It is fashionable, if not wholly justifiable, to criticise the planners of the 1960’s, but the planning of the GLC South Oxhey Estate in the 1040’s left much to be desired.
Housing was the yardstick by which development was judged in those days. Building homes for 6,000 was an achievement but, just as the tower block planners realised a remarkable use of limited space, they never gave consideration to the people who had to live in them; their social, cultural and environmental needs.
By 1951, a report on the estate lamented the lack of a community and warned of the development of an “appalling, soulless situation, a source of persistent unhappiness, suffering and discontent”.
A high proportion of the population of the estate came from broken homes, it was claimed, and there were “no churches, church halls, pubs and shops, and, after three years, just one small cafe”.
In common with similar estates at Abbots Langley and Radlett, there were no public conveniences either.
The report sparked a furious debate in our columns, with residents stressing that they “did not want another Commercial Road with pubs, shops, picture houses etc.”
Others called for shops, while one resident suggested the report “made out that passengers on the trains passing through should draw the blinds to avoid seeing the awful sore on Hertfordshire’s soil”.
The mention of soil was made in a medical report, which revealed that out of a population of 6,000 in South Oxhey Estate, 125 cases of tubercullosis had been diagnosed. The report also added that “the soil in that area is not ideal for the treatment of the disease” (’50) and the proportion was put as high as three per cent a year later.
By 1954, 171 cases of TB were reported in South West Herts and in excess of 49 per cent were from the estate.
During the early years, mobile shops such as those sent out by Barkers of Market Street, plied their trade around the estate in a green wagon but, with the arrival of two shops, a bank and an off-license in Prestwick Road (’52), the entrepreneurs from Watford were resented.
The estate was soon in the news again, this time with the resignation of the community association chairman because of the lack of co-operation from “a bunch of reds” (’52).
This, during the McCarthy era, was emotive stuff and there were denials and counter claims but gradually the estate settled down, shops were introduced and community facilities developed, along with a new £90,000 railway station (’51), which local traders later objected to being called Carpenders Park : “it never will be and never has been,” they said (’54).
The estate was subject to lodger rent in (’55), Rickmansworth having already been familiar with the practice (’51) with 25p a week for a blood relative and 50p for others.
As the community developed, there was even a gradual response to the constant appeals for a boys’ and youth clubs, which were voiced throughout the decade, the best known being Blackwell Boxing Club in Oxhey Drive. And, after 10 years, the footbridge over the railway to Little Oxhey Hall was installed (’58).
Even so, the BBC featured the estate in a film about the neurosis that developed in those uprooted from their London environs and deposited in South Oxhey.