Post memories: Row over plans for Gascoigne tower blocks in 1950s

Gascoigne Estate in the 1960s

Gascoigne Estate in the 1960s - Credit: Archant

Wealthy landowner Sir Crisp Gascoyne (1700-1761), Sheriff and Lord Mayor of London, gave his name to what is now the Gascoigne Estate in Barking. But subsequent residents did not, and do not, enjoy Sir Crisp’s lifestyle.

Gascoigne Estate in the 1950s, before the high rise flats were built

Gascoigne Estate in the 1950s, before the high rise flats were built - Credit: Archant

It developed, and has remained, as a working class area.

Gascoigne Estate, seen from across Barking Creek in the 1970s

Gascoigne Estate, seen from across Barking Creek in the 1970s - Credit: Archant

Until 1957, the residential part of Gascoigne ward consisted mainly of rows of terrace houses built in the Edwardian era, providing homes for numerous workers in the docks, at Fords and various workplaces in the immediate area.

However, in that year many of the occupants became locked in a fierce battle with the council over its plans for a wholesale demolition of the houses and their replacement by high-rise flats and some houses.

It turned into a slanging match between Labour agent Dick Callan and residents’ champion Robert Stutley, the Gascoigne Road sub-postmaster.

Stutley said Callan’s party was riding roughshod over people who had struggled hard to buy their humble homes, and he claimed to have the support of hundreds of fellow Gascoigners.

Callan said Stutley was seeking to deny Gascoigne residents their right to modern living conditions and claimed the man had few supporters.

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The whole issue turned into a contest between house owners and tenants. The owners wanted the scheme ditched. At two rowdy meetings they voiced their fury at the classification of their homes as “slums”.

Those which I visited were kept in immaculate condition, but the “slum” classification was applied simply because they lacked such modern amenities as baths or showers and indoor toilets.

Their owners preferred to keep their outdoor loos and tin baths rather than become council tenants and lose their titles to a small patch of England.

They complained that the council was using the word “slums” in order to limit their compensation to site value instead of market value when it got its compulsory purchase order.

Council officers at the time could not understand why the property owners did not, like the tenants, relish the prospect of all mod cons instead of primitive conditions.

In the 1957 council election, Callan’s wife, Jessie, the Labour candidate, polled 982 votes – just 27 more than Stutley’s poll of 955. It seems that there were a few more tenants than owner-occupiers in the ward. So the council’s plan got the go-ahead and the programme got under way.

In the years that followed, high-rise living had lost much of the glamour which had been claimed for it.

Its inadequacies began to be revealed, among them limited play areas for children, dirty landings and stairways – some having been urinated on – malfunctioning lifts and noisy neighbours.

These were just some of the complaints which I, together with colleagues from St Margaret’s Church, received over a period of 13 years while holding advice sessions at the Gascoigne Aid and Advice Shop, set up in the 1990s in St Mary’s Parade.

Many Gascoigners wanted to move to other areas – I never met anyone who wanted to move to Gascoigne.

You learn a lot about life in an area by holding advice sessions, and especially by visiting residents in their homes.

I ran in two London marathons to raise funds for the shop, on the second occasion sporting a vest printed: “Aid for Gascoigne.”

Those words inevitably drew from the crowds of onlookers quips of “Gazza doesn’t need it.” In fact, subsequent experience has shown that he did!

More than 50 years after they were built, there are now plans to demolish the high-rise flats and replace them with houses and affordable, better planned low-rise flats.

Some of the original Edwardian houses still stand, with visible improvements which provide modern facilities and weather protection.

Older Gascoigne residents argue that the older houses that were demolished in the ’50s could have been similarly improved.

However, at the time it was simply a question of densities. The old Barking Council had to increase the number of residents per hectare.

The rantings of 1957 are no more and Gascoigne may yet become an area to which Sir Crisp Gascoyne would have been proud to apply his name, if not pleased to live there.