The History of Derwent Road

From fields to housing estate - 1970s

There are no signs of development in the area of Derwent Road on maps from 1900 to 1959 (maps 1 to 3 attached). Pearce and Barker acquired the land and developed the estate in the late 1960s.

Sometime around 1969, Pearce and Barker sold out to Davis Estates. Davis continued with the same house types marketed through estate agents Connells, who were at 41 High Street, Harpenden (now Godfrey’s) and Mandley and Sparrow at 50 High Street. I think these two agents merged to become Connells Mandley and Sparrow and later just Connells, which is still at 50 High Street (2021). The Davis Estates price list showed three house types, The Glamis, The Woodstock and The Vale, priced from £8,400 to £8,950. All were four bedroom houses with full central heating and garage. The Glamis and Woodstock types were also built in the early parts of Kinsbourne Close and Tintern Close where they branched off Derwent Road. When Kinsbourne Close was extended most of the houses were semi-detached chalet bungalows.

The first phase

The first and largest part of Derwent Road went up to numbers 49 & 72 in the late 1960s. Several detached houses were added to the top left hand side in the late 80s or early 90s and two more were built by infilling on the right hand side. A further six houses were added in the 1990s, or early 2000s extending Derwent Road into the area shown crossed hatched on Map 4. The road was further extended in 2017-18 by Shanley Homes with 32 houses, seven of which were at the end of Derwent Road with the others being part of Westminster Fields, accessed from Tuffnells Way with only a footway between the two. The latest addition is an infill with a pair of semi-detached houses at the junction of Derwent Road and Kinsbourne Close in 2021. Many of the original houses have been extended or altered over the years.

Alan Hill, who has lived in Derwent Road since 1969 told me:

“Lena and I walked from our first home in Oulton Rise, Harpenden – we didn’t have a car – to what is now Derwent Road in February 1969. There was nothing to see here, except lots of apple trees and an access road from The Common. We decided to buy, off plan, and put a deposit on a Glamis style property. All of the Vales had been reserved.

The development was initialised by Pearce and Barker. When we got involved I believe Davis Estates had taken over. We moved into No 43 in July 1969.

Later that summer we bought a Hotpoint top-loading automatic washing machine. When it was being installed the downstairs of the house became flooded due to a fault in the plumbing. The problem was made worse by the fact that the main stopcock in the front garden had been grassed over by the builders and took some time to find.

The site manager didn’t want to know about the problem. I contacted a director of Wood Hall Trust, which had become the parent company for Davis Estates. He lived in Radlett and he arranged for the plumbing to be fixed and a new kitchen floor. Wood Hall Trust was an investment holding company with varied interests.

Filling the gap – Stepping Stones

Most of the Derwent Road houses were built around 1968/69 but a gap remained between 20 and 32 which still had a tennis court and garden belonging to the house called Stepping Stones which faced The Common to the north of Derwent Road. This can be seen on map 4, dating from the early 1970s. The gardens included an air raid shelter, a deep well and a tennis court and part was used to build the five detached houses, 22 to 30 Derwent Road, in 1971, different from the house types in the rest of the road. I have been told the owner of Stepping Stones had a factory in Luton and the house called Little Stones, next door, was used by his chauffeur and family. When the owner of Stepping Stones died, around the time of the initial development of Derwent Road, John Gudgeon bought the house, Little Stones and the garden land from his widow, paying about £25,000 for the lot. He lived in Stepping Stones for a few years before that too was sold. Meanwhile he built the five houses and renovated and sold Little Stones.

The development was carried out by Kinsbourne Homes, which was run by John Gudgeon who had been a director of Pearce and Barker and/or Davis Estates and had been involved in the development of the rest of Derwent Road. Four of the five buyers there moved from elsewhere on the estate and one of these was Alan Hill and his family who came from no. 43. The base price for the houses in 1971 was £12,500.

Stepping Stones remained until it was demolished around 2019 and a new house with the same name was built in its place by the owner of Brayley Motors, in the village. Little Stones is still there.

Alan Hill told me:

In the 1970s Stepping Stones was owned by a Scottish doctor named Jackson. He tried to sell the property to MENCAP, the charity for disabled children. David Janes, a director of Janes the builders, was the front-man for MENCAP. The charity intended to make Stepping Stones into a short- term home for 12 children, who could stay there to give their parents respite.

The application for the change of use was refused. One councillor stated at a public meeting that the change of use would create an “unacceptable” increase in traffic across The Common. A resident also complained that she did not want her grandchildren to see “children like that”.

We had an interest. MENCAP could not afford the asking price for Stepping Stones and we – the residents of numbers 22 to 28 were asked if we were interested in increasing our small gardens by buying some of the Stepping Stones land. We were all in favour. I believe we would have gained an extra 100ft.

Connecting to The Close

According to information from the History Society, Pearce and Barker bought “Kinsbourne Nurseries” from Mr Allingham in 1968 for a continuation of Kinsbourne Close. I have been told that either they or Davis also bought parts of gardens in The Close, the road behind, to enable the houses on the right hand side to be built. Davis Estates built the houses and were selling there in 1969-70. Number 7, bought off plan in May 1969, was ready for occupation in February 1970. A chalet bungalow on the opposite side, number 16, was first occupied in April 1970.

The Floods of 1987

In 1987 there was flooding in Derwent road after heavy rain. Water ran off the fields behind numbers 40 to 48, allegedly because drainage ditches on the field edge had been filled in. The water flowed across the road and through gardens on the other side. Pictures show the Fire Brigade pumping out. It happened more than once and eventually a water storage tank was installed under the road to hold back the worst of any more flooding.

Alan Hill said:

Following the flood of 1987, John Cunningham, the former night-fighter ace who lived in Canley, on The Common, told me an interesting story. He owned the land that ran up the slope behind the properties in Derwent Road. He said some of the residents tried to take legal action against him because the drainage ditch(es) had been filled in. He said he proved the filling in was a consequence of Derwent Road residents emptying their grass cuttings and garden refuse into the ditches. End of legal action.

Thanks to Lena and Alan Hill for the information they provided

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