The Progress Estate

The Progresss Estate is a very attractive housing estate on either side of Well Hall Road in the north of Eltham. The Garden City ideals strongly influenced the design of the estate.

Acquisition of land

Cecil Henry Polhill-Turner (1860-1938) inherited real estate and investments from Sir Henry Page-Turner Barron, 2ndBart, which made him a very wealthy man indeed. The real estate included land in Kidbrooke/Eltham because a past relative was Sir Gregory Page who owned the Wricklemarsh Estate. In 1903 the Borough of Woolwich bought land from Polhill and his trustees for a tramway from Woolwich to Eltham. And in January 1915[1]the government bought another c.95 acres of farmland from Polhill and his trustees to build Well Hall Estate on either side of the tramway. 

History of the estate

The housing estate provided emergency accommodation for the huge numbers of new workers at the Royal Arsenal munitions factories in Woolwich at the outbreak of WWI. The brief was for 1,086 houses and 212 buildings divided into ground and first floor flats on the site on either side of Well Hall Road. Herbert Samuel, President of the Local Government Board also wanted the housing to be a showcase estate.

Frank Baines, one of three Principal Architects in HM Office of Works, managed the project with his team. Members of the team surveyed the site on a Saturday and finished the layout by Monday morning. The builders moved in three weeks later. The contracts were on a cost plus basis, because there was no time to invite tenders. The architects had no breaks and over 5,000 men worked on the site. The estate was completed and ready for occupation within twelve months.

The Progress Estate with Sandy Green (L) and Lovelace Green (R)

G E Philips designed the layout of the estate. He was an architect in HM Office of Works and he believed that the estate should look as though ‘it had grown and not merely been dropped there’.[2] 

Ebenezer Howard had written Garden Cities of Tomorrow in 1902. He founded the Garden Cities Association in 1899 and this became the Town and Country Planning Association. ‘Garden City’ was a theoretical city. The title is perhaps misleading in that the book was not about creating gardens in towns, but part of the 19th century concern about the state of housing available to working class people. The aim was to make housing more responsive to people’s needs and aspirations, less crowded and more hygienic than the notorious bank-to-backs, and more aesthetically pleasing with fresh air and views to countryside. The ideas influenced housing estates such as Bellingham (in Lewisham), Middle Park Estate and Coldharbour Estate in Eltham.

Layout of the Progress Estate

The priority was accommodation and so there were no shops, schools or churches in the estate. All the houses have generous back gardens. The design placed triangular greens at the end of many roads, large open spaces along the Well Hall Road and lanes such as Franklin Passage linking main roads. The boundaries were wooden fences instead of brick walls.

Housing on the Progress Estate
Passage through housing on The Progress Estate
Ross Way on The Progress Estate
Ross Way on The Progress Estate
Franklin Passage on The Progress Estate
Franklin Passage

In 1925 the estate was sold to Progress Estates Ltd, a subsidiary of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society Ltd. At this point the Well Hall estate became the Progress Estate. By 1980 two thirds of the homes were owner occupied. The Hyde Group bought the remainder. The Greenwich Borough Council bought the greens at the same time.

Lovelace Green

There are two large open spaces for recreation. They also evoke the memory of a traditional village green, Lovelace Green and Sandby Green.

Richard Lovelace was a 17th century poet whose family owned property in Kent. His support for Charles I during the English Civil War landed him in prison twice during this period. He was released when Charles was executed. His subsequent life is hazy. Lucy Sacheverell was his fiancee, but she believed he died in prison and married another suitor. He still wrote about here and Lucy Sacheverell is thought to be Althea in his poem To Althea from Prison. It includes the well-known quote ‘Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage.’

Lovelace Green on The Progress Estate
Cutting the grass
A corner of Lovelace Green on The Progress Estate
A corner of Lovelace Green

Sandby Green

As a young man Paul Sandby was an apprentice to Thomas Peat, a military draughtsman at the Ordnance Office of the Tower of London. In 1768 Sandby became the Chief Drawing Master at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. He was also a prodigious and recognised landscape and portrait painter. 

Sandy Green on The Progress Estate
Sandby Green

The Progress Estate is very attractive indeed and has a welcoming atmosphere. Gardens are pretty and the residents have clearly responded to the ideals of the estate.

[1] Billinghurst, Keith: The Origins and Evolution of the Progess Estate, 

[2] Beaufoy, S L G: Well Hall Estate, Eltham: An example of good housing built in 1915, The Town Planning Review, vol.21, no.3, October 1950, pp.259-271;

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