Why was the Winstanley Estate built?

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I was excited to find this 1938 ‘Britain from Above‘ photograph – the first time I’ve seen the houses that Winstanley Estate replaced.

This is how the same Winstanley area looks today – not one building remains from 1938.

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Wandsworth council recently announced a regeneration plan that will demolish much of the estate over the next decade – including 700 homes built in the 1960s and 1970s.

When the above aerial photograph was taken in 1938, the Winstanley area was already earmarked for slum clearance. Then wartime bombing shattered thousands of Battersea homes.

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For more about the history of the area north of Clapham Junction station, read this excellent English Heritage essay.

This is how the sculptor Eric Gill described the Battersea of the early 20th century:

“If you wanted to create something dreary and wretched, it would be difficult to create anything more dreary or more wretched, than Clapham—the Clapham of the Junction and the miles of silly little dirty houses between the Wandsworth Road and Battersea.

The pre-estate housing was overcrowded and often a health risk. At a recent Town Hall event I met a local undertaker. He was accustomed to death after a long career but said that a few cases lived with him. One day 50 years ago he was called to a block on Ingrave Street to take away the body of a nine-year-old boy. Conditions were appalling: “I can still remember there was chicken-wire where the windows were supposed to be”.

The 1966 film Cathy Come Home has several scenes set in the old housing north of Clapham Junction station. This section focuses on the domestic life of tight-knit Battersea families in Maysoule Road.

One irony of post-war ‘slum’ clearance is that the Victorian terraced houses that survive in Little India and Atherton Street can now fetch a million pounds each.

Several of the residents of the area that became the Winstanley Estate still post on the excellent ‘Battersea Pictures’ Facebook Group. They shared these pictures of how Grant Road and Speke Road looked just before they were demolished to make way to for the estate:

Old Winstanley Old Winstanley

The Old Maps website is the best place to see how the Victorian street-pattern was changed by the new council estate. If you search for Battersea there are maps from 1850, 1874, 1882, 1895 (see below), 1919, 1938, 1948, 1962, 1976 and even a 1985 Russian military map!

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The Winstanley Estate is often photographed to look dark and forbidding. To help balance matters, I uploaded 60 bright, high-quality images of the estate here for free public use.

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If you log in to the Britain from Above website you can scroll and zoom through the photos yourself, so I will finish with just one more look at the Winstanley area in 1938. This time viewed from the north, from the Thames with Clapham Junction in the background:

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The same area today:

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UPDATE:

The Science and Society photolibrary gives an insight into how people lived in the Winstanley area 100 years ago. Here is a great picture of blacksmiths outside their smithy on Speke Road in 1914. (Speke Road was demolished and replaced by Thomas Baines Road when the Winstanley Estate was built):

Blacksmiths Outside Their Smithy on Speke Road. London, Battersea, c1914

Blacksmiths Outside Their Smithy on Speke Road, Battersea, 1914

UPADATE 2:

Dr Aileen Reid, an academic at UCL, produced this video ‘The Winstanley Plays Itself’. It shows how the estate was built and features clips of films shot on the estate, including Up The Junction, Villain and Sitting Target.

The Winstanley Plays Itself from London Historian on Vimeo.

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16 thoughts on “Why was the Winstanley Estate built?

  1. i was born in the Winstanley Arms off licence in 1951. Those little roads and the community was destroyed to build a monstrosity of an estate to be demolished and replaced with little roads and houses it replaced!!!!

  2. Battersea Girl, by Martin Knight (London Books) is a riveting account of working class life in Battersea during the last century, through the experiences of one family and one woman in particular.

  3. Battersea Girl, by Martin Knight (London Books), is a riveting and edifying account of working class life in Battersea during the last century.

