1927 to 1932: Cambridge Estates Ltd develops the land

Cambridge Estates Limited
Statutory documents to be found in the National Archives in Kew tell us that Cambridge Estates Limited was incorporated on September 12, 1927. Its seven directors were:

  • Ronald McGregor Carslaw, Principal Assistant to the Agricultural Economic Department, School of Agriculture, Cambridge
  • Noel Dean, Architect and Surveyor
  • John Edward Few, Solicitor
  • Frederick William Green, Egyptologist
  • Wilfred Stephen Mansfield, University Lecturer
  • Cyril Ridgeon, Timber Merchant
  • John Archibald Venn, Lecturer

They all lived in Cambridge or within a few miles of the town: Noel Dean lived at 19 Leys Road. The nominal share capital was £5000, divided into 5000 shares. Six of the seven held 500 shares, while Carslaw held 200. Only those 3200 shares were ever allocated and the figures remained unchanged throughout the five-year life of the Company.

John Few was the Company’s solicitor, and so the Registered Office was the premises of Few and Wild at 1, Sidney Street. By April 1931 it had moved to Sidney House, 22-24, Sidney Street, Cambridge. The Company’s articles of association indicate that the Hurst Park Estate had been some time in the planning. They include a commitment to:

take over from [John Few] at cost price all freehold properties which he has purchased … Such properties include the Laundry Farm, Arbury Road, in the Parishes of Cambridge and Impington, and Hurst House and grounds, Milton Road, Cambridge.

This appears to show how the seven men had managed to secure the two parcels of land before the Company was incorporated. It does, however, present a problem: abstracts of title to properties in Orchard Avenue clearly state that the Company bought Laundry Farm from the family of Elizabeth Sell Swann.

A Garden Suburb
The Cambridge Daily News (November 26, 1927) reported that a recent meeting of Chesterton Rural District Council Housing Committee had considered the plan for the estate. The report has been summarised by Mike Petty in A Cambridgeshire Scrapbook, 1890-1990.

Chesterton RDC received the layout submitted by Cambridge Estates Ltd for a new building estate in the parish of Impington. They had acquired 30 acres of land. The estate had a considerable frontage to Arbury Road. It could be drained mainly into Milton Road by a new road to be called Hurst Park Avenue. It would be developed uniformly on garden suburb lines with wide roads, grass verges and a wide building line …

The report went on to say that the sub-committee recommended that the Council approve the scheme, subject to reaching agreement with the Borough [i.e. Cambridge] on various matters. The members also referred the plan to the Highways Committee.

A few weeks later, early in 1928, Cambridge Borough looked at the plans. Again, Mike Petty has summarised it for us:

Cambridge Borough Council considered plans from the Cambridge Estates Ltd for the construction of roads and sewers on the Hurst Park Estate which has an acreage of 30 acres, nine being in Cambridge and 21 in the parish of Impington. It is proposed to erect approximately 190 houses. Ald[erman] Raynes thought the public who were considering purchasing plots should be fully aware of what they were doing. Only a small portion of the estate was within Cambridge and the rest was in the Chesterton Rural District Council’s area who did not have a single by-law affecting buildings or the construction of roads.

Clearly, the plans gained all the necessary approval, and on March 23, 1928, the Cambridge Independent Press (above) could report the laying out of Hurst Park Avenue. Hurst is to be seen on the left. At some point in the same year the Estate’s initial layout, which we may assume was what the two Councils had considered, found it way to the Map Room in Cambridge University Library.


The Estate plan in 1928 (Cambridge University Library, Maps.PSQ.19.36)

We can make a number of comments about what it shows. Only Hurst Park Avenue and Leys Avenue are named, but it won’t have taken a huge leap of imagination soon to name Highfield Avenue (at the top of the slope) and Orchard Avenue. Proposed tennis courts in the north-west corner were never provided, nor was a church ever built in the north-east corner, although Arbury Road Baptist Church opened in 1930. The lock-up garages between Arbury Road and Leys Avenue were built more or less on the site of the Laundry Farm buildings and remained until the early 1980s. The right of way from the top of Leys Avenue to Arbury Road is on former Laundry Farm land.

The junctions were laid out as quadrants, and these are still an attractive feature, but the only houses built diagonally on the corners as planned are at the junction of Orchard and Hurst Park Avenues. At the bottom of Hurst Park Avenue the plots on the south-west corner were not built on, and that land remained with Hurst until the 1960s. The quadrant footpath is still there, although the junction has been squared off.

On the north-east side of Hurst Park Avenue, we would expect that the Company would have bought all the land between the backs of 95-99 Milton Road and the windmill, if Stanley Rose had been prepared to sell. However, he did sell a small triangular plot so that Hurst Park Avenue could bend past the mill and run more nearly up the centre line of the Company’s land. Cambridge Estates bought it for £15 on November 7, 1927.

Cambridge Estates bought the 5½-perch triangle marked in pink for £15 in November 1927 and bent Hurst Park Avenue around the disused windmill

The substantial area of land facing Arbury Road was not laid out and disposed of in the same way as that in the four avenues. Instead, blocks were quickly sold off to builders and most of the houses there are terraced.

Finally, the link to Milton Road must have been made by agreement with the relevant local authority, but what of the exit to Leys Road? The adjacent land is marked as owned by Ginn and Sons. We have reason to believe they had already built the two pairs of houses in Arbury Road on the corner of Leys Road and most of the houses on the north side of Leys Road, including number 19, owned by Noel Dean. An abstract of title to land in Hurst Park Avenue refers to a conveyance between Samuel Ginn and Cambridge Estates Limited of ‘the approach from Leys Road to Leys Avenue’ but we do not know how much they paid.

