. RAIL 250/259, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 12/10/1922 and following; RAIL 250/54, Board mins, 16/3/1923

    34. TNA. RAIL 250/259, Law & Parl Cttee mins. Potential seller and location not given. 74 acres, cost estimated 15,000

    35. TNA. RAIL 250/54, Board mins, 12/11/1922, approved Law & Parl. Cttee proposal to purchase land at Harlington; 11/5/1923 endorsed the Hayes purchase. Uxbridge. MNH/MF/12/1, 20/6/1923, Minet land acquisition papers, including sketch map. Also LMA. ACC 2863/4, mins, 17/11/1922

    36. LMA. ACC 2863/4, mins, 5/2/1923

    37. LMA. ACC 2863/4, mins, 5/2/1923 and 2/7/1923. Metropolitan Electric Supply Co

    38. LMA. ACC 2863/4, mins, 1923 and 1924 (several)

    39. LMA. ACC 2863/13, mins, 13 and 20/5/1935

    40. LMA. ACC 2863/5, mins, 19/12/1924

    41. LMA. ACC 2863/5, mins, 31/10/1924 and 14/5/1925

    42. LMA. ACC 2863/13, mins, 17/6/1935

    43. LMA. ACC 2863/5, mins, 14/5/1925

    44. Ealing Local History Centre. Typed history of the Acton estate by Mrs A H Smith, c. 1996.

    45. LMA. ACC 2863/8, mins, 2/10/1928, and in following years

    46. LMA. ACC 2863/10, mins, 13/9/1932

    47. TNA. RAIL 1115/14, GW (London) Garden Village Soc Ltd first annual report, year ended 31/12/1923

    48. LMA. ACC 2863/24, mins, 16/6/1954 and ACC 2863/25, mins, 19/6/1956

    49. LMA. ACC 2863/9, mins, 13/8/1931

    50. LMA. ACC 2863/9, mins, 17/12/1931

    51. LMA. ACC 2863/8, mins, 20/6/1929

    52. TNA. RAIL 250/244, Housing Facilities Cttee mins, 6/10/1924, list from Surveyor

    53. LMA. ACC 2863/6, mins, 20/11/1925

    54. Estates built: Severn Tunnel Jctn, Caerphilly, Swansea, Plymouth, Truro, Penzance and, post war, Newton Abbot, Banbury. Houses allocated to GWR men: Barry Garden Suburb Ltd and Exeter Workmens' Housing Association

    55. TNA. HLG 52/766 to 772, Moir Committee Reports on new methods of house construction, 1924-5. HLG 52/769 considered 'Factocrete and the Prefacto system'

    56. LMA. 2863/5, mins, 19/3/1925

    57. TNA. HLG 49/69, Hayes Estate Middx. Schemes under 1923-26 Acts. 23/7/1925 letter, Architect to Min of Health

    58. NLW. A3/2/6, WTPHT Board mins, 1925-6, several dates. Peverell Estate. (Plymouth Laira estate was in brick)

    59. NLW. A3/2/6, WTPHT Report to Board, 28/7/1925

    60. LMA. ACC 1863/8, mins, 10/4/1929 and TNA, RAIL 250/262, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 30/10/1930

    61. LMA. ACC 2863/8, mins, 29/6/1929 and ACC 2863/6, mins, 19/2/1926

    62. TNA. RAIL 250/262, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 21/5/1931

    63. LMA. ACC 2863/12, mins, 9/7/1934

    64. TNA. RAIL 274/160, map showing railway freehold and leasehold land in London area

    65. TNA. RAIL 250/261, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 4/10/1928

    66. LMA. ACC 2863/13, mins, 11/2/1935 & following

    67. TNA. 250/264, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 27/6/1946

    68. NLW. A3/2/17, WTPHT mins, Secretary report, 26/10/1951

    69. LMA. ACC 2863/23, mins, 1/4/1954

    70. TNA. RAIL 250/43, Board mins, 3/12/1896 and RAIL 250/256, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 18/12/1901