  4. Really enjoyed reading your article. I spent my childhood years living in the pre-Winstanley estate area, and still have an elderly relative living on the estate. My view of why the old houses were developed to make way for the new build is multi-factorial but includes the geography of the area. The whole area is damp due to its low lying position and the fact that an underground river – the Falcon brook – runs completely through it. The old houses were owned by landlords who were unable to maintain their property adequately due to the “controlled” low rents the tenants were paying. Many of these homes were occupied by poorly paid workers in multi-tenanted houses which were overcrowded and lacked bathrooms, inside toilets and in many cases proper kitchens. It should also be remembered that the councillor responsible for post war re-building in the borough spent a lengthy period in jail for corruption!

  5. I lived in Speke Road from when I was born in 1950 until we were rehoused in 1955. We had 2 rooms in the basement and 2 rooms on the middle floor. A lady lived upstairs. We did have an inside loo but it was shared with upstairs. We ended up living in the 2 middle rooms as the basement was always flooded. There was a scullery and in the outside yard there was an air raid shelter. Only coal fires for heating, or if you were lucky an oil heater. I remember baths in a tin bath in front of the fire. My brother died in 1955 aged 4y and 11m. Because I was always getting very ill by the age of 4 my Dad went to the council in desparation and said he’d lost one child and wasn’t prepared to lose another! He refused to leave until he was promised that we’d be rehoused. We were move eventually to Dresden House, Dagnall Street when it had just been finished.

    • We were at 14 Dresden House when it opened for business. Were on Falcon RD before that where my brother was born in a flat over the Estate Agents next to the Sweet Shop. That flat is now in empty space. The Council did a better job destroying the area than the Germans.

  6. my name is roy hill and l was born at 79 speke road 0n 3rd dec 1945 l have fond memeries
    of my childhood like being put out on the street every sunday afternoon with loads of kids from the street then when you looked up at the windows people were drawing the curtains took me a few years the work out what was going on the working week was 5 half days a week so l suppose they were playing catchup. the ice cream man selling walls bricks bill pocock selling winkles and cockles
    out side the cladstone pub that’s ware l had my first pint of mild at1/3p great times great people.
    BUT the homes were damp outside loo try that in the middle of the night,sunday night was bath night tin bath in front of the fire progressed to plough rd baths ware l had my first SHOWER.
    then wates the bulders bult that estate from that time onwards people became prisoners in their
    own homes.lm 70 now but still come back to have a drink with some good old mates that lv known
    sincel was 17 HAPPYDAYS

  7. In a way it will be sad to see the Winstanley pulled down and more posh housing built in Battersea driving out more of the working class who used to be the majority in Battersea. Correct me if I am wrong but the Winstanley always had a bad name, when I went to Spencer Park School in the 70s a lot of the boys there lived on the Winstanley and it had a bad name then. Battersea/Wandsworth now has completely changed to what it was, it is being built for the rich people, they don’t want places like the Winstanley

  8. Love this I was proud to have lived on Carmichael close top end flat the shettle s happy time we all new each other swimming Christmas club the library nobbies shop the two alsation dogs the film with Oliver read and me waiting to get the apples when they finished filming x xxx good time we may not have had a lot but we a ‘ll stuck together xxxxx

  9. I wasn’t born in Battersea but I moved there with my parents and older brother when I was a few weeks old. We lived at 60 Sporle Court for 6 years until we were rehoused with many other families to Wandsworth. I went to Falcon Brook School. I don’t remember a great deal as I was still very young but I do remember playing on the swings and going to the shop underneath our block an buying a whole bag of sweets for 1 old penny.

  10. My mum nan and grandfather all lived in ingrave street and speke road my wife was born in 1965 at gargarin house until 1974 then the family who moved to eversliegh rd off lavender hill my wifes family name is rossiters
    loved going to nobbys and to the sweet shop on estate for penny mixes and played run outs in the pixie huts and playgound under sporle court.

    who went to the very top of sporle court and played on the roof? we did good fun and getting stuck in the lifts lol!

  11. Tracing my family tree and my great, great grandfather (a plasterer) lived here with my great grandfather (worked in the candle factory) and the rest of their family. Great to see where they used to live.

  12. My grandparents ran the Winstanley Arms pub in the ?late 50s, early 60s. I think the address was 26 Winstanley Road. I’d love to hear from anyone who has stories or photos of the pub from around this time.

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