Having secured the land, the Company spent the next four years laying out and disposing of the plots and monitoring the standards of the houses before passing a Special Resolution at an Extraordinary General Meeting on January 6, 1932:

That the Company be wound up voluntarily and that Mr Frank Alan Moore of 7 Downing Street Cambridge Chartered Accountant be and he is hereby appointed Liquidator for the purposes of such winding up.

The Company was solvent and able to pay any debts: Dean, Few, Mansfield, and Ridgeon (four directors being the necessary majority) had already signed a solemn declaration to that effect at the end of November 1931. The final winding up meeting took place on July 25, 1932.

The seven men had got in and got out again: we do not know how much profit they made. What had they achieved in just under five years?

Hurst Park Avenue in the early days of the Estate. Unlike 2020, the lone cyclist heading down the slope has a clear view to Milton Road and no trouble passing oncoming traffic (Cambridgeshire Collection, Cambridge Central Library)

By May 2020 the cyclist in the previous picture has long since made it safely onto Milton Road. The increase in parking in Hurst Park Avenue has made life on two wheels more hazardous. Dalegarth has replaced Hurst, but the same house in the distance on the bend, built by the Ginns, is visible in both pictures.

A garden suburb: houses, builders and architects
The garden city movement was founded by Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928). According to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

… the garden cities, were to be both residential and industrial, well planned, of limited size and population, and surrounded by a permanent rural belt, integrating the best aspects of town and country.

Howard was personally involved in both Letchworth Garden City (1903) and Welwyn Garden City (1919). How far the Cambridge Estates Seven really subscribed to Howard’s ethos may be hard to measure but, as we have seen above, they had “hoped to develop the whole estate on garden suburb lines.”

We do know that the Company set standards. When it sold plots 151 and 152 in Orchard Avenue to builder Thomas King in June 1930, a covenant stipulated that:

Private dwelling houses only with private garages and other necessary outbuildings) are to be erected on the land … and not more than one house was to be erected on any one plot. The net cost of each house is to be not less than £700 and the plans … and outline specification of any building must first be approved by and copies deposited with the Vendor [i.e. the Company].

Round the corner in Hurst Park Avenue, when Cyril Ridgeon bought plots 57 and 58 in February 1929, the minimum cost was to be £800.

A certificate, signed by Noel Dean, confirming that a finished house on plot 201 met the building regulations and the Company’s own standards. The Company had sold the land to builder Harold Ridgeon (nephew of Cyril Ridgeon) in 1931 in a transaction involving several plots in Highfield Avenue. Dean, in his professional role, certified this property over a year after the Company had been wound up.

Major sources of information about builders and architects are neighbours’ land documents and the plans conserved in the Cambridgeshire Archives. We also have a dissertation by Janet Livesley of Jesus College, Cambridge, submitted for the Diploma of Architecture (1st examination). Entitled Semi-Suburban Cambridge: the Development of Private Housing in Cambridge Between the Two World Wars, 1919-1939, it gives us an interesting account of the development of Hurst Park Avenue. Much of what she tells us relates to the whole estate. She summarises Hurst Park thus:

Unlike the other three developments [considered in this dissertation], this estate is an example of a collection of houses designed and built by a variety of people and as a middle-class estate it was highly successful in meeting the needs of the ‘middle and well-to-do’.

We learn that the Company’s practice of selling off individual plots to a range of builders was then common in Cambridge, although we know of at least one instance where the purchaser was also the first occupant. That person must have commissioned their own builder. The Company also had a policy of retaining a strip of land along the verges, meaning permission had to be obtained to gain access to the plots—another way for it to retain control over the buildings.

We have seen that the Company imposed minimum cost limits on the construction of the houses: Janet Livesley tells us that they also set minimum prices for the sale of individual freeholds of £1,100 in Hurst Park Avenue and £900 in Orchard Avenue. £1,100 in 1929 inflates to £70,400 ninety years later, according to the Bank of England’s calculator: 2020 reality suggests there is a zero missing. Owner-occupiers, she writes,

would have enjoyed a yearly income of over £350. A further clue to the class of this development was the fact that all the houses were referred to as villas.

Builders that Janet Livesley lists include Shoote & Haines, Johnson & Bailey and the prolific Ginn family, the latter firm responsible for long runs of semi-detatched pairs in Hurst Park and Orchard Avenues, as well other houses around the estate and in Leys Road and Highworth Avenue. From title documents plans, we know of Thomas King and Walter Boyton.

In 1930, architect George Smith designed this Hurst Park Avenue house for George Heath, a director of the Eaden Lilley department store in Cambridge (Cambridgeshire Archives)

A publicity campaign, promoting the Ideal Home lifestyle that Janet Livesley implies, took prominent space in the Cambridge Chronicle and University Journal on August 20, 1930. King and Harper, whose garage was at the bottom of Milton Road near the Portland Arms, also participated. It is one of their Standard Big 9 cars on the drive of a Hurst Park Avenue house built by Johnson and Bailey in the following picture.

Other retailers and estate agents were involved too:

S. Ginn and Sons built a run of houses in Hurst Park Avenue. This photograph is from their own collection (Cambridgeshire Collection, Cambridge Central Library).

One of the Ginns’ houses was advertised for sale in the Cambridge Daily News, November 10, 1932

Surfacing work in Orchard Avenue, looking towards Leys Avenue (Rowland Thomas)

Finally, the roads were adopted and the occupants of the new houses paid for the street works:

This table shows us the costs of the streetworks for each household in Orchard Avenue, December 31,1932 and gives us a glimpse of the first residents.