From country to suburb: The why and the how of suburban development. A universal phenomenon with examples from south-east London.


Financing 20th century developments

In the 20th century the picture was rather different, as developers disposed of their new homes by sales. This was made possible by the growth of building societies, by the big developers, notably New Ideal Homesteads, also entering the becoming financiers, by government subsidies to private builders and by increasingly prefabricated building processes. The latter gave opportunities for cheaper bulk purchases, the use of cheaper, less skilled, labour (readily available in the depression years) and swift erection – houses could be built in three weeks. It has also left a legacy of bland and monotonous streetscapes.

The private developers of the 1930s were also very slick marketers. Their brochures were brash and confident; the language was extravagant, in the Albany Park Estate brochure New Ideal Homesteads promised “it is intended that the charming countryside shall permanently retain the rural character of its vistas and shall not suffer disfigurement in any way” hardly a credible claim given the feverish activity. They offered purchasers assistance through all stages of the buying process including legal work and finance. They stressed the advantages of their houses to women, even claiming the houses were designed by the woman, for the woman; NIH’s properties came with electricity and a range of labour saving devices. Ironically, far from offering women new opportunities, the new suburbs only reinforced their role in the home.

Many of these developers built at or higher than the permitted density, but cunningly disguised this fact by making four properties look like a spacious pair of semis.

Private developers were keenly aware of need for services so shops, for example the Oval, Sidcup built by New Ideal Homesteads as part of their Marlborough Park Estate, and railway stations such as Albany Park, also built by NIH as part of their estate of that name.