Rose Gardens in Little Neston was built almost seventy years ago, not long after the end of the Second World War.
Although much had been achieved to address the issue of overcrowding and to improve or demolish slum housing the Second World War put house building and improvement on hold. At the end of the war the shortage of housing was one of the most urgent problems the country had to address. Winston Churchill’s government proposed the provision of pre-fabricated housing as a short term but speedy solution to the problem passing the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act in 1944. Shortage of housing was certainly a problem in Neston and some local families took matters into their own hands and moved into the former HMS Mersey site at Clay Hill. (see The Ringway)
The site of what is now Rose Gardens was initially planned as a development of 25 temporary houses (pre-fabs) on a 4.7 acre sit fronting Badger Bait and the Burton Road. Permission was given in July 1945 and plans were drawn up by Chester architects, Lockwood, Abercrombie and Saxon. During the war the shortage of materials meant that recycling of material had been a priority and the site in Little Neston had for a time been used to store recycled timber (see Timber Dumps)
However, the general election of July 1945 saw a change of government when Clement Attlee’s Labour party defeated Winston Churchill’s Conservative government. Housing became the responsibility of the Ministry of Health under Aneurin Bevan and the emphasis was then on building permanent, quality homes suitable for all sectors of society.
A Housing Act in 1946 made available substantial subsidies from central government to Local Authorities who were responsible for providing new houses for rent. It also allowed them to borrow money for that purpose although the Ministry of Health also had to approve the quality of the houses and of the development as a whole. There was still a shortage of building materials and also of manpower and these were controlled by the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Labour and National Service respectively.
In the same year the Burton Road scheme was changed to the Burton Road Permanent Housing Scheme and additional land was bought from the family of the late Walter Dodd of Rose Farm. The architect was F. Charles Saxon of Lockwood, Abercrombie and Saxon in Chester and plans were drawn up in September of that year.
The new scheme consisted of 34 houses with some fronting Burton Road or Badger Bait while the rest formed a new crescent shaped side road, as yet unnamed, off Badger Bait. Badger Bait was also to be widened and improved. All the houses were three bedroomed semi-detacheds with an upstairs bathroom and outhouses containing a washhouse, shed, coal store and toilet. There were however two styles: Type A with parlour as well as a living room and Type B with a living room only.
Council’s Housing and Planning Committee included Councillor Charles Gray and one of the co-opted members was Miss A. Lois Bulley. The council authorised the female members of the committee, Councillor Mrs Tomlinson, Miss Bulley and another co-opted member, Mrs Smith to meet with the architects to consider what improvements to the ‘domestic arrangements’ might be possible in the current circumstances. In the end, the only one of their recommendations that was accepted as practicable was the provision of a moveable/portable drainboard.
The council officers responsible for delivering the project were the Clerk to the Council, Mr Frank Poole of Hinderton Road, Neston and the Surveyor was Mr Holliday of Elm Road, Willaston. Mr W. H. Ashbrook from the Surveyors Department, lived in Marshlands Road, was appointed Clerk of Works.
The Council decided that the building of the 34 houses should be shared amongst several local builders and in March 1947 a meeting with the contractors was held at the Town Hall to agree the allocation of houses between them. The allocation agreed was:-
1. Frank Norman of Henry Norman and Son, Mellock Lane Little Neston – 6 x Type A
2. Jack Henderson, The Bridge, Neston – 6 x Type B
3. Thomas Norman, Rock Cottage, New Town – 6 x Type A
4. Edward S. Fairclough Ltd, Neston Road, Willaston – 6 x Type A
5. Fred Rathbone, Delamere House, Burton – 2 x Type A
6. William C. Burkey, Meadowcroft, West Vale – 4 x Type B
7. D. Capstick, Windy Ridge, Dunstan Lane, Burton – 4 x Type A
The contractors then sent in tenders based on the plan and specifications with all arriving at similar prices averaging £1372 for a Type A house and £1355 for Type B. However, although the design had been approved, the tenders were rejected these tenders by the Ministry of Health as the quoted prices were considered to be too high; they were about 4s 6d per superficial foot higher than the price the Ministry would accept. A meeting was arranged with the builders and Mr Stafford from the Ministry of Health to discuss how savings might be made. The proposal was that the contractors should work to a fixed price based on the current cost of labour and materials with provision for additional payment if there were variations in prices or specifications.
