Thamesmead: A late 20th century New Town
Finally, however, the site was declared ready for construction. Building of the first ‘neighbourhood’ (as the different areas were called) near Abbey Wood began in January 1967. This was later known as Newacres. The first phase of the building of Thamesmead comprised three stages and was in the area bounded by the railway line, Harrow Manor Way, the sewer bank and the Crossness Sewage Treatment Works. It comprised just over 4000 homes.
Even today the different areas in Thamesmead are referred to as Area 1 or Area 3, depending on when they were built. The first two stages were built using concrete slabs that were then fitted together, with the main accommodation on the first and second floors to reduce the danger of flooding. (Abbey Wood was badly flooded in 1953.)
Space for car parking and garages was located under the accommodation and walkways connected the different buildings. The piled foundations, in addition to lifting the areas to be inhabited above the danger of flooding, also served to transmit the weight of the structures through the clay, peat and alluvium to the load-bearing gravel stratum below.
This method of building was changed to more conventional, lower-level brick building after the river walls were raised and the danger of flooding subsequently reduced. The first residential construction, part of Stages I and II, was the five-storey tower block at Coralline Walk and Binsey Walk comprising 4/5 person maisonettes and old people’s flats.
Stage III was delayed for a variety of reasons, including the discussion over the merits of high-rise tower blocks and also because of worries over the possible impact on the new town of the river crossing that was being discussed at the time. There were doubts, too, over the suitability of the heavy concrete building system for this type of housing and as a result for many of the low-rise parts of Stage III the architects reverted to brick build.
The train-like blocks were however integral to the whole design as they were meant to act as noise and wind barriers for the lower-rise housing they surrounded and they were finally completed in the area to the north of the sewer bank in the early 1980s.