Urban Gardens

Urban Gardens was the first post-war housing estate constructed by Wellington Urban District Council under the Housing Act 1919. This landmark piece of legislation compelled all local authorities to make a survey of housing need in their areas and provided substantial subsidies to build new homes.



Wellington was among the first wave of urban district councils to build workmen’s housing and completed a scheme in 1902 at Urban Terrace on Regent Street. By the time the war was entering its final year, the council had drawn up plans for 51 homes in the Millfields area with construction of the first 22 (built by Messrs Laing and Sons of Carlisle, at a cost of £638 each — with inflation, approximately £32 000 today) heralded by an official ceremony on the afternoon of Wednesday 29th October 1919.

Urban Gardens was the first estate built in Welllington under the 1919 Housing Act

Overcrowded Courtyards

The honour of wielding the ceremonial spade fell to long-serving council chairman John Wesley Clift, who had been a guiding light behind the scheme. One of the major problems in Wellington was overcrowding, with the number of people living two per persons per room per tenement estimated at 650. At the ceremony, Clift alluded to the matter describing one house ‘where the father, mother and nine children sleeping in two small cottage bedrooms, while in another house a mother and eight children were sleeping under similar conditions’. To great applause, he announced the council was agreed ‘that three bedroom houses at least should be provided in each house’. 

Wellington Urban Dostrict was among the earliest in the country to build its own housing

Housing design under the new act was directly influenced by the Tudor Walters report of 1917, which lay down many stipulations on living conditions both inside and out of the house. In stark contrast to the overcrowded courtyards and alleys that were a characteristic feature of Wellington town centre, Urban Gardens included one acre of land set aside for a children’s playground. Residents were also permitted to establish a temporary tennis court on some of the building land in the spring of 1921. Later in the year, Regent Street was extended 500 yards to meet with Watling Street; a council project that created four months temporary work for 50 unemployed men.

Millstone Crescent

The downturn in the economy caused the Government to suspend support for social housing in 1921, a year in which the rateable values of the houses at Millfields also became a subject of notoriety. Wesley Clift revealed he’d caused a ‘sensation’ at a regional housing conference when he announced the annual figure of £24 (around £1200 in today’s money) tenants in Wellington were being asked to pay by the local rating authority — it was double the rate of some Midlands towns. This was something of an irony. When the Council had been deciding on a name for Urban Gardens, one of Clift’s confrere, Councillor Williams, had successfully managed to raise a motion to have the street named Millstone Crescent (which is what he thought it would prove to be to the town’s ratepayers). Now, as another colleague observed, residents were being asked to pay higher rates than those of the villas on Holyhead Road! Nevertheless, by 1925, 84 houses had been built at Millfields with another 22 on the way, and several hundred to follow elsewhere in the town. In Wellington at least, Urban Gardens had proven to be the catalyst for building Lloyd George’s ‘country fit for heroes’.

Urban Gardens was completed between 1921 and 1925