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24 September 2014
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Life in a Garden Suburb - 90 years ago

By: Bryce Leicester

Nook Rise - 1921
Nook Rise, taken in 1921.
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The development of Wavertree Garden Suburb - just west of the new Queens Drive - began in 1910.
A total of 360 houses had been completed when the First World War brought building work to a halt.

The estate was planned as a community and developed by a 'co-partnership' company in which the tenants of the houses were shareholders.

The early residents - with their gardens, allotments and wide range of social events - were thought eccentric by some; but they regarded themselves as pioneers of a new healthy lifestyle.

This is what one of those residents wrote about the Suburb in the summer of 1912:

"Before the Estate had been inhabited three months the little plant of organised social life began to thrust itself into view. The occupants of the score of finished houses met and re-met and met again, and at the third time of asking came forth with a brand new constitution upon the foundations of which the social life of this community is destined to grow and thrive.

Wavertree Nook Road
Wavertree Nook Road in 1912.

As each fresh family arrived and established a new home in this little colony it found a welcome awaiting. A little circular letter from the Council of Tenants entrusted with the administration of this new Constitution; a brief note intimating that as Tenants and Co-partners the pioneers already established here greeted the new comers and asked them to join the guild of those bent on the quest of a more social life.

At first the new comers felt surprised at this collective welcome and invitation from their neighbours; it was a new experience and unexpected, an undeveloped imagination characterised it as rudeness, but this objection soon vanished when a friendly call followed the little note and explained the new Constitution, the new ideals, the new hopes that exist in the bosom of the citizens of this Garden Village.

With this little lead the imagination of the new comer soon begins to grow and the very members who as prospective tenants have most ridiculed these phases of changed conditions of city life, and most loudly declared that they would not be identified with them, soon are found among the most enthusiastic members of the new community.

The selfish side of human nature plays a part in attracting residents to this new estate, for it is soon realised that a Co-partnership Garden Village affords to many an opportunity of securing at least a share in the advantages which as a rule are obtainable only by the few wealthy enough to be the individual owners of lawns and gardens sufficiently extensive to secure to their homes healthy open surroundings and pleasant views.
But in these improved surroundings this selfish side grows less, and the better nature soon becomes anxious to contribute something towards the welfare of the community.

Garden Festival
Performers at the garden suburb's first Summer Festival.

Individual efforts first of one resident and then of another lead to the foundation of many societies of largely varied interests so that at the end of the first year these healthy desires have resulted in the existence of a Choral Society with a senior and junior section; a Magazine Club; a Ladies' Guild; a Horticultural Society; a Thrift Committee; an Adult School, for all of which the Tenants' Club House provides a meeting place either in its commodious hall or in one of the two Committee rooms.

This Club House forms a link with the past. The skilful reconstruction of a pair of ancient cottages has preserved the outward appearance of the thick red sandstone walls and the slated roof so beautifully mellowed with years of sunshine and storm. Many are the evenings that have and will be profitably and enjoyably spent in this new Club House in social intercourse; a Whist drive, or a dance, a lecture or a concert, a debate or a gymnastic display, provides varieties for all ages and all tastes: times of merriment and enlightenment.

True, our vocalists and our instrumentalists may not be so renowned as the artistes at the Philharmonic Hall; our lecturers may not be so distinguished and so brilliant as those at the University; but there is a charm in seeing and hearing them in our own hall, where we feel at home, at our ease among our neighbours and our friends.
Spared the fatigue and expense of a journey to town, the rush and crush of a public assembly hall, the tedious journey back again late at night, we are able to remain by the fireside or in the garden, according to the season of the year, until a few minutes before the hour of commencement. At the conclusion, quickly and easily home again and to bed, so that early risers though perforce we may be, we awake refreshed by sufficient hours of sleep in an atmosphere that rests and braces both body and mind.

The Clubhouse as it looks today
The Clubhouse or Wavertree Garden Suburb Institute on Thingwall Road.

Now summer is with us again, such time as can be spared from our gardens may be spent in games of bowls and tennis on our own lawns, and after dusk on warm evenings we look forward to joining the group of open-air debaters or swelling the attendance at the al fresco concerts. Surely under conditions such as these we may rightly look forward to a sturdier race of citizens, a race that will produce men who will see that the cities of the future shall no longer be populated by people disabled and unfitted for life by want of fresh air and healthy homes, both of which may be provided on an economic basis when the land is no longer allowed to be overcrowded with buildings."

Reproduced from 'Life in a Garden Suburb' by Bryce Leicester, an article in 'Garden Suburbs, Villages & Homes' No.2 (Summer 1912): Co-partnership Publishers Ltd, London

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