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Survival of the Smallest: The Sevenoaks Tenants Estate

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2016

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Among the many architectural splendours of Sevenoaks, it would be easy to overlook the Sevenoaks Tenants estate. The houses are small and unpretending, varying in manner from ordinary ‘Edwardian urban vernacular’ to low-key arts-and-crafts. They are also spread out over a wide area, from the centre of the town to the villages of Shoreham and Kemsing to the north and Sevenoaks Weald to the south, and so do not form what we would immediately recognize as an ‘estate’. Yet, in their way, these houses are as remarkable as Knole or Ightham Mote. They are the last ‘working’ survivors of a housing movement that before the First World War aspired to transform not just the way housing was provided for the working classes, but also the way they lived, and by extension, wider society beyond.

Section 9: Towns and Villages
Copyright © Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 2001





Labour Copartnership (the journal of the Labour Association/Labour Co-Partnership Association, 1894-1906)


Co-Partnership (the journal of the Labour Co-Partnership Association, 1907-)


Croydon Archive Services, Croydon Central Library


Committee of the Sevenoaks Co-Operative Society

1 The best sources of information on co-partnership labour and housing are Labour Copartnership (1894-1906, known as Co-Partnership from 1907), the journal of the Labour Association (known as the Labour Copartnership Association from 1901), and the records of the Labour Association (Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick). Other essential sources are Culpin, E. G., The Garden City Movement up to Date (London, 1913)Google Scholar; Skilleter, K.J., ‘The role of public utility societies in early British town planning and housing reform, 1901-36’, Planning Perspectives, VIII (1993), pp. 125-65CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Birchall, Johnston, ‘Co-partnership housing and the garden city movement’, Planning Perspectives, X (1995), pp. 329-58CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Birchall, Johnston, ‘Managing the co-partnership way’, Town and Country Planning, LXIV/12 (December 1995), pp. 333-35Google Scholar. Useful information is also to be found in the four long essays that make up Sutcliffe, A. (ed.), British Town Planning: The Formative Years (Leicester, 1981)Google Scholar; and Reid, A., Brentham: A History of the Pioneer Garden Suburb 1901-2001 (London, 2000)Google Scholar.

2 ‘Co-operation in housing: interesting experiment — every man his neighbour’s landlord’, Daily News, 27 December 1902.

3 ‘. . . that the use of the committee room be offered to the newly formed committee of the Sevenoaks Tenants Ltd for their meetings’, Meeting of 6 March 1903, Minute book 3 of the CSCS (CAS 390/42).

4 LCP, XII (January 1906), p. 11.

5 Meeting of a provisional committee of Sevenoaks Co-operative Society, 6 December 1895, Minute book 1 of the CSCS (CAS 390/40).

6 In June 1898 the committee had written to Laura Gilchrist Thompson, wife of Revd H. Percy Thompson, Vicar of Kippington, expressing their satisfaction ‘that there is a possibility of Mrs Thompson acquiring land for the purpose of providing for the erection of working class dwellings, and begs to assure Mrs Thompson of their deep appreciation of such an act of social duty, and trust that nothing may be allowed to prevent the accomplishment of so worthy an aim and the supply of so pressing a need’, Meeting of 11 June 1898, Minute book 1 of the CSCS (CAS 390/40); in October 1898 the committee had written to Councillor Swaffield of the Sevenoaks Urban District Council ‘urging him to adhere to his proposal with regard to the Cottage Question’, Meeting of 7 October 1898, Minute book 1 of the CSCS (CAS 390/40); in May 1900 the committee had written to the Housing of the Working Classes Committee of the Council urging its members to pursue the idea of erecting cottages, even if the rent were as high as 85. a week, as ‘a want would be met and there would be no difficulty in finding tenants’, Meeting of 18 May 1900, Minute book 2 of the CSCS (CAS 390/41).

7 Minutes of meeting of 29 March 1901, congratulating Hooker on ‘his work as a representative of the working classes of this town’, Minute book 2 of the CSCS (CAS 390/41); see also Sennocke Almanack 1904 (Sevenoaks, 1904).

8 LCP, X (October 1904), p. 154.

9 Gurney, Sybella, ‘Co-operative housing’, LCP, XI (July 1905), p. 106 Google Scholar.

10 LCP, XII (Jan 1906), p. 11; see also n. 6.

11 Percy Thompson had, with Frank Swanzy, underwritten the Sevenoaks Co-operative Society in its early days — Minute book 1 of the CSCS (CAS 390/40), passim.

12 Obituary of Canon H. Percy Thompson in Sevenoaks Chronicle and Courier, 23 August 1935; see also Who’s Who (London, 1932), p. 3190.

13 Obituary of Francis Swanzy in Sevenoaks Chronicle and Courier, 7 and 14 May 1920; ‘Library acquires portrait of town benefactor’, Sevenoaks News, 26 February 1970.

14 LCP, XII (January 1906), p. 11.

15 Reid, Brentham, p. 75; Richard White, secretary of Ealing Tenants Ltd, also supplied specimen designs for houses.

16 ‘Co-partnership tenant societies’, LCP, XI (November 1905), p. 179.

17 LCP, XII (January 1906), p. 11.

18 ‘The Sevenoaks Tenants Ltd’, CP, XIII (May 1907), p. 75.

19 Ibid.

20 Reid, Brentham, p. 56.

21 ‘Co-partnership in housing’, LCP, XII (April 1906), p. 59.

22 CP, XIII (October 1907), p. 160; (November 1907), p. 174; (December 1907), p. 192.

23 ‘Conference at 6 Bloomsbury Square’, CP, XIV (March 1908), p. 44.

24 ‘News from estates: Sevenoaks’, CP, XV (January 1909), p. 31.

25 RIBA nomination papers for election of Harry Sinclair Stewart as Licentiate (v15 no. 1026; elected 20 March 1911) and Associate (v20 no. 2291; elected 4 March 1912); see also Who’s Who in Architecture (London, 1914).

26 Stewart cited the Westminster Gazette, Manchester Guardian, Glasgow Herald and Garden Cities and Town Planning in his LRIBA nomination papers, loc. cit.; between 1909 and 1912 he also wrote a number of articles in Co-partnership, including a review of Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice (CP, xv [October 1909], pp. 152-53).

27 CP, XVI (November 1910), pp. 176, 179; ‘From Bloomsbury to Sevenoaks’, CP, XVIII (September 1912), p. 139; glass lantern slide of a lost sheet of plans, sections and elevations of five cottages for Sevenoaks Tenants Ltd, signed H.S.S., dated April 1910, Hampstead Garden Suburb Archives Trust, London Metropolitan Archives (Acc/3816/02/03/009).

28 CP, XVI (June 1910), p. 95.

29 CP, XVI (October 1910), pp. 152, 160.

30 CP, XVIII (November 1912), p. 173; CP, XVIII (December 1912), pp. 191-92; CP, XIX (March 1913), p. 44.

31 CP, XIX (April 1914), p. 60.

32 See Culpin, op. cit., and CP, XXI (1915), passim.

33 The survival has not been total as the society had to sell off five houses — Morne Cottages in Shoreham — in 1981 (information from current resident of Morne Cottages).