WYTHENSHAWE - The Beginnings

The Tatton family preserved an unbroken line as owners of the large estate in Wythenshawe from the fourteenth till the twentieth centuries, finally selling their property to make space for new homes for the people of Manchester.

Wythenshawe is Manchester's largest district, a massive housing estate that was created in the 1920's as a so-called "Garden City" where an overspill population could be re-housed away from the slums and squalor of industrial Manchester.

The upheaval and resettlement of such large numbers of people from all the different communities took little account of social cohesion or community spirit, neither of which existed, so that by the late 20th century Wythenshawe suffered many social problems. First, the estate was built initially without shops, amenities or services, and second there was very little employment directly to hand (except the Timpsons Shoe Factory on Altrincham Road). Various Residents Associations were set up to address these problems, and progress was very slow. The building of nearby Sharston Industrial Estate somewhat improved matters, as did the later Moss Nook and Roundthorn Industrial complexes, and over the years, the experiment that was Wythenshawe has gradually settled down to a degree of peace and normality.

Wythenshawe gradually acquired all the amenities and facilities that the early planners forgot, including its schools, shops, pubs and churches. Nowadays it has the Wythenshawe Forum, a major venue for dramatic, theatrical and musical events. It also got its own hospital, and Wythenshawe Hospital grew out of the earlier Baguley Hospital after the war in 1948.

In 1917 the government set up a committee under Sir John Tudor Walters - the Housing (Building Construction) Committee. It was asked to 'investigate the questions of building constructions in connection with the provision of dwellings, for the working classes in England, Wales and Scotland'.

The future Wythenshawe had an important link with the Tudor Walters Commission as an influential member of it was Raymond Unwin, partner and brother-in-law of Barry Parker, the man Manchester would approve to mastermind its new garden city. Raymond Unwin's influence can be detected in that the Commission looked further than the houses, and in the recommendation that the site should be considered as a future location of a community.

Tied to the Tudor Walters report was the Addison Act of 1919. This accepted that private enterprise could not provide enough working-class houses to let, and therefore government money, 'grant-in-aid', would be made available for municipal housing over and above the money raised locally by a penny rate. The act required local authorities to prepare and carry out adequate housing schemes. A completely new era in the supply of working-class houses, 'council houses', was thereby ushered in. Financed by the ratepayers and tax-payers but watched over by the Treasury and the Ministry of Health, the onus for working-class houses was now on the committees and officials of local authorities.

In every Town Hall the creation of homes had to be a co-operative venture of councillors and officials, and the conversion of rural Wythenshawe into the huge satellite township, or garden city, of Wythenshawe by Manchester was no exception. Nevertheless such a mammoth task was not achieved, indeed could not be commenced, without the foresight and leadership of a few devoted campaigners for this new concept. Of all those concerned there were three men, all Mancunians-by-adoption, whose lives and careers became closely integrated with the Wythenshawe project. One of these was the professional garden city planner, Barry Parker, and the other two were militants on Manchester City Council, where they had to wage long and often bitter battles before the new Wythenshawe became a reality. These men of action were Alderman William Jackson and Alderman, later Lord, Ernest Simon.

But it is as Jackson of Wythenshawe, the 'father of Wythenshawe', that he will be chiefly remembered. An alderman in 1918, Lord Mayor from 1923 to 1924, freeman in 1927, he had considerable influence. It was William Jackson who upset the city's conscience about its slums, who discovered the potential of Wythenshawe when he visited Baguley Sanatorium as Health Committee member, who called for the Abercrombie Report on the area and was made first chairman of the Wythenshawe Committee in 1927. 'His task was the monumental one of obtaining support for his idea and convincing the Council of its benefits. Throughout the campaign for Wythenshawe, Jackson remained a prominent spokesman both inside and outside the Council Chamber.'

Working with Ernest Simon, William Jackson kept faith with the project after the failure of the city to wrest control from Cheshire after the purchase of the land, and during the struggle to build under the Councils of Cheshire and Bucklow, who did their utmost to frustrate and cripple the scheme. Again it was the year 1931 that saw success for Alderman Jackson when Manchester was able to take complete control over Wythenshawe and build its great satellite garden city.

