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Cottages and Villas: The Birth of the Garden Suburb

by Mireille Galinou

Cottages and Villas courtesy the publisher The garden suburb has its origins in London, and, contrary to widespread belief, its earliest phase took place not at the beginning of the 20th century, with the much discussed garden-city movement, but one century earlier, with the creation of the Eyre brothers' villa estate.

This historical journey, the first all inclusive one of the Eyre Estate, details the development of the London suburb of St Johnís Wood (NW8), now one of Londonís most desirable areas. It was the worldís first garden suburb and set the benchmark for suburbs throughout the country and North America.

The wealthy Eyre family purchased the area (now known as Marylebone) in the 1730s and commissioned a neighbourhood plan for villas and cottage. With their expertise in organizing, entrepreneurship and negotiation along with their vision of the future they created this first garden suburb. They wanted the gardens, green spaces, and tree-lined streets that existed in St Johnís Wood saved for future generations. Over many generations the Eyre family shaped the area, disagreed on various plans, even lost it and regained it. In the end they designed the green suburb agenda for middle classes around the world. Today it is a celebrity favourite.

Author Mireille Galinou has provided the reader with an authoritative, detailed, accurate and well-illustrated account of the Eyre Estate drawing on the resources of the Eyre archive. She is a freelance arts and museums consultant. She co-authored (with John Hayes) of London in Paint: Catalogue of Oil Paintings in the Collection of the Museum of London (1996). In 2004 she organized for the City of London a series of conferences about the artistic patronage of Londonís merchants and then edited the publication of City Merchants and the Arts 1670-1720.

Chapters in the book are:

The Eyre family and the estate of St Johnís Wood:
This chapter details the history of the one branch of the family responsible for St Johnís Wood. They came from an ancient Wiltshire family who first came to England from France with William the Conqueror. A tomb of Thomas Eyre (d.1629) is found in the Lady Chapel of St Thomasís church at Salisbury. The son, Christopher, moved to London. By the end of the 1600s the family was associated with the Inns of Court in London. It was Henry Samuel Eyre (b. 1676) who acquired St Johnís Wood estate on the death of his wife Mary who owned it. It wasnít until 1805 that the estate development began. Rev. Henry Samuel Eyre owned the estate between 1887 and 1890 and was the first member of the family to live and work on the estate.

A master plan for St Johnís Wood:
1794 saw a survey and master plan for the area. The areas consisted of a semicircle at the south, a circle in a square on the eastern side, and a large circle to the west. The houses were to be semi-detached each having a garden. Some detached houses and an avenue of trees were also included. A revised plan included more housing. The aim of the plan was to provide affordable sized housing complete with each one having a garden.

First steps, 1805-20:
Walpole Eyre was the family member directly responsible for the development of the estate. The estate was rural at that time. Agreements were made with developers and builders for housing. Parts of the estate were sold off due to the high cost of infrastructure for the area.

Early residential designs:
This chapter deals with London building acts and a working plan for the estate as well as the designs for the first houses built on Alpha Rd by builder Robert Todd. His houses were copied for many of those on the estate. Another type of layout was used for St Johnís Groveóthat of the terraced house. This did not go over well with builders. Architect James Burton was chosen to build houses for the Regents canal section. All housing was not built to a high standard.

Creating and maintaining a garden quarter:
There is a discussion of the meaning suburb versus quarter and the large scale development of the area. Details about the developers and their relationship with the estate follows. The idea of a cottage morphed into that of a villa and further development took this form. The garden development plan also evolved further in this period. The gardens were ornamental as well as functional. A description of garden architect William Atkinsonís garden is included as well as several others. Commercial gardens were also located in St Johnís Wood. Loss of rural environment ensued. A case study of St Johnís Wood Park is included in this section.

The community and its services:
The lessees, the residents, the shops, pubs, schools, and the tone of the area are covered in this chapter, one of the most interesting in the book.

Infrastructure:
Included here are the roads, footpaths, water, drains and sewers, the lighting, the Regentís canal, and the railways.

Artistsí quarter:
This area was a favourite of artists and authors due to its gardens, open spaces, and lack of factories, thus providing a space for quiet contemplation. Edwin Landseer lived here as did Rossi (monuments sculpted for St Paulís cathedral), Haydon, and many others. Alpha Rd was an early artistsí colony. The junction of Grove End and Abbey roads was another favourite creative area in St Johnís Wood. Here Neville Challoner (musician), Sir Thomas Beecham (conductor), Philip Calderon (painter) and others resided. Artistsí studios were needed and many built them as additions to their homes. A clique of artists developed. Art schools opened. Neither Dickens nor Sir Walter Scott lived here but were frequent visitors.

Spiritual St Johnís Wood:
St Johnís Wood chapel was consecrated in 1814. All Saints church was added to the area in 1846; All Souls in the 1850s. Dissenting chapels added to the mix as did the Catholic Our Lady in 1848. A Jewish synagogue was built in 1875.

Postscript:
St Johnís Wood was supposed to be an ideal suburb but it came undone due to debts during development and standards had to be comprised. The many layers of lessees, underlessees, and residents as well as peppercorn leases made control of residents difficult to impossible. Prime land was sold off and the original architectural concept was lost. Mansion blocks were built on fields. In the early 1860s some of these problems were rectified. The area was redeveloped in the 1950s after suffering from the World War II blitz and became a mixed neighbourhood.

Epilogue:
From fields to tower blocksólandmarks in St Johnís Wood. This chapter is divided into two sections: from Rossmore Rd to Boundary Rd and from St Johnís Woods underground station to Swiss Cottage. Landmarks include the Regentís canal, All Saints church, St Johnís Wood barracks, and various houses and buildings in different roads, spelled out in a chart and details in the chapter.

Titles of the appendices are:

A key to the Alpha cottages reconstruction
A key to the developersí maps
A list of complaints
Finchley Road
Studio explosion
Sculptorsí chronology
Photographic studios
Lordís cricket ground: a chronology
Builders, developers and architects of St Johnís Wood
Distinguished residents
Street names: past and present

There is a comprehensive note section, bibliography, and index. This book is based on extensive research and original documents and provides a fascinating historical and social picture of the development of an area of London.

Cottages and Villas: The Birth of the Garden Suburb
Published: 22 February, 2011
Yale University Press website: Yale Books
Pages: 480 (hardcover); 55 black/white + 250 colour illustrations
ISBN-10: 0300167261
ISBN-13: 978-0300167269
$100 US
Available from W. H. Smith in the UK, Amazon UK, and Amazon US

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