The 5 Year War (Credits: Derick Deakin)
In 1924, Robert Henry Greville Tatton inherited Wythenshawe and yielded to pressure from the then Manchester Corporation who were in need of land for housing. What used to be farmland, grew into one of the largest housing estates in Europe. The land was then sold to Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, who immediately donated them to the City of Manchester.
Manchester had been building up hopes of acquiring more 'Lebensraum' from north Cheshire from the end of the First World War. Professor Abercrombie's report of 1920 had enthused about Wythenshawe's 'charming country lanes and country roads and the general air of rusticity'. Encouraged and cajoled by Jackson and Simon, the Housing Committee and most of the city's departments, except the Waterworks, had been in favour of purchasing Wythenshawe. The government was handing out cash for municipal housing at the beginning of the 1920s but it was not until T. E. Tatton died and his son wanted to sell that negotiations could go ahead.
The first Labour Government actively encouraged municipal housing in 1924. Ernest Simon asserted that the decision to buy Wythenshawe, or not, was the most important to be made for the next twenty years. When that decision was taken by the Conservative council on 3 February 1926 the go-ahead was given for the purchase of Wythenshawe by a quirk of the proceedings close to an error. After a three hour debate, the Conservative amendment, clearly refusing to entertain any purchase, was passed and the matter seemed at an end. The majority of Conservatives had left the chamber when William Jackson, already known as the 'father of Wythenshawe', put forward a further amendment. This was in order, since it was only an amendment that had been carried, and not the proposal itself. The remaining Liberals and Labour members were joined by those Conservatives in favour of purchase, and what might have been the final opportunity of a bulk-buy was not lost. The second amendment was passed and purchase authorised.
The council backed the decision of February 1926 by the purchase in May of the same year of 2,569 acres at £80 sterling per acre. To top the transaction, as has been mentioned already, Simon bought Wythenshawe Park and presented it to the city 'as some return for all that we owe to Manchester'. A few sceptics were quick to make dark hints and, in one instance, a pointed accusation of bribery, corruption and, of course, simony. But, to the majority, the gift seemed a crowning gesture that provided a focal point for the planning of the new Wythenshawe. It was understandable that many now thought that the land south of the Mersey was 'in Manchester'. In fact the problems of building Wythenshawe were only beginning.
The situation was now that Manchester owned part of Wythenshawe, but only in the way that any John Smith can own land. It still had to get permission to build on it. It would have to go cap and plans in hand, a suppliant Goliath at the feet of David - Bucklow Council. To change this would need an Act of Parliament to incorporate Northenden, Baguley and Northen Etchells within Manchester. The first move to prevent this came from Manchester's own camp at a meeting in January 1927 of ratepayers who, under the Borough Funds Act of 1872, challenged their own city council.
While still coping with this grass-roots objection from its own ranks, Manchester had to face the united councils of Cheshire, Bucklow and, although not involved, the other urban and rural district councils of north Cheshire. Birkenhead and Wallasey were also striving for municipal boundary extensions, so that the Chairman of Cheshire County Council remarked that the county 'had become Naboth's vineyard'.
Swift action was taken by Cheshire to mobilise and demonstrate the opposition of the various parishes and councils to the takeover bid by Manchester. A joint petition was organised and the Guardian report of the manoeuvre indicated the strength of feeling.
The opposition to this plan was led by the Cheshire County Council and the Bucklow Rural District Council. At a meeting held at Crewe of urban authorities lying to the south of Manchester, decisions to join in the opposition movement were taken by Ashton-upon-Mersey, Sale, Altrincham, Bowdon, Hale, Cheadle and Gatley, and Handforth.
The report included the comments:
'It is apparent that the purpose of the opposition is to set up an impenetrable wall between Manchester and the southward expansion she desires. It is a wall composed of the eight urban authorities already mentioned and the district of Bucklow, which includes the intervening parishes of Timperley, Ringway and Styal' ... At the meeting of the Sale authority one councillor, defending the reasonableness of Manchester's desire for air, accused some among his colleagues of a desire 'to build a wall along the Mersey, with a gate through which they could come and go, but through which Manchester was not to pass.
To demonstrate its capabilities, Cheshire now planned to build its own council houses. Bucklow Drive, off Royle Green Road in Northenden, was built by the county, as were houses in Yew Tree Lane and Rackhouse.