The contractors submitted a table of costs on which payment would be based but there was such a variation in the prices quoted for the same material that in the end a table was drawn and agreed with them. Workmen’s wages were to be at the agreed national rate for the area which was 2s 7 ½ d per hour for Tradesmen and 2s 1 ¼ d for labourers.
In June 1947, revised tenders were submitted based on these costs which put the cost of all 34 houses at £40,366. The new tender was accepted by the Ministry and the houses now qualified for the government subsidy; the Council was also able to borrow money to fund the build. Mr Poole wrote to the Ministry informing them that he would now ask Committee approval to ‘enable application to be made to the Minister for his formal consent to borrowing monies… and to make application to the Public Works Loan Board, for which purpose two copies of Form P.Wll.B./Q.1…will be completed.’
‘…subject to the compliance with the conditions set out in Circular 118/46, the Minister approves the 34 houses to be provided on this site for payment under Sections 1 and 2 of the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1946.’
Recycling of material was still a necessity and in April a Ministry of Health Circular asked that Councils should, where possible, make use of metal from the now redundant bomb shelters. The Council sent a list of the parts in store to Mr Saxon, the architect, but he considered that very little saving could be made by using them and that the only purposes they might, possibly, be used for was as centre joists for flat rooves or for lintels over covered walk ways.
The release of material that was available for house building was carefully controlled; before the build began Mr Poole forwarded a Ministry of Health letter to Saxon which advised that
‘Application on Form T.C.3/8/CPL for the release of timber in respect of these houses should not be submitted to this office until the Council are satisfied that the Builders are in a position to make a start.
The Council’s attention is invited to the arrangements outlined in Circular 301/46, dated the 31st October, 1946, regarding the reduction in the use of timber in the construction of new houses.
Attention is drawn also to the suggestions made in Circular 208/46 that Local Authorities should consider the advisability of ordering bricks in advance of their requirements.’
Finally, in July 1947, the builders received the necessary certificates to apply for the material they needed, the site was pegged out and work began.
Steel was also in short supply and in November they were told that the allocation of steel for house building for the final quarter of the year, apart from sheet steel, was already exhausted but that forms could be submitted for the first quarter of the following year.
Gas or Electricity?
The original specification called for a gas supply for a cooker in the kitchen and for a gas supply and gas heated wash boiler in the wash house. Mr Poole wanted to provide electric power for cooking and for the wash boiler, as well as gas, to allow tenants the choice. The architect considered this option to expensive and suggested instead that electricity only be provided and that the gas supply be dispensed with. The final decision rested with the Housing Committee who decided in favour of the original specification. The Birkenhead Corporation of Electricity Supply, perhaps hoping to ensure future custom, offered to provide the first 30 feet of cabling free of charge and the rest at cost which amounted to a payment of 7s 6d per house and to supply cooker points free of charge.
The winter of 1947 was one of the worst on record but by the end of the year the first two houses were nearing completion and were ready for the internal electrics to be fitted. Tenders for the internal electrical installation were sent in by five local contractors and in February 1948 the contract was awarded to Charles E. Price of 8, Parkgate Road, Neston.
The first tenants move in…
In March 1948 the first two houses, built by Jack Henderson, were completed and the keys were released. As the scheme still had not been named nor the houses numbered the label on the key indicated the location of the entrance doors on Burton Road or Badger Bait. The first two tenants to move in were Mr J. Ashcroft and Mr Charles Bailey.
A delayed start…
Two contractors had barely made a start at this point however. Frank Norman of Henry Norman and Son had been working on the improvement of the The Hostels at Clay Hill (see The Ringway) which delayed work on his section of the scheme.
