Evolution of Residential Highway Design in South-East England - Pre-Car Era

Starting with the "Pre-Car" Era...

Pre-Car Era

Interesting Questions

"Why did people start living in housing estates?" and "When were the first housing estates built? are two interesting questions which are linked

Four factors combined at the right time to create the demand for housing estates:

The Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century led to increased mechanisation and centralisation of the labour force

Formerly people had lived and worked in individual homes. Now new factories, mills, and mines all required large groups of people to live within easy walking distance

Centralisation of Labour

Increased Trade

In addition, increased trade through the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly within the British Empire led to the growth of ports, and growth of a workforce who needed to live in close proximity to the ports

The growth of the railway network, horse-drawn buses and later on trams made daily commuting possible and affordable for the first time

This suited the growing professional class who wanted to live outside the congested urban centres, and created demand for new housing estates on the outskirts of towns and cities

Improvements to road surfacing through the 19th century and the introduction of the "safety bicycle" in the 1880s meant that the working class could also commute and live further from their workplaces

Improved Transport

Population Growth

Improvements in medicine and housing conditions for the middle and wealthy classes meant that more children made it to adulthood. However, the opposite was true for the working classes where poorer living conditions meant higher rates of child mortality

Nonetheless, there was a constant supply of new labour as workers moved from the countryside to the towns, and immigrants came to the UK

So overall the population increased from approximately 6 million in the early 1700s, to 10.5 million in 1801 and 37 million in 1901

In the early 19th century there were two extremes when it came to housing conditions:

Workers lived in rows of basic back-to-back terraced housing

Thinking back to the previous section's "soft" design considerations the primary journey type would be walking to and from work, and there were no special considerations for the young or people with impaired ability

Non-resident journeys would have included the local undertaker’s horse and cart collecting the bodies of those who’ve passed away. So it’s likely that this determined the minimum road width between houses – i.e. one cart’s width

For the "hard" design considerations often the only drainage provision would be a trench down the middle of the road

Aesthetics were unlikely to be considered. If there were street lights they would be gas. Water supply would be via a nearby well or stream. Foul drainage would be a chamber pot emptied out into the drainage trench in the road

19th century photographs show a variety of surface materials, including cobble stones, flagstones, or what looks like soil. Some have paved footways to either side, some are cobbled all the way across, and some have cobbles forming the central drainage trench

Housing for the Workers

Housing for the New Wealthy

At the other extreme the new wealthy class could afford to buy plots in new developments on the spacious edges of urban centres, and they would choose house designs from pattern books

Looking at the "soft" design considerations the primary journey would, again, be getting to and from work – typically by private carriage or public transport

With more leisure time there would also be more non-work journeys, such as nannies with prams

For non-resident journeys, there were local deliveries from milkmen and butchers, and the new wealthy class were purchasing furniture and furnishings for the first time, which all needed delivering

So the roads needed to be wide enough for two-way horse-drawn traffic

This increased traffic also meant more horse manure and other waste in the carriageway. So a clear footway to one or both sides of the road was vital

For the "hard" design considerations these developments relied on their picturesque appeal to sell the plots. Therefore the roads were often laid out to provide "unfolding views" and mature trees and hedgerows were retained where possible

Early housing estates could be remote from drainage networks and services. So road drainage would be verges acting as soakaways, and individual houses would have cesspits and wells and use candle light

As cities expanded outwards and surrounded these early estates they would be connected into the new drainage networks and gas and water supplies

Marketing brochures and 19th century photographs show a variety of surfacing types. Some show verges and unpaved carriageways, others show footways paved with flagstones and cobbled or waterbound macadam carriageways

During the 19th century there was much legislation that affected housing estate road design. This includes the "First Report of the Commissionaires of the State of Large Towns and Population Districts" published in 1844 in response to rising concerns at the time about poor living conditions for the working class, and the realisation that people living in wider, lighter streets were healthier

It regulated street width for new urban roads and set up a 100 year programme to widen and straighten existing streets

At the same time the growing middle class wanted better quality housing, so the new housing estates being constructed alongside the new railway lines adopted the recommendations of the 1844 report

The Public Health Act of 1875 formalised the 1844 road layout and established the Bye-Law Street (typically 7.3m or 24 feet wide carriageway and 1.8m or 6 feet wide footways each side) and this is why we now have so many straight roads constructed in major cities such as London and Brighton from this period

There were a series of locomotive acts in the 1860s and 1870s – the most famous of which was the 1865 Red Flag Act. It set a 4 MPH speed limit and required a man to walk in front of each vehicle and wave a red flag

In general, these acts stifled the spread of self-propelled road vehicles in Britain, and meant that housing estate roads in this country didn’t consider cars until much later than other countries, such as the USA

19th Century Legislation

Garden Cities

The latter half of the 19th century saw attitudes turning against symmetric and formal streets

Romanticism had been around since the start of the Industrial Revolution but, in the 1880s, it campaigned for housing estates with free flowing roads, cul-de-sacs and a picturesque, village-like living environment

In 1875, the same year that Bye-law streets were enacted, a development at Bedford Park was built with an irregular street pattern radiating out from a village green, thus challenging the Bye-law street from the start

In 1902 the book "Garden Cities of Tomorrow" by Ebenezar Howard coined the phrase "garden cities

It advocated improved living conditions for the working class and replacing slums with houses with private gardens. The aim was to combine the benefits of the city (such as employment and recreation) and the benefits of the country (such as fresh air and green, open spaces)

In 1904 a new suburban community was developed near Hampstead Heath which used an irregular street pattern and included cul-de-sacs which at that time were prohibited

For the first time it also proposed using different road widths depending on the road use. So, purely residential roads were narrower in order to discourage through traffic from leaving the main roads

After the First World War, the government acknowledged the need for new house building with the slogan "Homes Fit For Heroes"

Conscription during the war had highlighted the poor health of the working class and it was hoped that better housing would improve public health. There was also a fear that Bolshevik revolutions could spread from Russia to the UK if living conditions here didn’t improve

However, at the start of the 20th century there was still no consensus on which housing development style was better: Garden City or the Bye-law Street, and both styles were still in use

The Tudor Walters Report of 1918 favoured the Garden City style, and the Addison Act of 1919 put into law that new housing developments should follow the Garden City style

Of the 4 million new houses built between 1919 and 1939, most were in Garden City style estates on the edges of existing towns and cities

New houses meant additional drainage requirements. The 19th century combined storm and foul water drainage networks were unable to cope. So many local authorities switched to partially combined or fully separate drainage systems to reduce the impact on their existing networks

1918 - 1939 New House Building

1918 - 1939 Car Growth

During this period the number of registered private cars grew from 300,000 in 1922 to just over 2 million in 1939

However, at the start of the 20th century most roads outside city centres were waterbound macadam – consisting of layers of different sized stones (larger at the bottom, smaller at the top) bound with stone dust and water

This was suited to horse and cart traffic, as it relied on pulverisation, attrition and abrasion from horse’s hooves and iron-tyred cartwheels to consolidate and compact the road surface

But it wasn’t suitable for the different loading regime of motor vehicles with pneumatic tyres which would created vast dust clouds during dry weather conditions

Heavier motor vehicles like buses and lorries caused the road surface to corrugate into "waves" 2 to 3 feet long and 1 to 4 inches high

This made travel uncomfortable, and puddles formed in the troughs thus further damaging the road surface

Therefore during this period there was a switch to tarmac or concrete road surfacing

Progress was abruptly halted by the Second World War. However, after the war, the urgent need to rebuild provided an ideal opportunity to try new ideas to reflect a new and modern era...

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