Alton Estate

Estate in/near Roehampton, existing between 1955 and now

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Estate · Roehampton · SW15 ·
MAY
14
2016

The Alton Estate is a historically significant municipal estate situated on Roehampton’s border with Richmond Park


Much of the land constituted the grounds of Parkstead, a Palladian villa built in the 1760s for Lord Bessborough and later renamed Manresa House. Parts of its grounds were developed from around 1850 as a high-class suburban estate known as Coombe Park or Roehampton Park. Alton Lodge was an early-19th-century villa on the Kingston Road, occupied by Dr Thomas Hake from around 1854 until 1872.

In 1951 the architect’s department at the London County Council selected this area as the site for one of the largest and most radical housing developments ever undertaken in London. The best villas and some of the landscaping were preserved but 130 acres were otherwise totally cleared to make way for the project.

The Scandinavian-inspired Alton East was completed in 1955 and it was followed four years later by the much larger Alton West, which was influenced by the high-rise creations of the French architect Le Corbusier. Both stages include a mix of tower blocks, maisonettes and terraced houses, permitting a combination of high population density with extensive open spaces. The slabs on stilts of Downshire Field were the estate’s most important innovation but novel construction, heating and ventilation systems were also employed.

In 2002 Wandsworth council took back control of the estate from the residents’ management organisation, following its declaration of insolvency. This brought to an end the largest such venture in the UK, which had been overwhelmingly supported in a ballot of tenants three years earlier.


Citation information: Chambers London Gazetteer – The Underground Map
Further citations and sources


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Roehampton

Roehampton was originally a village which evolved as a popular residential area for the wealthy within easy reach of London. It lies between the town of Barnes to the north, Putney to the east and Wimbledon Common to the south. The Richmond Park Golf Courses are west of the district, and just north of these is the Roehampton Gate entrance to Richmond Park — the largest of London's Royal Parks.

Roehampton emerged as a favoured residential suburb of the 18th and 19th centuries following the opening of Putney Bridge in 1729 and the development of a number of large private estates from which several of the original houses survive. Roehampton House (grade I) by Thomas Archer was built between 1710–12 and enlarged by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1910. Parkstead House (grade I) built in 1750 for William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough, now forms part of the University of Roehampton. Mount Clare (grade I) built in 1772 for George Clive, cousin of Lord Clive, which forms part of the University of Roehampton, along with Grove House (grade II*), built originally for Sir Joshua Vanneck in 1777 (also now owned by the university). Capability Brown is reputed to have laid out the grounds. The university also owns Downshire House (grade II*); built in 1770 and once occupied by the Marquess of Downshire. Roehampton Village has retained something of its rustic Georgian charm, best exemplified by the King's Head Inn, at the foot of Roehampton High Street and the Montague Arms, Medfield Street, both 17th century in origin. Dramatic change came to Roehampton when the London County Council built the Roehampton Estate in the 1920s and 1930s (renamed the Dover House Estate) and the Alton Estate in the 1950s.

Dover House Road Estate is one of a number of important LCC cottage estates inspired by the Garden City Movement. The land was previously the estates of two large houses, Dover House and Putney Park House, which were purchased by the London County Council soon after World War I. Dover House was demolished for the new estate, but Putney Park House remains. The common characteristic of the LCC cottage estates is picturesque housing influenced by the Arts and Crafts style. It was the intention at Dover House Estate to create housing in groups that overlooked or had access to open space, to provide a sense of intimacy and individuality, and the estate was laid out with communal green spaces. Allotments were also provided in three backland areas behind houses, two of which remain, the third subsequently infilled by housing.

The notable Alton Estate, one of the largest council estates in the UK, occupies an extensive swathe of land west of Roehampton village and runs between the Roehampton Lane through-road and Richmond Park Golf Courses, as can be seen on the map above. The estate is renowned for its mix of low and high-rise modernist architecture consisting of Alton East (1958) styled a subtle Scandinavian-influenced vernacular and its slightly later counterpart: Alton West (1959). At Highcliffe Drive on Alton West the LCC essentially retained the Georgian landscape and placed within it five ultra modern slab blocks: Binley, Winchfield, Dunbridge, Charcot and Denmead Houses, (all grade II*) inspired by Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation. The installation and construction of a pedestrian entrance to Richmond Park from the Alton Estate was secured by Justine Greening (MP for the Putney constituency, which includes Roehampton) in 2007 although it has not yet materialised.

The Alton Estate has featured as a film and television location. Fahrenheit 451 (1966) used some of the estate as its backdrop for a bleak dystopian society of the future and Thames Television's film division Euston Films used the Danebury Avenue area of the estate to film the opening scenes of Sweeney 2 (1978), the sequel to the film Sweeney!(1977).

Roehampton is home to a number of well-known educational institutions: the University of Roehampton has approximately 8,000 students housed in 4 colleges; the new Queen Mary's Hospital with its renowned amputee rehabilitation centre opened in 2006 is a teaching centre for medical students based in Wandsworth NHS Primary Care Trust; Kingston University has one of its campuses in Roehampton Vale; South Thames College also has a Campus on Roehampton Lane. It has long been a major centre for teacher-training, being the site of two constituent colleges (Digby Stuart College and Froebel College) of the former federal Roehampton Institute of Higher Education (now the University of Roehampton), as well as South East England's only lecturer-training college (Garnett College) which eventually moved and became part of the University of Greenwich.

The International Tennis Federation moved to Roehampton from Baron's Court in 1998, and in 2007 the Lawn Tennis Association made the same short journey across London to their newly built headquarters next door to the ITF.
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