Mr Rathbone had been unable to progress because he was could not find bricklayers locally, the nearest being from Birkenhead Labour Exchange. The Council were initially unsympathetic as all the other builders had managed to find men nor they see any reason why additional payments should be to cover travel costs. The Regional Controller of the Ministry of Labour however confirmed that there were no bricklayers available locally and that the nearest was in Birkenhead. The Working Rules of the National Federation of Building Operatives stipulated that if anyone was employed outside their area they were entitled to the payment of travel expenses and the Council eventually had to agree to cover the additional expense. Mr Rathbone employed one bricklayer who travelled in from Moreton and needed an additional 1/8d per day and had to finish work at 4.30 so he could catch the bus home. When he could not find more bricklayers from Birkenhead he had to apply to Liverpool Labour Exchange but could only do so once Birkenhead Labour Exchange had provided written confirmation that no men were available there.
In June 1948 Mr Poole received an unannounced visit from a deputation from the Liverpool branch of National Joint Council for the Building Industry. They were concerned because they had received information from someone in the district that the contract for the Burton Road scheme required that only trade union members be employed by the contractors. Mr Poole was able to reassure them, after consulting the contract, that this was not the case and that the only clause that might be considered relevant was one that stipulated that any men employed receive a ‘fair wage’. Even this, they said, was not usually in Liverpool’s contracts. When Mr Poole mentioned that there was also a development now under way in Mellock Lane they asked if contractors had been required to supply ‘communal’ eating facilities. This enquiry Mr Poole passed on to Mr Holliday who informed him that communal feeding facilities were not provided, each contractor supplying cabin accommodation for his own men and he said that he had ‘not heard of any complaint or suggestion of anything communal’. Why the representative of the National Joint Council were concerned is not clear but it may be that they were worried that the labour shortage might be seen as an opportunity to demand higher wages and that ‘communal’ facilities would encourage union activity.
Shortage of materials, especially timber, slates and cement were a problem throughout the build so vandalism on the site by local children, who broke precious bricks and slate, was a serious matter. Councillor Green informed the local sergeant, Sergeant Barker, of the problem and Constable Beesley was detailed to look into the matter. He was able to identify several 7 and 8 year old boys from Burton Road and Badger Bait as the culprits. After he had a word with them and their parents the problem died down.
By September 1948 two of Thomas Norman’s houses were finished and two of Mr Burkey’s. They were ready for occupation apart from some exterior work such as putting in the chestnut paling fences and gates. On the 15th September, the keys were handed over and the new tenants informed that the first weeks rent would be due on the following Monday. They were:-
Albert Jones, Cottage Close, Neston
Harold Mellor, Mealor’s Cottages, Parkgate
Griffith J. Griffiths, New Cottages, The Paraded, Parkgate
Brian H. Donnelly, Rigby House, Parkgate
Mr Poole was becoming anxious about the slow progress and wrote to Mr Saxon asking him to try and move things along; the Council was paying interest on the loan repayments and he was concerned that they were losing rental income. He was also receiving complaints from nearby residents about the time it was taking to finish the scheme as they were disturbed by the ongoing work on the houses and road widening.
By March 1949 the end was in sight and the architect was asking the builders to prepare their final accounts. There was still some fencing to be done but the problem which was delaying matters was the decision about the external finish to the houses. The specification was for the houses to be colour washed with ‘Snowcem’ which had been applied to the first two houses only. There was some concern that the finish had deteriorated but the architect thought that this was because it had been applied while the brickwork was still ‘green’ and that there would be no problem if it was applied now that the buildings had had time to weather. He felt that the rest of the estate should be finished in the same way but Mr Poole referred the final decision to the Housing Committee. Their decision was to leave the exposed brickwork rather than risk the finish deteriorating. This complicated the final accounts as it was a variation from the original specification so a deduction in cost had to be negotiated with the builders.
In November 1949 the estate was completed and the final accounts settled.
The name decided on for the development was Rose Gardens and the houses were number 1 – 34, Rose Gardens regardless of which road they were on. In 1958 the houses in Rose Gardens and some on Badger Bait and Burton Road were renumbered and addresses changed to reflect the road they faced so that 1 Rose Gardens, became 61 Burton Road and so on.
The chestnut palings have gone and the privet hedges are have grown but there are still some, at the time of writing (2017) a few of the original families still living there though admittedly some of them were small children when they first moved in. The memories remain also: games played in the road, a skipping rope tied to a street lamp, the occasional window broken by a football…