Born in Didsbury in 1879, Ernest Darwin Simon was the son of Henry Simon, who had come from Germany 20 years previously and established two businesses, one at Cheadle Heath constructing flour mills and the other, Simon Carves Ltd., creating iron mills.

After purchasing Wythenshawe Hall and 250 acres of its estate to form a park, the Simons presented them to the city and it was for this that their names first come to mind. But this gesture was only part of a long campaign undertaken by the Simons, working closely with William Jackson and Barry Parker, to accelerate slum clearance and create a garden city.

His campaign for smoke control was to help make Wythenshawe one of the first clean, smoke-free areas in the country. His wife, Sheena, was a guiding figure on the city's Education Committee until within two years before her death in 1972. It is also very probable that she was an important influence on her husband and an inspiration behind his dynamism.

The first moves by Manchester City Council towards building the new Wythenshawe were made in 1920 when Ernest Simon. Lib Chairman of the Housing Committee from December 1919. produced a housing report which showed that 17,000 houses were urgently needed in Manchester. As a result of this a tour-year plan was put into effect. Bricklayers were in short supply and Simon urged their release from the army.               

Jackson was Simon's deputy on the housing committee but he was forced to step down on a technicality in January‭ ‬1920.‭ ‬In this short time,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬he had persuaded the committee to ask the Professor of Civic Design at Liverpool,‭ ‬Patrick Abercrombie,‭ ‬for a report on the suitability of Wythenshawe for Manchester housing,‭ ‬an area Jackson knew from his visits to the Baguley Sanatorium.

The Abercrombie report noted that south of Northenden‭ '…‬..there is virgin land,‭ ‬capable of being moulded to take whatever shape may be decreed,‭ ‬with hardly a village or large group of houses to interfere with or direct the line of development‭'‬.‭ ‬Road and tram services,‭ ‬it stated,‭ ‬could be extended into the area.‭ ‬A railway ran across the north of the land but this was less useful.‭ ‬The Baguley Sanatorium,‭ ‬Abercrombie observed,‭ ‬was a testimony to the healthy,‭ ‬non-polluted air.‭ ‬In short his report suggested that Wythenshawe was a most suitable area for development,‭ ‬larger than Letchworth,‭ ‬even if much of the land was retained for agriculture and for other amenities.

In a covering letter,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬Professor Abercrombie pointed out,‭ ‬ominously as it turned out,‭ ‬that purchase of the land would not give Manchester planning control over the area.‭ ‬If it had a mind to do so,‭ ‬and if it was aware of its rights,‭ ‬Bucklow Council could obstruct and delay the development.

Other city departments were asked for their views.‭ ‬The City Engineer and the Electricity Department were happy with the scheme,‭ ‬while the Gas men positively bubbled over at the prospect of selling more gas on a smokeless estate.‭ ‬The Chief Constable more cautiously thought Manchester could take more houses without extending its boundaries,‭ ‬while the Chief Engineer of the Waterworks Department said he believed that there was still up to‭ ‬20,000‭ ‬acres of spare land nearer at hand,‭ ‬which would be less costly to develop and less expensive when it came to travel.‭ ‬A yet more important point,‭ ‬he argued,‭ ‬was that good agricultural land was being used.

The report made by the Housing Committee suggested that Manchester could not help but benefit by buying the land at‭ ‬£80‭ ‬an acre.‭ ‬Simon,‭ ‬the optimist,‭ ‬felt sure the price would rocket to‭ ‬£450‭ ‬an acre once the market started to move.‭ ‬The Parliamentary Sub-Committee and the Finance Committee received the report in November‭ ‬1920,‭ ‬with the recommendation that purchase should be by private treaty where possible and compulsory purchase where not.

Major obstacles loomed,‭ ‬however.‭ ‬T.‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Tatton,‭ ‬owner of the Tatton Estate and related to the Chairman of Cheshire County Council,‭ ‬resolutely refused to sell.‭ ‬Another obstacle appeared in the middle of‭ ‬1921‭ ‬when the Government cut the money it was giving for council housing through the Addison Act.‭ ‬It was not until‭ ‬1923‭ ‬that Neville Chamberlain restored a little help for municipal house-building,‭ ‬but only if and when an authority could prove to the Ministry of Health that they could do it better‭ '‬than if they left it to private enterprise‭'‬.

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