A poll was taken in the three parishes and showed that 82 per cent wanted to remain in Cheshire, in spite of the fact that nearly half of them worked in Manchester. At Sharston Hall Mr. Henriques, a member of an old Spanish-Jewish family of merchants, voiced his objection to higher rates. The report of the ratepayers' meeting in Northenden Church Rooms on 17 January 1927, with its 'not a square inch shall be taken' rhetoric, indicated the strength of feeling on the subject:
Mr. T. Hewlett presided and said he took the strongest possible objection to the proposed bill because he was of the opinion that if the Manchester Corporation obtained the necessary powers it would mean a very large increase in their rates, which at present were 18s. [90p] in the pound . . . Mr. Harold White referred to the scheme as fantastic and idealistic and contended that the people of Northenden would be acting extremely contrary to their interests if they did not oppose it by every means in their power. Lieutenant Goudie, Mr. W. Pland and Mr. G. W. Hewlett spoke in vigorous opposition to the bill and a resolution to this effect was passed with only two dissensions.
Cheshire's last audacious argument was that it might put in the roads and sewers only to find that Manchester could not go ahead with the houses. As a result of Cheshire's fight, Manchester's Bill was rejected by parliament.
Manchester saw that if it was not to be left with one of the most expensive cabbage patches in Britain it must box more cleverly. The city set up the Wythenshawe Estates Special Committee (the 'Wythenshawe Committee') to guide, control and assist with all planning and development in Wythenshawe. Leading proponents on the committee were Ernest and Sheena Simon, Lt.-Col. Westcott and Alderman Jackson, its first Chairman. The W.E.S.C. has been called 'a corporation within a corporation' and it was the nearest that Wythenshawe would get to its own council. It had now to fight in earnest.
After preliminary correspondence with Barry Parker and visits by Alderman Jackson to Letchworth, the architect was approached. Not only was Mr. Parker 'the most eminent town planner in Britain' at that time, but he had long associations with Manchester, going back to his own apprenticeship in Altrincham, and he was a fellow traveller, politically, with Jackson and Simon. With mighty Manchester behind him, Barry Parker could build the garden city of his dreams. The committee asked him to produce development plans for Wythenshawe.
Little time was wasted and discussion meanwhile proceeded on the plans for the main link road, Princess Parkway, the bridge over the Mersey and the widening of the Sale to Altrincham Road. The striking feature of Parker's Wythenshawe plan, the Parkway, was the first in Britain, and it boasted free-flowing traffic segregated from the houses and minor roads. Parkways had been suggested in Ebenezer Howard's schemes and now it was an obvious way of linking Wythenshawe and Manchester.
The Abercrombie report in 1920 saw Wythenshawe purely as a garden suburb with little or no industry. The second report, an independent survey in 1922 by Captain R. L. Reiss, had considerable influence on Parker's ideas of social integration. Although committed to a mixed-class estate, Parker had at first seemed to be segregating the classes by expanding private development on the boundaries of the area, in Northenden, Brooklands, Styal Road, Moss Nook and along the Parkway. Captain Reiss suggested that houses should be allocated initially to building workers, then for workers in local factories, which should be 'engaged in clean industry using gas and electricity'. Barry Parker accepted his ideas of a self-contained socially-mixed development and the city council, too, was happy at the prospect of higher rents and an enhanced estate.
The economic planning of the body of the new housing area generally fascinated Parker and he saw the finance available to Manchester as allowing heavier capitalisation and more rapid growth than had been possible at Letchworth. Thus the town could grow in a logical sequence, with some ten neighbourhood units of schools and shops being ready before the arrival of people. The parkways were to combine with the neighbourhood system, so that local cycling and walking trips could be made in safety. Parker was most concerned to keep the beauty of existing natural features, such as ponds and groups of trees, but to do this and still keep to 12 well-designed houses per acre costs had to be pruned elsewhere, particularly in respect of the cost of access and service roads to the houses themselves.
*Much more detailed information can be found in these two excellent books, published by the Northenden Civic Society, which can be obtained at the excellent 21st C Wythenshawe Forum Library >>
‘WYTHENSHAWE – a History of the Townships of NORTHENDEN, NORTHEN ETCHELS & BAGULEY’; Volume 1: to 1926. Edited by W.H. Shercliff. 1974
‘WYTHENSHAWE – the Story of a Garden City’; by Derick Deakin. 1989