The History of Hampstead Garden Suburb
31 July 2019
Designed to offer a range of unique residential homes, the Hampstead Garden Suburb was ground-breaking in terms of 20th century architecture. Committed to creating a unique environment, in which families of all backgrounds could find homes, the Suburb was the first of its kind.
Heralded as ‘the most nearly perfect example of that English invention and specialty’, Hampstead Garden Suburb acted as both a social and architectural experiment. Determined to resolve social issues, such as housing and poverty, Henrietta Barnett was inspired to create better housing for people living in poverty, as well as using Hampstead Garden Suburbs architects to maintain the unique nature of the area.
When the station at Golders Green was opened in 1900, it was likely that developers would seek to build houses on the nearby land. Keen to avoid standard housing covering the land, Barnett successfully campaigned to have much of the land retained as an open public space, with the remaining acres being left available for innovative housing.
Eager to avoid the standardised appearance of bye-law housing, Barnett relied on Hampstead Garden Suburbs architects to build homes at low density, with plentiful gardens, hedgerows and open spaces in between them. Each home was to be unique, and views across the landscape were to be protected at all costs.
Working alongside Raymond Unwin, Barnett’s ideas were transformed into a sprawling estate, filled with natural features, grand vistas, and secluded closes. Throwing off ideas of uniformity, Hampstead Garden Suburbs paid service to the land on which it was built and ensured the natural features of the area were retained and appreciated.
Taking inspiration from medieval Bavarian towns to create this unique and innovate environment, the path to Hampstead Garden Suburbs was not always clear. Indeed, Unwin required an Act of Parliament in order to go ahead with his plans, such was their departure from standard housing development at the time.
Using some of the most celebrated designers, planners and builders, Hampstead Garden Suburbs architects were masters of their respective trades. Given the opportunity to create the first garden suburb, their forward-thinking approach, combined with their respect of the area’s history, produced an enviable residential environment.
Keen to retain the lush greens of the hedges and trees which were prevalent in the area, almost all homes were bordered by hedges, as opposed to fixed structures and fencing. This remains the case in modern-day Hampstead Garden Suburbs, where the use of hedges as land borders adds an open and natural feel to a predominantly urban area.
With educational and ecclesiastical buildings in the Central Square, Barnett personally selected the land upon which the Suburb’s church would sit. Celebrated designer, Edwin Lutyens, designed these buildings along with Unwin, and created a focal point for the area, with the Church spire acting as a centrepiece to the Suburbs.
Expansion of Hampstead Garden Suburbs
Although Hampstead Garden Suburbs was originally intended to be built on the land secured by Henrietta Barnett in 1900, demand for residential homes in the area quickly grew. Such was the success of the garden suburb, additional land was quickly acquired so that the development could be expanded.
While cottages were originally offered for low rent, in keeping with Barnett’s desire to provide affordable housing to poorer families, increasing construction costs in post-war Britain rendered this unachievable. Over time, these cottages were sought out by wealthier families, although the Hampstead Gardens Suburbs Trust retained some control over the development. With additional land used to facilitate the growing development, the Suburbs stretched across 800 acres by 1935, stretching from Golders Green as far as East Finchley.
Following the Leasehold Reform Act of 1967, freehold purchases became available. Whilst many leaseholders were keen to purchase the freeholds of their property, there were concerns that this could lead to unsightly alterations of properties or changes to the development itself. In a bid to protect the Suburbs, a trust was formed and later usurped by the New Hampstead Garden Suburbs Trust in 1968.
Made a conservation area in 1969, Hampstead Garden Suburbs benefits from extra protection in comparison to standard housing developments, and the Hampstead Garden Suburbs Trust continues to exert control over almost all the properties within the area, as well as communal land, hedges, and trees.
With careful management under the Trust, Hampstead Garden Suburbs retains the unique features it encompassed when it was first created in the early 20th century. Providing residents with a stunning environment and exquisite housing, Hampstead Garden Suburbs remains one of the most popular residential areas in the country.
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