- Defining the suburb
- Population growth
- Household structures
- Work and home
- New work
- A showcase of success?
- Physical and moral purity
- Speculative development
- Freeholders and builders in the 19th century
- Freeholders and Builders in the 20th century
- Finance - 19th Century
- Financing 20th century developments
- State subsidies and funding
- Co-operation and self build
- State services
- Private services
From country to suburb: The why and the how of suburban development. A universal phenomenon with examples from south-east London.
In most people’s mind, the availability of transport has a major impact on suburban development. But its importance is easy to overstate. The arrival of transport infrastructure, especially in the form of railways and roads, is a very visible thing - much more visible than other key factors such as the policies of landed estates, or the state of the economy. While few speculative developments could thrive without a transport link to the place to which they owed their main economic allegiance, there are many of examples of the availability of good transport links having relatively little impact on the development of an area.
One of the principal functions of the ancient town of Southwark was as a transport terminus. It was the end of the road for travellers to London, who lodged in the many inns off Borough High Street. These inns also serviced the long distance coaches that travelled form all points south of London. The inns retained this function well into the 19th century.
Until the middle of the 18th century the individual parish through which the road passed maintained the roads over which the coach’s passengers travelled. There was no systematic provision of main road system and the quality of the road varied from parish to parish. There was little incentive for a parish to maintain a major road through its area as regular long distance users were unlikely to have lived in the parish and so contributed to its upkeep.
Parliament’s solution to this was the introduction of turnpike trusts - commercial organisations that charged road users at gated turnpikes for the use of their road and in turn maintained the roads to a better standard. The trusts were also responsible for the building of new roads. In Southwark the Trust of the Surrey New Roads built Borough Road and the New Kent Road. Along with new crossings over the Thames: Westminster, 1750; Blackfriars, 1769; Waterloo ,1817; London Bridge rebuilt 1831, and Southwark Bridge 1819, and new roads to them - this new infrastructure was a major contributory factor to development on the fringes of the town of Southwark and in Newington, and Kennington. Tolls on Thames bridges were removed in 1811 and turnpikes ceased operating in the 1860s, however London’s only remaining toll road is College Road through the Dulwich Estate.
Improved roads and expanding suburban populations in the late 18th century stimulated the need for public transport. The wealthiest could travel in their own private carriages, but others travelled in communal short stage carriages. After 1832 these were able to operate freely in central London and their numbers expanded. One of the earliest commercial operators was Thomas Tilling whose firm stared services in 1841 to run between Peckham and Oxford Circus.
Railway mania swept London at the same time as the increase in availability of road transport. London’s first passenger railway was the London and Greenwich, which ran between London Bridge and Greenwich (initially Spa Road, Bermondsey to Deptford), which opened in 1836. Shortly after the London and Croydon via Forest Hill and Norwood Junction and the London and Brighton opened, all running from London Bridge. The companies running these lines evolved into the two great rival companies the South Eastern Railway and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. The first line of significance to suburban development was the South Eastern’s line from London Bridge to Gravesend via Blackheath, Erith and Dartford. It helped stimulate development in on the Cator Estate in Blackheath (the estate also made took extensive trouble to ensure the line ran under its property) and to a lesser extent on the Lesney estate in Belvedere.
There was a further phase of railway building after 1860 and this had a more profound impact than any. Lines went to Crystal Palace via Gipsy Hill in 1854; to Bromley South via Dulwich, Beckenham and Shortlands in 1863; to Crystal Palace via Nunhead and Lordship Lane in 1865; to Croydon via Ladywell and New Beckenham in 1864; to Dartford via Bexley in 1866; to Dartford via Sidcup in 1866; to Sutton via Peckham in 1867; to Orpington in 1868; to Hayes in 1882 and to Dartford via Bexleyhetah in 1895. Despite this feverish activity the impact on suburban development was mixed. The impact was strong in middle class professional areas, such as Blackheath, Bromley, Beckeham, Bexley and Sidcup, but weaker in Dulwich, where the estate obstructed the building of extensive numbers of commuters’ homes. The effect was weaker where smaller homes were being built and almost non-existent in the case of the Bexleyheth Line. It was not until the1880s when workmen’s fares were introduced that some of the lines started working close to the capacity.
