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13 November 2014

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You are in: Essex > Places > Places features > Silver End - a window on the past

Silver End - a window on the past

Over 80-years-ago, businessman Francis Crittall built an entire village for his workforce, incorporating designs which were ahead of their time. We find out why today's residents of Silver End love the place so much.

Silver Street sign

Silver End as we know it was a very different place prior to 1925. In fact it was just a small hamlet with a few houses and some farm buildings. But that was all to change when Francis Henry Crittall came to town.

The front of 'Wolverton'

'Wolverton' was Grade II listed in 1983

One man's dream

The benevolent window manufacturer, who had factories in both Braintree and Witham was looking for a suitable place to expand his production line and settled on farmland located roughly between the two towns.

But more than just building another factory, Crittall also had the vision to build a whole new community for his workers and thus, in April 1926 work began on 500 houses, a school, village hall and Co-Operative department store.

He also had plans to build a hospital and swimming pool, but the depression at the end of the decade put paid to that.

Silver Street

Silver Street - the epitome of Crittall's vision

Of those houses, 153 were designed in the popular 'modern movement' theme of the time, and it is those for which Silver End is most well known.

The angular, art deco-style houses, with their flat roofs, white and green exterior  - and of course Crittall windows - which both line Silver Street and the adjoining Broadway are the largest collection of their kind in the country.

At the time the houses were quite revolutionary, with large gardens at both the front and rear of the property, indoor toilets and hot running water.

'The ultimate collector's item'

Three other houses were built in the 'modern movement style', one for Crittall's son Dan and two for his factory managers.

Back face of 'Wolverton'

Period fashion was for straight lines and symmetry

Alan and Victoria Waine have lived in one of the manager's houses, 'Wolverton', for around 10 years, in what Alan describes as 'the ultimate collectors item'.

"We were interested in the art-deco period and had a chance to buy it," recalls Alan. "We saw the board going up and within a few days we'd agreed a price and bought it."

Their house is Grade II listed and, like a number of the houses across the road in Silver Street, has a preservation order on it.

"You cannot alter the windows, the walls and the exterior of the house, or the internal partition walls," explains Alan. "You can get permission to do certain things, but it has to go through the local authority and the historic buildings advisor."

Silver End sign post

Crittall wanted to link Braintree and Witham sites

The couple have furnished the interior of their house in the style of the time and get regular requests from groups and intrigued passers-by to see more of their house.

"We've had people travelling from the north of the country and abroad to view the modern movement houses," says Alan.

"We often get groups from the Twentieth Century Society and architecture students come to view and we're quite happy to show them around as long as they make an appointment beforehand."

Alan and many others within the community are keen for the Silver End story and the Crittall's history to be preserved for future generations.

Art deco door window

1920s style is all around the village

"We are pushing to get a permanent site, because there is a lot of history in this village as a manufacturing village. Unfortunately a large part of the factory has been demolished due to a lack of manufacturing requirements," explains Alan.

"Fortunately we managed to save some of the original buildings of the factory, which the Parish Council and District Council are hopeful that we can use for community purposes."

I liked it so much, I bought a house here

Alan and Victoria are not the only people living a dream by living in Silver End.

Crittall gates

Crittall lived at 'Manors' until his death in 1934

Jo Walsh moved to the village after falling in love with its unique architecture on a chance drive through it on her way through to A12.

Although she doesn't live in one of the modern movement houses, she is one of many hoping to buy one, if and when one of them comes up for sale.

"The beauty of the architecture is just fantastic and on a summer's day you can't be low, it's beautiful. The village is just stunning," enthuses Jo.

"I saw it and I thought 'this is it, this is what I really want, I want to live here!'"

Silver End village hall

The village hall is one of the largest in Britain

Jo's passion for Silver End is not something she wishes to keep to herself. Like Alan and Victoria Waine, she is keen to be involved in promoting and maintaining Francis Crittall's creation.

"You look along Silver Street and think 'Wow, someone's put their mind to this, built all of this and it's just breathtaking,'" she says.

"I think people need to come and see this lovely place and we need to be on the map.

"We can't lose this - this is part of England and we should appreciate it."

last updated: 22/07/2009 at 09:06
created: 27/01/2009

Have Your Say

We have lived in Silver End for 10 years now, not in a Crittall House, but we do have a fantastic view. We are threatened at the moment with an Incinerator/Waste Site which would definitely take away the emphasis on - and spoil - the historical village that it is.

We are thinking of buying in Silver End. Can you tell us about the waste site please as we hadnt heard of it which is a bit worrying

I moved to the village shortly after i got married two years ago. i live in one of last crittall houses, and love the space that the large garden allows me. i like the architecture of the village and would hate to see it spoiled. the forthcoming waste site could ruin the area.

I moved to Silver End two years ago and although we moved into a 70's house and would have loved to have something older we just wanted to move here and just love the village. We have a threat of a Waste Site which would spoil the area.

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