    71. TNA. RAIL 258/237, GWR (London) Athletic Assocn papers

    72. TNA. RAIL 250/261, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 9/10/1930, sale of 6 acres to Geo Wimpey Ltd; 250/263, lease of 17 acres to Housing Corpn of GB in 1936 (later transferred to HBP Investment Trust); 250/264, lease, 1946, of 11 acres to LB Ealing for 99 years. It is not known if one of these sales included the GWR's 'horse hospital' site, now covered by Gurnell Grove

    73. TNA. RAIL 250/262, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 14/12/1933

    74. LMA. ACC 2863/1, Agreement for Services between WTPHT, GWR, & GW (London) Garden Village Soc Ltd, 20/11/1923

    75. TNA. RAIL 250/262, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 21/5/1931

    76. TNA. RAIL 250/263, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 27/4/1939; RAIL 250/58, Board mins 28/4/1939.

    77. Uxbridge. MNH/29/4, plan dated 22/8/1939

    78. NLW. E1.11, WTPHT, 25/6/1949, file note re Hayes

    79. TNA. RAIL 250/263, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 5/10/1939

    80. TNA. RAIL 250/263, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 5/10/1939

    81. Uxbridge. MNH/MPS/MB/1, Sketch, 11/1939, showing 140 houses: 84 in Section 11 and 56 in Section 12

    82. Uxbridge. Hayes Housing Cttee mins, 10/6/1947

    83. LMA. ACC 2863/23, mins, 29/5/1952

    84. LMA. ACC 2963/30 and /31, mins, 23/6/1966 to 12/12/1968

    85. LMA. ACC 2863/32, mins, 27/3/1969

    86. LMA. ACC 2863/19, mins, 29/4/1940

    87. TNA. RAIL 250/264, Law & Parl Cttee mins, 27/3/1942

    88. LMA. ACC 2863/??, Tenancy Sub Cttee, 19/11/1923

    89. Inspector's Report, Norton Fitzwarren Accident, available on internet. See

    90. LMA. ACC 2863/20, mins, 18/11/1945. Also reports in 2863/19, mins 1940-42. Acton 491 is 488 houses built, the first Estate Office converted and the two employee flats

    91. LMA. ACC 2863/22, mins, 25/10/1951. Acton houses destroyed: 1-6 Alwyn Gdns; 16 & 18 Norman Way; 14, 16, 18 & 20 The Link; 29 & 30, Howards Close; 27 & 29 plus 2 'adjoining' in Churchill Gdns

    92. LMA. ACC 2863/23, mins, 15/7/1952, and 2863/26, mins, 2/6/1958; also 2863/39, mins, 11/8/1981

    93. LMA. ACC 2863/28, mins, 15/3/1963

    94. LMA. ACC 2863/29, mins, 1964 & 1965

    95. LMA. ACC 2863/23, mins, 27/3/1953. Mr F C Wellings ran the office

    96. LMA. ACC 2863/32 to 35, mins, 28/9/1970 to 29/7/1975

    97. LMA. ACC 2863/35, mins, 19/2/1976

    98. LMA. ACC 2863/30, mins, 10/4/1967 and subsequent

    99. LMA. ACC 2863/30, mins, 19/4/1967, and 2863/35, mins, 27/3/1976

    100. LMA. ACC 2863/36, mins, 26/7/1977

    101. LMA. ACC 2863/39, mins, 7/7/1980 and 28/11/1980

    102. LMA. ACC 2873/73, bundle of documents about sale of houses and assets and dissolution of Association

    103. LMA. ACC 2863/43, undated note on Acton Housing Association paper, with mins 11/1985 to 3/1987

    104. LMA. ACC 2843/45, mins, final Management Committee meeting, 16/10/1990

    105. Uxbridge. Hayes, a concise history, Keller, 1988

    106. LB Hillingdon website

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