»  The Virtual Attic — Places — Delapre Estate

1950



The Estate

Here is Delapre Estate as I knew it in my childhood. The estate takes its name from Delapré Abbey, 600 yards off the map to the east-northeast. We never used the acute accent when writing the name of the estate. Our pronunciation: DEH-luh-pree. The estate was home to five or six hundred families, practically all of them in semi-detached houses (i.e. two families per structure).

The east-west width of the map is about 1,400 yards, 0.8 miles. The north-south height is about 1,100 yards, 0.625 miles. The slope is downwards from south to north, heading down to the River Nene, 1,000 yards off the map to the north. The contour lines shown are, from south to north, 325 feet (above sea level, of course), 300 feet, 275 feet, 250 feet, and — just visible in the top right corner — 225 feet. Mere Way actually runs along a slight ridge; the ground falls away again southwards. The overall south-north drop on the map is 90 ft., for an overall downward gradient of 1 in 37.

The district to the north of the map, between Delapre Estate and the river, is Far Cotton, for which I have a separate page. North of Far Cotton is Northampton town proper, for which I also have a separate page. Off the map to the east is the village of Hardingstone, which also has a page to itself. There is a downward link here to some recollections of life on the estate.

Most of the estate — the Gloucester Avenue/Crescent/Close and Friars Avenue/Crescent/Close parts — were built in the late 1940s. These are "Bevan Houses." The British general election of 1945 brought in a Labour government with a big program of social reform. That included much house-building, both to replace the housing destroyed by enemy bombing in the war, and to provide for the already-anticipated postwar baby boom. The Minister of Housing was Aneurin Bevan, an ardent socialist who believed that nothing was too good for the working people. Under Bevan's program, public housing in Britain attained a peak of quality. The public housing built during these years was better than any built before, or (I believe) since.

Delapre Estate illustrated this. Our house was solid brick-built structure on a twelfth of an acre, with a spacious back garden 80 feet long, large airy rooms, a full bathroom inside and a separate toilet outside. My parents got lucky. Compare the wretched "tower blocks" (i.e. projects) of the 1950s and 1960s, or the flimsy row houses of the 1970s and 1980s.

 

Main streets

Running north-south down the east (i.e. right-hand) side of the picture is the London Road. Down the other (west, left-hand) side goes the Towcester (pron. TOE-stuh) Road. East-west along the bottom is Mere Way, a deserted country lane at the time. The structure of streets cut off at the top of the map, above a horizontal line from "BP" (which stands for "boundary post") is the southernmost part of Far Cotton. Everything between these boundaries is Delapre.

The spine of the estate is Gloucester Avenue, running east-west slightly above center on the map, with outlets to the Towcester Road on the west, and (after a short dog-leg) London Road on the east. At right-angles to Gloucester Avenue at the east, parallel to the London Road, and forming the shorter stretch of that dog-leg, is Parkfield Avenue.

North of Gloucester Avenue at the west end is a three-sided street, Gloucester Crescent. A north-south cul-de-sac penetrates the area: that is Gloucester Close.

South of Gloucester Avenue to the east, the avenue-crescent-close pattern is repeated. Friars Avenue turns south, then east. A three-sided Friars Crescent comes off it at the north; and there is a Friars Close over on the western side, parallel to Gloucester Avenue. If you follow the main gridline up from south to north, after it has passed through the "t" of "Allotments" and crossed the footpath, it intersects Friars Avenue. No. 62 is on the north side of the avenue, a tad to the left of the intersection point.

On the south side of Gloucester Avenue at the west end is a complex of thirty or so individual dwellings. These are the "prefabs" — flimsy prefabricated houses put up after WW2 to ease the housing shortage. They were intended to be very temporary, but in fact stood there for 25 years.

 

Allotments

The town rented out small plots of land where people could grow food. One of these plots was called an "allotment." Most families in Delapre had an allotment. My father had one, though I don't recall him spending much time on it. Some allotment renters put up small sheds on their allotments, where they could store gardening equipment. For this reason, and also to prevent the stealing of food, allotment areas were usually fenced off, with locked gates to which tenants had keys.

There are actually two allotment areas in the map, only one of them identified by name. The other is north of Gloucester Avenue, its footpaths marked by dotted lines. These were "the Gloucester Avenue allotments." The southern allotment area (where my father's allotment stood) was "the Mere Way allotments."

Just touching the northern edge of the Gloucester Road allotments is a short street coming in from the top of the map. That is Pleydell Road, the most southerly outpost of Far Cotton. My daily walk to school, once I was old enough to scorn the bus, proceeded from our house west along Friars Avenue to the corner, then north to Gloucester Avenue. I'd cross Gloucester Avenue and walk down the eastern stretch of Gloucester Crescent. From the northeast corner of the crescent a footpath led east along the edge of the allotments to Pleydell Road, and thence to Far Cotton, where my school was.

 

Other features

The gothic "Q" of "Queen Eleanor's Cross" can be seen near the right-hand edge of the map, on the London Road. Running all the way down the London Road on the east side was a belt of woodland — "the spinney." Further east were open fields, all the way to the horizon. These woods and fields were my main childhood playground.

I don't ever recall the smallpox hospital being in use. We called it "the fever hospital." It was a sinister place, painted black as I recall.

The "GP" symbol indicates a guide post, which is to say, a signpost. These were made of wood, painted black and white, with the names of nearby villages on them, and the distances to the nearest quarter-mile. "MS" is a milestone, generally ancient and unreadable.

The houses along the London Road and Towcester Road were built in the early 20th century. At any rate, they show in photographs from the late 1920s. I think, though I'm not sure, the same applies to Parkfield Avenue (north-south, parallel to and near the London Road). However, the southernmost extension of Parkfield Road, in that corner between London Road and Mere Way at bottom right, is the beginning of Winchester Road, which eventually looped right back west and north to make a full circle. It was not there at all in my earliest memories. That entire corner was undeveloped — "the clover field," we called it.

I have no childhood recollection of the cemetery over there at the west; though the western part of the Mere Way allotments was a popular place to gather blackberries in late summer.