Until the early 1860s the lines terminated at London Bridge or Blackfriars, but shortly after the companies embarked on an ambitious programme of extensions to new termini at Charing Cross, Canon Street and the City. This had two effects on suburban development. The services became more desirable to middle class commuters, and huge numbers of people in the area where the extensions were being built lost their homes. This resulted in higher land values and those residents who could afford to leave did so, so stimulating development on the suburban fringe. The poorer remained, paying more to live in increasingly crowded circumstances.
Horse trams were introduced into south London from the 1870s. Lines ran from Thames bridges to termini at Tooting, Streatham and Greenwich and on their way went along virtually all main roads in the district. The cars provided about 30 seats inside and fewer in an open top deck. Each car was pulled by a pair of horses. Their impact on the inner working class areas was tremendous. The service they provided was cheaper, more reliable and more comfortable than either horse buses or railway trains. They also ran in areas poorly served by transport and, most importantly provided services that ran across south London as well as to and from the centre. Later lines were built to Woolwich and Abbey Wood, to Lewisham and Catford, to Deptford down the Lower Road, to East Dulwich, Clapham and West Norwood. This network came under the control of the London County Council in 1899.
The LCC contributed to the system by building new tram lines from Woolwich to Eltham, from Lee Green to Eltham and to Forest Hill, Brockley and Grove Park. The Erith authorities built a line from Woolwich to Erith and those in Bexley from Woolwich to Bexleyheath and then to Bexley. The LCC also set about the electrification of existing lines. This boosted further the capacity and reliability of the trams.
While there were no additions to the rail network in this period, rail companies set about the electrification of their commuter lines. One of the earliest was the London Bridge to Victoria via Peckham Rye line, which was electrified in 1909. The most significant work in this respect was the electrification of lines to Dartford via Sidcup and Bexleyheath and to Orpington. These were electrified in 1925 and this work greatly increased reliability and capacity. Despite these obvious improvements, it was another ten years or so for economic conditions to be right for extensive suburban development to take place. In addition new stations were built. They were often promoted and funded by estate developers. Eltham Park (now closed) was built in 1908 to serve the Corbett Estate; Albany Park, between Sidcup and Bexley dates from 1935 and Falconwood, between Eltham and Welling opened in 1936 and served New Ideal Homestead’s estates in these areas.
Suburbanisation was aided in three significant ways by roads. By the building of new roads, by the growth in private motor transport and by the development of new forms of public transport.
Until the middle of the 18th century roads were the responsibility of individual parishes. There was no systematic provision of main road system and the quality of the road varied from parish to parish. There was little incentive for a parish to maintain a major road through its area as regular long distance users were unlikely to have lived in the parish and so contributed to its upkeep.
Parliament’s solution to this was the introduction of turnpike trusts - commercial organisations that charged road users at gated turnpikes for the use of their road and in turn maintained the roads to a better standard. The trusts were also responsible for the building of new roads. In Southwark the Trust of the Surrey New Roads built Borough Road and the New Kent Road. Along with new crossings over the Thames: Westminster, 1750; Blackfriars, 1769; Waterloo, 1817; London Bridge rebuilt 1831, and Southwark Bridge, 1819, and new roads to them - this new infrastructure was a major contributory factor to development on the fringes of the town of Southwark and in Newington, and Kennington. Tolls on Thames bridges were removed in 1811 and turnpikes ceased operating in the 1860s, however London’s only remaining toll road is College Road, through the Dulwich Estate.
New roads in urban areas, such as Southwark Street, built 1864, displaced wealthier residents and left behind the poor. New roads in the 20th century resulted in whole estates. The roads with the biggest impact in this respect are the “improvements” made to the Dover Road (to be the A2) at Kidbrooke, Eltham and Bexleyheath in the 1920s and the Sidcup by-pass (the A20) at the same time.